- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2005

Decisive games are rarely beautiful ones.The last-round tournament pairing, the final match game, the decisive point in a team match — in almost every case, the pressure of the moment and the pragmatic demands of the scoreboard work against artistic, imaginative play.

Still, such games have an attraction all their own and are worth replaying to see how great players take on great challenges. Some of the game’s storied champions, including Emanuel Lasker, Mikhail Botvinnik and Garry Kasparov, held onto their crowns with last-minute wins in world-championship matches.

The highly competitive German Bundesliga team championship came down to a single winner-take-all playoff match last weekend, with Werder Bremen upsetting Porz in a playoff by the slimmest of margins, 41/2-31/2. Bremen GM Zahar Efimenko scored a critical point on Board 4 against Russian veteran Rafael Vaganian of Porz in a game in which both players threw caution to the wind.

This Rubinstein French produces an uncharacteristically wide-open middle game, with Vaganian keeping his king in the center so as not to slow down his queen-side counterattack. With so much riding on the game, Black plays fearlessly with 17. Rde1 b5!? 18. f5 (the tempting 18. Nxf7? leads nowhere on 18…Kxf7 19. Qxe6+ Kf8 20. Bc2 Re8) 19. fxe6 bxc3 (fxe6 20. c4 Rac8 21. g4 Rd4 is also playable) 20. exf7 cxb2+ 21. Kb1 Bd5! (Rab8? 22. Ng6+! Kd7 [Kxf7 23. Qe6 mate] f8=Q Rxf8 24. Nxf8+ Qxf8 25. Bxa6 is good for White), when White has six discovered checks with the knight at his disposal but can’t damage Black’s game.

Black’s courage teeters over into recklessness on 22. Qxb2 (Nc6+?! Kf8 23. Nxd8 Rxd8 24. Rgf1 Bxf7, and Black’s safer king is worth the material investment) Kd6?!, when the saner 22…Kf8 23. Rc1 Qa5 gives Black strong pressure on a2.

Vaganian may have missed that on 23. Nc4+!, 24…Qxc4 (Rab8 25. Bb3 just leaves the Black king looking ridiculous) is verboten because 25. Qe5+ Kd7 (Kc6 26. Rc1) 26. Rd1+ Nd5 27. Rxd5+ Kc6 28. Rxd8 Rxd8 29. Rc1, White wins easily. He tried 23…Kc6 24. Ka1 Rab8 25. Qc3 (threatening 26. Na5+ Kb6 [Kd6 27. Qe5+ Kd7 28. Bf5+ Be6 29. Bxe6+ Ke7 30. Qxc5+ Rd6 31. Nc6+ Kf8 32. Qxd6 mate] 27. Rb1+, winning the queen) Bxc4, but after 26. Qxc4 cannot play 26…Qxc4 27. Bxc4 a5 because of 28. Re6+ Kb7 29. Rb1+ Kc7 30. Rxb8 Rxb8 31. Ra6, picking up a decisive second pawn.

Faced with an exposed king and a number of shaky pieces, Black does well just to survive until the endings after 32…Kf8 33. Rxe5 Nxe5 34. Qd4 Qxd4+ 35. Rxd4 Nxc4 36. Rxc4 Kxf7 37. Re4!, but Efimenko’s outside passed pawn and more active king prove the difference.

In the end, after 46. a6 Kd5 (Rb6 47. a7 Ra6+ 48. Kb2 Rb6+ 49. Ka1 wins tidily) 47. a7 Ra8 48. Kb4, Black resigns as White picks up the point in lines such as 48…Kc6 49. Kc4 Kb7 50. Kd4 Rd8+ 51. Ke4 Ka8 52. Kf5 Rd5+ 53. Kg4 Re5 54. Kxh3 and wins.

A more typical instance of the pressures of last-round chess came at the recent Armenian national championships, where GM Ashot Anastasian trailed co-favorites Karen Asrian and Gabriel Sargissian by a half-point going into the 11th and final round. Anastasian won and Sargissian lost, leaving Asrian to settle matters against untitled master Levon Babujian. Pressing too hard, Asrian winds up losing and has to settle for a second-place tie with Sargissian.

