- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The logic is impeccable but no less melancholy for that: It’s hard to hold a World Open when the whole world is closed.

For chess players, who measure the seasons of the year by the tournaments they play, this is a week of significant withdrawal pains. Philadelphia’s World Open, one of the strongest and most popular events on the American chess calendar, traditionally plays out over the July Fourth holiday, providing competition, camaraderie and content for a news-starved chess columnist just trying to do his job.

COVID-19, of course, has forced the cancellation of this year’s World Open and scads of other events worldwide. Lots of players have, of course, migrated to online play, but there’s nothing that can fully replace the thrill and agony of over-the-board combat.

There are a few faint fireworks to pierce the pre-Independence Day dark, however, as a few countries have bent the infection curve enough to return to traditional head-to-head combat. We ordinarily might not cover the Offerspill Invitational, a modest 31-player event in Norway, but these are unusual times.

And there’s always some interesting chess to follow. Rune Djurhuus may not be Norway’s most famous grandmaster, but he’s been a solid player (and chess columnist) for many years and knows how to hunt a king. His win over Swedish IM Linus Johansson from the Black side of an Old Indian Defense in the Offerspill was a clinic in how to conduct a kingside Indian attack.

Black’s aggressive 10. cxd5 b5!? 11. b4 (Nxb5?! Qa5+ 12. Nc3 Ncxe4) Ncd7 12. Be3 (Nxb5 Qb6, with good compensation for the lost pawn) Nb6 seems to throw White off stride, as Johansson never gets his queenside play going.

That leaves Black free to organize a powerful breakthrough on the other wing, which just happens to be where the White king resides: 24. Ne2 Qh4 25. Nc6 h5 26. Nb8 (see diagram; Black brushes aside the distracting knight) Bg4! 27. hxg4 (declining with 27. Qd3 f3! 28. hxg4 Rxc1 29. Rxc1 fxg2 30. Ng3 [Kxg2 Rxf2+] Nf6 31. Kxg2 Nxg4 32. Rh1 Rxf2+ keeps Black on top) hxg4 28. Qd3 Rf6 (perhaps even stronger was 28…Rcf7!; e.g. 29. f3 Nf6 30. Nc6 g3 31. Rfd1 Ng4! 32. fxg4 Qh2+ 33. Kf1 f3 and wins).

Tougher now was 29. f3! g3! 30. Rfd1 Rxc1 31. Rxc1 Rg6 32. Kf1, when Black has to find 32…Qd8!, winning in lines such as 33. Nxa6 Rh1+ 34. Ng1 Qb6 35. Nc5 dxc5 36. bxc5 Qh6 37. Ke2 Qh2 38. Kd2 Qxg2+ 39. Ne2 Rxc1 40. Kxc1 Qf2!.

Instead, it’s essentially over after 29. Rfd1? Rh6 30. Kf1 Qh1+ 31. Ng1 Rh2 32. Ke2 Qxg2 33. Kd2 Qxf2+ 34. Ne2 f3, and White can honorably resign. In the final position, the pawns decide after 42. Rf1 g2 43. Rxf3 g1=Q 44. Kxe2 Qg2+ 45. Ke3 Nf6 and wins.

Croatia also has managed to stage a traditional national championship this month, with veteran Croat GM Zdenko Kozul still in the hunt for his third national crown. His cause was helped last week by a nice, quick win over compatriot GM Marin Bosiocic.

The Queen’s Gambit Declined is such a deeply researched opening that it still surprises how top players can get into such deep trouble so early. The center opens up quickly in this Ragozin, and Black can’t deal with the consequences: 12. Nb5!? Ba5?! (sturdier was 12…Rd8 13. Qc2 a6 14. Nbd4 e5) 13. Be2 Qe7? (and now Black can hold on with 13…Bb6 14. b4 Rd8 15. Qc2 Na6) 14. Qd6! Qxd6 15. Nxd6, and already Bosiocic’s game is reeling.

White’s powerful initiative carries through to the victory, even with the queens off the board: 15…Na4 (Bb6 16. Rfd1 Bd7 17. Rxc5! Bxc5 18. Nxb7 wins material) 16. Ne5 Bb4 (Nxb2 17. Rc2 Na4 18. Rfc1 Nb6 19. a3 a6 20. Bf3, and Black is completely tied up) 17. Ndxf7!, exploiting the fact that 17…Rxf7 18. Nxf7 Kxf7 19. Rc5 picks off a piece.

It’s over after 17…Nxb2 18. Bh5! a5 19. Rc7 Na4 20. Bg6!, and Black resigns as there’s no good defense to the threat of 21. Nxh6+! Kh8 (gxh6 22. Bh7+ Kh8 23. Ng6 mate) 22. Nef7+ Rxf7 23. Nxf7+ Kg8 24. Ng5, winning.

Back in the online world, world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway, China’s Ding Liren, Dutch GM Anish Giri and Russian star Ian Nepomniachtchi have made it to the semifinals of the Chessable Masters rapid knockout event this week.

The tournament, which ends July 5, is the third of four qualifying tournaments in the $1 million “Magnus Carlsen Tour,” leading to a four-player Grand Final competition in August. Carlsen and Russia’s Daniil Dubov have already booked slots in the finals by winning the first two events.

Johansson-Djurhuus, Offerspill Invitational, Oslo, Norway, June 2020

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 d6 3. Nc3 Nbd7 4. e4 e5 5. d5 Nc5 6. Bd3 Be7 7. Bc2 O-O 8. h3 c6 9. Nf3 cxd5 10. cxd5 b5 11. b4 Ncd7 12. Be3 Nb6 13. Nd2 Bd7 14. Bd3 a6 15. O-O Ne8 16. Nb3 Bg5 17. Qd2 Bxe3 18. Qxe3 Rc8 19. Rac1 Nc4 20. Bxc4 Rxc4 21. a3 f5 22. Na5 f4 23. Qf3 Rc7 24. Ne2 Qh4 25. Nc6 h5 26. Nb8 Bg4 27. hxg4 hxg4 28. Qd3 Rf6 29. Rfd1 Rh6 30. Kf1 Qh1+ 31. Ng1 Rh2 32. Ke2 Qxg2 33. Kd2 Qxf2+ 34. Ne2 f3 35. Rxc7 Qxe2+ 36. Qxe2 Rxe2+ 37. Kd3 Nxc7 38. Nc6 Kf7 39. Rc1 Ne8 40. Nd8+ Kg6 41. Ne6 g3 White resigns.

Kozul-Bosiocic, 2020 Croatian Championship, Vinkoci, Croatia, June 2020

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bxf6 Qxf6 7. e3 O-O 8. Rc1 dxc4 9. Bxc4 c5 10. dxc5 Nd7 11. O-O Nxc5 12. Nb5 Ba5 13. Be2 Qe7 14. Qd6 Qxd6 15. Nxd6 Na4 16. Ne5 Bb4 17. Ndxf7 Nxb2 18. Bh5 a5 19. Rc7 Na4 20. Bg6 Black resigns.

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

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