- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

It’s been a rough hazing for America’s newest — and youngest — grandmaster as 14-year-old New Yorker Sam Sevian suffered two losses and a draw out of the gate at the Tata Steel Challengers tournament that got underway last week in the storied chess town of Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands.

Getting his first taste of international competition at the grown-ups’ table, Sevian and fellow American GM Samuel Shankland are playing in the lower flight of the year’s first world-class event. World champion Magnus Carlsen and Italian world No. 2 Fabiano Caruana headline a world-class 14-grandmaster field in the Tata Steel Masters tournament, running concurrently with the Challengers competition. We’ll have more games and analysis from both events in the weeks ahead.

Sevian got no chance to ease into his first real international event, running into a positional buzz saw in Round 1 against young Dutch GM Robin Van Kampen. For his debut, the newly minted American GM tried the super-solid Ruy Lopez Berlin as Black, but loses his way after 13. Ne3 Be6 14. Bc2 d5?!, prematurely trying to free his game.

But Black instead finds himself permanently saddled with a weak, isolated d-pawn after 15. exd5 cxd5 16. d4!, when 16…e4?! 17. f4! leaves Black with the unpleasant choice of 17…exf3 18. Qxf3 with heavy pressure on the kingside or 17…Qb8 18. g3 Bd8 19. f5, grabbing space on the kingside.

Sevian’s position becomes increasingly passive as he is forced to shore up the d-pawn, and even the queen trade after 25. a3 Qb6 26. Nc2! Qxd4 27. Nxd4 does little to ease Black’s plight; White would still be better on the active 27…b4 28. cxb4 axb4 29. a4! Bd7 30. Rxe8+ Rxe8 31. a5, with a powerful passed pawn.

As time control passes, Black again seeks activity with 38. f4 Rg8 (Ne6 39. Nxe6 Bxe6 40 Kd4) 39. Kd2 Ne6!? 40. Nxb5+ Bxb5 41. Bxb5 Nxf4, but with the alert 42. Re8! Rxe8 43. Bxe8 Nxg2 44. Bxa4 Nxh4 45. Bd1, Van Kampen simplifies to a minor-piece ending in which his bishop is clearly superior — with pawn play on both wings, the short-hopping knight is almost always at a big disadvantage.

The bishop can keep an eye on the Black h-pawn, while Sevian can do little to hold back Black’s queenside passers. With a little bit of care, White brings home the win after 51. Kf6 Nc4 52. Bg2! (Kxf7?? Ne5+ and Black actually wins) Ne3 53. Bh1 Ng4+ 54. Kxf7 Nf2 55. Bf3 Nd3 (h3 56. Kxg6 h2 57. Kf6 h1=Q 58. Bxh1 Nxh1 59. g6 and wins) 56. Ke6 Nf4+ 57. Ke5 Nd3+ 58. Kd4 Nf4 59. c4, when another Black pawn will fall; after playing 59…h3, Sevian decided to resign the hopeless ending.

The most famous American debut across the pond was almost certainly the sensational victory by unknown 22-year-old Bostonian Harry Nelson Pillsbury at the celebrated 1895 Hasting Masters Tournament, topping a field that included world champion Emanuel Lasker and such immortals as Steinitz, Tarrasch, Chigorin and Gunsberg.

Although it doesn’t attract the world-class fields it once did, Hastings remains an honored annual event on the calendar and this year produced another unlikely champion: Chinese GM Zhao Jun, who took the strong open Swiss event with an undefeated 8-1 score. He saved some of his best chess for the end, including a penultimate round wipeout of Uzbek GM Jahongir Vakhidov.

In a 3. Qd6 Scandinavian, Black spoils a solid defensive setup with a weakening pawn move, and Zhao quickly zeroes in for the kill: 12. Bb3 e6? (creating holes on the kingside and doing nothing to free Black’s game; much better was 12…Nd7 13. Nd3 b5, with a defensible game) 13. c4 Nf6 14. h3 c5 15. Bf4 Qa5 16. d5!, with the bishop on b3 comes alive after 16…exd5 17. cxd5 Ndb7 18. Re1.

