- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Good offense, as a wise man once observed, always beats good defense — and vice versa.

There’s a good history of the game to be written in the evolution of its opening theory. Ruy Lopez in his eponymous opening showed the value of fight for central control, while Philidor with his eponymous defense illustrated the value of a sound pawn structure. Morphy’s King’s Gambits demonstrated the power of time, space and harmonious development, while Reti’s subtle and Nimzovich’s clotted opening ideas introduced many of the concepts of hypermodern play.

And despite a half-millennium of modern play, there is still nothing close to a consensus of the “best” way to open the game for White or the “best” defense for Black. Interestingly, in the most recent computer world championship tournament, our silicon masters played a very humanlike smorgasbord of openings, from Ruys and Frenches and Queen’s Gambits to the occasional Queen’s Indian and Sicilian.

Every so often, an opening system enjoys a vogue that forces the other side to adjust. Rubinstein’s innovation in the Four Knights Opening put that opening pretty much in mothballs for decades, while many credit Vladimir Kramnik’s Ruy Lopez “Berlin Wall” for dethroning fellow Russian Garry Kasparov in their 2000 world title match.

For a while in the 2000s, Petrov’s Defense (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6), usually preceded by the adjective “dreaded,” was seen as an easy ticket for Black to a quick, safe draw. The sterile positions arising from the main lines had many grandmasters eschewing king’s-pawn openings altogether as White in must-win games.

But as Newton predicted, the action has generated its own opposite reaction, with White finding new ways to keep the position alive and reach dynamic positions. One of the most exciting games of the year, taken from the ongoing Russian Team Championships in Sochi, springs out of an ultra-sharp line in this “drawish” line.

The conventional Petrov’s play is 3. d4 Nxe5 4. Bd3 d5, but the game between Russian masters Grigory Palchun and Ivan Bocharov takes a sharp turn with 4. dxe5 Bc5!? 5. Qd5!!? (Be3 Bxe3 6. fxe3 d5 7. exd6 Nxd6 was one route back to the conventional) Bxf2+ 6. Kd1 f5 7. Bc4, and White is already threatening mate in one. Before Move 10, White offers up a speculative queen sacrifice with 8. Nc3 c6 (Nxc3+?! 9. bxc3 Qe7 10. a4 Qc5 11. Ba3 Qxd5+ 12. Bxd5 Rh8 13. Ng5, and White is better) 9. Nxe4!? cxd5 10. Nd6+ Ke7 11. Bg5+ Rf6 12. Bxd5, with White having a raging attack despite having just a knight for the queen.

Play is double-edged and fiercely complex — one wild drawing line is 13. Nxc8+!? Kf8 14. Bxb7 Rc6 15. Nd6 (Bxa8? Rxd8 16. Bd2 Qb6 is good for Black) Qa4 16. Ke2 Rxc2+ Bd2 Bc5 18. Bxa8 Bxd6 19. exd6 Qb5+ 20. Kf2 Qc5+, with a perpetual as 21. Kg3? Qxd6+ 22. Bf4 Qg6+ 23. Kh4 Qg4 is mate — and Palchun misses a strong shot on 18. Ng5? (Bxb4+ Qxb4 19. Kc2 d6 20. N5d4 Bxd4 21. Nxd4 Bd7 22. Rae1 Bc6 23. Rae1+, and Black’s king looks very shaky) Nxd5 19. cxd5 d6 (Qg6 was also strong) 20. Ne6+ Bxe6 21. dxe6 Qc5 22. e7+ Ke8, as Black has reached a bit of a sanctuary and can focus on his own attack.

The finale to an immensely entertaining struggle: 24. Kc2 Qe4+ 25. Kb3 (forced, as going to the back rank hangs the rook on h1) Qxg4 26. Nxd6+ Kxe7 27. Rad1 (Nc4 b5 28. Nd2 Qa4 mate; Black’s bishop does invaluable work keeping the White rooks off of the e-file) Rd8 28. Bb4 Ke6 29. Rhf1? (see diagram; better was 29. a4 to prevent what’s to come) a5! 30. Ba3 (Bxa5 Qf3+ 31. Bc3 Rxd6 wins a piece) b5! 31. Rd3 (Rfe1+ Bxe1 32. Rxe1+ Kd7 33. Nxb5 a4+ 34. Kc2 Qf5+ 35. Kc1 Qxb5 and wins) Qa4+ 32. Kc3 b4+ 33. Kd2 bxa3, and Palchun resigns as 34. Rxf2 Qb4+ 35. Kc2 (Kd1 Rxd6 36. Rxd6+ Kxd6 37. Rd2+ Ke5) Qxb2+ 36. Kd1 Qxf2 and wins.

As Chess Life Online rightly complains, it’s getting very little attention, but the FIDE’s women’s world championship is underway in Shanghai, with challenger GM Ju Wenjun leading defending champ GM Tan Zhongyi 2½-1½ early in the 10-game match.

Palchun-Bocharov, Russian Premier League Team Championships, Sochi, Russia, May 2018

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. d4 Nxe4 4. dxe5 Bc5 5. Qd5 Bxf2+ 6. Kd1 f5 7. Bc4 Rf8 8. Nc3 c6 9. Nxe4 cxd5 10. Nd6+ Ke7 11. Bg5+ Rf6 12. Bxd5 Qa5 13. c4 Nc6 14. Nxf5+ Kf8 15. exf6 gxf6 16. Bxf6 Nb4 17. Bc3 Qb6 18. Ng5 Nxd5 19. cxd5 d6 20. Ne6+ Bxe6 21. dxe6 Qc5 22. e7+ Ke8 23. g4 Qd5+ 24. Kc2 Qe4+ 25. Kb3 Qxg4 26. Nxd6+ Kxe7 27. Rad1 Rd8 28. Bb4 Ke6 29. Rhf1 a5 30. Ba3 b5 31. Rd3 Qa4+ 32. Kc3 b4+ 33. Kd2 bxa3 White resigns.

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

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