- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

We have professional franchises in all the major sports, a men’s and women’s soccer team, a men’s and women’s basketball team, even a pro tennis franchise. So why can D.C. get a slot in the U.S. Chess League?

For the 11th year in a row, the Web-based USCL, the country’s only nationwide team league, is up and running without a representative from the DMV. New York, Philadelphia and Boston all field squads, which is understandable, but how can Lubbock, Texas manage to get a team while Washington remains on the outside looking in?

One of the best things about the league is its website (uschessleague.com), lovingly curated by league founder and President IM Greg Shahade. The site is chockful of features, from the up-to-the-second league standings and individual player statistics to annotated games and historical records. Today’s game didn’t win the coveted (and sharply debated) Game of the Week prize for Round 4 earlier this month, but it would have gotten my vote for sheer entertainment value, as NM David Golub of the Seattle Sluggers defangs the Sicilian “Snake” bishop of NM Nicholas Rosenthal of the St. Louis Arch Bishops.

The so-called Snake bishop, championed by longtime U.S. GM Joel Benjamin, develops to d3 in front of the unmoved d-pawn, with the idea of resettling on c2 to support the White center and flank. But Golub counters with the super-sharp 5. Bd3 g5!? (a prototypical modern positional sacrifice — it looks ugly but White runs risks by capturing the pawn and opening the g-file to Black’s rook) 6. Nxg5 Rg8.

Both players are in sacrificial mode from the start, as Rosenthal counters with a piece offering on 7. f4. h6 8. h4!? hxg5 8. hxg5 Bg4 9. Qb3 Na5 10. Qa4+ Bd7 11. Qc2 Ng4, and Black still has to find a safe home for his extra knight.

But with White’s queenside utterly undeveloped, Golub rightly decides to give the piece back to jump-start what proves to be a winning attack: 14. g3 c4! (a useful preparatory move that cuts off the White queen and will eventually prevent the White king from escaping) 15. Qd1 exf4 16. gxf4 (see diagram) Ne5! 17. b4 Nac6 18. b5 Na5 19. fxe5 Qxg5, and although material balance has been restored, White’s king is in dire straits.

Black strips away the key defender to clear a way to the enemy king: 21. Rf1 Bg4! 22. b6+ (Bxg4 Rxg4 23. d3 cxd3, with the double threat of 24…Rxe4+ and 24…Qe2 mate) Kd8 23. Rf2 (White has no time for 23. Qxa5) Qh1+ 24. Rf1 Qh4+, and now 25. Rf2 loses to 25…Bxe2 26. Kxe2 Qxe4+ 27. Kd1 Rg1+ and mate next.

White gets in a scary-looking check, but has not defense in the end to Black’s attack: 27. Kf2 Nc6! (the knight that White tried to hard to capture plays a key role in the final mating net) 28. Qxc4 Nxe5 29. Qc7+ Ke8 (the White queen can’t do it all by herself) 30. d3, and Black polished things off in style with 30…Qf3+ 31. Ke1 Nxd3+ 32. Kd2 Rg2+ 33. Rf2 Rxf2 mate.

GM Hikaru Nakamura is the lone American still standing as the 128-player FIDE World Chess Cup knockout tournament begins quarterfinal play later this week. Nakamura defeated British GM Michael Adams 11/2-1/2 Monday in Baku, Azerbaijan, while fellow Yanks Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So lost their Sweet 16 matches, to Azeri GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and French start GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, respectively. We’ll have coverage of the finals next week.

Rosenthal-Golub, U.S. Chess League, September 2015

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. c3 Nf6 4. h3 Nc6 5. Bd3 g5 6. Nxg5 Rg8 7. f4 h6 8. h4 hxg5 9. hxg5 Bg4 10. Qb3 Na5 11. Qa4+ Bd7 12. Qc2 Ng4 13. Be2 e5 14. g3 c4 15.Qd1 exf4 16. gxf4 Ne5 17. b4 Nac6 18. b5 Na5 19. fxe5 Qxg5 20. Qa4 Qg2 21. Rf1 Bg4 22. b6+ Kd8 23. Rf2 Qh1+ 24. Rf1 Qh4+ 25. Kd1 Bxe2+ 26. Kxe2 Qh5+ 27. Kf2 Nc6 28. Qxc4 Nxe5 29. Qc7+ Ke8 30. d3 Qf3+ 31. Ke1 Nxd3+ 32. Kd2 Rg2+ 33. Rf2 Rxf2 mate

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

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