- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Norwegian world champ Magnus Carlsen captured his fifth Tata Steel Masters title, winning the year’s first strong event at the Dutch seaside town of Wijk aan Zee with an undefeated 9-4 score, a full point clear of American GM Fabiano Caruana and China’s Ding Liren.

The big opening news of the tournament may have been the continuing woes for the Ruy Lopez Berlin Defense. Since Vladimir Kramnik’s famous win over Garry Kasparov in their 2000 match, the supersolid Black set-up with 3…Nf6 appeared to be sucking all of the fun out of 1. e4, as king-pawn players desperately searched for some way to enliven the game.

But chess goes in cycles, and new ideas and strategies evolve to combat even the most frustrating of lines. The 2015 database for Chessgames.com, which includes virtually all of the major master events and many lesser ones as well, has White winning 80 of the 220 Berlin games to 46 wins for Black. More tellingly, White is an unbeaten 6-0-2 so far in 2016.

Young Chinese GM Wei Yi found another breach in the Berlin in his smashing sacrificial win at the Tata over Czech star David Navara. Like many players these days, Wei avoids the frustrations of the classical main line (4. 0-0 Nxe5 5. d4 Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8) to keep the queens on the board. White’s 10. h4!? is actually a new idea (10 g4 had been played here before), one that pays off spectacularly.

Navara fails to appreciate the danger (the knight repositioning with 12…Nb8? proves much too slow), and the Chinese GM pounces: 14. g4! f6 (see diagram) 15. g5!! fxg5 16. Nxg5! Nd4 17. Qd1! hxg5 18. Bxg5, and the open lines on the kingside spell doom for Black.

It’s essentially over after 19. Be3 Bf6 20. h6!, when Wei later noted that trying to close lines with 20…g5 loses to 21. Bxg5! Bxg5+ 22. f4 exf4 23. Qh5 Ne2+ 24. Kd1 Nxg1 25. Qg6+ Kh8 Qg7 mate. The finale: 20…Re7 21. hxg7 Rxg7 22. Qh5 (with the idea of 23. Qh8+ Kf7 24. Rxg7+ Bxg7 25. Qxd8 and wins) Be6 23. Bh6 Bf7 24. Bxg7! (the ensuing exchanges will cost Black a piece) Bxh5 25. Bxf6+ Kf8 26. Bxd8 Ne2+ 27. Kb1 Nxg1 28. Bxc7, with a double attack on the bishop and knight; Navara resigned.

Russian GM Peter Svidler took a very different tack in defeating the Berlin Defense of English GM David Howell at last month’s Paul Keres Memorial in Tallinn, Estonia, keeping the queens on by closing the position with 4. d3 Bc5 5. c3 0-0 6. 0-0 d6. This time White finds his play on the queenside, infiltrating on the a-file with his queen while Black targets his king. It’s a close-run thing, but Svidler defangs the Black attack just in time.

Howell’s flank is turned after 27. Qa6 Bc7 28. Qxc6 Bb8 29. Bxd5, but he generates a real mate threat with 29…Nxe3 30. fxe3 Qh5+ 31. Kg1 Bxg3. But the cavalry arrives with 32. Qb7+! Rf7 (a sad necessity, as after 32…Kg6, White doesn’t play 33. Rxf8?? Qh2+ 34. Kf1 Qh1+ 35. Ke2 Qe1+ mate, but 33. Bxe4+ and wins) 33. Rxf7+ Bxf7 34. Qxf7+ Qxf7 35. Bxf7 Kxf7 36. Nxe4 Bb8 37. g4, and White’s trio of passed pawns are too formidable. Black resigned.

Wei-Navara, 78th Tata Steel Masters, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2016

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. Bxc6 dxc6 6. Nbd2 O-O 7. Nc4 Nd7 8. Qe2 Re8 9. Bd2 Bd6 10. h4 c5 11. h5 h6 12. O-O-O Nb8 13. Rdg1 Nc6 14. g4 f6 15. g5 fxg5 16. Nxg5 Nd4 17. Qd1 hxg5 18. Bxg5 Be7 19. Be3 Bf6 20. h6 Re7 21. hxg7 Rxg7 22. Qh5 Be6 23. Bh6 Bf7 24. Bxg7 Bxh5 25. Bxf6+ Kf8 26. Bxd8 Ne2+ 27. Kb1 Nxg1 28. Bxc7 Black resigns.

Svidler-Howell, 25th Keres Memorial, Tallinn, Estonia, January 2016

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. c3 O-O 6. O-O d6 7. Bg5 h6 8. Bh4 g5 9. Bg3 Nh5 10. Nbd2 Qf6 11. Kh1 Qg6 12. Bc4 a5 13. a3 Kg7 14. b4 axb4 15. axb4 Rxa1 16. Qxa1 Bb6 17. Bd5 Ne7 18. Bb3 f5 19. exf5 Bxf5 20. d4 e4 21. Ne1 Nxg3+ 22. hxg3 d5 23. Nc2 c6 24. Ne3 Be6 25. b5 Nf5 26. bxc6 bxc6 27. Qa6 Bc7 28. Qxc6 Bb8 29. Bxd5 Nxe3 30. fxe3 Qh5+ 31. Kg1 Bxg3 32. Qb7+ Rf7 33. Rxf7+ Bxf7 34. Qxf7+ Qxf7 35. Bxf7 Kxf7 36. Nxe4 Bb8 37. g4 Black resigns.

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

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