- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2014

In St. Louis this year, the Cardinals were good, but the Arch Bishops were better.

The baseball team may have come up short in the playoffs, but the Gateway City’s U.S. Chess League franchise went all the way, winning its first league championship in a blitz playoff against the Dallas Destiny Dec. 3.

St. Louis has become the hot new city of American chess, anchored by the stunning St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center and the scholastic successes of the Webster University college team. GM Wesley So, the Philippine-born GM who now attends Webster, was a rock for the Arch Bishops, going undefeated on Board 1 this season and scoring a critical win in the finals against the Destiny’s GM Conrad Holt. The victory earned So his fourth “Game of the Week” honors from the USCL.

With 7. Ne2 cxd4 8. cxd4 f6, the classic counterattack against White’s advanced center in the Tarrasch French Defense is on in earnest. Black has to be careful not to get overrun early; e.g. after 12. Nf4, 14…Nxd4?! hands White the better game after 13. Bxh7+ Nxh7 14. Qxd4 Bf6 15. Ngf6 Re8 16. Bf4. So puts his faith in the power of his bishop pair two moves later with 13. Re1 Nxd4 14. Bd2! (Bxh7+ still works, but White would rather post a strong bishop on c3 than recover the pawn) Bd6 15. Bc3 Bxe5 16. Rxe5, when 16…Nxe4 17. Bxe4 Rxf4 18. Bxd5! exd5 19. Rxd5 Nf3+ (Rf7 20. Qxd4 Qc7 21. Rg5, with terrific pressure) 20. gxf3 Rf7 21. Qd3 gives White a clear edge.

The open position clearly benefits the White bishops over the Black knights, and a defensive slip by Holt allows the bishops to go on the attack: 23. Bg5 Rce8? (tougher was 23…Rc7! 24. g3 Qc3 25. Ra2) 24. Rxf6! gxf6 (Rxe2 25. Rxf8+ Qg8 26. Rxg8+ Kxg8 27. Bxe2 is simply winning for White) 25. Bxf6+ Rxf6 (Kg8? 26. Bc4+) 26. Qxe8+ Kg7 27. Qe4 Rg6, and So has won a pawn while his marvelously centralized queen dominates the board.

Grandmasterly technique brings home the point, as Black’s passed d-pawn never develops into a credible threat. The last minor piece comes off after 35. Rc1 Nc6 36. Bxc6 bxc6 37. Rxc6, and Black even manages to get in a mate-in-one threat after 37…Qd1+ 38. Kh2 Qg4, but White has things well in hand. He finishes things off with a nice queen-and-rook mate after 39. g3 Kg8 (d2 40. Rxa6! Qc8 [d1=Q 41. Ra8+] 41. Rd6, winning) 40. Qd8+ Kf7 41. Rf6 mate.

The finals match between St. Louis and Dallas ended in a 2-2 tie, but the Arch Bishops easily prevailed in the blitz playoff.

Holt and his French Defense were involved in one of the more remarkable games of the USCL season, another “Game of the Week” winner in October from Dallas’ match against the San Francisco Mechanics. Holt and GM Daniel Naroditsky engaged in a sprawling, seesaw battle, with a highly uneven pawn ending producing an unexpected denouement.

It’s another Tarrasch, but one that goes in a completely different direction after Black locks up the center with 8. 0-0 c4!? 9. Bc2 b5 10. Re1 b4 11. Nf1 a5 12. Ng3 h5 13. h4!? — with Black grabbing all the space on queenside, Naroditsky sacrifices a pawn to accelerate his initiative on the other side of the board.

With Black’s position badly underdeveloped, White pushes the pedal to the floor with 18. Qf4 a4 (see diagram; the ensuing tactical play from both sides is conducted at a very high level) 19. Nf5!? exf5 20. e6 fxe6! (Black faces real trouble in lines such as 20…f6 21. Qc7 fxg5 22. Qxc6+ Ke7 23. Qc7+ Kf6 24. e7 Qe8 25. Qxb6+ Kf7 26. Qc5 Be6 27. Rxe6! Kxe6 28. Re1+ Kf7 29. Qxd5+) 21. Qc7 Ne7 22. Qxb6, recovering the sacrificed piece.

The battle only intensifies on 25. Re5 g6 26. Rxd5! (Naroditsky continually finds inventive ways to keep his attack going) Bc6 (exd5 17. Re1 Re8 28. Qf6+ Kg8 29. Bh6 and wins) 27. Qxd8 Rhxd8 28. Rc5 Rd6 29. Rxc4, and White emerges with an extra pawn. Black’s once-proud queenside phalanx is obliterated after 32. Bxe7 Kxe7 33. Rxc6! Rxc6 34. Bxa4 Rcd6 35. Bxd7 Kxd7 36. d5 Rb6.

