- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2004

Put some of the world’s best and most competitive chess players in a room and let them slug it out…and you don’t always get the crowd-pleasing gore you were anticipating.

The early rounds of the Category 20 Linares tournament in Spain proved a disappointment to the fans, with just one decisive game in the first five rounds. There were some interesting battles and a few close shaves, but Hungarian GM Peter Leko’s first-round victory over Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan was good enough to give him a half-point lead on the field.

Russian world champ Vladimir Kramnik, who showed signs in recent events that he was ready to take more risks, was back to his supersolid, unambitious ways in Linares, recording draws of 18, 21, 18 and 23 moves in his first four games.

A double-edged Round 1 battle between bitter adversaries Garry Kasparov of Russia and Alexei Shirov of Spain — notable in part because the two gladiators shook hands before starting for the first time in years — saw both players enjoy some chances before Kasparov grabbed a perpetual check.

Things began to look up in Monday’s Round 5, when all three games, including the first of two Kasparov-Kramnik encounters, went past the first 40-move time control. But all three once again petered out into split points. The peaceable mood makes one nostalgic for longtime Linares organizer Luis Rentero, who used to fine players for short draws and decline to invite back those who displayed what he deemed insufficient fighting spirit.

Play continues through next week, and somebody is bound to win another game sometime. The field also includes Bulgaria’s Veselin Topalov and local favorite Francisco Vallejo Pons. We’ll have a full wrap-up next week.

With a paucity of action to date in Linares, we turn to a strong open tournament under way in Moscow for a little excitement.

In just its third year, the Aeroflot Festival, sponsored by the always hair-raising Russian airline, has become one of the strongest open events of its kind in the world. U.S. GM Gregory Kaidanov scored what may have been the best result of his career by winning the 2002 tournament on tie-breaks, and Moldova’s Viktor Bologan used his 2003 triumph as a springboard for a breakthrough performance at the Dortmund invitational a few months later.

Blame sexism or anti-materialism, but the game’s cutting-edge theorists are starting to believe the queen has gotten a bad rap. Sure, she’s long been hailed as the most valuable piece save the king, but now it appears that strategists still have underestimated her true worth.

Recent statistical studies find that the queen fares far better against two rooks — which in theory are valued at “points” to her nine in materialistic calculations — than the manuals would predict. Computers have shown unexpected dexterity with Her Majesty, so much so that human players routinely try to seek an early queen swap when taking on the silicon beasts.

Aeroflot offered another case in point: In his game against fellow Russian GM Alexander Lastin, GM Sergy Ivanov willingly gave up his queen for rook, knight and pawn. Coupled with Black’s two bishops, it looked like a promising transaction.

But with Black’s pieces scattered about and his king exposed, it is the White queen who carries the day. Even doubling rooks along the second rank can’t keep her out: 27. Bxe5 Rd7 28. Rd1 Ree7 29. Bxg7! Rxg7 30. Qb8+ Kf7 31. Rxd5! (much better than picking off the knight on a7) Rxd5 32. Qxb7+, and one of Black’s rooks must fall.

After 32…Ke6 33. Qxg7 e3 34. Qh6+, the dominating queen will pick off the passed pawn, leaving White with a mess of pawns and the queen for Black’s forlorn rook and knight. Ivanov resigned.

Norwegian 13-year-old sensation Magnus Carlsen, who blitzed through the Group C competition last month at Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, is doing it again in Moscow, defeating veteran Russian GM Sergey Dolmatov in the Aeroflot event in a sparkling miniature.

In a sharp Dutch Defense line, White finds a new move on 8. Qxd4 Nf6 9. Bc4! (Bd3 had been played in the past), abandoning the c-pawn in order to prevent Black from castling king-side. Black hastens to cover up but finds his shaky defensive fortress breached on 13. Rhe1 Kd8?! (Black doesn’t have time for this; 13…0-0-0, whatever its dangers, was better) 14. Rxe7! Qxe7 15. Qf4, attacking the bishop and the pawn on d6.

The pressure proves too much on 15…Bd7 16. Ne4! d5 17. Nxf6 h6 18. Bh4 g5 (see diagram) 19. Qd4!, escaping the pawn fork and setting insuperable problems for Domatov; e.g. 19…gxh4 20. Nxd5! Qf8 (cxd5 21. Qxh8+ Qe8 22. Qxh6) Nb6!, forking rook and bishop and threatening mate on the move. Black resigned.

3rd Aeroflot Festival, Moscow, February 2004


1. e4e618. Nxe5Bf6

2. d4d519. a4Qxd4

3. e5c520. Ne4Qxe4

4. c3Qb621. Rxe4fxe4

5. Nf3Nc622. f3Re8

6. a3Nh623. fxe4dxe4

7. b4cxd424. Qg3Bd5

8. cxd4Nf525. Rd1Rad8

9. Bb2Be726. Rf1Bxe5

10. Bd3a527. Bxe5Rd7

11. Qa40-028. Rd1Ree7

12. b5f629. Bxg7Rxg7

13. Bxf5exf530. Qb8+Kf7

14. 0-0Be631. Rxd5Rxd5

15. Nc3Na732. Qxb7+Ke6

16. Qb3Rfd833. Qxg7e3

17. Rfe1fxe534. Qh6+Black


3rd Aeroflot Festival


1. Nf3f511. Bb3Be7

2. d3d612. 0-0-0Qd7

3. e4e513. Rhe1Kd8

4. Nc3Nc614. Rxe7Qxe7

5. exf5Bxf515. Qf4Bd7

6. d4Nxd416. Ne4d5

7. Nxd4exd417. Nxf6h6

8. Qxd4Nf618. Bh4g5

9. Bc4c619. Qd4Black

10. Bg5b5resigns

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

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