- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Breaking news… GM Fabiano Caruana will be the first American in decades to play for the world championship title after the winning the candidates tournament outright in Berlin Tuesday.

The Miami-born Caruana, 25, bested seven of the world’s strongest players in the double round-robin FIDE Candidates Tournament to qualify for the right to take on reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway. He defeated Armenia’s Levon Aronian and Russian grandmaster Alexander Grischuk in the final two rounds to pull away from his closest pursuers with a 9-5 score.

The 12-game title match against Carlsen, who has held the title since 2013, takes place in November in London.

No American had held the title since Bobby Fischer relinquished the crown in 1975, three years after his epic triumph over Soviet star Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Caruana, who holds dual citizenship and played for a time for the Italian national foundation, has long been one of the most promising U.S. players, at one time holding the second highest playing rating in the world behind Carlsen. He was the 2016 U.S. national champion and played first board for the American team which in 2016 won its first gold medal in 40 years at the biennial chess Olympiad.

Chess experts are already predicting a hard-fought match between the two longtime rivals. In games played at classical tournament time controls, Mr. Caruana has won five, lost nine and drawn 17 in head-to-head battles with Mr. Carlsen.

******

Having watched my University of Virginia Cavaliers make (ahem) some history in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, I got to thinking of some notable figures in chess who are also unfairly remembered for one unfortunate result.

Polish master Georg Rotlewi, for instance, was one of the more talented players of his day, with wins over such greats as Schlechter, Nimzovich and Marshall and a fourth-place finish in the fabled Karlsbad tournament of 1911. But he is best remembered (and repeatedly anthologized) for being on the wrong end of fellow Pole Akiba Rubinstein’s greatest victory. Donald Byrne, one of the best American players of the mid-20th century, endured a double indignity. Not only will he be forever remembered as Bobby Fischer’s victim in the “Game of the Century” in 1956, but Byrne also was not even the accomplished player in his own family, outstripped by his elder brother and longtime New York Times columnist GM Robert Byrne.

Perhaps the most pathetic case is that of Glucksburg (or, in some accounts, “Glinksberg”), the loser of the “Polish Immortal” to Polish-Argentine great Miguel Najdorf either in 1928, 1930 or 1935 (sources vary). In the massive Chessgames.com database, Glucksberg/Glinksberg’s only game is that one loss to Najdorf.

Another of fortune’s unloved losers was the mellifluously named Lionel Adalbert Bagration Felix Kieseritzky, a Polish-German master and polymath who ranked among the best players in the world from the 1840s to the 1860s. He defeated several top masters in matches and pioneered a line in the then-popular King’s Gambit that still bears his name. Still, the first line of Kieseritzky’s obituary — and of his Wikipedia page — identifies him as the loser of “The Immortal Game,” a casual game in which German world champion Adolf Anderssen uncorked perhaps his greatest sacrificial combination.

Ironically, Kieseritzky engineered many brilliant sacrificial games that should be better known, including this win over the equally euphonious German master Conrad Waldemar Vitzthum von Eckstaedt early in his career. Modern computer programs can pick out some imprecisions in the play, but Kieseritzky undeniably conducts this proto-Smith Morra Sicilian Gambit (played decades before either Smith or Morra was even born) with verve and imagination.

White’s 11. Ne4 Bb4 12. Nfg5!? (the simple 12. Bd2 was also strong) is in the spirit of the gambit, and a Black defensive misstep leads to some spectacular tactical fireworks: 12…Ncxe5 (Bxe1? 13. Nd6+ Kf8 14. Qxg4 Nxe5 15. Qe4 Bxf2+ 16. Kxf2 Qb6+ 17. Be3, Black’s queen, knight and rook all hang, while 18. Ndxf7 is also a threat) 13. h3 Nf6 14. Qd4 Bxe1? (Nc6 was definitely stronger here) 15. Nd6+ Kf8 16. Qxe4 Qc7 17. Ngxf7 Bb4 (see diagram; on 17…Bb7 18. Qxe1 Qc6 19. f3 Rg8 20. Be3 a5 21. Rc1 Qa6 22. Bc5 and Black won’t survive) 18. Bh6!!, cracking open the Black king position.

There appears to be no adequate defense: 18…Ne8 19. Qf4! gxh6 20. Nxh6+ Ke7 21. Nhf5+! exf5 22. Qe5+ Kf8 (Kd8 23. Nf7 mate) 23. Qxe8+ Kg7 24. Qf7+ Kh6 25. Qf6+ Kh5 26. Bd1 mate; or 18…gxh6 19. Qxf6 Bxd6 20. Nxd6+ Kg8 21. Qf7 mate.

Von Eckstaedt tries 18…Bxd6 and very nearly saves the game after 19. Qxf6 Ke8 20. Qxg7 Rf8 21. Ng5?! (good enough, but the field-shifting 21. Bd1! looks devastating — 21…Be7 22. Bh5 Qc5 23. Bg5! Bxg5 24. Nxg5+ Kd8 25. Nxe6+! dxe6 26. Rd1+ Qd5 27. Qxf8+ Kc7 28. Rxd5 and wins) Qc5 22. Ne4 Qe5 23. Re1?! (again, 23. Nxd6+ Qxd6 24. Bd1 Qc5 25. Bh5+! Kd8 [Qxh5 26. Qxf8 mate] 26. Be3 Qd6 27. Rd1 looks like a cleaner kill), when things might have gotten messy on 23…Qh2+ 24. Kf1 Be7 25. Bd5 Qh1+ 26. Ke2 Qxe1+ 27. Kxe1 exd5 28. Qxh7 dxe4 29. Qxe4 Ra7 30. Bxf8 Kxf8 31. Qf4+ Kg8 32. Qb8.

Instead, on the game’s 23…Bb7? 24. Bxe6! dxe6 25. Qxb7 Rb8 26. Nxd6+ Qxd6, one last Kieseritzky shot finally topples the Black fortress: 27. Rxe6+! Qxe6 28. Qxb8+ Kd7 29. Qxf8, and, a full piece down with no compensation, von Eckstaedt resigned.

Kieseritzky-von Eckstaedt, Paris, January 1846

1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nxc3 Nc6 5. Nf3 e6 6. Bc4 a6 7. O-O Bc5 8. Re1 b5 9. Bb3 Nf6 10. e5 Ng4 11. Ne4 Bb4 12. Nfg5 Ncxe5 13. h3 Nf6 14. Qd4 Bxe1 15. Nd6+ Kf8 16. Qxe5 Qc7 17. Ngxf7 Bb4 18. Bh6 Bxd6 19. Qxf6 Ke8 20. Qxg7 Rf8 21. Ng5 Qc5 22. Ne4 Qe5 23. Re1 Bb7 24. Bxe6 dxe6 25. Qxb7 Rb8 26. Nxd6+ Qxd6 27. Rxe6+ Qxe6 28. Qxb8+ Kd7 29. Qxf8 Black resigns

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

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