Holt would seem to have little change of holding the king-and-pawn ending after 37. Rc1 Kd6 38. Rc6+?! (given how things turn out, White’s only winning hopes may have been to keep the rooks on the board) Rxc6 39. dxc6 Kxc6 40. f4 exf4 41. Kf2 — a remarkable position in which White has a two-pawn edge, a trio of connected passed pawns on the queenside, and apparently no way to force a win.

Naroditsky’s dilemma is clarified after 45. Kf2 Kc6: The White king can’t leave the kingside with Black able to push through a passed pawn, but White’s own passers can’t break through without the help of their faraway king.

The fascinating struggle has a satisfyingly piquant finish, as Holt throws away all of his pawns at just the right moment to secure the draw: 60. b6+ Kb8 61. Kg1 h2+ 62. Kh1 g2+! 63. Kxg2 h1=Q+! 64. Kxh1, and with Black’s pawn blocked and his king pinned to the back rank, it’s a draw by stalemate. A truly remarkable game!

En passant … Showing real fortitude, Indian great Viswanathan Anand has won the London Chess Classic over a world-class field of six top grandmasters. Anand’s win with Black over English GM Michael Adams in the fifth and final round produced a three-way tie with Russian former world champion Vladimir Kramnik and rising Dutch star Anish Giri, with Anand taking the title on tiebreaks. The win comes just weeks after Anand’s difficult loss in his rematch with world champion Magnus Carlsen. … The 41st annual Eastern Open, a local tradition, kicks off Dec. 26 at the Doubletree Hotel in Bethesda. There will be equipment for sale and spectating is free. Details at www.easternopenchess.com.

So-Holt, U.S. Chess League Finals, December 2014

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Be7 4.e5 c5 5.c3 Nc6 6.Bd3 Bd7 7.Ne2 cxd4 8.cxd4 f6 9.Nf3 fxe5 10.Nxe5 Nf6 11.0-0 0-0 12.Nf4 Rc8 13.Re1 Nxd4 14.Bd2 Bd6 15.Bc3 Bxe5 16.Rxe5 Nc6 17.Nxe6 Bxe6 18.Rxe6 d4 19.Bd2 Qd5 20.Qe2 Kh8 21.b4 a6 22.a3 Qb3 23.Bg5 Rce8 24.Rxf6 gxf6 25.Bxf6+ Rxf6 26.Qxe8+ Kg7 27.Qe4 Rg6 28.Qf3 Re6 29.Qg4+ Kh8 30.h4 Re7 31.Be4 d3 32.Qf3 Rd7 33.Rd1 Ne5 34.Qf6+ Rg7 35.Rc1 Nc6 36.Bxc6 bxc6 37.Rxc6 Qd1+ 38.Kh2 Qg4 39.g3 Kg8 40.Qd8+ Kf7 41.Rf6 mate.

Naroditsky-Holt, U.S. Chess League, October 2014

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Be7 4.Ngf3 Nf6 5.e5 Nfd7 6.Bd3 c5 7.c3 Nc6 8.0-0 c4 9.Bc2 b5 10.Re1 b4 11.Nf1 a5 12.Ng3 h5 13.h4 Bxh4 14.Nxh4 Qxh4 15.Be3 Nb6 16.Qd2 Qe7 17.Bg5 Qf8 18.Qf4 a4 19.Nf5 exf5 20.e6 fxe6 21.Qc7 Ne7 22.Qxb6 Kf7 23.cxb4 Bd7 24.Qd6 Qd8 25.Re5 g6 26.Rxd5 Bc6 27.Qxd8 Rhxd8 28.Rc5 Rd6 29.Rxc4 Ra7 30.a3 Rad7 31.Rd1 e5 32.Bxe7 Kxe7 33.Rxc6 Rxc6 34.Bxa4 Rcd6 35.Bxd7 Kxd7 36.d5 Rb6 37.Rc1 Kd6 38.Rc6+ Rxc6 39.dxc6 Kxc6 40.f4 exf4 41.Kf2 Kb5 42.b3 g5 43.Kf3 h4 44.Ke2 g4 45.Kf2 Kc6 46.a4 Kb6 47.b5 Kc5 48.b4+ Kb6 49.Kg1 g3 50.Kf1 f3 51.gxf3 h3 52.f4 Kb7 53.a5 Ka7 54.b6+ Kb7 55.b5 Kb8 56.a6 Ka8 57.b7+ Ka7 58.Kg1 Kb8 59.Kh1 Ka7 60.b6+ Kb8 61.Kg1 h2+ 62.Kh1 g2+ 63.Kxg2 h1Q+ 64.Kxh1 Draw agreed.

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

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