- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Chess is a war game that doesn’t do well in wartime.

Tournaments played on the cusp of a great conflict have a special poignancy. Paul Morphy’s career — and perhaps his life — were derailed as the American Civil War broke out just as he was making his mark as the world’s greatest player. The fabled St. Petersburg tournament of 1914 featured a collection of the game’s immortals who would not get another chance to compete in such a comprehensive event for another decade.

The tensions aren’t just historical — there’s an extra level of angst these days when a Russian and Ukrainian grandmaster sit down to play, and team matches between Armenia and Azerbaijan can be delicate exercises in diplomacy.

Just this month, the field of the third Arab Elite Championship, a 16-player invitational, featured IM Basheer al-Qudaimi, Yemen’s top-rated player, and rivals from six of the Arab countries that have launched an air bombing campaign against his country, a group that included Egypt, Jordan and tournament host United Arab Emirates.

Thankfully, all the fighting seems to have been limited to the chessboard, and al-Qudaimi finished a very creditable fourth at 6-3, 1 points behind Qatari GM Mohammed al-Sayed. The Yemeni earned a wild point in holding off the attack of Tunisian FM Amir Zaibi in a rare Bishop’s Opening.

White makes no bones about his kingside mating intentions, but al-Qudaimi proves a very cool defender: 13. Re3 Nxb3 14. Bf6!? Be7! (the only move but a good one not) 14…Nxa1?? [gxf6?? 15. Rg3+ Kh8 16. Qh6 Rb8 17. Qxf6+ and mate next] 15. Qg5 g6 16. Qh6) 15. Bxe7 (Black is better on both) 15. Bxe5 Qa5! 16. cxb3 f6, and 15. Bxg7 Kxg7 16. axb3 Be6 17. Rg3+ Kh8 18. Qh6 Rg8) Nxa1 16. Bxf8 Kxf8, when White should have dialed things back with 17. Na3 Be6 18. Re1 Nxc2 19. Nxc2 h6, though Black is clearly better.

Zaibi was clearly in a rampaging mood, but his effort to keep his attack alive is cold-bloodedly repelled by Black: 17. Qxh7?! Nxc2 18. Qh8+ Ke7 19. Qh4+ f6 20. Rg3 g5 21. Qh8 Qd6 22. Nc3 Nd4 23. h4 g4!, shutting down White’s attacking lines.

White still has his passed h-pawn, but, as so often happens, a successful defense is the springboard to a winning attack. With Black’s pieces now circling for the kill, Zaibi gives up one more piece before deciding to pack it in — 34. Nd5+ cxd5 35. Qa5+ Kb8 36. Qd8+ Bc8 37. Qd6+ Ka8 38. Qd8 Rc1!, and the last threat is snuffed out; White resigned.

The games and tournaments of 1939 also hold a special appeal. Chess may well have saved the lives of several top European Jewish players, who were competing in the Olympiad that year in Buenos Aires when war broke out in their homeland. Miguel Najdorf, the great Polish-born grandmaster, would go on to play for decades as Argentina’s top player, though virtually all of his family back home would perish in the Holocaust.

The 1939 Dutch national championship was another of those events played in the shadow of a gathering storm. Two participants, including the loser of today’s second game, 19-year-old Arthur Wijnans, would perish in the closing days of World War II after his imprisonment by the Germans for his work with the Dutch resistance. The winner, Dutch Count Johannes van den Bosch, took the tournament’s brilliancy prize for his effort here.

Wijnans mishandles the early play in this popular QGD line — 8. Bd3 is considered better and 9. a3?! appears to be just a loss of a tempo — and the initiative quickly goes over to Black. By 15. Bd2 cxd4 16. exd4 Nb6, Black’s knights are superbly placed to restrain the White center and the second player can try to exploit his lead in development. A neat positional trap puts van den Bosch firmly in control.

