In 1922, the Russian chess composer Leonid Kubbel used only pawns to create a simple but rich endgame study (White: Ke3,P:a5,a6; Black: Kc8,P:b5,d7). White seems to be losing. The black king threatens to capture the white pawns and promote one of his. But the white king is able to outmaneuver the black pawns, securing a draw. Can you find how? (Solution next week.)
Gold in Europe for Azerbaijan and Russia
The young and powerful team of Azerbaijan clinched the gold medal at the 17th European Team Championship in the Serbian city of Novi Sad on Friday. They won seven matches, drew one and lost to Armenia, scoring 15 out of possible 18 match points. But their victory was a close call. It hung on one bad rook move, a losing blunder, played by the Dutchman Daniel Stellwagen against Vugar Gashimov in the last round. At the same time, Russia stumbled with a 2-2 tie against the Spanish team and finished with 14 points. Ukraine won the bronze on a tiebreak over Armenia, each ending with 13 points. Gashimov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov were the top performers on the winning team, each with a 6½-2½ score.
Russia, led by women's world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk, won the women's championship on a better tiebreak over Georgia, each scoring 16 match points. The Georgian women went undefeated, beat the Russians, but did not score enough points individually. Ukraine won the bronze medal with a better tiebreak over Azerbaijan, each with 12 points.
Mad Pawn Rush
Any defeat of a Soviet player in team competitions was a big deal in the old days. They hardly ever lost any games. The upset of former Russian champion Evgeny Alekseev by Ivan Salgado Lopez of Spain in Novi Sad derailed Russia from first place. Outnumbered by 170 rating points, the Spaniard fought valiantly in the sharp Winawer French. Without developing his pieces, he began sprinting with his h-pawn to the seventh rank, confusing his opponent. Alekseev found himself in an unusual squeeze, unable to find any counterplay.
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4 Qc7 8.Qxg7 Rg8 9.Qxh7 cxd4 10.Ne2 dxc3 11.f4 Nbc6 12.Qd3 (The Main variation of the Winawer French is sharp, unbalanced and attractive.) 12...d4!? (This pawn sacrifice, opening lines and diagonals for black, has been popular recently. The prevalent choice, 12...Bd7, allows 13.Nxc3.)
13.h4!? (White sends his h-pawn down the line, tying up the black rooks and confusing black's defense as wide receivers often do in football. It might have shocked Alekseev, who could not cope with the imaginative idea. Accepting the pawn 13.Nxd4 Nxd4 14.Qxd4 is critical. Black should now avoid 14...Nf5?! 15.Bb5+ Bd7 16.Qxd7+ Qxd7 17.Bxd7+ Kxd7 18.Kf2 with white's advantage as in the game Greet-Pyrich, Edinburgh 2009. Instead, 14...Bd7 gives him counterchances either after 15.Rg1 Rh8 16.h3 Nf5; or after 15.Rb1 Nf5 16.Qf2 Qc6 17.Rb4 Qd5 18.Rg1 Bc6 19.Rc4 0-0-0 as in the game Mamedyarov-Alekseev, Ohrid 2009. ) 13...Bd7 14.h5 0-0-0 15.h6 Kb8 16.h7 Rh8 (White achieved his goal and can pay attention to the rest of his pieces.)
17.Rb1 Bc8 18.g4 b6 19.Bg2 Bb7 20.Kf2 Na5 21.Rh3 (Just in case white needs the rook in front of the king or to block the d-pawn. After 21.Nxd4 black has several ways to equalize, for example 21...Bxg2 22.Kxg2 Qb7+ 23.Kg1 Nf5!? 24.Rb4 Nc6 25.Nxc6+ Qxc6 26.Rc4 Qb7! 27.Qxd8+ Rxd8 28.h8Q Qd5! 29.exf5 Rxh8 30.Rxh8+ Kb7, threatening either 31...Qxc4 or 31...Qd1+.) 21...Bxg2 22.Kxg2 Nec6 23.a4 (Opening the diagonal a3-f8 for the bishop.) 23...Qe7 24.Qe4 Qc5?! (Trying desperately to coordinate his forces, but 24...Qb7 seems better.)
