SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
The 52nd Reggio Emilia International chess tournament is taking place between December 28 and January 6. With an average rating of 2623, this tournament is always the strongest to be organized in Italy each year.
The standings after 6 rounds can be seen above. Almazi and Kamsky are a full point ahead of Italian favourites Caruana and Godena. Jobava and Bologan have just 50%, and probably should be considered lucky to have that!
I have taken a quick look at the games, and the first thing that striked me is the low level of play. There are a lot more blunders and mistakes than one would expect from this crowd. At first I thought it must be because of a fast time control, but upon investigation that is not the case: the time control is infact quite slow by modern standards! 100 minutes for the first 40 moves and then 50 minutes for the rest of the game (with 30 seconds per move from move one). Perhaps it is the local wine that can better explain the mistakes…!?
In anycase, there is a lot of fighting chess, and the spectators can count themselves lucky!
Godena vs Vocatura. Position after White’s 34th move (34.Qe7)
It has been a complex and colourful fight up to this point. Imperfect? Ofcourse…but now Black should play 34… Qd2!
to keep himself in the game. After 35. Rbb1 Ba4! 36. Rc7 Rf8!
White would have little better than to try to re-establish material balance.
Instead, Vocatura blundered with 34… Rb8??
and after 35. Qxg5 Qxb3
he finds himself with a completely lost position.
Now White can play the immediate 36. Qe5!, hitting the Rook on b8 and readying h6 with mating threats. That would probably have been the most precise way to end the game. However, Godena’s method is good enough…
36. hxg6 fxg6 37. Qe5 Rd8 38. Qf6
Black is dead lost. White’s threats are too many: he can play a Rook on the 7th rank, play Bg4, or just do damage with his Queen! Black can not prevent all of these threats, and his own threats amount to just a few checks into empty air. Play proceeded:
38… Qd3 39. Rc7 Rd7 40. Rc8 Qb1 41. Kh2 Rh7 42. Kg3 Qb5 43. Qxe6 Kf8 44. Bd5
This is what happens when you forget to resign at the proper moment!
44… Rf7 45. Qxf7 mate [1:0]
Almasi vs Jobava. Position after White’s 24th move (24.h5)
White’s last move was to discourage Black from playing …g6. In principle, the position is about equal, except that Black’s King position is a bit unsafe. For this reason Jobava decided to immediately move his King over to the Queenside, which is a serious mistake.
The correct defence was to play actively and try to put the Black Queen to work: 24… Qa6! This attacks the White Rook and prepares …Qc4, defending the g4 pawn. If then 25. Re1 then simply 25…Qc4 holds things together easily enough, as the reader can convince himself. Or if instead 25. Rf2 then Black can continue to harrass White with …Qb6; And finally if 25. Rf4 (probably best) then Black can create some counter threats with 25…Rd2! and the game is unclear.
24… Kd8?! 25. Re1!
A very strong move that gives White a clear advantage. By putting his Rook on a safe square (and at the same time defending the vulnerable e-pawn) White renders Black’s counterplay less dangerous, and renews his play of taking on g4.
25… Qc5 (25…Rd4 is answered simply by 26.Qe3) 26. Qxg4 Qf2 27. Re2 Qf1 28. Ka2 Qf5
Because of Black’s mistake on move 24 White now is able to execute his plan.
29. Qxg7 Qxh5 30. Rf2!
Almazi is very strong in positions where he has a small advantage, as he plays with extra-confidence. The Black f-pawn is a serious weakness that can not be readily defended. Probably best is 30… Kc7
, but even so, after 31. g4! Qg6 32. Qxg6 fxg6 33. Rf6!
Black will lose another pawn, leaving him with only remote chances of saving the game.
Instead, Jobava played more weakly : 30… Qg6?!
and now Almazi was not interested in playing an advantageous ending but instead played for mate with 31. Qf8! Kc7 32. Qc5!
Black was not able to save the game, and resigned on the 46th move.
Kamsky vs Godena. Position after White’s 33rd move (33.Qc1)
Black has an obvious advantage. He has very active pieces and the White Queen is offside at a crucial moment. This allows Black the opportunity to strike!
33… Nxg3! A nice sacrifice that should win. 34. Kxg3 Of course not 34. Bxg6 Nxe2! 34… Bxe5?
An unfortunate move that throws away all of the winning chances!
Correct was 34… Bxe4! 35. Rxe4 Rd3! 36. R1e3 (diagram, right)
It seems as though White has everything under control, but Black has a surprising shot that gives a near decisive advantage:36… Rxc3! 37. Rxc3 Bxe5 38. Kg2 Bxc3 39. Qxg5 Kh8 and White’s position is most unpleasant.
Now Kamsky is able to save the game! 35. Bxe5 Qxe5 36. Kg2 Bxe4 37. Rxe4
Black is even fortunate that he has a draw. Do you see it?
37… Rf2! 38. Kxf2 Qh2 39. Ke3 Qg3
The White King can not escape the perpetual. Both players continued to play for a while…
40. Ke2 Qg2 41. Ke3 Qxh3 42. Ke2 Qg2 43. Ke3 Qg3 44. Ke2 Qd3 45. Kf2 Rf8 46. Kg2 Qf3 47. Kh2 Qf2 48. Kh1 Qf3 [½:½]
Caruana vs Kamsky. Position after Black’s 34th move (34…h3)
A curious position with both sides having passed pawns, but with Kamsky on the ropes since his Bishop is trapped. White’s b-pawn is more advanced and the White King is closer to Black’s h-pawn. But even so, things are not so clear, for there is always the danger that White will not have enough pawns left to win even if he finds himself a piece up….
Probably best now is the direct 35. b7!, and after the seemingly forced 35… Bxg3 36. fxg3 Rb1 Diagram,right ( The alternative 36… h2 37. b8=Q Kh7 38. Bxg1 hxg1=Q 39. Ne3 Qh1 40. Kf2 Qh2 41. Ng2 Nh4 42. Qb7 is less strong)
White now can maintain good winning chances with 37. Kf2! Rxb7 (37… h2 38. b8=Q Rxb8 39. Kg2) 38. Kg1 Ne5 39. Kh2 f5 40. Kxh3 Rc7 41. Nb4 It will be difficult to win with the extra piece, but in practice his chances are good. INSTEAD, CARUANA PLAYED WHAT AT FIRST SIGHT SEEMS LIKE A WINNING MOVE, BUT IS INFACT LESS STRONG: 35. Bd6
White defends the g-pawn and covers the Queening square. If now 35…Rb1 then simply 36.Nb4 Nh4!? 37.Kg4!
35… Nh4!! A brilliant resource that must have shocked Caruana!
This drives the White King away from the Black h-pawn.
36. Ke2! Rb1
Now White has only one way to maintain winning chances: 37. Rc4! Nf5 38. Rb4! Rxb4 39. Bxb4 Bxg3! 40. fxg3 h2 41. b7 h1=Q 42. b8=Q Kh7 43. Be1!
37. Nb4? White must have thought he was winning…
NOW BLACK ACTUALLY GETS THE ADVANTAGE!! DO YOU SEE HOW?
37… Bxg3!! 38. Bxg3 (FORCED) 38… Rxb4 39. Bxh4
39… h2! 40. Rc8! Kh7 41. Rc1! (FORCED) 41…Rxh4 42. Rh1 Rb4 43. Rxh2 Kg6 44. Ke3 Rxb6 45. Rh1
A remarkable transformation of the position! Instead of good winning chances White has to play well to draw a Rook and Pawn ending a pawn down! The players continued for another dozen moves before the draw was achieved.
Jobava vs Vocaturo Position after Black’s 20th move (20…Ne5)
A dubious opening by the Black pieces gave Jobava a serious edge. Overplaying his hand, however, White allowed his opponent back into the game. In the present position the Black Knight on e5 holds everything together and Black even threatens to start a counter attack with …Bb7.
Probably best is now 21. Ne7!? Kh8! 22. Bxf7 Rf8! 23. Qb3 Bb7 24. Bd5!?,
though Black is a bit better.
Instead, Jobava played an incredible sacrifice, hoping to outplay his opponent in the complications:
21. Rxf7 !!?? A real shocker!
Of course not now 21… Kxf7 ??
as after 22. Ne7! Nxc4 23. Qd5
! White wins : … Qe6 24. Rf1 Bf6 25. Rxf6
21… Nxf7 22. Ne7 Kh8
[22… Rxe7 23. dxe7] 23. Bxf7 Rf8
It looks as though Jobava must retreat, but he had forseen (and counted on!) the next move…
24. Bxg6 !?
Another pretty move, but just enough to keep White in the game. This Bishop can not be taken: 24… hxg6? 25. Nxg6 Kg8 26. Ne7 Kh8 27. Qh5 etc. White now threatens Qh5, so Black’s next move is forced.
24… Qg4 25. Qd2 Bd7 [Also worth consideration is 25… Bb7]
A sharp position. One mistake by either side will mean the end right then and there. However, Black is quite ok in this position: White’s passed pawn is blockaded and his threats against the Black King relatively easy to defend. Black is better here! The next few moves are easy to understand…
26. Bc2 Qd4! 27. Qe2 Bg4! 28. Qe1 Qf2!
Black seems insistent about trading Queens
29. h3 Qxc2 30. hxg4
Black has succeeded in reducing White’s attacking potential with the previous exchanges. However, the passed d-pawn still gives White some chances (of holding!). For this reason, probably, Black plays his next move, a natural move, that actually is a serous mistake and turns the tables in White’s favour!
Black has to play boldly with 30… Bxb2! to maintain control of the position and even increase his advantage! After 31. Ra2 could follow … Qc3 32. Qxc3 Bxc3 33. Nc6 Rbc8 and it is not clear what White will do.
INSTEAD, BLACK BLUNDERED WITH: 30… Rbd8?!
In sharp positions one false step can be costly31. Nf5 !
The opportunity that Jobava was hoping for when he ventured into this sharp line! Now Black must deal with direct threats.
31… Rde8 32. Be7!
Among other threats, White can now advance his passed pawn. Hence Black’s reply:
32… Rxf5 33. gxf5 Qxf5 34. Qe2
Jobava plays very precisely. His Rook can now come into play.
34… Qd7 35. Re1
White now threatens to play Qe6 and remove the blockader of the d-pawn. Probably Black is lost in anycase, but his next move greatly facilitates White’s task. More stubborn was …Rb8 and …Rb7
35… Qxa4? 36. Qe6!
Black resigns since the White pawn will score a touchdown!
In many aspects this game more resembled poker than chess!!
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS