Familiarity may be starting to breed contentment.
A deluge of draws is once again inundating a superelite event, as the world’s top players gather once again for the seventh Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis. We should be grateful that stars like world champion Magnus Carlsen and rivals such as GMs Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Ding Liren are willing to do battle, but when there are just six decisive games in the first eight rounds and four rounds in which all fives games produced split points, you have to wonder about the format. (There were two more decisive games in Tuesday’s Round 9, but still…)
So let’s turn to a “lesser” event, named for one of the game’s legendary battlers, for some real action. At the recent Viktor Korchnoi Memorial in St. Petersburg, Russian GM Vadim Zvjaginsev tied for first with compatriot Maksim Chigaev and American GM Gata Kamsky, helped in part by a fine mating attack against Russian FM Yury Prokopchuk.
White’s London System opening is actually a solid choice against a higher-rated opponent, and Prokopchuk holds his own for much of the middle game. But after his queenside push is stymied, White passes on a chance to simplify (28. Rxc7 Rxc7 29. Rxc7 Qxc7 30. Nc3 looks drawish), and then fails to appreciate the shifting field of battle: 29. dxe5 Bc6 30. Qc5?! (with the queenside locked, the action will be on the kingside; much more on point was 30. R3c2! Qh4 31. Nc3 Rg7 32. Rf2 Kh8 33. Ne2 Rcg8 34. f5, with chances for both sides) Qf7 31. Qd4 Kh7 32. b4 (still trying to make something happen on the queenside) Rg8 33. R1c2 Rd7 34. Nd2 Ba4 35. Rb2 Qh5!, and already Black threatens 36…Rxg2+! 37. Kxg2 Rg7+ 38. Kf2 [Kf1 Qh1+ 39. Ke2 Rg2 mate] Qh4+ 39. Ke2 Rg2+ 40. Kf1 Qf2 mate.
After 36. Nf1 Bb5, the blocked Black bishop springs to life and the Black attack quickly breaks through — 37. Nh2 Be2! (cutting off the White rook from the defense of g2) 38. Rcc2 Rxg2+! 39. Kxg2 Rg7+ 40. Kf2 (Kh1 Qg6 and wins) Qh4+ 41. Kxe2 Qxh2+, and White resigns just ahead of mate on the back rank.
Many put Korchnoi right at the top of the list of the greatest players in history who never won the world championship. He lost two tough matches with Anatoly Karpov, but he collected the scalps of greats including Mikhail Botvinnik and Garry Kasparov over his 60-plus year career. One of his best attacking wins came against Soviet great Yefim Geller at the 1954 USSR championships in Kyiv. We pick it up from today’s diagram after 16…Nf3-d4; Korchnoi as White has already sacrificed a pawn for open kingside lines and cashes in his investment brilliantly.
White played 17. Rxd4 exd4 18. Bxd4 Qd8 (Qe6 19. Nd5 Ne8 20. Nc7) 19. Nd5 Ne8 (Kh8 is met by 20. Nxe7 Qxe7 21. Rxg7! Kxg7 22. Qg3+ Kh8 23. Qg5, with a winning attack) 20. Qg3, when Geller’s only chance now was 20…Bh4 21. Qf4 Kh8 22. c3 and hope to hang on.
Instead, it’s over after 20…f6? 21. Bc4 Rf7 (Kh8 22. Nf4 Qa5 23. Qh4 h6 24. Ng6+ Kh7 25. Nxe7 and wins) 22. Nf4 Bd6 (or 22…Qxd4 23. Bxf7+ Kxf7 24. Qb3+ Kf8 25. Ne6+ Kg8 26. Nd8+ Kh8 27. Nf7+ and mate to come) 23. Bxf7+ Kxf7 24. Qb3+ Ke7 25. Bxf6+!, and Geller resigned as mate follows both 25…Nxf6 26. Rxg7+ Kf8 27. Qf7 mate, and 25…gxf6 26. Qe6+ Kf8 27. Rg8 mate.
Prokopchuk-Zvjagsinev, Korchnoi Memorial, St. Petersburg, Russia, August 2019
1. d4 d6 2. Bf4 Nf6 3. e3 Nbd7 4. Nf3 Nh5 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bh4 g5 7. Bg3 Bg7 8. c3 e6 9. Be2 Qe7 10. Nfd2 Nxg3 11. hxg3 a6 12. a4 O-O 13. a5 c5 14. Na3 d5 15. f4 Qd6 16. Nf3 cxd4 17. cxd4 f5 18. Ne5 Nf6 19. Bd3 Bd7 20. Qb3 Rfc8 21. O-O Be8 22. Rfc1 Qe7 23. Rc3 Rc7 24. Rac1 Rac8 25. Nb1 gxf4 26. gxf4 Ne4 27. Bxe4 fxe4 28. Qb6 Bxe5 29. dxe5 Bc6 30. Qc5 Qf7 31. Qd4 Kh7 32. b4 Rg8 33. R1c2 Rd7 34. Nd2 Ba4 35. Rb2 Qh5 36. Nf1 Bb5 37. Nh2 Be2 38. Rcc2 Rxg2+ 39. Kxg2 Rg7+ 40. Kf2 Qh4+ 41. Kxe2 Qxh2+ White resigns
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email email@example.com.