Vassily Ivanchuk is known as the missing man at the FIDE world championship in San Luis, Argentina. Despite being rated No. 4 in the world among active players, the 36-year-old top Ukrainian grandmaster was not invited to play for the world title. He moved to the top four only after the eight players were selected. Somehow it did not seem to upset him. "I simply began winning too late," he said recently.
Ivanchuk had an exceptional year with an excellent winning record and only a few setbacks. This is remarkable, since he was playing almost nonstop. On Friday, he won the Casino de Barcelona Masters in Spain on a tiebreak after he shared first place with his countryman Viktor Moskalenko. In a dramatic game from that event, the top Argentinian grandmaster, Ruben Felgaer, decided to challenge Ivanchuk's phenomenal opening knowledge with the sharp Dragon Sicilian.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Bc4 0-0 8.Bb3 d6 9.f3 Bd7 10.h4 Rc8 11.Qd2 h5 12.0-0-0 Ne5 (Reaching the starting position of the Soltis variation in the Dragon Sicilian. Ivanchuk knows it well, having played it with both colors in the past.) 13.Bg5!? Rc5! (More than 22 years have passed since grandmaster Genna Sosonko introduced this multipurpose move.)
14.f4!? (Ivanchuk most likely concluded that this advance is the most unpleasant move for black. He lost as white to Topalov in Belgrade in 1995 with the gambit variation 14.g4 hxg4 15.f4.) 14...Nc4 (Against Kamsky in Buenos Aires in 1994, Ivanchuk tried 14...Neg4, but after 15.Rhe1 Qa5 16.f5 gxf5 17.Nxf5 Bxf5 18.exf5 Re8 19.Nd5 Qxd2+ 20.Rxd2 Kf8 21.a4!, white had slightly better chances in the endgame. An impressive attack was featured in the game Ivanchuk-Serper, Pinsk 1986, after 14...Nc6?! 15.e5 Bg4 16.Nxc6 Rxc6 17.f5! Rxc3 18.exf6 exf6 19.bxc3 fxg5 20.fxg6 Bxd1 21.Rxd1 gxh4 22.gxf7+ Kh8 23.Rf1 Qa5 24.Rf6 Kh7 25.Qd3+ Kh8 26.Rf5 Bh6+ 27.Kb2 Qb6 28.Rxh5 Kg7 29.Rxh4 and black resigned.)
15.Qd3 b5?! (Felgaer avoids the most challenging line 15...Ng4!? 16.Bxc4 Nf2 17.Qe2 Nxh1 18.Bb3, and now softening the bishop on b3 with 18...a5! 19.a4 allows black to get an advantage simply by 19...Bg4 20.Nf3 Bxc3 21.bxc3 Rxc3 22.Rxh1 Qb6!, for example 23.Kb2 Rfc8! 24.Rc1 Be6!; or 23.Qb5 Qxb5 24.axb5 Rxb3 25.cxb3 Bxf3 26.gxf3 f6 27.Bh6 Rc8+ 28.Kd2 Kh7 and black wins the bishop back.)
16.e5 Nh7 (This retreat looks like a prepared novelty. In one of the first games in this line, Klovans-Gufeld, Daugavpils 1978, black tried 16...dxe5 and after 17.Bxf6 Bxf6 18.Ndxb5 Nxb2 19.Qxg6+ Bg7 20.Kxb2 Qc8. Now instead of 21.Rxd7, one of the Sicilian Dragon gurus, Mikhail Golubev, suggested 21.Nd6! with a powerful attack, e.g. 21...exd6 22.Ne4 Qd8 23.Nxc5 exf4+ 24.Kc1 dxc5 25.Qxh5 Qc8 26.Qg5 c4 27.Bxc4 Qxc4 28.Rxd7 Qxa2 29.Rd8! and white should win. More logical is 16...Ng4 but after 17.exd6 neither 17...Nxd6 18.Rhf1; nor 17...Rxg5 18.fxg5 Nf2 19.Qe2 is satisfactory for black. In the game Eames-Bentley, Nottingham 2005, black played 16...Qa5, but white's attack was too strong after 17.Bxf6 exf6 18.e6! Bxe6 19.Nxe6 fxe6 20.Qxg6 d5 21.g4 Nxb2 22.Nxd5 Qa3 23.Nxf6+ Rxf6 24.Rd8+ Rf8 25.Bxe6+ and black resigned.) 17.Ndxb5 Nxg5 18.hxg5 Na5 (18...Bf5!? is a good alternative.)
19.Nxd6!? (A creative knight sacrifice, taking black's dark bishop out of play. However, black still has defensive resources. The simple 19.exd6, for example 19...Nxb3+ 20.axb3 e5 21.b4, was a better choice.) 19...Nxb3+ 20.axb3 exd6 21.Qxd6 Rc7 22.g4! (Trying to open the h-file for a decisive blow while black's light bishop is pinned.) 22...Qc8! (After 22...hxg4 23.Nd5 wins.) 23.f5 Rxc3? (This is the remarkable thing about this opening: You think you slew the Dragon, but its ugly head still spits fire. The cold-blooded 23...gxf5! could have turned the table, for example 24.Nd5 Rxc2+ 25.Kb1 Re8, and now either 26.Ne7+ Rxe7 27.Qxe7 Rg2 28.Rc1 Bc6; or 26.Nf6+ Bxf6 27.gxf6 Bc6 28.Rxh5 Be4 29.Rg5+ Kh7 30.Ka2 Qc3 31.Qa3 Rc8 32.Rg7+ Kh8! 33.Rb1 Rc5! wins for black.) 24.bxc3 Qxc3? (Black misses 24...Bc6 25.f6 Bxh1 26.fxg7 Re8 27.Rxh1 Qxg4 with equal chances.)
25.Qd4! (Forcing the queen exchange, white secures the edge. After 25.Qxd7? Qa1+ 26.Kd2 Qxe5 27.Rde1 Qf4+ 28.Kd1 Qxg4+ 29.Re2 Bb2, threatening 30...Qxg5, black has a good compensation for the exchange.) 25...Qxd4 26.Rxd4 Bc6 (White would have to show good technique after 26...gxf5?! 27.Rxd7 hxg4 28.Rf1 Kh7 29.Rxf5 Kg6, but with 30.Rf1 he should win.) 27.Re1 Re8? (Allowing white to unleash his pawns. Black's last chance was 27...h4!?, although after 28.f6 Bh8 29.Rd2 h3 30.Rh2 Bg2 31.e6 fxe6 32.Rxe6, white would retain better chances.) 28.f6 Bf8 29.gxh5 gxh5 30.e6! Bc5 (After either 30...Rxe6 31.Rxe6 fxe6 32.g6; or after 30...fxe6 31.g6 Rc8 32.Rxe6, black is in dire straits.) 31.g6! (Black can't hold the base on f7 anymore. White gets two powerful connected passers on the sixth rank.) 31...fxg6 32.f7+ Kf8 33.fxe8Q+ Bxe8 34.Rd7 Bb6 35.c4 Kg8 36.b4 Bf2 37.Rf1 Bg3 38.Rd8 Black resigned.
Solution to today's problem by J. Pospisil (White: Kh5,Qa6,Rd6,Nf6,Bg3; Black: Kc5,Rb8,P:c3,e5,h7): 1.Rd4! Kxd4 2.Bf2 mate; or 1...exd4 3.Bd6 mate.