- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Been there. Seen that. Queened the pawn.

Bobby Fischer famously observed the first essential for a great player is a “good memory,” and he wasn’t just referring to the ability to recall reams of opening subvariations.

Where the greats excel is in what’s called “pattern recognition” — being able to summon from the mental archives a positional idea, a motif or a tactical possibility to apply to the position in over-the-board play — with the clocks ticking. To put old wine in new wineskins — to reverse the biblical adage — is a critical skill for chess mastery.

To illustrate, consider the famous instructional pawn ending in today’s diagram, with White to move. The opposing pawn arrays look completely balanced, but in fact it’s a forced win for White with the surprising 1. b6!! (threatening 2. bxa7 and 2. bxc7, so…) axb6 2. c6! (threatening cxb7, so…) bxc6 3. a6! and the last surviving pawn will queen. Note that the mirror pattern works as well: 1. b6!! cxb6 2. a6! bxa6 3. c6 and wins.

It’s a pretty basic idea, Chess 101. But now consider the tournament-deciding game at last month’s Washington Chess Congress, held at the Hilton Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. Iranian-born GM Elshan Moradiabadi, a newly minted U.S. citizen, used his own variation of the pawn jailbreak to defeat top rival GM Mark Paragua in the event’s penultimate round, opening the path to a clear win in the 47-player Premier section.

Nothing much seems to be happening in this ultrafamiliar, ultrasolid Ruy Lopez Berlin up through 19. Bd4 Bxd4 20. Rxd4, but Moradiabadi as White has actually notched a major strategic victory tied to his sixth move. White’s kingside pawn majority is intact heading into the rook ending, while Black’s hobbled queenside majority with the doubled c-pawns will never be able to push through a passed pawn on their own. The only question: Can White create a decisive outside passer?

White strikes just as Black’s king takes an ill-advised stroll to the wrong flank: 22. Rc4 b6 23. Ke2 Kd7?? (Moradiabadi, in a fine write-up of the event by David Hater on Chess Life Online, calls this “probably a losing blunder”; Black is better served with 23…Rf8, when 24. h4?! Rf5 25. f4 gxh4 26. b4 cxb4 27. Rxc7+ Kd8 28. Rc4 a5 actually leaves Black a bit better) 24. h4! Rg8 (g4 25. Rf4 Ke7 26. Rf6 Rf8 28. Rxf8 Kxf8 28. f3, and White wins “primitively,” in Moradiabadi’s words, with the outside passer) 25. g4!! — borrowing the idea from our diagrammed position to forge the winning passed pawn.

After 25…Kc6 (White also wins on 25…gxh4 26. gxh5 Rg5 27. Rxh4 Rxe5+ 28. Kf3 Rf5+ 29. Kg4 Rxf2 30. h6 Rf8 31. h7 Rh8 32. Kg5 Ke7 33. Kg6 Kf8 34. Rf4+ Ke7 35. Kg7, while 25…hxg4 just loses a pawn after 26. Rxg4 Rh8 27. hxg5) 26. gxh5 g4 (gxh4 27. Rxh4 Kd5 28. f4 Ke4 29. h6 Rh8 30. h7 Kf5 31. Ke3 Kg6 32. Ke4 Rxh7 33. Rxh7 Kxh7 34. f5! exf5+ 35. Kxf5 Kg7 36. Ke6, winning) 27. Re4 g3 28. fxg3 Rxg3 29. Kf2, White has obtained the passed h-pawn that makes the win a matter of technique.

Paragua manages to activate his rook and even gets his king back to g8, but it’s still not enough. The White rook seizes the seventh rank, and the White king steadily infiltrates to aid the pawn. After 45. h7+ Kh8 46. Kh6, Black resigns as he can only prevent instant mate by giving up his rook with 46…Rg8.

Virginia expert Robert J. Fischer took the Under 2100 section with a 6-1 score, and New York Class C player Dmitry Agron went 61/2-1/2 to capture the Under 1700 competition. Virginia’s John Sandberg captured the Under 1300 tournament, also with a 6-1 score.

Hater’s article on the tournament can be found https://new.uschess.org/news.

Moradiabadi-Paragua, Washington Chess Congress, Arlington, Virginia, October 2017

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4 Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8 9. h3 Ke8 10. Nc3 h5 11. b3 Be7 12. Bb2 Be6 13. Ne2 Rd8 14. Rad1 Rxd1 15. Rxd1 g5 16. Nfd4 Nxd4 17. Nxd4 Bc5 18. Nxe6 fxe6 19. Bd4 Bxd4 20. Rxd4 Ke7 21. Kf1 c5 22. Rc4 b6 23. Ke2 Kd7 24. h4 Rg8 25. g4 Kc6 26. gxh5 g4 27. Re4 g3 28. fxg3 Rxg3 29. Kf2 Rg8 30. Kf3 Rf8+ 31. Kg4 Rg8+ 32. Kf4 Kd7 33. Re3 Ke7 34. Rg3 Rf8+ 35. Ke4 Rh8 36. Rg5 Kf7 37. Kf4 b5 38. Kg4 b4 39. Rg6 Rd8 40. Rf6+ Kg8 41. Rxe6 Rd2 42. Re7 Rxc2 43. h6 Rxa2 44. Kh5 Black resigns

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

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