- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2018

When it comes to chess openings, there are a few basic must-dos that even the rankest beginner understands: Develop the pieces. Control the center. Protect the king.

But sometimes, it seems, even the very best players forget — with predictably dire consequences. We’re able to fit two games into today’s column in large part because the opening failure by White in both cases led to an early middle-game defeat.

GM Pavlo Vorontsov took clear first in the top section of the recent St. Louis Norm Congress, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. In his Round 3 game against Philippines GM Mark Paragua, the Ukrainian GM neglected to castle in a sharp Grunfeld Defense line and paid a drastic price.

After 10. Bb5 Nd5, the conventional wisdom would recommend 11. Nxd5 Bxd5 12. 0-0, and the conventional wisdom would be right. Instead, on 11. Bxc6?! Nxf4 12. Be4 Nxg2+ 13. Kd2, the bad position of the White king matters far more than the bad position of the Black knight. Paragua rushes to open lines at all costs: 13…f5! (Black must be aggressive as his knight has no escape route) 14. Bxb7 f4! 15. Rhg1 (Bxa8? fxe3+ 16. fxe3 Qxa8 17. Qa6 Bg4 18. Ng5 Bh6 19. h4 Rf2+, with a raging attack) fxe3+ 16. fxe3 Rb8 17. Qxa7 c5!, and now 18. Rxg2 fails to 18…Qd7 19. Qxc5 Qxb7, hitting both b2 and f3.

But the exposed position of the White king leads to a grisly finish for Vorontsov: 18. Qa6 Bc8! (the key to the attack is clearing the b-file for the rook) 19. Bxc8 Rxf3! 20. Be6+ (Bb7 cxd4 21. Bxf3 dxe3+ 22. Ke2 Rxb2+ 23. Kf1 Rf2 mate) Kh8 21. Rxg2? (Raf1 cxd4 and the center opens up, though the game would go on a little longer) Rxb2+ 22. Kd3 Qxd4 mate!

The principle is the same but the execution even more brilliant in Kansas GM Conrad Holt’s dismantling of Romanian GM Ioan-Cristian Chirila in a recent rapid game from the online PRO Chess League. Chirila does manage to castle in this Nimzovich-Larsen Opening but finds that, after 8. 0-0?! h5! 9. h3 Ng4!? 10. g3 (hxg4?? Bh2+! 11. Kxh2 hxg4+ 12. Kg3 Qh4+ leads to a quick mate) Ne5 11. Kg2 Qd7 12. Rh1 h4 13. g4 f5, the kingside proves more dangerous for the White king than the center would have been.

Still, it requires an inspired cascade of sacrifices from Black to demonstrate the point: 16. f4? (the mistake that opens the floodgates; tougher was 16. d4! Bd6 17. Rf1 Qe7 18. Kh1, though Black’s attack is still strong) exf3 17. Bxf3 Qd6 18. Ne2 (offering up the exchange to protect the dark kingside squares, but Black would rather have a king than a rook) fxg4 19. hxg4 (see diagram) Rxf3! 20. Kxf3 Bxg4+!! 21. Kxg4 Qg6+, and the White king is flushed out into the open.

White’s king never finds sanctuary: 22. Kh3 (Kh4 runs into the clever 22…Kf7 23. Nf4 Bxf4 24. Qh5 Rh8! 25. Qxh8 Qg5+ 26. Kh3 Qg3 mate, while 22. Kf3 Qe4+ 23. Kf2 Rf8+ 24. Nf4 Rxf4+ 25. exf4 Bd4+ 26. Kf1 Qxh1+ 27. Ke2 Qg2+ 28. Kd3 Qe4 is also mate) Qf5+ 23. Kg2 Qg4+ 24. Kf2 Rf8+ 25. Nf4? (missing a last chance to prolong the fight — 25. Ke1 Qg2 26. d4! Qxh1+ 27. Kd2 Qxd1+ 28. Rxd1 Bh2 29. Rh1 Rf2 30. Ke1 Rg2 31. Kf1 h3 32. Nf4 Rxc2 33. Nxh3) Rxf4+!, and one last sacrifice does the trick.

The quietus arrives for White on 26. exf4 Bd4+ 27. Ke1 (Kf1 Qxf4+ 28. Kg2 Qg3+ 29. Kf1 Qf2 mate) Qg3+ 28. Ke2 Qg2+, and White resigns just ahead of 29. Kd3 Qe4 mate.

Vorontsov-Paragua, St. Louis Norm Congress GM, St. Louis, February 2018

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. Qb3 Nb6 6. d4 Bg7 7. Bf4 O-O 8. e3 Be6 9. Qa3 Nc6 10. Bb5 Nd5 11. Bxc6 Nxf4 12. Be4 Nxg2+ 13. Kd2 f5 14. Bxb7 f4 15. Rhg1 fxe3+ 16. fxe3 Rb8 17. Qxa7 c5 18. Qa6 Bc8 19. Bxc8 Rxf3 20. Be6+ Kh8 21. Rxg2 Rxb2+ 22. Kd3 Qxd4 mate.

Chirila-Holt, PRO League Group Stage, January 2018

1. b3 e5 2. Bb2 Nc6 3. Nf3 e4 4. Nd4 Nf6 5. e3 d5 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. Be2 Bd6 8. O-O h5 9. h3 Ng4 10. g3 Ne5 11. Kg2 Qd7 12. Rh1 h4 13. g4 f5 14. Bxe5 Bxe5 15. Nc3 O-O 16. f4 exf3+ 17. Bxf3 Qd6 18. Ne2 fxg4 19. hxg4 Rxf3 20. Kxf3 Bxg4+ 21. Kxg4 Qg6+ 22. Kh3 Qf5+ 23. Kg2 Qg4+ 24. Kf2 Rf8+ 25. Nf4 Rxf4+ 26. exf4 Bd4+ 27. Ke1 Qg3+ 28. Ke2 Qg2+ 0-1.

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

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