England's Michael Adams and the 24-year-old Uzbek grandmaster Rustam Kasimdzhanov are locked in a gigantic struggle at the FIDE world championship in Tripoli, Libya. With the score tied at 21/2, they will play the last regular game of their six-game final match today. The winner will clinch the world title. A draw will send the match to playoffs with faster time limits on Tuesday.
Kasimdzhanov, who was shockingly and mercilessly knocking out some of the world's best players from the event, twice saw his lead against Adams disappear. Both players won two games with the white pieces and agreed to a quick draw in the first game. Adams, 32, is playing black today.
Kasimdzhanov was often considered a dark horse who could not quite make it to the top.
In 1999 the Uzbek was a runner-up in the junior world championship in Erevan, Armenia, behind the Russian Alexander Galkin. In 2002 he made it to the World Cup final, losing narrowly to Indian superstar Vishy Anand. In 2001 his rating 2706 made him No. 11 in the world. He got there without being able to beat anybody rated above him.
It all changed in Tripoli. Kasimdzhanov eliminated many strong grandmasters, three of whom are often on the world's Top 10 list. In the past he did not think much about the faster time limits, but now he used them to his advantage in upset victories. He sent the talented Hungarian Zoltan Almasi packing by winning both regular games. Ukraine's Vassily Ivanchuk, a current European champion, and Russia's Alexander Grischuk, the No. 3 seed, could not stop Kasimdzhanov in rapid game tiebreaks. The top seed, Bulgaria's Veselin Topalov, was gone after a blitz playoff.
Kasimdzhanov is a solid positional grandmaster and excellent counterpuncher. In the fourth game against Adams, he chose the Exchange variation of the Spanish Opening, being satisfied with a small but long-lasting edge. When the Englishman sacrificed an exchange for a counterplay, Kasimdzhanov quickly punched back and turned the game completely to his side.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.0-0 Bg4 6.h3 h5 7.d3 Qf6 8.Be3 Bxf3 9.Qxf3 Qxf3 10.gxf3 Bd6 11.Nd2 Ne7 12.Rfb1 (Alexei Shirov's plan, preparing to expand on the queenside.) 12...f5!? (Adams does not intend to sit quietly. The game Shirov-Topalov, Madrid 1997, continued 12...Ng6 13.b4 f6 14.a4 Kf7 15.Kf1 Nf8 16.Ke2 Ne6 and now instead of 17.c3, Swedish grandmaster Tom Wedberg suggested 17.c4 and Kasimdzhanov most likely took note.)
13.b4 a5 (A sudden switch to the other wing is justified tactically.) 14.a3 (After 14.bxa5? f4 white has to part with his bishop.) 14...0-0 15.Nc4 axb4 16.axb4 b5 17.Na5! (Now 17.Nxd6?! cxd6 repairs black's pawn structure.) 17...Ra6 18.c4 Ng6 19.Kf1 Rfa8 (Threatening 20...Bxb4, but that is easily parried.) 20.Bd2 fxe4 21.fxe4 Be7 22.c5 Bf6 23.Rd1 (Preparing to break in the center.) 23...Kf7 24.Ke2 Ke8 25.Ra3 Nf8 (Black is just a move away from blocking white's attempt in the center with 26...Ne6. White has to act quickly.)
26.d4! (A temporary pawn sacrifice. After 26...exd4 27.f4 the fluid white pawns dominate black's light pieces and will push them back.) 26...Ne6 27.dxe5 Bxe5 28.Be3 Bb2 29.Rad3 Be5 30.Rg1 (The white rooks have fun on the open files, while the black ones stay passively on the blocked a-file. Adams decides that enough is enough and seeks some play with an exchange sacrifice.) 30...Rxa5?! 31.bxa5 Rxa5 (It looks like black is in good shape, controlling vital central squares. But Kasimdzhanov is relentless.)
32.f4! (The winning punch! The pawn sacrifice throws the black pieces off guard and the white rooks are ready for an invasion. Adams's position deteriorates fast.) 32...Bxf4 (After 32...Nxf4+ 33.Bxf4 Bxf4 34.Rxg7 b4 35.Rdd7 the white rooks on the seventh rank could soon create mating threats.) 33.Rg6! Kf7 (Adams is resigned to his fate, giving up a piece. After 33...Nf8 34.Rxc6 Bh2 35.Bg5 black is pinned down.) 34.Rxe6 Kxe6 (After 34...Bxe3 35.Rxc6 Bf4 36.Rd7+ Kf8 37.Rg6 Be5 38.Rg5 white wins.) 35.Bxf4 Ra4 36.Kf3 Rc4 37.Be3 b4 38.Rd4! (The exchange of rooks drastically reduces black's fighting chances. Kasimdzhanov's technique is flawless.) 38...Rxd4 (After 38...Rxc5 39.Rxb4 Rc2 40.h4 it is over.) 39.Bxd4 g5 40.Ke3 (After 40...b3 41.Kd3 white is going to pick up the b-pawn.) Black resigned.
Varuzhan Akobian broke from the pack of strong grandmasters and finished first at the traditional open tournament played over the Independence Day weekend in Philadelphia. The Los Angeles grandmaster-elect scored 71/2 points in nine games and won the $14,000 first prize. Nine players each scored a half-point less. Among them were the top-rated American GM Alexander Onischuk and Hikaru Nakamura, at 16 the youngest American grandmaster, fresh from his success in Tripoli, where he made it to the last 16 players. Solution to today's two-mover by G. Zakhodyakin (White: Ke4,Qe6,Na2; Black: Kb1,P:b2): 1.Qa6! Ka1 2.Nc3 mate; or 1...Kc2 2.Qd3 mate.