SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
The sixth and final FIDE Grand Prix tournament started today in Astrakhan, Russia. Akopian (2694), Alekseev (2700), Gashimov (2734), Gelfand (2741), Eljanov (2751), Inarkiev (2669), Ivanchuk (2741), Jakovenko (2725), Leko (2735), Mamedyarov (2763), Ponomariov (2733), Rajabov (2740), Svidler (2735) and Wang Yue (2752) play.
At stakes is direct qualification for the upcoming candidates matches: only for the player who finishes first. All of the first round games were drawn, with the exception of Gashimov vs Ivanchuk, which is analyzed below. Only one or two of the other games were without much fight. My money is on Gelfand.
View of the tournament hall: the Astrakhan State Drama Theatre
V.Gashimov was paired against V.Ivanchuk in the first round. Gashimov (born 1986) is part of the new generation of players fighting for the highest laurels. He is 3 times Azerbaijani national chess champion and has won many international tournaments. His style is very sharp, and is one of the most dangerous attackers in the world.
Ivanchuk (born 1969) is no stranger to my readers, having been one of the elite players in the world for 20 years. Ivanchuk has won everything that there is to win in chess, top tournaments, beaten all the top players and is still going strong at the age of 42. The only thing missing in his CV is the title of world champion, probably because he lacks the nerves when under extreme stress.
In the game today, a spanish opening is featured. Ivanchuk is an expert on this opening from both sides of the board, and the exact opening line that occured has already been seen in at least a dozen of Ivanchuk’s games. Gashimov introduced a novelty on move 14 (14.Ng5!?). Previously Gashimov had played 14.Ng3 in a relatively unimportant blitz game late last year in Moscow against the Hungarian grandmaster Leko.
No doubt Gashimov’s novelty was prepared at home, awaiting a more important occasion than a mere blitz game!
Taken by surprise, Ivanchuk probably reacted too aggressively in the centre (16…d5!?) and Gashimov soon found himself with a nice attacking position. It was going to be just a question of time before something bad would happen to Ivanchuk’s King, so the veteran tried to complicate things by moving his Queen over to the King-side with …Qh4. Unfortunately for him, this Queen soon found its escape route closed. Ivanchuk resigned just a move or two before his Queen was to be captured.
POSITION AFTER WHITE’S 14th MOVE (14.Ng5!?)
This is the novelty that Gashimov had prepared. Previously he had tried 14.Ng3. The idea of the young grandmaster is to gain a tempo attacking f7 in order to play f4, opening up the f-file for later attacking operations. Note that Black’s move is forced since 14… d5?! walks into trouble after 15. ed h6 (15… Bxd5? 16. Bxd5 Nxd5 17. Qh5! winning material) 16. Ne6! and Black’s game is very unpleasant.
14… Re7 15. f4 !
It is not often now a days that one sees White get in f4 in the spanish opening
15… h6 (Black should not let the Knight stay on g5 for too long) 16. Nf3
Now Black should consider something solid such as 16…c5 or even 16…Re8 (returning to its natural square) and await further developments.
Ivanchuk decides to counterattack immediately in the centre, normally a good reaction when an opponent begins a flank attack. However, here Ivanchuk’s judgement fails him, as White’s attacking chances are actually enhanced.
All very logical. White simply opens the f-file! The next few moves are more or less forced
17… Nxe5 18. Nxe5 Rxe5 19. Bf4
White gains time developing the Bishop by attacking the Black Rook.
19… Re8 20. e5 !
This pawn will prove to be very annoying for Black. Black must now decide where to place this Knight.
After some thought Ivanchuk rejected 20… Nd7 undoubtedly because after 21. d4 c5 22. c3 Nb6 23. Bb1!? White’s attacking chances become evident. For this reason Black keeps his Knight on the King-side, for later defence.
21. d4 Simplest. White strengthens his centre before attacking
White intends to establish a strong pawn chain (b2-c3-d4-e5). Note that his King Bishop will be able to recycle itself via b1. Another interesting idea for White is to first play with his Knight: 21. Ne3!? c6 (21… d4?! 22. Qh5!) 22. Nf5.
Ivanchuk’s idea from the previous move. The Knight intends to go to e6 from where it can exert pressure on the White center.
22. Ng3 22. Qg4 is also possible 22… Ne6
(the immediate 22… c5 23. c3 Rc8 24. Rf1 is more or less the same as in the game)
Defending the centre and clearing the f-file. White’s attacking plans are all based on simple enough moves. He will put a Rook on the f-file, and if Black lets him his Knight will go to f5. The White Queen might also want to go to g4 or h5. If nothing else, he can then continue by doubling on the f-file and finally get his last piece into the fray with Bb1.