Vakhidov has to neglect his queenside pieces simply to ward off White’s growing threats in the center, but his backward state leaves him ill-prepared when the White attack strikes: 20. Rc3 Bf4 (yet another move by an already developed piece, but the White bishop on h2 was very annoying) 21. Bxf4 Nxf4 22. Qd2 Nh5 (see diagram) 23. Nxf7!, drawing out the Black king because 23…Rxf7 24. dxe6 Qxd2 25. exf7+ Kxf7 26. Nxd2 loses the exchange and a pawn with no compensation.

But the Black king is a hanging pinata for the White pieces after 23…Kxf7 24. dxe6+ Ke7 (Bxe6 25. Ng5+ Kg8 26. Rd3 followed by 27. Nxe6 is crushing) 25. Rd3 Qc7 26. Qh6!, battered from every angle.

There’s already no hope of organizing a defense, and the Chinese GM gets in a few more sacrifices on the path to a won game: 26…Rh8 27. Ne5! Bxe6 (Nc6 28. Nxc6+ Qxc6 29. Bd1! Bxe6 30. Bxh5 gxh5 31. Qg7+ Ke8 32. Qf6 wins easily) 28. Nxg6+! hxg6 29. Qxh8 (now threatening the Black queen with 30. Qh7+) Kf7 30. Rf3+ Bf5 31. Rxf5+!, and Vakhidov has seen enough, resigning before having to play out 31…gxf5 32. Qxh5+ Kf6 33. Qh6+ Kf7 34. Qh7+ Kf6 35. Qxc7, with an overwhelming advantage.

Van Kampen-Sevian, Tata Steel Challengers, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2015

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. O-O Nd4 6. Nxd4 Bxd4 7. c3 Bb6 8. Na3 c6 9. Ba4 O-O 10. Bg5 h6 11. Bh4 d6 12. Nc4 Bc7 13. Ne3 Be6 14. Bc2 d5 15. exd5 cxd5 16. d4 exd4 17. Qxd4 Qd6 18. Bg3 Qb6 19. Bxc7 Qxc7 20. Rad1 Rfd8 21. Rfe1 b5 22. Bf5 Re8 23. Bd3 Rab8 24. Re2 a5 25. a3 Qb6 26. Nc2 Qxd4 27. Nxd4 Bd7 28. Rxe8+ Bxe8 29. b4 a4 30. f3 Bd7 31. Kf2 Kf8 32. Ke3 Ke7 33. h4 Kd6 34. g4 g6 35. Rg1 Ne8 36. g5 h5 37. Re1 Nc7 38. f4 Rg8 39. Kd2 Ne6 40. Nxb5+ Bxb5 41. Bxb5 Nxf4 42. Re8 Rxe8 43. Bxe8 Ng2 44. Bxa4 Nxh4 45. Bd1 Nf5 46. a4 Kc6 47. Bf3 Nd6 48. Kd3 h4 49. Kd4 Nf5+ 50. Ke5 Ne3 51. Kf6 Nc4 52. Bg2 Ne3 53. Bh1 Ng4+ 54. Kxf7 Nf2 55. Bf3 Nd3 56. Ke6 Nf4+ 57. Ke5 Nd3+ 58. Kd4 Nf4 59. c4 h3 and Black resigns.
 
Zhao-Vakhidov, 90th Hastings Congress, Hastings England, January 2015

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qd6 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 g6 6. Nb5 Qb6 7. Na3 c6 8. Nc4 Qc7 9. Nce5 Bg7 10. Bc4 O-O 11. O-O Nd5 12. Bb3 e6 13. c4 Nf6 14. h3 c5 15. Bf4 Qa5 16. d5 Qd8 17. Rc1 b6 18. Re1 Nh5 19. Bh2 Bh6 20. Rc3 Bf4 21. Bxf4 Nxf4 22. Qd2 Nh5 23. Nxf7 Kxf7 24. dxe6+ Ke7 25. Rd3 Qc7 26. Qh6 Rh8 27. Ne5 Bxe6 28. Nxg6+ hxg6 29. Qxh8 Kf7 30. Rf3+ Bf5 31. Rxf5+ Black resigns.

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

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