- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

If you picked the American women, your bracket is already busted.

March madness — the non-trademarked kind — is underway in Sochi, Russia, where FIDE is holding a knockout tournament for 64 of the world’s best female players, including three former women’s world chess champs. Awaiting the winner is Chinese titleholder GM Hou Yifan, who is not competing in Sochi but earned a spot in the upcoming title match because of her victory in the FIDE Grand Prix tournament series.

Unfortunately, none of the three U.S. hopefuls in Sochi — GM Irina Krush, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan and WGM Camilla Baginskaite — made it past the round of 32. Krush, perhaps the best U.S. hope, was the last American standing, losing a tough Round 2 match to 12th-seeded Indian GM Dronavalli Harika. The two drew both of their games at classical time controls before Harika scored the decisive win in the first of two rapid playoff games.

The game was an exercise in frustration for Krush, as a single moment of tactical inattention eventually costs White a pawn, followed by nearly 30 moves of slow strangulation before Black finally breaks through.

The positional battle lines are set early in this English/Catalan after 12. Ng5 Be7 13. Qc2, when Krush as White enjoys the better pawn structure and a great bishop on g2, balanced by Black’s advanced center and cramping pawn on d4. White makes more progress with 17. Ba3, trading off her bad bishop, and the struggle centers on whether White can exploit the half-open b-file.

But Krush spoils all her hard work in one disastrous sequence: 21. Nbd2 b6 22. Nb3? (perhaps forgetting the Black b-pawn can advance again, this may qualify as the losing move, even with nearly 50 moves yet to be played) b5! (eliminating at a stroke Black’s biggest positional problem and saddling White with several of her own) 23. Qd2 (cxb5 Rxb5 24. Rfc1 a4 keeps the edge for Harika in lines such as 25. Rxc6 Rxc6 26. Nfxd4 exd4 27. Bxc6 Rb4 28. Bxa4 Rxa4 29. Nxd4 Rxa2) bxc4 24. dxc4 (and again Black is better after 24. Nxa5 c3 25. Nxc6 Rxc6 26. Qc2 Rcc8, or even 26…Nb4) Bxc4, winning a pawn, as 25. Nxa5?! Nxa5 26. Qxa5 Bxe2 27. Rfe1 Rxb1 28. Rxb1 Nc5 is much better for Black.

Black wins a pawn and retains the better position, an advantage that only grows after 32. Ra1 e4 33. Nd2 (Nxd4?? Nxd4 34. Qxc3 Nxe2+) e3! 34. Bxc6 exd2 35. Qxd2 Qxe2, and the Black d-pawn has a clear path down the board. Krush’s decision to jettison her bishop with 39. Qf5 Qc7 40. Be4?! seems to simplify Black’s task, as White is reduced to complete passivity on 43. a4 d2 44. Qf5, waiting to see whether her opponent can break the blockade.

Harika does miss one quick road to mate (60…Re3! 61. Kg1 [Qxd2 Qh1 is mate} Re1+ 62. Kh2 Qh1 mate), but finally picks the lock with 69. Kg2 Rd5 70. Qb3 Qxf1+!, when it’s hopeless for White after 71. Kxf1 d1=Q+ 72. Qxd1 Rxd1+; Krush resigned.

Still in the running in the Round of 16 are top-seeded Indian GM Humpy Koneru, who lost to Hou in a 2011 title challenge, and former women’s world champions Alexandra Kosteniuk of Russia and Antoaneta Stefanova of Bulgaria.

After a long main meal, a short game for dessert.

Dutch GM Erwin L’Ami scored one of the best results of his career, capturing the strong Reykjavik Open in the Icelandic capital over a strong field that included dozens of grandmasters. L’Ami bolted from the gate with 8 points in his first nine games, and even a last-round loss to Ukrainian GM Pavel Eljanov couldn’t help the field catch up.

Americans performed a bit more creditably here, with rising U.S. GM Daniel Naroditsky tying for fourth at 7½-2½ and IM Justin Sarkar turning in a respectable 6½-3½ result. Sarkar played some of the more memorable games of the event, including a startling 18-move miniature checkmating Danish GM Allan Stig Rasmussen, a game reminiscent of the crazy battles from the game’s 19th-century Romantic era.

