- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2004

The annual Linares tournament got under way in Spain this week with the world’s top two players having something to prove.

Former world champion Garry Kasparov, still the top-rated player in the world, has played in just a handful of serious games since finishing third at Linares a year ago and will struggle with competitive rust. Fellow Russian Vladimir Kramnik, who took the world title from Kasparov four years ago, was not his usual overwhelming self in his most recent event, finishing in the middle of the pack — with three losses — in last month’s Corus tournament.

Kramnik also will face Hungary’s Peter Leko twice in Spain. The two are slated to play a 14-game match in September for Kramnik’s half of the disputed world crown.

Rounding out the field in the double round-robin Category 20 event are Latvia’s Alexei Shirov, Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan and local hero Paco Vallejo of Spain. We’ll have a report on the early action in next week’s column.

While Kasparov has been a no-show in recent months, Shirov was mixing it up just last weekend by playing two rounds in the German Bundesliga, the world’s strongest regular team league. Known for his tactical flair and taste for wild complications, Shirov used some fine positional play to upend Uzbek GM Rustam Kasimzhdanov and help give his SC Baden-Oos team a hard-fought 5-3 match victory.

With 8. e3 Be6 9. Qa4 c5!?, Shirov as Black seeks sharp play right out of the opening, but White prefers a quieter path with 10. Rd1 Qb6 11. Qb5 (getting the queens off is always a good idea against the Spaniard) Nd5 12. Bg5 (Nxd5 Bxd5 13. dxc5 Qxb5 14. Bxb5 Bxf3 15. gxf3 Bxb2 is fine for Black) Qxb5 13. Nxb5.

But with the follow-up 13…a6 14. Na3 h6 15. Bh4 g5 16. Bg3 b5, White’s early pressure has been beaten back, and Black’s better bishops and queen-side pawn majority give him some long-term trumps.

Perhaps fearing slow positional strangulation, Kasimzhdanov seeks to break out with 23. Bg4 e6 24. e4!? (Bxf5 exf5 25. Nf3 Rfe8 and Black is dominating) Bxe4 25. Bxe6+ Kh7 26. Ne3 (Ng4+ Kg6 27. Nge3 Nf4! 28. Bxf4 gxf4 29. Ng4 Bxc2 30. Rxc2 Nxd4 wins) Kg6 27. Bxd5 Bxd5.

Further simplification with 28. Nxd5? Rxd5 29. Nf3 Re8+ 30. Kd1 g4 31. Nf4+ Kf7 32. f3 Bh6 only helps Black, but the game’s 28. f4 Be4 29. d5 Nb4 creates new holes in the White position. Shirov is even willing to give up the exchange to eliminate the passed d-pawn, White’s only source of counterplay: 33. d6 Kg6 34. d7 Rh8! 35. Bc7 Nd3 36. Bxd8 Rxd8 37. Nf3 Rxd7 38. Kc2 f5.

With mobile pawn majorities on both sides of the board and White’s pieces enjoying no scope, Shirov needs no intricate combinations to wrap up the point. The finale: 43. g3 (giving back the material with 43. Rxd3 cxd3+ 44. Kxd3 Be5 45. a4 Bg3 is not better) Re3 44. Rdh2 (Rg1 f4! 45. Ng2 Rxg3) Rxg3 45. Ng2 f4 46. Kb1 f3 47. Ne3 f2 48. Ng2 Nf4, and White gave up as the pawn queens on 49. Nxf4 Rg1+.

• • •

China, the game’s new superpower, scored another victory when a four-player team dominated its French counterpart in a Scheveningen all-play-all match earlier this month in Cannes. Chinese GM Bu Xiangzhi and WGM Zhao Xue shared top honors with 6-2 scores, while the highest-scoring French entrant was GM Robert Fontaine at a lowly 3-5.

French WGM Marie Sebag managed only one victory on her way to a 2-6 result, but it was an impressive 20-move win over WGM Xu Yuanyuan. Sebag takes the play to her opponent from almost the very first move and is quickly rewarded for her aggressiveness.

White’s unusual knight hop in this Caro-Kann (3. Ne5!?) breaks a number of rules of thumb, but it does manage to flummox Black. Xu’s queen appears misplaced on b6, and White piles on the pressure with 7. c4!? dxc4 8. Nc3 e6 9. Qa4 Bd7 10. Nxd7 Nxd7 11. Be3.

After 11…Rd8 12. d5 Nd4 13. dxe6, Black might have considered 13…Qxe6!? 14. Bxc4 Nc2+ 15. Kd2 Qxc4! 16. Qxc4 Ne5+ 17. Kxc2 Nxc4 18. Rhe1 Nxe3+ 19. Rxe3+ Kd7, with a difficult but salvageable ending.

Instead, the water gets hotter on 13…fxe6 14. 0-0-0 Bc5 15. Bxd7+ Rxd7 16. Qxc4, when the threat of 17. Na4 is very awkward.

Black puts her faith in tactics but overlooks a small flaw: 16…Qc7? (0-0! 17. Na4 Qc6 18. Nxc5 b5 19. Qb4 a5 20. Rxd4!? axb4 21. Rxd7 Rf5 22. Kb1 Rxc5 23. Rd8+ Kf7 24. Bxc5 Qxc5 was a tricky path to possible equality) 17. Bxd4 Qf4+ 18. Kb1 Bxd4 19. Qxe6+ Rd7 (see diagram).

White actually has several paths to victory, but Sebag finds the cleanest kill: 20. Qxe7+!, and it’s over on 20…Kxe7 21. Nd5+, collecting the queen and winning a rook. Xu resigned.

Bundesliga, Round 9, Stuttgart, Germany, February 2004

KasimzhdanovShirov

1. d4d525. Bxe6+Kh7

2. c4c626. Ne3Kg6

3. Nf3Nf627. Bxd5Bxd5

4. Qc2g628. f4Be4

5. Bf4dxc429. d5Nb4

6. Qxc4Bg730. f5+Bxf5

7. Nc30-031. Nxf5Rfe8+

8. e3Be632. Kd1Kxf5

9. Qa4c533. d6Kg6

10. Rd1Qb634. d7Rh8

11. Qb5Nd535. Bc7Nd3

12. Bg5Qxb536. Bxd8Rxd8

13. Nxb5a637. Nf3Rxd7

14. Na3h638. Kc2f5

15. Bh4g539. a3Re7

16. Bg3b540. b3g4

17. Nc2Nc641. Nh4+Kg5

18. Be2Bf542. bxc4bxc4

19. Rd2c443. g3Re3

20. h4f644. Rdh2Rxg3

21. hxg5hxg545. Ng2f4

22. Nh2Rad846. Kb1f3

23. Bg4e647. Ne3f2

24. e4Bxe448. Ng2Nf4

White resigns

France-China Match, Cannes, France, February 2004

SebagXu

1. e4c611. Be3Rd8

2. Nf3d512. d5Nd4

3. exd5cxd513. dxe6fxe6

4. Ne5Nc614. 0-0-0Bc5

5. d4Nf615. Bxd7+Rxd7

6. Bb5Qb616. Qxc4Qc7

7. c4dxc417. Bxd4Qf4+

8. Nc3e618. Kb1Bxd4

9. Qa4Bd719. Qxe6+Re7

10. Nxd7Nxd720. Qxe7+Black

resigns

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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