25.f5! (Blasting the position open, white threatens 26.fxe6 fxe6 27.g5 and the passers are unstoppable. Or his bishop can sneak to the square f6 via g5.) 25...exf5 26.gxf5 Qe7 (The e-pawn is taboo: 26...Qxe5 is met by 27.Bf4, and 26...Nxe5 by 27.Rb5 and white wins. After 26...f6 white decides the game with 27.Rb5 Qe7 28.Rxa5! Nxa5 29.Bf4 Qb7 30.exf6+ Kc8 31.Qxb7+ Kxb7 32.f7! Nc6 33.Bg5 Rd7 34.Bf6 winning a piece.)
27.Bf4 (Targeting the black king.) 27...Kb7 28.Rd1 f6 29.e6 Rxh7 (Black finally eliminates the pesky pawn, but there is a new one on the square e6.) 30.Rxh7 Qxh7 31.Rxd4 Qg8+ (After 31...Rxd4 32.Nxd4 a6 33.Bd6 supports the advance of the e-pawn.) 32.Bg3 Rxd4 33.Nxd4 Qd8 (Letting the white knight in, but after 33...a6 34.Ne2 Ka7 35.Nxc3 white should win.) 34.Nb5! Qd2+ 35.Kh3 Qh6+ 36.Bh4 Qh7 37.Nxc3 (Threatening to win with 38.Nd5 forces black's desperate reply.) 37...Nc4 38.Qxc4 Qxf5+ 39.Qg4 Qf1+ 40.Kh2 (No more checks. The game is over.) 40...f5 41.Qg7+ Ka6 42.Qd7 Qf4+ 43.Bg3 Qh6+ 44.Kg2 Black resigned.
An Impressive Anthology
A beautifully produced 18-player anthology, "Champions of the New Millennium," by Lubomir Ftacnik, Danny Kopec and Walter Browne, was recently published by Quality Chess.
Each player is presented in a short biography, description of playing style and four well-commented victories. Exceptional photographs enhance the content.
The 450-page work showcases a full generation of prominent grandmasters from the world champion Vishy Anand and Vassily Ivanchuk, both age 40, to the youngest, 18-year-old Magnus Carlsen. Judit Polgar is the only woman. Selecting players can be tricky, but the authors chose well. In 10 years the list will look different. Even today, for example, Gashimov is on his way to becoming the top Azerbaijani player, but Teimour Radjabov and Mamedyarov are in the book.
As a rule, the stronger you play, the bigger target you are. The world's top-rated grandmaster, Veselin Topalov, leads the players in number of losses in the book. He lost seven games, Anand six games, Vladimir Kramnik and Alexei Shirov five games, and Garry Kasparov four games. But what breathtaking losses they are!
The book is a great collection of 72 games. The comments include opening trends and vary in length from a few pages to a nine-page epic battle (Anand-Karpov), but all capture the essence of each game. They were checked by computer programs Rybka and Fritz 10. Sometimes the games don't match the players' vignettes. When you see the wild and crazy game Kramnik played against Alexander Morozevich, you may wonder why is he called "the perfect technician." And "Improved Capablanca" is not Carlsen but Bobby Fischer. "I've definitely improved on Capablanca's endgame play," he once told me, and showed me on the board what he meant. But overall, it is an outstanding book, a beautiful gallery of great players.
Solution to Last Week's Puzzle
White mates in three moves by Alexander Galitsky (White: Kh2,Qa8,Rd1,Bc3,Bc4,P: b2,e6,f4,g3; Black: Ka1,Rb1,Bc1,P:a4,b5,h3): 1.Bh8! Bxb2 2.Rh1!! Rxh1+ (Or 2...Bxh8 3.Qxh8 mate; or 2...bxc4 3.Qxa4 mate; or 2...a3 3.Qxa3 mate.) 3.Qxh1 mate. Or 1...Rxb2+ 2.Qg2! hxg2 3.Rxc1 mate; or 1...Be3 2.b4+ Bd4 3.Bxd4 mate.