- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Time was when the world’s greatest players could go for a good long spell without doing battle against their peers. Elite events, where the entire field consisted of the best of the best, tended to be held months, even years apart, taking on legendary status in shorthand like Hastings 1895, New York 1924 or Moscow 1935.

Today’s jet-setting grandmasters, by contrast, are likely to be in near-continuous combat, flitting from Biel to Dortmund to Khanty-Mansisyk to Wijk aan Zee for one Category 22 tournament after another. Case in point: Having just butted heads in the recent U.S. national championship in St. Louis, the American “top three” — GMs Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So — were all back in action last week, with mixed results.

Caruana finished a creditable second at the just-completed Grenke Chess Classic in the German city of Karlsruhe, tied with Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen 1½ points behind Armenian star Levon Aronian. But playing in Germany just five days after the U.S. title fight concluded, Caruana stumbled out of the gate, upset by an inspired China’s Hou Yifan, the world’s strongest female player.

The once-dreaded Ruy Lopez Berlin Defense is not so feared these days as a drawing weapon, as White has found ways to keep the position alive while keeping the queens on the board. Black seems to toggle between two strategies — the break 17. Re2 c5?! 18. dxc5 Bxc5 19. Bf4 Rc8 seems to give Caruana no compensation for this isolated d-pawn.

After 20. Rae1 g5?! 21. Ng3! Nxg3 (gxf4 22. Nxf5 Kh5 23. h4, and Black’s pawn structure is in ruins) 22. Bxg3 a5 23. Qd2 a4 24. b4! axb3 (Bb6 25. Bd6 puts heavy pressure on the e-file) 25. axb3 Ng6 26. h4!, Black’s queenside demonstration has gone nowhere while Hou is primed to exploit her better-developed pieces on the kingside.

White smoothly converts her positional advantage on 30. Qd4 Rd8? (Qg7 31. g3 [Qxd5? Bc6 32. Re8+ Rxe8 33. Rxe8+ Bxe8 34. Qxd6 Qh6 throws away White’s edge] Bc6 32. f4 is not great for Black, but puts up tougher resistance) 31. Re3! Bc8 (Bc5 32. Rg3+ Kh8 33. Qxd5 is very strong) 32. b4 Kg7 (Be5 runs into 33. Rxe5 fxe5 34. Rxe5 Re8 35. Rxd5 and Black’s king can’t survive for long) 33. Bb5 Bc7 34. Re8 (also strong was 34. Be8 Qd6 35. Rg3+ Kf8 36. Bxf7) Qd6 35. Bg3 Qb6 36. Qd3 Bd7 (the threat was 37. R8e7 Bxg3 38. Qxg3+ Kf8 39. Re8+ Rxe8 40. Rxe8 mate) 37. Bxd7 Rdxd7 38. Qf5!, and White’s dominance is complete.

After 38…Bxg3 39. Qg4+ Kh6 40. Qh3+, the Black king will soon be mated; Caruana resigned.

So also experienced some Round 1 blues at the Shamkir Chess tournament, an annual event honoring the late Azeri GM Vugar Gashimov. The 2017 U.S. champ’s impressive 67-game unbeaten streak was abruptly terminated by Azeri GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in a time-trouble scramble we pick up from today’s diagram.

So as White has just played 38. Rd1-d2 and should have held the draw in this double-edged battle but for the pressures of zeitnot: 38… gxf3+ 39. Qxf3+?? (it’s still equal after 39. gxf3) 39… e4!, and White is toast 40. Qxf4 Qxc4+ 41. Kc1 Rb1+; So resigned.

Nakamura did the best of the peripatetic American stars, winning his third straight Korchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge while finishing first in both the classical and blitz portions of the event.

Hou-Caruana, Grenke Chess Classic, Karlsruhe, Germany, April 2017

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. Re1 Nd6 6. Nxe5 Be7 7. Bf1 O-O 8. d4 Nf5 9. Nf3 d5 10. c3 Bd6 11. Nbd2 Nce7 12. Qc2 c6 13. Bd3 g6 14. Nf1 f6 15. h3 Rf7 16. Bd2 Bd7 17. Re2 c5 18. dxc5 Bxc5 19. Bf4 Rc8 20. Rae1 g5 21. Ng3 Nxg3 22. Bxg3 a5 23. Qd2 a4 24. b4 axb3 25. axb3 Ng6 26. h4 gxh4 27. Nxh4 Nxh4 28. Bxh4 Qf8 29. Qf4 Bd6 30. Qd4 Rd8 31. Re3 Bc8 32. b4 Kg7 33. Bb5 Bc7 34. Re8 Qd6 35. Bg3 Qb6 36. Qd3 Bd7 37. Bxd7 Rdxd7 38. Qf5 Bxg3 39. Qg4+ Kh6 40. Qh3+ Black resigns.

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

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