- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

If you want a friend in this game, queen a pawn.

OK, that’s not a real chess saying, but there is this idea out there that it’s an every-man-for-himself world out there among elite grandmasters, that the top players are lone wolves forced to hunt solo to survive.

The reality is far different. Even the world champion goes into the ring with a team of seconds, trainers and handlers in his posse. Team events, like this month’s ultrastrong Russian Team Championship in Sochi, are increasingly popular and require the individual player sometimes to suffer for the good of the team.

And once in a great while, one player will even share his homework with a competitor.

Take the remarkable novelty Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi sprung on compatriot GM Sanan Sjugirov at Sochi. After the game, “Nepo” graciously admitted his Legacy Square Capital teammate GM Daniil Dubov showed him the stunning idea behind White’s ninth and 10th moves. The result: one of the most brilliant games of the year to date, and one that helped Legacy Square preserve a 3-3 match tie against Sjugirov’s Samarskaya Oblast team.

Before the recent vogue for the Ruy Lopez Berlin Defense, Black’s go-to defense to defang White’s initiative in king-pawn openings was the Petroff. But players likes Nepomniachtchi and Dubov long ago discovered ways to create dynamic, double-edged positions from the once supersolid opening.

Here the game has barely gotten started when White launches a most unexpected combination: 8. Nc3 Bg4?! (walking into White’s preparation, though the tactics are admittedly very hard to see) 9. Bxg5! Bxg5 (see diagram) 10. Bxh7+!! — finding a new twist on one of the oldest known sacrificial motifs in chess.

The point comes on the brilliant follow-up: 10Kxh7 11. h4!!, when, amazingly, all roads lead to a White advantage; e.g. 11Bxh4 12. Qd3+! (removing the pin on the knight) Kg8 13. Rxh4 (now both 14. Rxg4 and 14. Qh7 mate are on tap) f5 15. Rh2, and Nepo will double rooks on the open h-file), or 11Bh6 (Bxf3? 12. hxg5+ Kg8 13. Qxf3 Qxg5 14. Rh5 Qf6 15. Qxf6 gxf6 16. Nd5 and wins) 12. Ng5+ Qxg5 (Bxg5 13. hxg5+ Kg8 14. Qxg4) 13. hxg5 Bxd1 14. Rxd1, and the bishop on h6 is pinned and lost.

Sjugirov tries 11Bd2+ 12. Qxd2 Re8+ 13. Kf1 Bxf3, but after 14. Qd3+! Kg8 15. Qxf3 Nd7 16. Rd1, White has won a pawn and enjoys a vastly superior pawn structure, a decisive advantage in the hands of a top grandmaster. Black can never generate any serious counterplay, and after 31. Nd6 Rxd4 32. Kg3, White will soon be two pawns up with an easily won endgame after 32…Rb4 33. Nxf7 Kg6 34. Ne5+ Kh7 35. Nd3 Rb3 36. Rc3 Rb8 37. b4. Black resigned.

Nepomniachtchi-Sjugirov, Russian Team Championships, Sochi, May 2016

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. c4 Be7 6. d4 O-O 7. Bd3 Ng5 8. Nc3 Bg4 9. Bxg5 Bxg5 10. Bxh7+ Kxh7 11. h4 Bd2+ 12. Qxd2 Re8+ 13. Kf1 Bxf3 14. Qd3+ Kg8 15. Qxf3 Nd7 16. Rd1 Qf6 17. Qxf6 Nxf6 18. f3 d5 19. c5 b6 20. cxb6 axb6 21. Kf2 b5 22. a3 b4 23. axb4 Rab8 24. b5 c6 25. Rhe1 cxb5 26. Rxe8+ Rxe8 27. Rc1 Ra8 28. Nxb5 Ra4 29. Rc8+ Kh7 30. g4 Rb4 31. Nd6 Rxd4 32. Kg3 Black resigns.

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

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