Friday, January 13, 2006

We may have been a little too hard on the champ. We charted here two weeks ago the sharp decline in the play of Russian classical chess titleholder Vladimir Kramnik, who in recent years has been a far cry from the giant-slayer he was when he upset Garry Kasparov to win the crown six years ago. It turns out the champ’s problems may be physical, not psychological or mental.

The 30-year-old Kramnik has pulled out of the Category 19 Corus Tournament that starts today in Wijk aan Zee, Holland, the first elite event of 2006. In a statement last week, he revealed he is taking an extended break from competition to obtain treatment for a severe form of arthritis.

“I want to stress clearly that — as always — I am eager to continue and enhance my chess career. There are still many goals to achieve,” Kramnik said.

American Gata Kamsky is in this year’s Corus field, his biggest test since returning to competitive play in 2004. Top seeds in the 14-player field are new FIDE world champ Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, Indian Viswanathan Anand, and recent FIDE Cup winner Levon Aronian of Armenia.

• • •

Another major star clearly out of form is Spanish GM Alexei Shirov, who went a stunning 1/2-81/2 at the annual Keres Memorial Rapid Tournament in Tallinn, Estonia. With his lone draw, the 2700-plus Shirov turned in a performance rating of just 2134 for the event.

The Latvian-born Shirov, one of the game’s most exciting players, offered no excuses, saying he got off to a poor start and took increasingly reckless gambles in later games trying to catch up. (The event was not formally rated.)

Things started going downhill in the very first round against Russian GM Nikita Vitiugov, who is rated nearly 200 points below the Spanish star. In this Queen’s Indian, Black’s queenside attack develops far more slowly than white’s kingside push, and Shirov’s efforts to make up for lost time lead to disaster.

Thus: 16. f4 c5?! (Vitiugov’s kingside array already looks menacing, but 16…Qd6 17. h5 c6 at least keeps Black in the game) 17. dxc5 d4? (Black may have banked on this lemon, but other options are already bleak; e.g. 17…Rc8 18. Bxd5 Qe7 19. h5 gxh5 20. g5! bxc5 21. gxh6 cracks Black wide open) 18. Bxd4! Bxd4 19. Qxg6+ Kh8 20. Qxh6+ Kg8 21. g5.

White’s combination barely counts as a sacrifice, as he gets four pawns for his piece, but he also handles Black’s bid for counterplay with maximum dispatch: 21…Qc7 (Bg7 22. Bxf7+! Rxf7 [Kxf7 23. g6+ Ke6 24. Qxg7 wins] 23. Rxd8+ Rxd8 24. Qe6 is crushing) 22. g6!, the only winning idea (22. Rxd4? Qxc5+ 23. Kb1 Qxd4 24. g6 Qe4+ 25. Ka1 Qxh1+ 26. Bb1 Nb3+ 27. Ka2 Nc1+ 28. Ka1 Nb3+ draws by perpetual check).

There followed 22…Qc5+ 23. Kd2! (Kb1? Qf5+ 24. Ka1 [Kc1?? Rac8+ 25. Kd2 Qc2+ 26. Ke1 Qxf2 mate] Bxb2+! 25. Kxb2 Qf6+ 26. Kb1 Qf5+ is another perpetual motif) Be3+ 24. fxe3 Nc4+ (Shirov at least is not cheated out of his trademark sacrifices) 25. Bxc4 Rfd8+ 26. Kc2 (Kc3 wins a tad quicker) Qxc4+ 27. Kb1 Qe4+ (Rxd1+ 28. Rxd1 Qe4+ 29. Ka1 Qxg6 30. Qxg6+ is a won ending for White) 28. Ka1 fxg6 29. Rdg1 Kf7 30. h5.

Black’s defenses collapse in lines like 30…Rg8 31. hxg6+ Rxg6 32. Qh7+ Kf6 33. Rh6! Rag8 34. Qxg8 Rxh6 35. Qf8+ Ke6 36. Qxh6+; Shirov resigned.

• • •

Veteran Maryland master Denis Strenzwilk tied for first in last week’s Baltimore Open, sharing top honors with GM Alex Wojtkiewicz and New York expert Salar Jahedi at 41/2-1/2.

Nothing remarkable in that — save for the fact that this is the ninth time Strenzwilk has won or tied for first in the event. He shared the honors with late Virginia legend Charles Powell in 1969 and has won at least once in each decade since. This year’s win was his first in the Open since 1997.

The Aberdeen resident clinched his latest trophy in style with an attractive last-round win over New York Class A player Dushyanth Reddivari. Building up a solid attacking position as Black, Strenzwilk proves superior in the back-and-forth tactical melee that ensues.

Thus: 16. Ne5 Nxf2! 17. Rxf2 Bxf2+ 18. Kxf2 Qf6+ (picking off the knight, but White has a counter of his own in mind) 19. Ke1 Nxe5 20. Rxc8 Rxc8 21. Qa1!, with an apparently unbreakable pin on the long diagonal.

But Black finds 21…Qg5!, threatening 22…Rc1+ if the bishop takes on e5, and Strenzwilk goes for the knockout when White takes another tack: 22. Bh3 (see diagram) Nd3+!! 23. exd3 Qe3+ 24. Kd1 Qg1+ 25. Ke2 Rc2+, and the king hunt is on in earnest.

It’s only a matter of time before the White monarch is cornered: 26. Kf3 Qf2+ 27. Kg4 Qf5+ 28. Kh4 g5+ 29. Kh5 Qxh3+ 30. Kxg5 Qf5+, and White resigns before Black can administer mate with 31…Rxh2 mate.

Keres Memorial Rapid Tournament, Tallinn, Estonia, January 2006


1. d4Nf616. f4c5

2. c4e617. dxc5d4

3. Nf3b618. Bxd4Bxd4

4. a3Bb719. Qxg6+Kh8

5. Nc3g620. Qxh6+Kg8

6. Qc2Bxf321. g5Qc7

7. exf3Bg722. g6Qxc5+

8. Bg5h623. Kd2Be3+

9. Be3d524. fxe3Nc4+

10. 0-0-00-025. Bxc4Rfd8+

11. h4Nc626. Kc2Qxc4+

12. g4dxc427. Kb1Qe4+

13. Bxc4Na528. Ka1fxg6

14. Ba2Nd529. Rdg1Kf7

15. Nxd5exd530. h5Black


Baltimore Open, Goucher College, Baltimore, January 2006


1. Nf3d516. Ne5Nxf2

2. c4e617. Rxf2Bxf2+

3. g3 Nf618. Kxf2Qf6+

4. Bg2Be719. Ke1Nxe5

5. 0-00-020. Rxc8Rxc8

6. b3c521. Qa1Qg5

7. cxd5exd522. Bh3Nd3+

8. d4Nc623. exd3Qe3+

9. Bb2Be624. Kd1Qg1+

10. Na3Rc825. Ke2Rc2+

11. Rc1Ne426. Kf3Qf2+

12. dxc5Bxc527. Kg4Qf5+

13. Nc2Qe728. Kh4g5+

14. Ncd4Rfd829. Kh5Qxh3+

15. Nxe6fxe630. Kxg5Qf5+

White resigns

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

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