We pick up the action from today’s diagram, as Babujian as White has just played 62. Bd2-c3. Black had sacrificed a pawn 30 moves earlier and had been making his opponent suffer despite the material surplus because of White’s poor pawn structure, his inactive pieces and his blocked-in bishop.

Perhaps having seen his rival score the full point a board away, Asrian unwisely decides to force the action and recover his pawn. The result isn’t pretty.

Thus: 62…Qc7? (it’s only a draw on the superior 62…Qd7 63. Re4 Rxd5 64. Re8 Be5! 65. Rxe5 Rd3 66. Re7 [Re8 Qc6+ 67. Qe4 Qxe4+ 68. Rxe4 Rxc3 is dead equal, too] Qc6+ 67. Qe4 Qxe4+ 68. Rxe4 Rxc3, and Asrian apparently was set on a win) 63. Re4! Bxf4 64. Re8! (threatening mate on h8) Kh6 (f6 65. Re7+ Kh7 66. Rxc7 Bxe3 67. fxe3 wins a piece, and White also dominates on 64…g5 65. Qd4 f6 66. Qe4 hitting the rook and preparing 67. Re7+ Kg6 67. Rg8+ Kh7 68. Bxf6 Qf7 [Kxg8 69. Qe8+ Kh7 70. Qxh5+ Kg8 71. Qh8+ Kf7 72. Qg7+ Ke8 73. Qg8+ Kd7 74. Qe6 mate] 69. Rg7+ Qxg7 70. Bxg7 Kxg7 71. Qxf5) 65. h4, and Black’s king position is collapsing.

With his rook stranded on f5, Asrian is vulnerable to a nice tactic: 67. Qe4 Qd7 (Kg6 68. Rg8+ wins again) 68. Re6 Qxd5 69. Rxf6+! Kh7 70. Qxd5 Rxd5 71. hxg5 Rxg5+ (Bc1 72. g6+ Kh6 73. g7+ Kxg7 74. Rf5+ wins the rook) 72. Kf3 Be5 73. Bxe5 Rxe5 74. Rxa6, and, as in the first game, the outside passed pawn proves decisive.

In the final position, Black’s king is cut off at the second rank and White can simply work his f-pawn up the board. Asrian resigned.

Bundesliga 2004-2005 Championship Playoff, Bremen, Germany, May 2005


1. e4e625. Qc3Bxc4

2. d4d526. Qxc4Rd5

3. Nc3dxe427. Qxa6+Kd7

4. Nxe4Nd728. Qa4+Kd6

5. Nf3Ngf629. Qf4+Re5

6. Nxf6+Nxf630. Bc4Nd7

7. c3c531. Rd1+Ke7

8. Ne5a632. Rge1Kf8

9. Be3cxd433. Rxe5Nxe5

10. Bxd4Qc734. Qd4Qxd4+

11. Bd3Bc535. Rxd4Nxc4

12. Bxc5Qxc536. Rxc4Kxf7

13. Qe2b637. Re4Kf6

14. 0-0-0Bb738. Re2h5

15. Rhg1Ke739. a3g5

16. f4Rhd840. Ka2h4

17. Rde1b541. a4Kf5

18. f5b442. Ka3Kg4

19. fxe6bxc343. a5h3

20. exf7cxb2+44. g3Kf3

21. Kb1Bd545. Ra2Ke4

22. Qxb2Kd646. a6Kd5

23. Nc4+Kc647. a7Ra8

24. Ka1Rab848. Kb4Black


Armenian Championship, Yerevan, Armenia, May 2005


62. …Qc771. hxg5Rxg5+

63. Re4Bxf472. Kf3Be5

64. Re8Kh673. Bxe5Rxe5

65. h4g574. Rxa6Rf5+

66. Qd4f675. Kg3h4+

67. Qe4Qd776. Kxh4Rf4+

68. Re6Qxd577. Kg3Rxb4

69. Rxf6+Kh778. Rb6Ra4

70. Qxd5Rxd579. a6Black


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

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