- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Chess is the ultimate game of second chances, providing fresh opportunities for redemption every time you set up the pieces for a new game. But it’s not often you go from bug to windshield as dramatically and quickly as Polish GM Mateusz Bartel did in the space of a couple of days.

Bartel was on the wrong end of a brilliant attack by Russian GM Vladislav Artemiev at the European Club Championships, which concluded March 31. The game is already being hailed as a candidate for one of the year’s best. (Because of COVID-19 restrictions, it was played online at rapid time controls.)

Just days later, Bartel, a senior at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, proceeded to dust himself off and help lead his team to its third consecutive President’s Cup win in the U.S. college chess Final Four. Bartel scored a key win over GM Lazaro Bruzon Batista in the school’s crushing defeat of perennial powerhouse Webster University of St. Louis. In many ways, Bartel’s win over Bruzon Batista featured some of the same tactical ideas that played out in his sensational loss to Artemiev.

With White against Artemiev, Bartel tries a delayed Ruy Lopez Exchange line but fails to sense the danger of Black’s kingside attack once the center locks up. Black’s 11. Nd2 g5! (launching a kingside push while hindering White’s intended f2-f4) signals his aggressive intentions, and he fans the flames on 14. Ne2?! (too slow; Bartel wrongly thinks he can keep the kingside closed, but immediate queenside counterplay with 14. a3 was the better path) g4! 15. h4 Nh5 16. g3 f5!, and the threat of f5-f4 forces White to open up the center and free the long diagonal for Black’s bishop.

Black’s 19. Qd2 Ng7! sets a brilliant trap, luring White to open the h-file with fatal consequences: 20. Bxh6? (understandably failing to see Black’s idea; 20. b4! Nxf5 21. bxc5 provides a diversion that keeps White in the game in lines like 21…Nxh4 22. cxd6 Qf7 23. d7+! Qxd7 24. Rae1) Nxf5 21. Bg5 (see diagram; White apparently has stopped the kingside attacking routes, but Black finds a way in) Nxh4!! (Qe6?! 22. Ne4 Kd7 23. b4 is only equal) 22. Bxe7 (no better was 22. Bxh4 Qxh4! 23. gxh4 Rxh4, with unstoppable mate) Nf5 23. Bh4 Nxh4! 24. Qg5 (even the coming queen checks can’t save White; also failing was 24. Qe3 Nf5 25. Qxf3 gxf3 26. Ne4 Nd4! 27. Rae1 Ke7, and the doubling of rooks on the h-file is deadly — 28. Re3 Rh6 29. g4 Rah8 30. Ng3 Rh2 31. Rd1 Rg2+ 32. Kf1 Rhh2 33. Rd2 Rxg3 and wins) Nf5 25. Qg6+ Kd8 26. Qf6+ Kc7 27. Nd5+ Kc6, and Bartel resigned to spare himself the agony of such lines as 28. Ne7+ Kb6 29. Nd5+ Ka7 40. Qh4 Nxh4 31. Ne3 Nf5 32. Ng2 Rh3 33. Rfe1 Rah8 34. Kf1 Rh1 mate.

Fast-forward just a few days to the President’s Cup finals, and it’s Bartel playing the Black side of an unusual Reti Opening sideline against Webster’s Bruzon Batista. And as in the first game, White gets into fatal trouble when the h-file opens up against his castled king.

After some original opening maneuvering, the position after 18. Bc6+ Kf8 19. Qb3 is a mixed bag: Black can’t castle and his b-pawn is very weak, but as in the Artemiev game, the h-file proves a valuable asset here for Black: 19…h5! 20. Nd2 h4 21. Nf3 Qc7, attacking the bishop but also eying soft spots around White’s king.

White fails to sense the danger and pays a heavy price: 23. Bxb5?! (not only taking the bishop away from the defense, but also tying up the White queen in the process; far more prudent was 23. Be4 hxg3 24. fxg3 Nxe4 25. dxe4 d3+ 26. Kh1 Qd7 27. Rxd1, when 27…Qg4?! runs into 28. Qxf7+! Kxf7 29. Ne5+ Ke8 30. Nxg4, winning a pawn) hxg3 24. hxg3 Qb7 25. Bc6?? (mandatory was 25. Ba4! Qc8 26. Rxc5! Rxc5 27. Qa3 Kg8 28. Bb3, with a still-playable game) Qc8! (Qc7? 26. Qa4 Rb4 27. Qa8+ Rb8 28. Qa4 holds for White, and suddenly Bartel has the same corner mating motifs he had just faced against Artemiev.

The finale: 26. Qa4 Qh3 27. Nh4 Ng4, and White lost on time just before losing at the board with 28. Rfd1 Qh2+ 29. Kf1 Qxf2 mate.

Bartel-Artemiev, European Club Championship, March 2021

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Bc5 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. d3 Qe7 8. h3 h6 9. Be3 Bd6 10. O-O c5 11. Nd2 g5 12. Nc4 Be6 13. Nxd6+ cxd6 14. Ne2 g4 15. h4 Nh5 16. g3 f5 17. exf5 Bd5 18. Nc3 Bf3 19. Qd2 Ng7 20. Bxh6 Nxf5 21. Bg5 Nxh4 22. Bxe7 Nf5 23. Bh4 Nxh4 24. Qg5 Nf5 25. Qg6+ Kd8 26. Qf6+ Kc7 27. Nd5+ Kc6 White resigns.

Bruzon Batista-Bartel, 2021 President’s Cup, April 2021

1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 d4 3. b4 Bg4 4. Qb3 Nf6 5. g3 Bxf3 6. Qxf3 c6 7. Bg2 e5 8. b5 e4 9. Qb3 Nbd7 10. O-O Nc5 11. Qd1 cxb5 12. cxb5 Be7 13. d3 exd3 14. exd3 a6 15. Ba3 axb5 16. Bxc5 Bxc5 17. Bxb7 Rb8 18. Bc6+ Kf8 19. Qb3 h5 20. Nd2 h4 21. Nf3 Qc7 22. Rac1 Rh5 23. Bxb5 hxg3 24. hxg3 Qb7 25. Bc6 Qc8 26. Qa4 Qh3 27. Nh4 Ng4 White forfeits.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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