- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Chess is a global game, and top players deciding to switch their national federation is not uncommon. At least six of the top-rated players in the U.S., including No. 1 GM Fabiano Caruana (Italy) and No. 2 GM Wesley So (Philippines), once competed under a flag other than the Stars and Stripes.

But Dorsa Derakhshani’s decision to switch allegiances generated international headlines and full coverage in the The New York Times when the 19-year-old WGM revealed in September that she would now play for the U.S.

The reason for all the attention: Derakhshani could no longer represent her native Iran after Tehran chess officials barred her from playing for refusing to wear a head-covering hijab at a major open tournament in Gibraltar early this year.

Derakhshani believes the Iranian chess federation targeted her to deflect from the negative PR fallout from the refusal of several top female players, including former U.S. champ WGM Nazi Paikidze, to compete in the concurrent Women’s World Championship tournament in Tehran. Derakhshani now lives in St. Louis and attends the college chess powerhouse St. Louis University.

Iran’s loss is a coup for American chess — her 2300-plus FIDE rating instantly puts her in the top 10 players among U.S. women. Derakhshani’s willingness to buck the establishment also is reflected in her fighting style, as evidenced in her win over German expert Axel Fehr at a tournament in Iceland two months after the Iranian ban was handed down.

In a sharp Najdorf Sicilian, after 17. c4 f5 18. f4 b5, both sides build up their flanking attacks while trying to slow down their opponent’s. As the positional battle intensifies, Derakhshani sacrifices the exchange for a potent pair of connected passed pawns: 21. d6 Bf6!? (worth a look was 21…Bg5 22. Bxg5 Qxg5 23. bxc5 [Qd5+ Kh8 24. bxc5?? Bc6] Rxc5 24. Bf3 Re8, and White may not have full compensation for the lost pawn) 22. Qd5+ Kh8 23. bxc5!? Bxa1 24. Rxa1 Qf6 25. Be5, and the clash rages around whether Black can contain the dangerous pawns.

Fehr misses a chance to seize the initiative — 27…f4!, with the powerful threat of 28…f3 would have posed serious problems for White — and Derakhshani’s rook turns out to be more useful than either of its Black counterparts in the game’s critical phase.

Thus: 32. Be2 h6?! (missing a last chance to change the subject with 32…g5! 33. Qxg5+ Rg6 34. Qf4 Qd5 [Rxg2+ 35. Kf1 Qg6 36. Ke1 is equally double-edged] 35. Qf3 Qxc5, with plenty of fight still in store) 33. h4 Rg6 34. Bf3 Qb7? (a clear blunder; White wins back the exchange with a dominating position) 35. Qxf5! Rge6 36. Bh5 Rf6 (see diagram) 37. Qh3!, neatly protecting the rook on e3 and leaving both Black rooks en prise.

The passed pawns prove their worth in the mop-up operation: 39. Re7 Qb8 (Bxg2 40. Qxg2 Qxg2+ 41. Kxg2 gxh5 42. d7 Rf8 43. c6 and wins) 40. Qg3 Qf8 41. Bxg6, and Black resigned in light of 41…Rf1+ 42. Kh2 Qf4 43. Be8+ Qxg3+ 44. Kxg3 Ba8 45. c6, and Black must lose material.

Derakhshani-Fehr, Reykjavik Open, Iceland, April 2017

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 e5 7. Nb3 Be7 8. O-O Be6 9. Qd3 Nc6 10. Be3 Rc8 11. Rfd1 O-O 12. a3 Na5 13. Nxa5 Qxa5 14. Nd5 Nxd5 15. exd5 Bd7 16. b4 Qd8 17. c4 f5 18. f4 b5 19. c5 exf4 20. Bxf4 dxc5 21. d6 Bf6 22. Qd5+ Kh8 23. bxc5 Bxa1 24. Rxa1 Qf6 25. Be5 Qg6 26. Qd4 Bc6 27. Bf1 Rce8 28. Qf4 Re6 29. Re1 Rfe8 30. h3 Kg8 31. Re3 Qf7 32. Be2 h6 33. h4 Rg6 34. Bf3 Qb7 35. Qxf5 Rge6 36. Bh5 Rf6 37. Qh3 Rxe5 38. Rxe5 g6 39. Re7 Qb8 40. Qg3 Qf8 41. Bxg6 Black resigns.

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

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