In a sharp, QGD Semi-Slav line, Rasmussen as Black loses his way after 13. Qc2!? (more common is 13. Nfxg5 Nxg3 14. hxg3 hxg5 15. Bxc4 Qe7) Nxg3? (way too accommodating; instead of opening the h-file, Black should have countered with 13…g4 14. Bh4 Qb6 15. Qd2 Nd7! [and not 15…gxf3?! 16. Bxf3 f6 17. Bxh5], and Black can defend) hxg3 Re8 (see diagram), setting the stage for the fireworks to come.

Sarkar unleashes a string of hammer blows, breaking through in spectacular fashion: 15. Rxh6!! f5 (Bxh6 16. Nf6+ Kf8 17. Qh7 is winning in lines such as 17…Bg7 18. Nxg5 Bxf6 [Qa5+ 19. Kf1 Ke7 20. Qxg7] Qxf7 mate) 16. Nf6+! Kf8 (Bxf6 17. exf6 Ra7 18. Qd2 f4 19. Qc2 Qc7 20. Qg6+ Kf8 21. Rh8 is mate) 17. Rg6! (the Black king is in a box; 17…Nd7 now fails to 18. Nh7+ Kg8 19. Nfxg5 Nf8 20. Nf6+ Kh8 21. Nf7 mate) Kf7 18. Nxg5+!, and Rasmussen has seen enough. He resigns, as accepting the rook runs into 18…Kxg6 19. Bh5+! Kxg5 (Kh6 20. Nf7 mate) 20. Qd2+ f4 21. Qxf4 mate.

Krush-Harika, FIDE Women’s World Championship, Sochi, Russia, March 2015

1. c4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 Be7 5. O-O O-O 6. b3 c5 7. Bb2 d4 8. b4 a5 9. bxc5 Nc6 10. d3 e5 11. Nbd2 Bxc5 12. Ng5 Be7 13. Qc2 Nd7 14. Ngf3 Nc5 15. Nb3 Na6 16. Qc1 Be6 17. Ba3 h6 18. Bxe7 Qxe7 19. Rb1 Rfc8 20. Qb2 Rab8 21. Nbd2 b6 22. Nb3 b5 23. Qd2 bxc4 24. dxc4 Bxc4 25. Rfc1 Bxb3 26. Rxb3 Ncb4 27. a3 Nc5 28. Rbb1 Ne4 29. Qb2 Rxc1+ 30. Rxc1 Nc6 31. Qc2 Nc3 32. Ra1 e4 33. Nd2 e3 34. Bxc6 exd2 35. Qxd2 Qxe2 36. Qf4 Rd8 37. Bf3 Qb2 38. Re1 Qb8 39. Qf5 Qc7 40. Be4 Nxe4 41. Qxe4 d3 42. Rd1 Qd6 43. a4 d2 44. Qf5 Qb4 45. Qc2 g6 46. h3 h5 47. h4 Rd4 48. Kg2 Kg7 49. Kg1 Kh7 50. Kg2 Qd6 51. Kg1 Qd7 52. Kg2 Kg7 53. Qc3 Qd5+ 54. Kg1 Kh7 55. Qc2 Rd3 56. Kh2 Qd4 57. Kg2 Qe4+ 58. Kf1 Qh1+ 59. Ke2 Qf3+ 60. Kf1 Rd4 61. Kg1 Qe2 62. Kg2 Rd7 63. Kg1 Rd3 64. Kg2 Rf3 65. Rf1 Rf5 66. Qb3 Qe4+ 67. Kg1 Qe2 68. Qc2 Qe1 69. Kg2 Rd5 70. Qb3 Qxf1+ White resigns.

Sarkar-Rasmussen, Reykjavik Open, Reykjavik, March 2015

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bh4 dxc4 7. e4 g5 8. Bg3 b5 9. Be2 Bg7 10. e5 Nh5 11. a4 a6 12. Ne4 O-O 13. Qc2 Nxg3 14. hxg3 Re8 15. Rxh6 f5 16. Nf6+ Kf8 17. Rg6 Kf7 18. Nxg5+ Black resigns.

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

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