SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
There is a very strong open tournament taking place in Bangkok right now. Organized by the Bangkok Chess Club, this event continues until the 23rd. Three hundred players from more than 40 countries are participating, including some 20 grandmasters.
English grandmaster Nigel Short is the top rated player, having won last year’s edition. This year things are not quite smooth sailing, as the crosstable (below) shows. HOWEVER, Nigel has played what is arguably the best game so far, given below. ENJOY!
POSITION AFTER 17 MOVES:
fm ANDREASEN,PER (2300)
After an unusual opening by both sides, we now have a critical position with characteristics similar to what we can find in some lines of the Spanish as well as the Kings Indian. The most salient feature of the position are the hanging pawns (originally e5,f5). Short had started to attack them (17.Nh4) and Black had just advanced his e-pawn (17…e4!?)
Such hanging pawns occur in hundreds–if not thousands–of games each year and the pro’s and con’s of said feature can be hotly discussed for hours on end without reaching a clear consensus. Each case must be considered separately, and here Black’s last move is really provocative as a sacrifice seems begging on e4.
Short decides to bite:
This should be considered a positional sacrifice. A promising one, but very hairy at the same time! In essence, White will get atleast 2-pawns and a dangerous initiative against the Black King, which will be open to attack. Black must be careful as a single imprecision can be fatal. The same goes for White, as he is going to be down material.
HOWEVER, the most difficult part of this sacrifice is the job of actually identifiying and calculating all of the key lines, as you will notice that the White Rook can also now be taken by the Black Bishop. With limited time at each player’s disposal, this is not a simple task and one must admire Short’s skill (and courage) to be willing to enter into this line of play. Positions where two or more pieces are in the air are extremely difficult to play accurately!
As a brief side note, this game of Short’s reminds me of a similarly hairy situation that occurred in a game in the 1966 World Championship between Petrosian and Spassky. This game also featured hanging pawns and many,many pieces were en prise at various points. The student will find it both amusing and instructive to replay this gem:
GETTING BACK TO SHORT’S GAME:
Black should not take the Rook: 18… Bxa1?! 19. Bxh6! gives White an enormous attack that probably can not be resisted: 19… fxe4 (19… Bh8?! 20. Ng5+! Kg8 21. Ne6 Qe8 22. Qg5!) 20. Rxe4! Nf5 (20… Kh8 21. Rxe7! wins immediately) 21. Nxf5 Rxf5 22. Re6! and Black can not defend much longer;
Taking the Knight is possible, however: 18… fxe4!? 19. Bxe4+ Kg8 20. Bxh6 Rf7 21. Qg5! Nf6 22. Ng6and while there is no doubt that White has compensation for his slight material deficit, Black can still offer stiff resistance.
INSTEAD, BLACK DECIDED TO INTENSIFY THE GAME AND REALLY TEST SHORT’S RESOLVE:
Black threatens , in addition to taking the Knight, to capture the pawn on c4. The next moves are forced:
19.Ng3! Nxc4 20.Qd1!
Now Black has little choice but to accept White’s gift. If 20… Kg8? 21. Bd4! and White dominates the board.
20… Nxe3 Taking the Rook first amounts to the same thing 21. Rxe3 Bxa1 (21…Bd7?!
22.RxN!; 21…Kg8?! 22.Nh5!) 22.QxB
The smoke has cleared and what we see now is that White is an exchange less, but for strong pressure on the Kingside. As is usually the case in practice, playing the defence is always a grimmer task…
The most principled defence is 22… Rf7! when White must then decide what to do next. He would then have two promising continuations 23. Qb1 ( or 23. Qd4!? Qf8 24. Nh5 Ng6 25. Nxg6 Kxg6 26. g4!) 23… Kg8 24. Bxf5 Bxf5 25. Ngxf5 Nxf5 26. Nxf5 Qf6 27. g4! with a strong game, for example 27… Qg5? 28. h4!
Is Black lost? Difficult to say, but probably not with perfect play.
HOWEVER, this is where experience and being a grandmaster strength player is important. Black immediately slipped up, cracking under the pressure , giving Short the opportunity to quickly move into a decisive position:
23.Ngxf5! BxN 24.Rg3!!
Short’s play in this game is exemplary! Black is completely helpess
Now relatively best is 24… Qf6, but after 25. Bxf5 Kh8 26. Ng6 Kg8 27. Qd1 Black can resign. INSTEAD, Black preferred to throw himself onto his own sword, as in the days of the old Greek heros :