Wednesday, June 06, 2012

An intriguing Sicilian

Hi Pilgrims,

We have just seen completed the latest World Championship of Chess between Anand and challenger Gelfand. A few Sicilians were played in that match, although you would be forgiven for thinking they were but a pale shadow of Sicilian-slugfests, as we know them from previous World Championship contests.

I felt a sense of déjà-vu while the match was on. It was as though I had been placed in a time-machine and transported back 20 years. This was the Indian prodigy who took Europe by storm, the speed-king of chess, playing against one of the ‘beastie-boys’, as Short used to refer to that generation of amazing young players (which included the incredible Ivanschuk and a little later, Kramnik and Kamsky), coming along in the late 1980s and early 1990s to challenge the dominance of Karpov, Kasparov, and other aging Grandmasters.

These were the post-Karpov wunderkinds of chess, heirs to the aggression of Fischer and dynamism of Kasparov. And wasn’t chess wonderful for it? It is with some degree of hindsight that we can now say that the period of the 1990s was a modern golden age for chess and we may not see its like again.

So a mixture of nostalgia and regret tinged my following of this match. Well played by both; relatively risk-free play; boring for the average player. But regret at what was not there: players like Carlsen or any of the other current, youthful (or at least younger), giants of the modern game. Instead we have old gladiators in their forties duking it out, with punches lacking power but delivered with skill.

Of course, the younger players were not there because they either did not participate in a selection system they thought was unfair or they simply did not make it to the endgame. So it was up to the old(er) guys to make with the charisma, the danger, the conflict, the drama; make it a contest worthy of the highest level of chess competition. Did they succeed? 

The rapid-play decider is of questionable value; like a penalty shoot-out in soccer, it divides the fans. Is it exciting or just an ignominious way to decide such an important even? I think it lacks dignity for the game and the quality of the players. I am a traditionalist. Play the match to 24 games and if the match is drawn have done with it. The title-holder remains the champion because the challenger failed to defeat him or her.

It seems the opinions of the ‘experts’ are mixed, so your opinion reader, is as good as any one else’s at this stage. We shall see what history will make of it all.
Enough commentary.  Here is the rather intriguing Sicilian.

Kerecsenyi, Zoltan (1567) Hungary versus Eraclides, George (1649) Australia

ZI-2011–0–01085 Lechenicher SchachServer, 10.09.2011

This is game two of the mini-match we played on Lechenicher SchachServer.

Sicilian Defence – Najdorf Variation

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 e5 7. Nb3 Be7 8. Bg5 Be6 9. O-O O-O (this has all been seen before; Black is following a line of Fischer’s) 10. Kh1 Nbd7 (a risky line; h6 and Nc6 are other risky alternatives; as this is a Sicilian Najdorf, you cannot expect any risk-free variations; this sentence sure carries a lot of ‘risk’!)11. Qd3 (he wants to link Rooks and also be able to transition to Qg3 if occasion calls for it) Rc8 (once again, Black had Qc7, h6, or even b5 with an unclear assessment; Black develops his Queen’s Rook to its traditional square – can it really ever be a Sicilian without that Rook on c8?)12. Rad1 h6 13. Bc1 (appears to make Black’s h6 pointless, although later in the endgame, h6 is useful for supporting a g5 pawn move – see move 34 below) Qc7 (the plan is to play Bc4 to exchange Bishops and control c4) 14. Qg3 Kh7 (avoiding his tactical trick of Bxh6 but also protecting h6 itself) 15. f4 Bc4 (15...exf4 16. Bxf4 opens the position too much in White’s favour)16. Bxc4 Qxc4 17. Qf3 (17. f5 may have been worth a try for its cramping effect but any follow-up is bound to be slow; Black’s counter-chances are on the Queen-side one way or the other; not surprising in a Sicilian) b5 18. a3 Qc7 19. fxe5 (19. f5 Nc5 20. Nxc5 Qxc5 with a5 and b4 threatened) Nxe5 (played this way on intuitive grounds; Black liked the Knight sitting on his outpost supported by the Pawn d6, radiating force into the White position; positionally more conservative – and perhaps correct – was dxe5; as it turns out Black gets a strong but cramped position) 20. Qf5+ Kh8 (leaving space for Ng8 if needed to defend h6) 21. Nd5?! (White gives up a Pawn for the dubious compensation of constricting Black’s position in the expectation of a winning attack, which alas for him never eventuates, due to accurate play by Black) Nxd5 22. exd5 Qxc2 23. Qxc2 Rxc2 24. Nd4 (Black now plays very accurately to slowly defend his weak points; then the next stage is to uncoil his position; finally Black maximises his winning chances with the extra Pawn; I felt like a very poor version of Lasker or Korchnoi, digging in for a long fight on the road to victory) Rc7 25. Nf5 Ng6 26. Bd2 Re8 27. Bc3 f6 28. Nd4 Ne5 29. Ne6 (this Knight is annoying but that is all White achieves with Queens no longer on the board; in fact, Black’s Knight is a more useful piece) Rcc8 30. h3 Nc4 31. Bd4 Bd8 (now we begin the ‘uncoiling phase’) 32. Rf3 (he still thinks he has an initiative so plays for the attack; it is hard to suggest a worthwhile alternative) Bb6 33. Bxb6 Nxb6 34. Rg3 g5 35. Rf3 Nxd5 (White has fallen for – or allowed to take place – a cheap tactic; it is interesting to go back and look at White’s position from move 29 onwards to see how brittle it actually is; all the tactical nuances are with Black) 36. Nxg5 hxg5 37. Rxd5 Re6 38. Rfd3 Rc6 39. Kh2 Kg7 40. Kg3 Kf7 41. Kf3 Ke7 (frees up the Rook from defensive duties so progress can be made in advancing the Pawns) 42. R5d4 Re5 43. g3 (he might as well have tried h4 with some drawing chances) Rf5+ 44. Kg4 Re5 45. h4 gxh4 46. gxh4 (an outside passed Pawn is his only hope but it is too late; Black aims to swap one Rook then get on with exploiting the few winning chances he has) Rc4 47. Kg3 Rxd4 48. Rxd4 d5 49. Kf4 Ke6 50. a4 (desperation; maybe b3 was better) f5 51. h5 Re4+ 52. Rxe4+ fxe4 (the united passed Pawns are deadly) 53. axb5 axb5 54. Kg5 Kf7! (obviously the Black King must stay close enough to stop the White passed Pawn) 55. h6 e3 and White resigned.

From Black’s point of view a satisfying, if flawed, game. I do not normally enjoy a cramped position, particularly one which requires me to play very accurately all the time. As Tarrasch taught us from years ago, it is hard to keep defending a cramped position. I think I played well to convert the meagre chances to a win. My opponent probably missed some opportunities to hold the game or at least to make it harder for Black to win.

But then again, it is human to make mistakes, otherwise we would never bother to play chess. Where would be the fun in endless, perfect, draws?

George Eraclides

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