- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

“As long as a game is hard fought, and especially if it is complicated and exciting, that game is enjoyable and good enough for most of us.” — R.N. Coles, “Epic Battles of the Chessboard”

For chess fans, there is a constant tug-of-war between art and combat.

There is real beauty in the flawless conceived plan, the brilliant attack, the airtight winning combination. Then again, a “perfectly played game” by both contestants would produce an unending string of draws.

For most of us, it is the imperfections and the human element that make so many games compelling. It is the unexpected twists, untimely blunders and sudden reversals of fortune that produce the drama. It’s the reason why those tournaments between superstrong chess computer programs attract so little interest these days.

Throw in the pressure of playing for a world title and even the best players will wobble. Take today’s game, from the FIDE women’s world championship knockout tournament in Tehran. Russian GM Alexandra Kosteniuk and Ukrainian GM Anna Muzychuk were battling last week for a place in the finals, and the high stakes produced some high drama and a high number of missteps.

The French Defense is not usually in Muzychuk’s arsenal, and she gets into some early trouble after 12. Bd2 Bb4 13. c3 Be7 14. Bf4 a6, when White could have sharpened the play with 15. Nc7 Ra7 16. Nxe6!? with very favorable complications. Instead, White slips with 15. b4?!, which could have left her vulnerable to 15…Bxb4! 16. cxb4 Qxb4+ 17. Bd2 Qb2 18. 0-0 axb5 19. Rfb1 Qc2 20. Rxb5 Nc6, equalizing.

After 15…Qa4?!, however, White emerges a pawn to the good after 16. Nc7 Ra7 17. Nd4 Nc6 18. Nc2 (threatening 19. Bb3, trapping the queen) Nb8 19. Nxa6 bxa6 (Nxa6?? 20. Bb5 wins) 20. Bxb8 Ra8 21. Be5.

Trying to wrap up the win, White misses great chances on three consecutive moves: 31. Rd1 Qf5?! 32. Qe2?! (not exactly a mistake, but White could have gone with 32. Bxg7! Kxg7 33. Rxd7 Bf6 34. Nd4 Bxd4 35. cxd4 Rc4 36. h3, with a clear edge) Rc4? 33. Kh1?? (33. Bc5! R4xc5 34. Rxd7 R5c7 35. Qxa6 Bf8 36. b5 wins, as the queenside pawns are unstoppable) R4c6 34. Rd3?, and yet another win was to be had on 34. Be3!, with the dual threats of 35. Rxd7 and 35. Nd4.

Despite the missed chances, Kosteniuk keeps pressing: 40. Rg3 Qh4 41. Nxe6! Rxc3! (fxe6 42. Qxe6+ Kh8 43. Rxg6 Ne4 44. Rd5 Nxf2+ 45. Kg1 a5 46. Rh6+ Kg7 47. Qg6+ Kf8 48. Rh8+ Ke7 49. Re5+ Kd7 50. Qe6 mate) 42. Rxc3 Rxc3, but now she misses 43. Kg1!, protecting f2 and opening the way for lines like 43…fxe6 44. Qe5! Nd5 45. Qxe6+ Kg7 46. Qxd5 Qxb4 47. Qe5+ Kg8 48. Rd8+ Kf7 49. Rd7+ Kf8 50. Qg7+ Ke8 51. Qf7 mate.

After fighting uphill for the entire game, Muzychuk doesn’t miss her chance to turn the tables: 55. Qd4+ Kg8 56. Ne5? (see diagram; White can nurse her edge into the endgame with 56. Kg2! Ng5 57. Qf4 Nxf3 58. Qxf3 Qxf3+ 59. Kxf3 Ra8 60. Ke4) Ng5! 57. Rb3 (the point is 57. Kh2 loses to 57…Rxe5! 58. Qxe5 Nf3+) Nxh3+ 58. Kh2 Nxf2! 59. Qxf2 Rxe5, and, amazingly, it’s Black who now has the extra pawn.

A last inaccuracy seals White’s fate: 60. Qb2? (Rb5 held out longer) Qxa4 61. Rf3 (Rb8+ Re8) Qb5 62. Qc3 Re2+ 63. Kg1 Qb1+ 64. Rf1 Qb6+, and White resigns facing 65. Kh1 Qe6! 66. Kg1 Qh3 67. Rf2 Rxf2 68. Kxf2 h4, and with the Black king sheltered from checks, the queen ending is easily won.

At presstime, Chinese WGM Tan Zhongyi won the second game of the four-game final Tuesday over Muzychuk to take a 1½-½ lead in the women’s world championship finals. Reigning Chinese women’s champ Hou Yifan did not participate in the knockout event, and America’s strongest women player, GM Irina Krush, also declined to play.

Kosteniuk-Muzychuk, FIDE Women’s World Championship semifinals, Tehran, February 2017

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 c5 4. exd5 Qxd5 5. dxc5 Nf6 6. Ngf3 Bxc5 7. Bc4 Qc6 8. Qe2 O-O 9. Nb3 Bd6 10. Nbd4 Qc7 11. Nb5 Qa5+ 12. Bd2 Bb4 13. c3 Be7 14. Bf4 a6 15. b4 Qa4 16. Nc7 Ra7 17. Nd4 Nc6 18. Nc2 Nb8 19. Nxa6 bxa6 20. Bxb8 Ra8 21. Be5 Bb7 22. Nd4 Bd5 23. Bb3 Bxb3 24. Nxb3 Rfc8 25. O-O Qb5 26. Qe1 Rc4 27. Nd2 Rc6 28. a4 Qd3 29. Nf3 Rac8 30. Bd4 Nd7 31. Rd1 Qf5 32. Qe2 Rc4 33. Kh1 R4c6 34. Rd3 g6 35. Rfd1 R6c7 36. h3 h5 37. Re3 Bf6 38. Bxf6 Nxf6 39. Nd4 Qg5 40. Rg3 Qh4 41. Nxe6 Rxc3 42. Rxc3 Rxc3 43. Nd4 Rc8 44. Nf3 Qxb4 45. Qxa6 Qc3 46. Qb7 Re8 47. Kg1 Qc2 48. Ra1 Qc3 49. Rb1 Kg7 50. g3 Qa5 51. Rb4 Rd8 52. Qb5 Qa8 53. Qe2 Re8 54. Qd1 Ne4 55. Qd4+ Kg8 56. Ne5 Ng5 57. Rb3 Nxh3+ 58. Kh2 Nxf2 59. Qxf2 Rxe5 60. Qb2 Qxa4 61. Rf3 Qb5 62. Qc3 Re2+ 63. Kg1 Qb1+ 64. Rf1 Qb6+ White resigns.

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

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