Friday, September 15, 2006

In a consummation devoutly to be wished, rival world championship claimants Vladimir Kramnik of Russia and Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria are set to settle things over the chessboard in a 12-game match that kicks off next Saturday in the Russian city of Elista.

The match, played under classical time controls, should end a bitter and disastrous division in the chess world over the title belt dating back to 1993. In that year, Garry Kasparov broke with FIDE, the international chess federation, to stage his own title match against English challenger Nigel Short.

FIDE stripped Kasparov of his crown, and there have been at least two claimants to the game’s most valuable property ever since. Kramnik, who defeated Kasparov in a 2000 match in London, considers himself the “classical” world champion, while FIDE recognizes Topalov. Aside from ending the organizational confusion and infighting, the match also happens to feature perhaps the two best players in the world, with a close match expected.

Opening ceremonies will be held Thursday in Elista, with the winner being the first player to obtain 61/2 points. A rapid playoff is set for Oct. 12 if the match ends in a tie. Both players will receive $500,000 for their efforts, and the winner automatically will be seeded into the FIDE world championship tournament next year.

Topalov has dominated the international circuit in recent times, but Kramnik has far more experience in tough one-on-one matches. Our forecast: Topalov with a late rally.

Our coverage two weeks ago of the 38th Atlantic Open neglected to mention the work of the tournament’s two directors: Steve Cope and Sophia Rohde. Our apologies.

There’s something inherently cruel about chess humor, in that what the rest of the world finds funny in a particular game probably wasn’t all that amusing to the game’s loser. Still, there is something piquant about both of today’s relatively brief offerings, taken from the Russian championship qualifying tournament in Tomsk, which wrapped up earlier this week.

Black’s unhappy fate in the game between GMs Evgeny Najer and Alexei Kornev brings to mind the famous story of American great Frank Marshall’s victory over Russia’s Fyodor Dus-Chotimirsky in a 1911 tournament in Carlsbad. The Russian in the game threatened what seemed an unstoppable mate and proclaimed to friends in broken English, “Poor Marshall dead.”

When Marshall found an amazing defensive resource that won the game at once, Dus-Chotimirsky reportedly observed, “Marshall not dead. Me dead.”

Kornev’s position already was looking a bit shaky in the Caro-Kann Advance after 14. fxe4 e5 15. Bg3 exd4 16. Bg4 0-0-0, when the queen-side does not appear to offer much of a haven for the Black king against White’s powerfully aligned bishops.

Still, Black probably felt he had stolen a march on Najer in the ensuing tactics: 17. Rxf6 Bg7 18. Rxg6! d3+ 19. Kh1 Qxb2 20. Rb1 dxc2 (see diagram), when the White queen and rook are forked and Black wins a rook after 21. Rxb2? cxd1+ 22. Bxd1 Bxb2.

White, however, had seen just a little bit further and forces instant resignation with 21. Rxc6+!!, as 21…bxc6 22. Qxc2! Qxc2 23. Rb8 is mate. With one White bishop covering b8 and the other pinning the unfortunate Black knight at d7, Najer’s combination provides an object lesson in the power of the bishop pair.

The win did not prove enough for Najer in the end, however, as he finished in a seven-way tie for second in the event behind winner GM Ernesto Inarkiev. Only the top seven finishers in Tomsk won spots in the Russian national championship in December, and Najer had the weakest tiebreaks of the second-place finishers, thus missing out on the finals.

The humor in today’s second game, between IM Pavel Anisimov and FM Gennady Arzhenkov, centers on the pathetic career of Black’s king knight, which in the space of just a few more than two dozen moves plods from its g8 home to the stable of its counterpart on b8 — only to be attacked and lost just as it reaches its destination.

The strategic lesson offered by the game is dire consequences for Black in not getting in the freeing advance of his d-pawn when playing the Sicilian. Arzhenkov’s critical pawn never moves in the game, with disastrous results for the rest of his forces.

While Black wastes time with his queen and h-pawn, Anisimov cements his central bind with 14. e5 Ng8 (a retreat that marks the start of an unhappy odyssey) 15. Bf4 Ne7 16. Ne4 Rb8 17. Nd6+ Kf8. The loss of castling privileges is far less painful for Black than is the White knight’s disruption of his plans to develop his pieces.

Black’s laborious efforts to unwind his position end in tragicomedy for the knight on 23. Qc3 Qc8 24. Rfd1 Nb8 25. Qxc8 Bxc8 26. Rb6!. White’s simple move attacks the knight, no Black piece can come to its aid, and the knight’s one escape route loses material after 26…Nc6 27. Rxc6!, exploiting the pinned d-pawn. Arzhenkov resigned.

59th Russian First League Championship, Tomsk, Russia


1. e4c612. exf6gxf6

2. d4d513. f3Qb6

3. e5Bf514. fxe4e5

4. Nf3e615. Bg3exd4

5. Be2Nd716. Bg40-0-0

6. 0-0Ne717. Rxf6Bg7

7. Nh4Be418. Rxg6d3+

8. Nd2Ng619. Kh1Qxb2

9. Nxe4dxe420. Rb1dxc2

10. Nxg6hxg621. Rxc6+Black

11. Bf4f5resigns

59th Russian First League Championship, Tomsk, Russia


1. e4c514. e5Ng8

2. Nf3e615. Bf4Ne7

3. d4cxd416. Ne4Rb8

4. Nxd4a617. Nd6+Kf8

5. Nc3Qc718. Bh2Nc6

6. g3Nc619. Rad1b5

7. Bg2h520. Rd3Bxd6

8. h3Nf621. Rxd6Bb7

9. 0-0Nxd422. Qd2Rd8

10. Qxd4Bc523. Qc3Qc8

11. Qd3h424. Rfd1Nb8

12. g4Qg325. Qxc8Bxc8

13. Qe2Qc726. Rb6Black


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

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