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Mig on Chess #3. 14.12.97
"Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood." -- Henry Miller, _Tropic of Capricorn_
I wonder if Mr. Miller played chess? If so, perhaps he meant "move order". Even if he didn't, his words certainly can apply to the Royal Game, but not just the opening phase. What one player calls confusion, another calls order. What one player calls boring, another calls positional play. What I call a sacrifice, Masters call hanging a piece.
The FIDE Knock-out World Championship in Groningen, Netherlands has seen some rather confusing chess in the first two rounds. The GMs are playing some very risky chess, and so far it hasn't really paid off. Some of the favorites have seen their experiments blow up in their faces while those who are playing solid, boring chess are going on to round 3. The craziest stuff has been seen, predictably, in the rapid chess playoff matches held when the players are even after two games at more traditional slow time controls. Surprise is a virtue in faster games, even if the move made is perhaps not the objectively best move. The time your opponent uses in refuting your inferior moves in the beginning is time he won't have in the middle game when one slip can be fatal.
Other strategies seen in the rapid games are those of "grab all you can and hope to survive to the ending" and "throw everything at the opponent's king and hope he can't find the right defense". If your games are anything like mine, when you employ the first strategy you get mated and when you employ the second you lose the endgame, right? I thought so. A special, more desperate, hybrid plan is the famous "oops I missed that now I'm down a pawn (or piece) so I guess I'll throw everything at his king and maybe I'll get lucky" plan. Oh, you like this one, too, do you? Well, it looks like we have a lot in common.
The playoff game between Estonian GM Jan Ehlvest and English GM Matthew Sadler saw Ehlvest give up some queenside pawns (he probably calls it a sacrifice) to get a central pawn roller. When nothing concrete showed up, he went for Plan B and started throwing things at Sadler's king. Not being the type of player to go for the "hope to survive" plan, Sadler saw a way to end up with four pawns for a bishop and kill off White's attacking chances. Things looked even, with Black and his two connected passers seeming to have most of the chances, but as time ticked away Ehlvest made a few incautious bishop moves, followed by an outright blunder that left him with no compensation for Sadler's extra pawns.
1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. e3 g6 5. Nc3 Bg7 6. Bd3 0-0 7. h3 c5 8. 0-0 cxd4 9. exd4 dxc4 10. Bxc4 Nc6 11. a3 Bd7 12. d5 Na5 13. Ba2
This position, with the important additions of ... a6 for Black and a4 for White, was reached in Najdorf - Smyslov, 1946, a game played in... Groningen! That epic battle ended in a 60-move draw after a tactical melee. White is trying to use his advanced d-pawn as a point of attack and disruption and Black is trying to prove that it's isolated and weak. White gains time threatening to trap the wallflower knight on a5 with b5.
Ne8 14. Bf4 Nd6 15. Ne5 Rc8 16. Qe2 Re8 17. Rfe1 a6 18. Ne4 Bf5 19. f3 Qb6+ 20. Kh1 Qb5 21. Qf2 Bxe4 22. fxe4 Nac4 23. Nxc4 Nxc4
But Sadler finds his way through the complications and gets ready to scoop up the pinned b2 pawn. So Ehlvest makes a practical decision to try to break through on the kingside, using his solid center and h-pawn. Sadler takes another pawn, knowing that if White can't mate him his connected queenside passers are going to follow the yellow brick road all the way to Oz.
24. Rad1 Qxb2 25. Re2 Qxa3 26. e5 Qc5 27. Qf3 Rcd8 28. h4 b5 29. h5 e6 30. h6
Black tries to consolidate his position while threatening trades, while White hopes for a kingside breakthrough and/or a streaking meteor suddenly coming through the roof to pulverize Sadler and his passed pawns. Black may still have the advantage after retreating with 30. ... Bh8, but White's pieces would be very active, he would have a dangerous passed pawn on d6, and it's hard to imagine Black's pawns getting too far with the bishop buried back in the corner. Instead, Sadler sees a way to confuse the issue, eliminate most of the danger (always a good idea in fast games), and keep a few winning chances for himself.
Rxd5 31. Rxd5 Qxd5 32. hxg7 Qxf3 33. gxf3 Kxg7 34. Kg2 h6 35. Bg3 Rd8 36. f4 Rd3 37. Bh4 Ne3+ 38. Kg1 Ng4 39. Kg2 Ne3+ 40. Kg1 Ng4 41. Re4
White is one down and has to play for a win, but the blunted bishop on a2 and Black's active pieces mean objectively he should have continued to repeat moves.
Rd1+ 42. Be1 Rd3 43. Bb4 a5
Ouch! A free tempo to get the pawns moving as 44. Bxa5 Ra3 wins a piece.
Either Ehlvest was too short of time to see why this is such a lemon, or he didn't like the looks of 44. Be1 b4 with trouble on the way.
Rd1+ 45. Kg2 Rd2+ 46. Kg3 Nf2!
Maybe this is what the Estonian missed. Black saves his knight with tempo.
47. Re1 Rxa2 48. Bf6+ Kh7 49. Kf3 g5
With both players down to their final minutes Sadler insures that he won't get accidentally mated in the corner, smart blitz chess. Losing a game like this by falling for some dumb mate trap in zeitnot would be like raising your first slice of piping hot pizza to your mouth and having all the cheese and toppings slide off into your lap.
50. fxg5 hxg5 51. Rg1
Hoping to trap the black knight with Rg2 or perhaps set up a perpetual check after taking the pawn with the rook?
52. Ke3 Kg6 53. Bh4 Nh3 0-1
An additional point regarding the educational value of all the games being played in this tournament is that due to the all-or-nothing situation many players find themselves in after losing the first game they continue playing much longer than they would in a non-knockout tournament. This includes positions which are draws deader than a fly at a frog convention or as lost as a blind man in a coal mine looking for a black cat. At night. And the cat's mute. You get the point.
This is a good thing for all of us who have ever looked at the final position of a GM game and said to ourselves, "Why is this a draw, there are still lots of pieces on the board?" or "Why did he resign, he's only down a few pawns!? I can't see a mate!" or "Damn, was that my last beer?" Well, maybe that last one is just me. Anyway, in this format you can often watch these mighty GMs play on all the way down to K vs K or until an actual mate is delivered. I'm anxiously awaiting the moment in which one GM, frustrated because his opponent refuses to resign in a lost position, goes about queening all of his remaining pawns! Now THAT would be cool.
Ehlvest,J (2610) - Sadler,M (2665) [D94]
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