Chess world kept busy during Carlsen-Caruana clash

December 11, 2018

To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson in “Hamilton”: What’d we miss?

The chess world and this column have been understandably consumed for the past month with the drama in London, where American challenger Fabiano Caruana came up just short in his world title fight with Norwegian champ Magnus Carlsen, losing the rapid playoff after their 6-6 standoff (all draws) in the classical portion of the match.

But unlike some sports, which essentially shut down while their marquee event is being staged, chess players kept very busy even as Carlsen and Caruana were battling it out.

ICMYI, as we say these days, China’s GM Ju Wenjun defeated Russia’s Kateryna Lagno in the FIDE championship knockout tournament to retain her women’s world crown; Ukrainian IM Evgeny Shtembuliak captured a strong invitational tournament in St. Louis; U.S. GM Hikaru Nakamura defeated compatriot Wesley So in the finals of the Chess.com Speed Chess Championship; Czech GM Vlastimil Jansa edged Russian GM Yuri Balashov on tiebreaks to capture the World Seniors 65-and-over championship in Bled, Slovenia; and American chess lost an icon with the death of WIM and former U.S. Chess Federation Ruth Haring, a stalwart of a string of U.S. women’s Olympiad teams in the 1970s and 1980s.

And not all of the quality chess was being played in London last month. Take a look at the mating attack fashioned by veteran GM Li Shilong in a sharp Four Knights Sicilian against 20-year-old IM Xu Yi in the finale of China’s 2018 national team competition last month.

Though White gives up the right to castle early, it looks as if Xu’s attack will arrive first after 17. Qe5 c5 18. Qxg7. But Black turns the tables with 18...Qh4!, relying on the trick 19. Qxh8+?! Kf7 20. Qe5 [Qxa8 Bxa8 21. Kd3 d5 22. h3 Qg3 leaves White’s king exposed and his pieces hard to develop] d6!, trapping the White queen.

Play continued: 19. g3 Qxh2+ 20. Rg2 Qh1 21. Rg1 (Qxh8+ Kf7 22. Qe5 d6! still works) Qh5+ 22. g4 Qh2+ 23. Bg2 0-0-0! (with so much hand-to-hand combat already, one almost forgets Black still can castle) 24. Qe5 d6! 25. Qxe6+ Kb8, and the open e-file is worth far more than the lost pawn for Black.

That becomes evident on 27. Qf5 d5! 28. Rae1 (Bxe4?? dxe4+ 29. Kc3 Rd3 mate) Nd6 29. Qh5 Qg3 (also strong was 29...Rxe3+!, with fun lines such as 30. Kxe3 [Rxe3 Qxg1] d4+ 31. Kd3 Qg3+ 32. Kc2 Nxc4 33. Bxb7 d3+ 34. Kb1 Qf2, and White must surrender massive material to stop mate on b2) 30. Qh3, the position in today’s diagram.

With all Black’s pieces bearing down on the king, mating combinations are in the air. Li finds a nice one: 30...Rxe3+! 31. Rxe3 Qf2! (one threat now is 32...dxc4+ 33. Kc3 Ne4+! 34. Bxe4 [Kxc4 Qc2+ 35. Kb5 Bc6+! 36. Kxc6 Qa4 mate] Qd2+ 35. Kxc4 Qb4 mate) 32. Rge1 Qxb2, and there’s no escape for the White king. The game ended with 33. Re5 (Bxd5 Bxd5 34. cxd5 c4 mate) dxc4+ 34. Ke3 Nf5+!, and Xu resigned just ahead of 35. gxf5 (or 35. Rxf5) Qd2 mate.

Looking forward, D.C.-area players should mark their calendar for the 45th annual Eastern Open, the region’s traditional holiday blowout. Redoubtable tournament organizer Tom Beckman was will be back running the show, to be held Dec. 27-30 at the Westin Hotel in Tysons Corner. There will be a strong Open section and four other class tournaments, along with skittles, side events and paraphernalia for sale. Shuttle service from the nearby Metro stop is available and watching, as always, is free. Check it out at EasternOpenChess.com and perhaps I will see you there.

Xu-Li, Chinese Team Championships, November 2018

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. e5 Nd5 8. Ne4 Qc7 9. f4 Qb6 10. c4 Bb4+ 11. Ke2 f5 12. exf6 Nxf6 13. Be3 Qd8 14. Nd6+ Bxd6 15. Qxd6 Bb7 16. Rg1 Ne4 17. Qe5 c5 18. Qxg7 Qh4 19. g3 Qxh2+ 20. Rg2 Qh1 21. Rg1 Qh5+ 22. g4 Qh2+ 23. Bg2 O-O-O 24. Qe5 d6 25. Qxe6+ Kb8 26. Kd3 Rhe8 27. Qf7 d5 28. Rae1 Nd6 29. Qh5 Qg3 30. Qh3 Rxe3+ 31. Rxe3 Qf2 32. Rge1 Qxb2 33. Re5 dxc4+ 34. Ke3 Nf5+ White resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email dsands@washingtontimes.com.

Update hourly