- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

The annual Melody Amber Tournament in ritzy Monte Carlo is both gimmicky and irresistible.

Take a dozen of the world’s top grandmasters, including world champion Vladimir Kramnik and Indian superstar Viswanathan Anand, and place them in a unique format in which they play one rapid (Game/25) and one blindfold game against each of their opponents. The result: a fair helping of horrific blunders but also some of the most engaging and eccentric chess played on the top circuit.

Kramnik is the acknowledged master of the blindfold game, which in Monte Carlo means sitting in front of a blank board on a computer screen, clicking a mouse to move pieces that neither player can see.

Russian Alexander Morozevich and Spain’s Alexei Shirov, both in the Amber field, are perhaps the two most inventive players among top-flight grandmasters. Their blindfold encounter in Monaco was a classic tactical donnybrook, all the more astonishing as neither player had sight of the pieces to aid in his calculations.

Morozevich’s 5. d3 is one of the quieter Ruy Lopez lines, but the two gladiators don’t play it safe for long. Already by 11. exf5 Bxf5 12. Ng5!? (Qb3+!? Kh8 13. Qxb7 c6 15. Bxc6 Nf6 16. Bxa8 Nxd5 17. Bxd5 Bxd3 is an equally double-edged tangent) Kh8 13. Bb3 d5!?, the big question appears to be which player gets to sacrifice material first.

White takes the prize with 18. d4 Qh4 19. Kh1! Qxf2 20. Qg4 Qxb2, giving up two pawns but luring Shirov’s queen far from the action. Even with the blindfold off, White’s 22. Bc2 f3 (R5f6 looks more solid) 23. Ne3 f2 24. Bxf5!! would bean extraordinarily brave decision, giving up a rook with check. The ensuing complications will favor White, though, as the Black monarch is less secure than he seems at first blush.

Thus: 24…fxe1=Q+ 25. Rxe1 Rf6 (Black is hard-pressed to find a credible defense; if 25…gxf5, White has 26. Nxf5 Bh6 27. Rg1 Ne5 28. dxe5 Qb6 29. Nd4 Kh8 30. e6!, vivisecting the Black defense) 26. Rg1 Ne7 27. Nxd5!.

Black’s overburdened pieces can’t cope, and Shirov’s queen is simply missing in action. The finale: 27…Nxd5 (Nxf5 28. Nxf6+ Kh8 29. Qxg6 Bxf6 30. Qg8 mate; or 27…Rxf5 28. Nxe7 Rf6 29. Qh4+ Bh6 30. Qxf6, winning) 28. Bxg6+ Kg8 (Kh8 29. Qc8+ Bf8 30. Qh3+ Kg7 31. Qh7 mate) 29. Bh5!.

Shirov surrendered, as it is mate on 29…Rf7 30. Bxf7+ Kxf7 31. Qxg7+ Ke6 (Ke8 32. Re1+) 32. Qe5+ Kd7 33. Qxd5+ Ke8 34. Qe6+ Kf8 35. Rg8.

Russian ex-champ Garry Kasparov is one of the few top players not competing in the Melody Amber, which winds up this week. Kasparov just took first prize in a 16-player rapid knockout tournament in Iceland, defeating Britain’s Nigel Short in the thrilling two-game final.

The U.S. Amateur Team East tournament, held annually in Parsippany, N.J., has to be among the world’s most democratic chess events. Grandmasters and tyros casually rub elbows, often competing on the same four-player squad. With 1,150 players and 276 teams entered this year, the Team East event set yet another attendance record.

Competing as “Dean Ippolito, LLC,” the team of IM Dean Ippolito, FM Stanislav Kriventsov, Mike Bernshteyn and Scott Lalli took first prize this year on tie-breaks and will compete against the winners of the three other (much smaller) regional team championships later this year.

Embracing the “all players are created equal” Parsippany ethos, we have a nice upset from the event. Expert John Sneed of Texas surprises veteran NM Ruben Shocron of Pennsylvania with a pair of startling rook sacrifices that blow open his opponent’s game.

Shocron as Black emerges unscathed from this Giuoco Piano, and after 15. Rg5 Nb6, a classic isolated d-pawn position has emerged. The White isolani is a potential liability, but for the moment, Sneed enjoys far greater piece mobility than his higher-rated opponent.

Perhaps already looking ahead to a pleasant endgame, Shocron fails to sense the dangers still lurking in the middle game. Black’s 21. Ne5 Nxe5 22. Rxe5 Nc8?! is the first sign that his protective radar shields aren’t working, for the slow queen-side maneuvering ignores the lonely Black king on the other wing. With 23. Qe3, White sets the trap, and with 23…b6?? (see diagram; this is suicidal — mandatory was something like 23…f6 24. Rxd5 [Rh5 Rde8 25. Qd3 h6 26. Rgh3 Kg8 is harmless] Rxd5 25. Ne6 Qe7 26. Nxf8 Qxf8 27. Bc4 Rd8 and Black is still very much in it), Black falls right in.

The punishment is swift and brutal: 24. Rxg7! Rd6 (Kxg7 25. Qg5+ Kh8 26. Qf6+ Kg8 27. Rg5 mate is too easy) 25. Rxh7+!! (crude but unanswerable) Kxh7 (Kg8 26. Reh5 Rg6 27. Rh8+ Kg7 28. R5h7+ Kf6 29. Nd7+! Qxd7 [Kf5 30. Rh5+ Kg4 31. h3 mate] 30 Qe5 mate) 26. Rh5+ forces resignation, as the queen is lost on either 26…Kg8 27. Qg3+ Rg6 28. Qxc7 or 26…Kg7 27. Qe5+ f6 28. Qg3+ Kf7 29. Rh7+.

13th Melody Amber Blindfold/Rapid Tournament, Monte Carlo, Monaco, March 2004

Morozevich Shirov

1. e4 e5 16. Nxh7 Kxh7

2. Nf3 Nc6 17. gxf5 Rxf5

3. Bb5 a6 18. d4 Qh4

4. Ba4 Nf6 19. Kh1 Qxf2

5. d3 d6 20. Qg4 Qxb2

6. c3 g6 21. Rac1 Raf8

7. 0-0 Bg7 22. Bc2 f3

8. Nbd2 0-0 23. Ne3 f2

9. Re1 Nh5 24. Bxf5 fxe1=Q+

10. Nf1 f5 25. Rxe1 Rf6

11. exf5 Bxf5 26. Rg1 Ne7

12. Ng5 Kh8 27. Nxd5 Nxd5

13. Bb3 d5 28. Bxg6+ Kg8

14. g4 Nf4 29. Bh5 Black

15. Bxf4 exf4 resigns

U.S. Amateur Team East, Parsippany, N.J., February 2004

Sneed Shocron

1. e4 e5 14. Rae1 Ng6

2. Nf3 Nc6 15. Rg5 Nb6

3. Bc4 Bc5 16. Bf1 Kh8

4. c3 Nf6 17. Qa3 Be6

5. d4 exd4 18. Rg3 Qc7

6. cxd4 Bb4+ 19. Ne4 Rbd8

7. Bd2 Bxd2+ 20. Nc5 Bd5

8. Nbxd2 d5 21. Ne5 Nxe5

9. exd5 Nxd5 22. Rxe5 Nc8

10. Qb3 Nce7 23. Qe3 b6

11. 0-0 0-0 24. Rxg7 Rd6

12. Rfe1 Rb8 25. Rxh7+ Kxh7

13. Re5 c6 26. Rh5+ Black

resigns

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

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