Thus: 17. Rac1 (Rad1 Nc4 18. Bc1? Nxa3! wins a pawn) Nc4 18. Bg5 Ng4!, exploiting the fact that 19. Bxe7?? Nd2! wins the queen (20. Nxd2?? Qxh2 mate). Black rapidly repositions his queen with a gain of tempo to prepare an unexpectedly powerful kingside assault with 20…Qd8 21. Nf3 Qf6 22. Ne4 (Kg2? Qxf3+ 23. Kxf3 Nd2+ 24. Kxg4 Nxb3 25. Rcd1 Rc4 leaves Black a clear pawn to the good) Qh6, and White has to scramble to protect his king.

But the pressure gets to Wijnans, and a defensive lapse opens the door to a fine combination: 23. Rc3? (better was 23. Rcd1) f5 24. Neg5 (Nc5 falls to 24…Rxc5! [not 24…Nd2? right away because of 25. Qxe6+] 25. dxc5 Nd2! 26. Qd1 Nxf3+ 27. Kg2 Nd2 28. Rh1 Ne4 29. Rf3 Nexf2! 30. Rxf2 Ne3+) Nxh2+ 25. Nxh2 Qxg5 26. Nf3 Qh6 (down a pawn, White banks on the open h-file to revive his hopes, but Black is ready) 27. Kg2 f4 28. Qc2 (after 28. Rh1, Black has 28…Qg6 29. Nh4 Qe4+) fxg3 29. Rh1 (see diagram) Rxf3!!, when 30. Rxf3 Ne3+ 31. Rxe3 Qxh1+ 32. Kxh1 Rxc2 33. fxg3 Kf7 34. b4 h6 is a winning endgame for Black.

Black’s shot nets four pawns and a knight for a rook after the game’s 30. Rxh6 Rxf2+ 31. Qxf2 gxf2 32. Rh1 Rf8 33. Rd3 Nxb2 34. Rd2 Nc4 35. Rxf2 Rxf2+ 36. Kxf2 Nxa3, and in the final position, the Black b-pawn can’t be stopped. Wijnans resigned.

Zaibi-al-Qudaimi, 3rd Arab Elite Championship, Dubai, June 2015

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 c6 4. Nf3 d5 5. Bb3 Bd6 6. O-O dxe4 7. Ng5 O-O 8. Nxe4 Nxe4 9. dxe4 Qe7 10. Qh5 Na6 11. Bg5 Qc7 12. Re1 Nc5 13. Re3 Nxb3 14. Bf6 Be7 15. Bxe7 Nxa1 16. Bxf8 Kxf8 17. Qxh7 Nxc2 18. Qh8+ Ke7 19. Qh4+ f6 20. Rg3 g5 21. Qh8 Qd6 22. Nc3 Nd4 23. h4 g4 24. h5 Qd8 25. Qg7+ Kd6 26. h6 Bd7 27. h7 Qh8 28. Qh6 Re8 29. f4 Kc7 30. f5 Re7 31. Rxg4 Rxh7 32. Qd2 Rh1+ 33. Kf2 Qh5 34. Nd5+ cxd5 35. Qa5+ Kb8 36. Qd8+ Bc8 37. Qd6+ Ka8 38. Qd8 Rc1 White resigns.

Wijnans-Van den Bosch, Netherlands Championship, 1939

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 d5 3. c4 e6 4. Nc3 Nbd7 5. e3 a6 6. Qc2 dxc4 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Be2 Bb7 9. a3 c5 10. O-O Rc8 11. Qb3 Be7 12. Ne5 O-O 13. Bf3 Bxf3 14. Nxf3 Qc7 15. Bd2 cxd4 16. exd4 Nb6 17. Rac1 Nc4 18. Bg5 Ng4 19. g3 Bxg5 20. Nxg5 Qd8 21. Nf3 Qf6 22. Ne4 Qh6 23. Rc3 f5 24. Neg5 Nxh2 25. Nxh2 Qxg5 26. Nf3 Qh6 27. Kg2 f4 28. Qc2 fxg3 29. Rh1 Rxf3 30. Rxh6 Rxf2+ 31. Qxf2 gxf2 32. Rh1 Rf8 33. Rd3 Nxb2 34. Rd2 Nc4 35. Rxf2 Rxf2+ 36. Kxf2 Nxa3 37. Ra1 b4 38. Rc1 b3 White resigns.

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

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