Ivan Sokolov's dramatic last-round victory over Alexei Shirov on May 28 will go down as one of the most memorable games in the history of 35 traditional tournaments played in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. It allowed Sokolov, a former Bosnian grandmaster who now lives in the Netherlands, to catch the tournament leader Viorel Bologan of Moldova and to share first place with him.

Epic Battle

Shirov, a former Latvian star who found his home in Spain, is one of the most imaginative players in the world and also one of the foremost experts on the Botvinnik system of the Semi-Slav defense. Sokolov challenged him head-on. The gloves came off early and the punches and counterblows stopped only after Shirov was faced with an inevitable mate.


1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 dxc4 6.e4 b5 7.e5 h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.exf6!? (A promising side variation. The main line of the Botvinnik Semi-Slav defense is 9.Nxg5 hxg5 10.Bxg5 Nbd7. Others played like this with black pieces before, but in the 1940s Botvinnik came up with a new plan: castling long fast and overpowering white in the center with c6-c5.) 9...gxh4 10.Ne5! (This strong, centralized knight can't be dislodged easily, for example 10. . . . Nd7 runs into 11.Nxf7!! Kxf7 12.Qh5+ Kxf6 13.Qxh4+ skewering the black queen.) 10 . . . Qxf6 11.a4! (Preventing 11...Nd7. White would play 12.Nxc6 Bb7 13.axb5 with a clear advantage.) 11...Bb7 12.axb5 cxb5 (Undermining the knight on e5 with 12...c5 deserves attention. Now the fireworks begin.)

13.Bxc4! a6 (Accepting the bishop sacrifice 13...bxc4 gives white a decisive attack after 14.Qa4+ Kd8 [On 14...Ke7 15.Qb4+ wins the bishop on b7.] 15.Qa5+ Kc8 16.Ra4 Ba6 17.Nb5!, e.g.17...Bxb5 18.Qxb5 Bd6 19.Rxc4+ Bc7 20.Ke2 Qe7 21.Rhc1 and wins.) 14.Nxb5! axb5 (After taking the knight the black king will dangerously float in the middle.) 15.Bxb5+ Kd8 16.Rxa8 Bxa8 17.Qa4! (The queen joins the attack.) 17...Bd6 (Looking for an active defense. After 17...Bxg2?! 18.Qa7! the double-attack on the knight on b8 and the pawn on f7 decides, for example: 18...Kc8 19.Bd7+ Nxd7 20.Qxd7+ Kb8 21.f3! Bxf3 22.Qb5+ Kc7 23.Rf1 Qg5 24.Rxf3 Qc1+ 25.Ke2 Qc2+ 26.Kf1 Qd1+ 27.Kg2 Rg8+ 28.Kh3 the king hides and white wins.)

18.Nc4!? (A shocking retreat that looks like a blunder. Shirov most likely expected 18.Qxa8 Bxe5 19.dxe5 Qxe5+ 20.Be2 when black can play 20...h3! and only after 21.g3 Qxb2! with the idea 22.0-0 Qxe2 23.Qxb8+ Ke7 24.Qxh8? Qf3! and black mates. Of course, after 20...h3! white should play 21.0-0!, for example 21...hxg2 22.Rd1+ Ke7 23.Qb7+ Kf8 24.Bc4 Rg8 25.Bxe6! with an edge.) 18...Bc7?! (The upcoming double-attack was too tempting to pass. After 18...Qf4 19.Qxa8 Qc1+ 20.Ke2 white would have good winning chances, e.g. 20...Qc2+ [On 20...Qxh1 21.Nxd6 Ke7 22.Qa7+ Kxd6 23.Qc5 mates.] 21.Nd2 Qxb2 22.Rb1 Qxd4 23.Ne4 Ke7 24.Qb7+ Kf8 25.Rd1 Qb2+ 26.Rd2 and wins. But Shirov had a narrow path to safety with 18...Bxg2! and now after 19.Rg1 Bxh2 20.Rxg2 Bc7 the defensive setup on the dark squares gives black the advantage and after 19.Nxd6 Bxh1 20.Qa7 Qg6! 21.Nxf7+ Kc8 22.Nd6+ Kd8 23.Qxb8+ Ke7 24.Qxh8 Qb1+ the white king can't escape a perpetual check.) 19.Qxa8 Qg5 (It is only an illusion that the double attack, threatening 20...Qxb5 and 20...Qc1+, leads somewhere.) 20.Qb7! Qc1+ 21.Ke2 Qxh1 (What does white have?)

22.Ne5! (The point of white's combination. The threat is 23.Nxf7+ and after black defends it, Sokolov gets a powerful play on the light squares.) 22...Qc1!? (Shirov returns the material since after 22...Rf8 [22...Bxe5? loses to 23.dxe5.] comes 23.Nc6+! Nxc6 24.Qxc6 Kc8 25.Qa8+ Bb8 26.Bc6! and to avoid mate, black must give up two pieces: 26...Kd8 27.Qxb8+ Ke7 28.Qb4+ Kf6 29.Qxf8 and white wins. But 22...Rh7!? gives black after 23.Nc6+ Nxc6 24.Qxc6 Ke7 25.Qxc7+ Kf8! 26.Bd3 Rh8 27.Be4 Qa1 good surviving chances.) 23.Nxf7+ Ke7 24.Nxh8 Qxb2+ 25.Kf3 Qc3+ 26.Kg4 Qxd4+ 27.Kh3 (The white king finally finds a quiet place, but black can now save the game.) 27...Qb6? (Anxious to exchange the queens Shirov makes his own life difficult. The counterpunching defense 27...Qc5!, threatening 28...Qf5+, equalizes, for example 28.Bd3 Qd6! 29.Ng6+ Kd8 or 28.Ng6+ Kd8 29.Nxh4 Qxf2.)

28.Qc8! Qxb5 29.Qxc7+ Nd7 30.Ng6+ Kf6 31.Nxh4 (White is a healthy pawn up, but black has chances to hold.) 31...Qd3+ 32.f3 Ne5 33.Qc1 Nf7 34.Qb2+ e5?! (Weakening the squares around the king. It was better to keep the pawn on e6 and dance around it: 34...Ne5 35.Qb8 Nf7.) 35.Qb6+ Kg7 (After 35...Qd6 36.Qxd6+ Nxd6 37.Kg4 black has problems defending the pawn on h6.) 36.Kg3 (36.Kg4! was preferable.) 36...Qc4 (After 36...Ng5 37.Qe3 Qxe3 38.Nf5+ Kg6 39.Nxe3 white retains a clear advantage.) 37.Qg6+ Kf8 38.Qf6 Kg8 39.Ng6 e4 40.Nf4?! (The pin 40.Qf4! wins another pawn.) 40...exf3? (A blunder with the last move before the time control. After 40...Kf8! white still has some work to do.) 41.Ne6 (There is no sound defense to 42.Qg7 mate.) Black resigned.

Solution to today's problem by E. Palkoska ( White: Kh8,Qf2,Nc5,Ne5,P:b6,d7,f6; Black: Kd8,Qb3,Bd5,Ng8,P:a7,b4,b7,f7,h6): 1.Qd4! Qf3 2.Nxb7+ Bxb7 3.Nxf7 mate; or 1...axb6 2.Ne6+ Bxe6 3.Qxb6 mate; or 1...Nxf6 2.Nc6+ bxc6 3.Qxf6 mate; 1...Ne7 2.Nxf7+ Bxf7 3.Nxb7 mate.

White mates in three moves