Friday, October 17, 2003

I was just about to throw out the cheap 36-page promotional flier for Chess Life magazine that arrived in the mail the other day when I noticed that the flier actually was the latest issue of Chess Life.

In a radical downsizing that reflects the fiscal and managerial troubles at America’s leading chess organization, the November issue of the U.S. Chess Federation’s flagship magazine features a few continuing columnists (Andrew Soltis, Larry Evans, Robert Byrne), a few tournament listings and not much more. An open letter from new USCF President Beatriz Marinello and Vice President of Finance Tim Hanke states baldly, “We discovered our problems were perhaps worse then ever before in our history.

“We had so little cash that we were unable to pay the prizes at the U.S. Open, unable to meet our national office payroll, and unable to mail our own catalog to new members because we could not afford the postage. Our printer refused to accept Chess Life from us without an up-front payment.”

How did things come to such a pass?

“The short answer is, we have managed our operations poorly. We have had ineffective leadership on the staff level and on the Executive Board level. … Our operations are too large, complicated and far-flung to be managed by amateurs, no matter how enthusiastic and well-meaning.”

Forty percent of the national office staff has already been let go. Rebuilding the organization by making the magazine barely worth reading is a risky strategy. Let’s hope it pays off.

• • •

Call it the Nokia Gambit.

Ukrainian GM and reigning FIDE world titleholder Ruslan Ponomariov scored an unwanted first at the European Team Championships now under way in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, when he had to forfeit his first-round game after his cell phone went off during the match.

FIDE rules, citing the possibility of secret coaching using today’s advanced phones, call for instant disqualification if a player’s mobile phone rings during a game. Swedish GM Evgeny Agrest — who had the 20-year-old Ponomariov on the ropes, anyway — was awarded the point over the champ’s vehement protests. Ponomariov refused to sign the score sheet, but the Ukrainian team rallied to score a 2-2 draw.

GM Alexei Shirov, playing first board for his adopted homeland of Spain in Bulgaria, called his first published game collection “Fire on Board.” The Latvian-born Shirov seems constitutionally incapable of playing a dull game, and he produced two worthy efforts for his next book in the first two rounds in Plovdiv.

Turkish GM Suat Atalik is a fine attacking player in his own right, but here his oversubtle attempt to slow down White’s king-side attack (10…Rh7?!) ends up costing him dearly. Better would have been the simpler 10…Qd7 11. Nf4 Nxf4 12. Bxf4 Rg8.

With Black’s king stuck in the center, his one rook misplaced on h7 and his other rook not even in the game, Shirov needs no more incentive to offer a speculative piece sacrifice barely out of the opening: 14. Kxf1 c5 (see diagram)15. Nf5!! Qc4+ (Black may have hoped his opponent missed this intervening check, which guards the pawn on d5) 16. Kg1 exf5 17. Qxf5, already threatening 18. Qc8 mate.

After 17…Nd7 (cxd4? 18. e6 Qc7 19. exf7+ Qxf7 20. Qc8 mate) 18. e6!, White zeroes in on the weaknesses in the Black position. The knight on g6 is undermined, the e- and f-files are blasted open, and White for good measure threatens mate in two.

After 18…Nf6 19. Re1 Qxc3 20. exf7+ Kxf7 (Kf8 21. Re8+! Nxe8 22. fxe8=Q+ Kxe8 23. Qxg6+ Kd7 24. Qxh7 wins a piece) 21. Qe6+ Kf8 22. Rh3! (the second White rook now gets in on the fun) Qxd4 23. Rf3, 23…Qg4 24. Qxd5 Re8 would still leave Shirov in command on 25. Qd6+ Kg8 (Ne7 26. Bxf6 gxf6 27. Qxf6+ Kg8 28. Rg3) 26. Rxe8+ Nxe8 27. Qxg6 Qd7 28. Be7! Qxe7 29. Re3 Qxe3 30. fxe3.

Instead, White wins back his material with a winning attack on Atalik’s 23…Nxh4 24. Rf4 Qc3 25. Bxh4 Rh6 26. Re5! (cutting the Black queen off from f6) Qd2 27. Bxf6. Since 27…Qc1+ (Qxf4 28. Qe7+ Kg8 29. Qxg7 mate) 28. Re1 Qxe1+ 29. Qxe1 gxf6 30. Qe6 is decisive, Black gave up.

Even in defeat, Shirov keeps things interesting. Against red-hot Russian GM Peter Svidler a round later, Shirov as Black mishandles an ultrasharp position, resigning just when things were getting tricky.

With his king feeling the heat, Shirov seeks salvation in tactics, but Svidler sees just a bit further: 19…Na4?! 20. Nc4 Rxc4 21. Bxc4 Nxb2 22. Nxe6!, an unexpected shot that avoids the inferior 22. Rdc1? Bc5 23. Bf1 Bxd4, and the Black bishops dominate.

Black may have given up a tad too soon on 22…Qxe3 23. Rd8+ Ka7 24. fxe3 fxe6 (Nxc4 25. Nxf8 Be4 26. Rd4 Rxf8 27. Rxe4 b5 28. e6 f5 29. Rh4 is also good for White) 25. Bxe6.

It looks as if White must win material because of the pinned bishop on f8, but the execution isn’t easy on 25…Bd3 26. a4! (Bf7 Nc4! 27. e6 [Rxd3 Nxe5 28. Rd5 Nxf7 29. Rf1 Nd6 30. Rxf8 Rxf8 31. Rxd6 isn’t persuasive) b5 (Be4 27. Rf1), and Black finally is run to ground on 27. Ra2 Bc4 28. Bxc4 Nxc4 29. e6, and the passed pawn costs Shirov decisive material.

European Team Championships, Plovdiv, Bulgaria, October 2003

Shirov Atalik

1. e4 e6 15. Nf5 Qc4+

2. d4 d5 16. Kg1 exf5

3. Nc3 Bb4 17. Qxf5 Nd7

4. e5 Ne7 18. e6 Nf6

5. a3 Bxc3+ 19. Re1 Qxc3

6. bxc3 b6 20. exf7+ Kxf7

7. Qg4 Ng6 21. Qe6+ Kf8

8. h4 h5 22. Rh3 Qxd4

9. Qg3 Ba6 23. Rf3 Nxh4

10. Ne2 Rh7 24. Rf4 Qc3

11. Bg5 Qd7 25. Bxh4 Rh6

12. Qf3 Qa4 26. Re5 Qd2

13. Ng3 Bxf1 27. Bxf6 Black

14. Kxf1 c5 resigns

European Team Championships, Plovdiv, Bulgaria, October 2003

Svidler Shirov

1. e4 c6 14. Rfd1 Kc7

2. d4 d5 15. c4 dxc4

3. e5 Bf5 16. Bxc4 Rc8

4. Be3 Qb6 17. Nd2 Kb8

5. Qc1 Nh6 18. Bb5 a6

6. Nf3 e6 19. Be2 Na4

7. Nbd2 c5 20. Nc4 Rxc4

8. Nb3 Nd7 21. Bxc4 Nxb2

9. dxc5 Nxc5 22. Nxe6 Qxe3

10. Nfd4 Ng4 23. Rd8+ Ka7

11. Bb5+ Kd8 24. fxe3 fxe6

12. 0-0 Nxe3 25. Bxe6 Black

13. Qxe3 Bg6 resigns

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide