- The Washington Times - Friday, November 4, 2005

Almost three decades after he last qualified for the world-championship cycle, Brazilian

GM Henrique Mecking is back in the title hunt.

The 53-year-old Mecking, the greatest chess talent Brazil has ever produced, finished in a tie for second behind compatriot GM Gilberto Milos at the FIDE zonal tournament in Sao Paolo last month, advancing to the championship cycle on tiebreaks.

One of the world’s top players in the years after Bobby Fischer’s withdrawal from chess in 1972, Mecking won two major interzonal tournaments in the 1970s. In the cycle of candidates’ matches that was supposed to produce Fischer’s first challenger, Mecking narrowly lost to Viktor Korchnoi — one of the few other players from that era still producing top-quality chess.

Mecking, a prodigy like Fischer who won his first Brazilian national crown at the age of 13, had a career nearly as star-crossed as the American’s. Struck down with a rare bone disease in 1979 just as he was entering his prime competitive years, the Brazilian largely withdrew from the game before a surprise re-entry a decade ago.

Shaky nerves were always the Brazilian’s weakness in top-level play, and his rating no longer puts him among the game’s elite. Nevertheless, he showed in Sao Paolo that he remains a dangerous opponent, especially in the middle game, where he always excelled.

Against Brazilian master Roberto Assumpcao, Mecking turns a small opening advantage in a Closed Catalan into a winning edge with a few simple, powerful moves: 16. Bh3 e5?! (as the better-developed player, White will benefit more from this central break) 17. cxd5 cxd5 18. dxe5 fxe5 19. Ng5! g6 20. Qa4!, and suddenly Black’s game is under serious pressure.

The immediate threat is 21. Rxc8 Qxc8 22. Bxd7 Qb8 23. fxe5 Bxe5 24. Qh4 h5 25. Ne6 Rf7 26. Rxg6 and Black’s defense collapses. Assumpcao tries 20…b5!? 21. Qxb5 Rb8 22. Rxc8! Qxc8 23. Qxd5! (stronger than 23. Qxd7 Qxd7 24. Bxd7 Rxb2 25. fxe5 Rxd2 26. exd6 Rfxf2 27. Rc1 Rxh2+ 28. Kg1 Rdg2+ 29. Kf1 Rxa2 and Black may even have the edge) Qb7 24. Qxb7 Rxb7 25. Nc4, but after 25…Be7 26. Nxa5 Rb5 27. Nc4 exf4 28. Ne6 Rfb8 29. Nxf4, the tactical skirmish has given White both a positional and material edge.

White increases his advantage with 31. Nxe5 Rxe5 32. Rxg6!, when losing for Black is 32…hxg6 33. Nxg6+ Kh7 34. Nxe5 Rxb2 35. Kg2.

Black’s 33. Rg1 Rxf2?! is close to surrender, but even the tougher 33…Ra5 34. Be6 Rg5 35. Nd5 Rxg1+ 36. Kxg1 Bd6 37. Kg2 leaves White in charge. By 40. Kf3 Kh4 41. e5!, Black’s king has to worry about mating traps (e.g. 41…Kxh3?? 42. Rh1 mate), and Assumpcao could have resigned with honor anytime after 48. Nxc7 Rxc7 49. e6.

In the final position, following 53. Kf5 Ra5+ 54. Kf6, the passed pawn will cost Black his rook. Assumpcao resigned.

Mecking has always been a master of the middle game. Today’s second game, against Argentine IM Carlos Juarez, was played in the same city, Sao Paolo, in a tournament more than 30 years ago and features another powerful middle game onslaught.

In a Sicilian Kan (5. Bd3), Black does well enough through the first dozen moves, but his passive play after that meets with a dynamic response from Mecking.

Thus: 14. Qc2 Nd7?! (a defensive retreat when strong countermeasures were needed) 15. Na3 a5 16. Rac1 Bc5 17. Red1 Bb7 18. Bf1!, when Black is probably well advised to accept the slight inferiority of 18…Bxa3 19. Bxa3 c5 20. f3 (Bxc5?! Rfc8) Rfd8 21. Qf2, even though his c-pawn remains a real weakness.

Instead, White takes over the game with simple, purposeful play on 18…Be7?! 19. Nb5! Qc8 20. Nd6 Bxd6 (a far less advantageous square for this trade than a3) 21. Rxd6 Re8 22. Rcd1 Nf8 23. Qc5!, when White’s pieces dominate the board and Black’s have almost no scope.

The positional edge is once again converted into a material one, relying on some clever geometric tactics: 24. Bc4+ Kh8 (disastrous is 24…Ne6? 25. Bxe6+ Rxe6 26. Qc4 Kf7 27. Rd7+) 25. Qb6 a4 26. Bf7! Re7 27. Rd8!.

Least worst for Black now is probably the grim 27…Rxf7 28. Rxc8 Rxc8, though White’s edge is close to overwhelming in lines like 29. Ba3 axb3 30. Qxb3 Rfc7 31. Bc5.

Juarez instead seeks a queen trade with 27…Qc7 (see diagram), only to be hit by the decisive 28. Rxa8! Bxa8 (Qxb6 29. Rxf8 mate) 29. Rd8!, when Black resigns in the face of 29…g6 (Qxb6 is again verboten because of 30. Rxf8 mate) 30. Rxf8+ Kxg7 31. Qxc7 Rxc7 32. Rxa8 Kxf7, and White is a full piece to the good. Black resigned.

FIDE Zonal, Sao Paolo, Brazil, October 2005


1. d4Nf628. Ne6Rfb8

2. c4e629. Nxf4Ne5

3. Nf3Bb4+30. a4Rc5

4. Bd2a531. Nxe5Rxe5

5. g30-032. Rxg6Rxb2

6. Bg2d533. Rg1Rxf2

7. Qc2c634. Nd3Ref5

8. 0-0Nbd735. Bxf5Rxf5

9. Bf4Be736. e4Ra5

10. Nbd2Nh537. Ra1Kg7

11. Rac1Nxf438. Kg2Kf6

12. gxf4Bd639. h3Kg5

13. e3f640. Kf3Kh4

14. Kh1Qe841. e5Bd8

15. Rg1Kh842. Nf4Rc5

16. Bh3e543. Rg1Rc3+

17. cxd5cxd544. Ke4h5

18. dxe5fxe545. Rg8Bc7

19. Ng5g646. Nd5Rc4+

20. Qa4b547. Kd3Rc1

21. Qxb5Rb848. Nxc7Rxc7

22. Rxc8Qxc849. e6Ra7

23. Qxd5Qb750. Rd8Re7

24. Qxb7Rxb751. Rd6Kxh3

25. Nc4Be752. Ke4Ra7

26. Nxa5Rb553. Kf5Ra5+

27. Nc4exf454. Kf6Black


Sao Paolo, 1972


1. e4c516. Rac1Bc5

2. Nf3e617. Red1Bb7

3. d4cxd418. Bf1Be7

4. Nxd4a619. Nb5Qc8

5. Bd3Nf620. Nd6Bxd6

6. 0-0Qc721. Rxd6Re8

7. Re1d622. Rcd1Nf8

8. c4Nc623. Qc5f6

9. Nxc6bxc624. Bc4+Kh8

10. b3Be725. Qb6a4

11. Bb2e526. Bf7Re7

12. c50-027. Rd8Qc7

13. cxd6Bxd628. Rxa8Bxa8

14. Qc2Nd729. Rd8Black

15. Na3a5resigns

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

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