- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2015

With the mercury rising and attention spans wilting, we take our traditional midsummer break from rigorous opening analysis or tedious endgame play to focus on some lighter August fare — a collection of miniatures taken from recent tournament play.

One would think that, given the rise of databases and computer-aided analysis, the modern player could get through the first dozen moves or so without landing in a lost position, but never underestimate the ingenuity of the human brain to get into trouble. And make no mistake — mistakes must be made if a game between two competent players is to end in fewer than 25 moves.

We have a nice smorgasbord of short games on offer here, starting with the classic miniature format: a really good player beating an overmatched opponent. The really good player here is veteran Dutch GM Jan Timman, making short work of his Class A player in the first round of the recent Politiken Cup, a strong annual Swiss event.

The startling thing here is how quickly Black capsizes on what look to be relatively placid seas. Out of a Queen’s Gambit Semi-Slav, Timman as White seems to have only the slightest of advantages after 10. Qa4 Bb7 11. Ne5, and Black would have very much in the contest in lines such as 11…b5 12. Qc2 Nxe5!? 13. dxe5 Nd7 14. Bxe7 Qxe7 15. Bxh7+ Kh8 16. Bf5 Nxe5, with balanced play.

Instead, Black fails to appreciate the lurking peril and collapses after 11…Nxe5? 12. dxe5 Nd7?? (least bad now was 12…Nh5, though White is clearly better after 13. Bxe7 Qxe7 14. g4 c5 15. gxh5 c4 16. Bb1 Qg5+ 17. Kh1 Qxh5 18. Qd1) 13. Qh4!, a double attack that leads Black to resign immediately. Timman threatens 14. Bxe7 and 14. Qxh7 mate, and 13…f6 leads to mate after 14. Qxh7+ Kf7 15. Qg6+ Kg8 (Ke6 16. Bf5+ Kxe5 17. Bf4 mate) 16. Bh6 Rf7 17. Qh7+ Kf8 18. Qh8 mate.

The second game illustrates a second familiar scenario: the overconfident grandmaster running into a trap in the opening. The victim here is Georgian GM Levan Pantsulaia, ambushed by Iranian FM Masoud Mosadeghpour’s Smith-Morra Gambit from an open tournament in Iran last month. (Pantsulaia was actually the top-seeded player in the event.)

Black appears unprepared for the nuances of the sharp gambit, and already is in trouble after 10. Bb3 b5 11. Nd5!, when White has great play after 11…exd5 12. exd5 Na5 13. Re1 Be7 15. d6 Nxb3 15. axb3 0-0 16. dxe7. White is already calling the shots when the grandmaster makes a defensive lapse that opens the floodgates.

Thus: 16. Bf4 d6? (f6 had to be played, though after 17. g3 Qh3 [Qg4? 18. Qxg4 Nxg4 19. Bxb8] 18. Bxe5 fxe5 19. f4!, White threatens 20. fxe5 a4 21. Rf2 axb3 22. Nf4, trapping the queen) 17. Bxe5 dxe5 18. Nxg7+! Bxg7 (or 18…Ke7 19. Rc7+ Kf6 20. Qf3+ Kxg7 21. Qxf7 mate) 19. Qd6, and the Black rook is lost as 19…Ra8 [Rb7 20. Rxc8+] allows 20. Qc6+.

White wins the exchange and retains a devastating attack in the short, sweet climax — 19…Bd7 20. Qxb8+ Ke7 21. Qb7 Rd8 22. Rfd1 Ke8 23. Rc7 Qe7 24. Rcxd7! Rxd7 25. Qxb5, and Black resigned as 26. Ba4 is coming next and 25…Kd8 runs into 26. Qb8 mate.

And finally, there’s the miniature between equals where even a grandmaster can have a bad day at the office. Belarus GM Nikita Maiorov is usually a solid performer, but a bit of deeply misplaced greed on Move 7 from the Black side of this Scotch Opening already puts him on the express lane to ruin. The beneficiary is Ukrainian GM Adam Tukhaev, who makes his knights dance in a way reminiscent of some of the piquant miniatures played in the game’s 19th century Romantic era.

Black wins the exchange but nothing else goes right after 7. Nc3 Bxh2? 8. Rxh2 Qg3+ 9. Ke2 Qxh2, as White builds up his attack while harassing the misplaced Black queen with 10. Nd5 (threatening 11. Bf4) Qd6 11. Bf4 Ne5 12. Nd4 (eyeing 13. Nb5) c6 13. Nf5 Qb8 14. Qd4.

The rest is a massacre, although one carried out in some pleasing geometric patterns: 14…f6 15. Nxg7+ Kf7 16. Nxf6! d6 17. Nfe8 (with the threat of 18. Nxd6+ Kxg7 19. Qxe5+ Nf6 [Kg6 20. Qg5 mate] 20. Qe7+ Kg6 21. Qf7 mate) Ke7 18. Bg5+ Kd7 (see diagram), and Tukhaev gets to finish things off with a queen sacrifice: 19. Qxe5! c5 (dxe5 20. Rd1+ Qd6 21. Qxd6 mate), and Maiorov resigned without needing to see 20. Ke3! (clearing the way for 21. Bb5+) a6 (exd5 21. Rd1 is mate) 21. Rd1, and there’s no defense against the coming 22. Qxd6+ Qxd6 23. Rxd6 mate.

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

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