- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Remarkably, his last tournament win came April, but world champion Magnus Carlsen was back in a familiar place — first — at the just-concluded Tata Steel Masters tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, the first elite super GM gathering of the year.

Riding a midtournament six-game winning streak, the Norwegian champ posted a 9-4 result, a half-point clear of French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, GM Ding Liren of China, and Philippine-born GM Wesley So, who was playing his first big international event representing the U.S. Chess Federation.

In the concurrent Tata Steel Challengers for up-and-coming stars, Chinese 15-year-old prodigy GM Wei Yi won the right to play in the 2016 Masters with a fine 10½-2½ score, a half-point ahead of Czech GM David Navara and 1? points ahead of young U.S. GM Sam Shankland.

It was a Dutch treat for the three young Americans playing in the two events, with Shankland not dropping a game in his 9-4 finish. Shankland was the top performer on last year’s U.S. Olympiad team, and Chessbase.com noted that he has now gone without a loss in the Olympiad, the Millionaire Chess Open, the Continental Championship, the Qatar Masters, Al Ain Open and now Tata. America’s newest grandmaster, 14-year-old New Yorker Sam Sevian, went plus-3 after dropping his first two games at Wijk to finish at a very credible 7?-5?, including a last-round win over Dutch chess legend Jan Timman, 50 years his senior.

So, still only 21 and now ranked seventh in the world, thrived in one of his first big international tests, with only a late loss to Dutch GM Anish Giri keeping him from challenging Carlsen for first. In one of his best games from Tata, So caught out Ukrainian star Vassily Ivanchuk with a prepared variation in the ultrasharp Ruy Lopez Marshall, with a known knight sacrifice that took his far more experienced opponent by surprise.

Nearly a century after the great American Frank Marshall introduced his famous gambit (9…d5), the line remains a tactical minefield not to be traversed by the ill-prepared. So himself had written recently of the idea for Black employed here — 12. Nxe5 Nxe5 13. Rxe5 Nf4! (previously 13…Nf6 had been played; So contends this move leads to at least a forced draw even with best play from White) 14. Nf3 (see diagram) Nxg2! 15. Kxg2 a5! — with the dual threats of 16…a4, trapping the bishop, and 16…Ra6, and the Black rook quickly swings over to join the kingside attack.

Flustered, White immediately bails out with 16. Rxe7?! (a4 was a tougher defense) Qxe7 17. c3? (and now 17. a4 is close to mandatory, though Black is still better after 17… Ra6 18. d4 Rg6+ 19. Kf1 Qd7 20. Ne5 Qxh3+ 21. Ke2 c5!, when 22. Nxg6?? allows 22…Bf3+ and wins) Ra6 18. d4 Rf6 (the rook’s presence gives Black a huge edge, though even stronger would have been 18…Rg6+! 19. Kf1 Qd7 20. Ng5 h6 21. Qd3 hxg5 22. Qxg6 Qxh3+ 23. Ke1 Qh1+ 24. Kd2 Bf3, with the threat of 25…Qg2) 19. d5, but Ivanchuk’s choice does nothing to slow down Black’s fierce Marshall attack.

White’s 21. Qe1 Qd7 22. Ng5? shows this was clearly not Ivanchuk’s day (White can still put up a fight with 22. Qe4 Rg6+ 23. Kh2 Bxd5 24. Qf5 Qxf5 25. Bxf5 Bxf3 26. Bxg6 hxg6 27. Bf4), and Black finishes up in style: 22…h6 23. Ne4 Rg6+ 24. Kh2 f5 25. Ng3 (losing quickly, but Black keeps the edge on 25. Bf4 fxe4 26. Qxe4 Rf6 27. Qh7+ Kf8 28. Rg1 Qf7) Qxd5 26. Qf1 Qg3!, and White resigns. Black threatens 27…Rxg3! 28. fxg3 (Qxg3 Qh1 mate) Qe2+, and 27. Be3 is met by the slick 27…Qxe3! 28. fxe3 Rd2+ 29. Qg2 Rxg2+ 30. Kh1 R2xg3+ 31. Kh2 Rg2+ 32. Kh1 Rg1+ 33. Kh2 R6g2 mate.

The big-name tournaments can suck all the oxygen out of the room, but there has been some entertaining chess being played elsewhere in the first month of the new year. We spotted a fun example won by IM Kanan Izzat over fellow IM Orkhan Abdulov at the 70th Azerbaijan national championships held in Baku (Garry Kasparov’s hometown), in which White’s bishops and queen slice and dice the opposing king on their way to a quick checkmate.

White is not subtle in this Open Catalan, signaling with 10. Nc3 h6 11. g4!? that he wants to mix it up. Black’s response — 11…Nd5?! (b6 12. Rd1 Bb7 13. Ne5 Rc8 looks good enough for equality) 12. g5 Nxc3 bxc3 hxg5 — only speeds up White’s attack while removing Black’s knight on f6, his best defensive piece. White’s dark-squared bishop joins the attack with a gain of tempo (18. Ba3), and another Black defensive lapse allows a spectacular final mating attack.

Thus: 21. Bd6 Qc8 (Abdulov’s pieces are all defending the wrong squares, and White alertly sacrifices material to fuel his attack) 22. Nxf6+! gxf6 (declining with 22…Kf7 23. Qf3 is no better, and 22…Kh8?? 23. Qh3 is mate) 23. Qg3+ Kf7 24. Bf3! (the other bishop joins in on the kill) e5 25. Bh5+ Ke6 26. Bf8! (with the threat of 27. Qg4+ f5 28. Qg6 mate) Bc6 (Qxc4 27. Qg8+ Kf5 28. Bg6+ Kg5 29. Bf7+ Kf4 30. Qg3+ Ke4 [Ke5 31. Qg6+ Kf4 32. Bh6 mate] 31. Qf3+ Kd4 32. Qe3 mate), and Izzat administered the coup de grace with 27. Qg4+ f5 28. Qg6+ Kd7 29. Qd6 mate.

GM Rauf Mamedov won the event on tiebreaks, with a 6½-2½ score.

Ivanchuk-So, Tata Steel Masters, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2015

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. h3 Bb7 9. d3 d5 10. exd5 Nxd5 11. Nbd2 Qd7 12. Nxe5 Nxe5 13. Rxe5 Nf4 14. Nf3 Nxg2 15. Kxg2 a5 16. Rxe7 Qxe7 17. c3 Ra6 18. d4 Rf6 19. d5 a4 20. Bc2 Rd8 21. Qe1 Qd7 22. Ng5 h6 23. Ne4 Rg6+ 24. Kh2 f5 25. Ng3 Qxd5 26. Qg1 Qf3 White resigns.

Izzat-Abdulov, 70th Azerbaijan Championship, Baku, January 2015

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 Be7 5. Nf3 O-O 6. O-O dxc4 7. Qc2 c5 8. dxc5 Bxc5 9. Qxc4 Qe7 10. Nc3 h6 11. g4 Nd5 12. g5 Nxc3 13. bxc3 hxg5 14. Nxg5 f6 15. Ne4 Bb6 16. Qb3 Rd8 17. Ba3 Qc7 18. Rad1 Nc6 19. Rxd8+ Nxd8 20. c4 Bd7 21. Bd6 Qc8 22. Nxf6+ gxf6 23. Qg3+ Kf7 24. Bf3 e5 25. Bh5+ Ke6 26. Bf8 Bc6 27. Qg4+ f5 28. Qg6+ Kd7 29. Qd6 mate.

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

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