In essence, Black has all the problems in this position. He needs to prevent White from building up his attack and especially he needs counterplay. Where is his counterplay? It will be the lack of an obvious target or weakness in White’s position that will prove to be Black’s biggest frustration.
23… g6 Preventing Nf5
If instead 23… c5 then 24. c3 g6 25. Rf1 is just a transposition.
Taking control of the f-file
24… Bg7 25. c3
All according to plan so far. Isn’t chess simple!
Black must attack the White centre and get some sort of counterplay. Black has little to complain about in this position, but the problem is that 5 or 6 moves down the road White will have every single one of his pieces directed towards the Black King.
26. Qg4 !?
Typical Gashimov! Many grandmasters would prefer a slower build up with 26. Qd2!? and if 26… h5 27. Ne2 Rc8 28. Rf2 and doubling . Instead, Gashimov provokes Ivanchuk to play 26…h5 attacking the Queen. In that case he would most surely have continued with a piece sacrifice: 27. Nxh5! gh 28. Qxh5 Qc7 29. Rf2 followed by Raf1 and Bb1. Black would be paralyzed and with his King so wide open it is unlikely that he would have a defence.
27. Rf2 Rc7!?
An admission that something is wrong in Black’s position. Had Ivanchuk exchanged on d4 and followed up with …Qb6, White would have simply doubled on the f-file and followed up with Bb1. Black’s Queen over on the Queen-side would have not given any counterplay against White’s centre, and the Queen might later be missed once White’s armada gets moving. Therefore, Ivanchuk anticipates White’s attack by permitting the Rook to operate along the second rank, and also allowing for …Bc8, indirectly attacking the Queen on g4.
28. Raf1 Bc8 29. Qd1
The White Queen retreats from its vulnerable position, but only temporarily
29… c4 !?
Not a pleasant choice (closing the centre while White prepares a King-side attack) but what else is there to do? Black has no counterplay! At this point , undoubtedly, Ivanchuk already realized that he was strategically lost and that his task from this point on was to confuse the issue. He already has in mind the idea of playing …Qh4!? (an attacking move on the side where White wants to attack!), and for this to work he needed to make sure that his d-pawn could not just be taken by the White Bishop on a2.
White’s opening plan has been perfectly executed without a glitch! Every single one of White’s pieces is pointing towards the Black King-side and is now ready to attack: his 2 Bishops, his 2 Rooks, his Knight and his Queen needs only the order from his majesty to hop on to the b1-h7 diagonal. How can Black prevent this?
30… Qh4 !?
A purely psychological move! Black’s only chance is that he prevent the attack against his King by attacking White’s pieces and trying to slow him down. Unfortunately, this solution can only provide temporary relief.
Defending the Knight in the simplest manner. Also good would be 31. Ne2 and now Black should not play 31… Ng5 because of 32. Rf4! After White’s King move, Black must avoid 31… Ng5?? 32. Rf4!
31… a5 !?
Ivanchuk plays moves on the edge of the chessboard: one move on the King-side and the next move way over on the Queen-side. What he is really hoping for is that White becomes confused…but Gashimov is all psyched up for this game.
A logical move. Soon White will want to play Nf4 to force the exchange of the best placed Black piece. It is the Black Knight that prevents White from playing Rf4, for instance.
Ivanchuk waits. He has nothing better so he adds protection to f7.
33. Qd2 !?
Also worth serious consideration is the immediate 33. Nf4!? when Black can not play 33… Ng5 because of 34. g3!
Again, there is nothing that Black can do to stop White from doing what he wants, so Ivanchuk adds extra protection to his h-pawn. He must sit and wait and hope that Gashimov makes a mistake.
34. Rf6 ! Nice!
White can also make progress with 34. Rf3 Rb7 35. Rg3, putting more pressure on g6. However, Gashimov’s move is more to the point! This move blocks the retreat of the Black Queen, and now it is just a question of time before the Queen gets snared.
One could say that Black is totally lost, but we already know that Black has been lost for some time now. Probably from the opening stage of the game… if Black takes the Rook with 34… Bxf6 then after 35. Rxf6 b4 (what else) 36. Ng1! (threatening Nf3) 36… Ng5 37. Bxg6! is curtains for Black
There are plenty of ways for Black to lose, but this seems like the fastest way! Ivanchuk probably did not care anymore and just wanted to return to his hotel room…
Good enough! 35.g3 does the job also. The Black Queen is trapped.
35… Nxf4 36. Rxf4
Now we see the problem with Black’s 34th move: the Queen can not retreat to e7 or d8. Ivanchuk now saw that after 36…Qg5 White plays 37. h4 Qh5 and 38.Ng3 wins the Queen. Black resigned. An easy win for Gashimov.
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS