- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

They’ve made some things a bit more complicated — problem-solving contests and correspondence chess, to name two — but superstrong computer programs have not proved the death of competitive chess that some feared.

The rising generation of grandmasters incorporate computer analysis and opening books into their preparation as a matter of course, but there has been no big drop in the attraction of watching the drama of two imperfect humans battle it out under tournament conditions.

Interestingly, tournaments between the strongest computer programs, which theoretically should feature some of the deepest and most accurate chess ever played, barely get noticed these days, even as the flesh-and-blood variant thrives.

One unanticipated pleasure provided by the silicon monsters has been the ability to sit on a grandmaster’s shoulder as he sweats out a game and almost instantly point to a brilliant combination or gruesome oversight that he and his equally high-ranking opponent totally missed. Online “kibitzers” — the term of art for such back-seat analyzers — can instantly see Fritz or Shredder screaming for a line that leaves White with a +16 advantage, even as the poor player opts for an inferior line that squanders his advantage.

Even a player of modest attainment can get a real sense of superiority watching a game like the one between Georgian GM Baadur Jobava and Azeri star Shakhriyar Mamedyarov from the just-completed FIDE Grand Prix event in Tbilisi. Brilliant moves missed by the players in the heat of battle — which once might have taken months or years to discover — now can be found in real time as you watch the Internet feed of the game from your laptop.

Jobava is one of the most intriguing stylists among elite grandmasters — which may have kept him from the very top ranks — and here he employs a pet variation of the rare Larsen-Nimzovich Opening with an early 4. d4. The fun begins when White sacrifices a pawn for central pressure with 10. Kb1 Bf5 11. Bd3!? Nxd4, and follows that up with a piece offering to keep the Black king marooned in the center: 14. Rhe1 e6 (Mamedyarov is ready to castle kingside and remain a safe pawn to the good) 15. Bxg6!? fxg6 16. Nxd5! Nxd5 (0-0? 17. Nxf6+ Bxf6 18. Rxd7) 17. Bxg7, when, instead of the game’s 17…Rg8!?, Black can head for a draw with 17…Nxc3+ 18. Bxc3 Qxc3 19. Rxd7 Kxd7 20. Qxe6+ Kc7 21. Qf7+ Kc8 (Kb6?? 22. Re6+ Ka5 23. Qxb7 mates quickly) 22. Re8+ Rxe8 23. Qxe8+ Kc7 24. Qxa8 Qe1+, or play for more with 17…Rh7! 18. Qe5 Kf7 19. c4 Rxg7 20. cxd5 Kg8 21. dxe6 Qxe5 22. Rxe5 Bc6, and White has only two pawns for the piece.

As the position grows increasingly complex, a prime occasion of silicon smugness comes after 20. Rd6 Kf8 (0-0-0? 21. Re4 Qa3 22. Rc4+ Bc6 23. Rxd8+ Kxd8 24. Qxg7) 21. Red1 (see diagram), when after the best defense, 21…Be8!, the computers spit out the remarkable winning idea of 22. Rxe6 Bf7 23. Rxd7! Kg8 24. Rxf7!! Kxf7 (Rxf7 25. Rxg6+ Kf8 26. Rh6 is winning) 25. Qd5!! (despite being down three major pieces to two, White is winning, as the Black king will find no shelter) Kf8 26. Re4! Qa3 27. Rf4+ Ke8 28. Ra4 Qf8 29. Re4+ Re7 30. Qb5+ Kf7 (Kd8 31. Rd4+ Kc7 32. Qc5+ Kb8 33. Qd6+ Rc7 34. Qxf8+ Rc8 35. Qf4+ Rc7 36. Rd8 mate) 31. Rf4+ and wins.

The computers also instantly pick up that Jobava returns the favor after 21…Bc6?, when winning at once was 22. Rd8+ (instead of the game’s 22. R1d4) Rxd8 23. Rxd8+ Kf7 (Be8 24. Qf6+ Rf7 25. Qh8+) 23. a3!! — deflecting the Black queen — Qh4 25. Qc7+ Qe7 (Kf6 26. Rf8+ Kg5 27. Qxg7) 26. Qf4+ Qf6 27. Rf8+!, winning the queen.

And the computers pounce on the last Black defensive error that hands White the game for good: 26. Qd4+ Kf7?? (Mamedyarov can force White to take the draw with 26…Ke7 27. Qd6+ Kf6 27. Qd4+) 27. Qf4+ Ke7 (Qf5 28. Qc7+ Kf6 29. Rf8+ Kg5 30. Rxf5+ gxf5 31. Qxg7+ is also hopeless for Black), and Black resigned before White could administer 28. Qf8 mate.

The silicon-aided superiority is not limited to the top boards. The computers find lots to critique in today’s wacky second game, played by a pair of masters in the recent Spanish team championships. In a venerable but messy Philidor Defense line, the real starting point here is 11. Rf1, when White is an exchange and pawn to the good, but his kingside is a mess.

White immediately errs with 12. Ne2? (the best move is 12. Qxd4!, when things get crazy after 12…Ne5 13. f3 Nfg4!, and 14. fxg4 is out because of 14…Bh4+ 15. Rf2 Qg1+ 16. Kd2 Bg5+ 17. Ke2 Bxg4+ 18. Rf3 Bxf3 mate) Ne5 13. Nxd4 Bg4!? (the computers prefer 13…Qxe4+) 14. f3 Nxe4!, the only move that appears to keep Black’s attack on the rails.

A wild king hunt (a true computer specialty) results, and both players miss chances in the ensuing ultracomplex play. A critical juncture is 18. fxg4 Qg1+ 19. Kd2, when Black could have crashed through with 19…Be1+! 20. Qxe1 Qxd4+ 21. Ke2 Qxg4+ 22. Kf2 Qh4+ 23. Ke2 Qh5+ 24. Ke3 Qf3+ 25. Kd4 Kf7 26. Nc7 Rc8 28. Nb5 Rc4 mate.

Instead, the fight rages on after 19…Be3+?! 20. Kc3 (Qxe3?? Nc4+) Bxd4+ 21. Kb3 Kf7 22. Nc7 Rc8 23. Nb5 Rc6 24. c3? (a3! was the right way to give the king an escape route — 24…Rb6 25. Ka2, and the mate threats vanish) Be3, and now White can secure a well-earned draw with 25. Bxe3! Qxa1 26. Qd2 Qf1 27. Qd5+ Kf8 28. Nxd6 Qd3 29. Qxe5 Rxd6 30. Bc5 Qb5+ 31. Kc2 Qa4+ 32. b3 Qxa2+ 33. Kc1 Qa1+, with a perpetual check — a line even the top grandmasters wouldn’t be expected to find at the board.

Instead, White ends up checkmated after 25. Qxe3?? Qd1+, bringing resignation as 26. Ka3 (Kb4 Rc4+ 27. Ka5 Ra4 mate) Nc4+ 27. Kb4 a5 is mate.

Jobava-Mamedyarov, FIDE Grand Prix, Tbilisi, Georgia, February 2015

1. b3 Nf6 2. Bb2 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. d4 c5 5. e3 cxd4 6. exd4 d5 7. Qd2 Nc6 8. O-O-O Qa5 9. f3 h5 10. Kb1 Bf5 11. Bd3 Nxd4 12. Nge2 Nxe2 13. Qxe2 Bd7 14. Rhe1 e6 15. Bxg6 fxg6 16. Nxd5 Nxd5 17. Bxg7 Rg8 18. Qe5 Rxg7 19. Rxd5 Qb4 20. Rd6 Kf8 21. Red1 Bc6 22. R1d4 Qb5 23. Rd8+ Rxd8 24. Rxd8+ Ke7 25. Qd6+ Kf6 26. Qd4+ Kf7 27. Qf4+ Ke7 and Black resigns.

Rivas Villa-Suarez Uriel, Spanish Team Championships, Madrid, February 2015

1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 e5 4. Nf3 Nbd7 5. Bc4 Be7 6. Bxf7+ Kxf7 7. Ng5+ Kg8 8. Ne6 Qe8 9. Nxc7 Qg6 10. Nxa8 Qxg2 11. Rf1 exd4 12. Ne2 Ne5 13. Nxd4 Bg4 14. f3 Nxe4 15. Qe2 Bh4+ 16. Kd1 Nf2+ 17. Rxf2 Bxf2 18. fxg4 Qg1+ 19. Kd2 Be3+ 20. Kc3 Bxd4+ 21. Kb3 Kf7 22. Nc7 Rc8 23. Nb5 Rc6 24. c3 Be3 25. Qxe3 Qd1+ White resigns

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

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