Chess Winners Win Slowly

Chess players don't move like the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. They advance to the finish line with a steady, deliberate pace. Chess events take days, weeks and sometimes months to finish. What the best chess players have in common with Bolt is the enormous will to win.
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Chess is a slow game. Chess players don't move like the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. They advance to the finish line with a steady, deliberate pace. Chess events take days, weeks and sometimes months to finish. What the best chess players have in common with Bolt is the enormous will to win.

"I am playing all-out to win, because I like to win tournaments," are the words we could expect from the world's top-rated player Magnus Carlsen. But these words were uttered 40 years ago by Bobby Fischer before he won the world championship match against Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Fischer played in eight U.S. championships and won them all. In 1963 he won all games. He won 20 consecutive games on his way to the world title during the1970 Interzonal and the 1971 Candidates matches. At the 1962 Interzonal in Stockholm he outraced the competition by 2.5 points, in Buenos Aires in 1970 by 3.5 points. His FIDE rating skyrocketed to 2785 points in 1972, leaving the next player, Boris Spassky, a whopping 125 points behind. Such dominance will never be repeated.

But Carlsen seems to be running in Fischer's footsteps. The Norwegian grandmaster dominates the live rating list with 2843 and is closing in on Garry Kasparov's all-time highest rating record of 2851. Carlsen, 21, leads a pack of hungry young grandmasters who are willing to fight as they showed this summer. Among them is the U.S. champion Hikaru Nakamura, 24, the Italian Fabiano Caruana, 20, and Russia's Sergey Karjakin, 22.

The traditional tournament in the Swiss city of Biel used a soccer system to count the results: 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw. It should promote fighting spirit and Carlsen took advantage of it in the past. But this time he was out-kicked by a young Chinese player Wang Hao, 23, who won the first prize.


However, the organizers will have to send the traditional way of scoring to FIDE for rating, to be aligned with other tournaments. And the score is different.


It seems we have not one, but two winners in Biel, but we will let the historians sort it out.

A mad pawn rush

Another hot event this summer was the tournament in Dortmund, Germany, where the ten-time winner Vladimir Kramnik, 37, was again the favorite. But the former world champion missed a few chances to win games and the victory went to Caruana who shared first place with Karjakin, but had a better tiebreak.


But Kramnik created an astonishing game, playing a defense he tried to demolish in the past: the King's Indian. "I dropped the King's Indian in 1997 after one too many bad experiences against Kramnik," admits Kasparov in his new column "Garry's Choice" in the Chess Informant 114. Against the German grandmaster Jan Gustafsson, Kramnik was on the other side of the board. In the era of computers, Kramnik was able to play an opening he almost never used. The game is a remarkable symbiosis of man and machine.

In the position where heavy hitting is expected, Kramnik quietly moves his rook pawn. But behind that inconspicuous turn is hidden rage. The pawn begins a mad dash, sacrifices flare and when Gustafsson makes two rook missteps, the game is over.

Gustafsson,Jan - Kramnik,Vladimir
40th GM Dortmund tournament

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 e5 7.Be3

Kramnik didn't have to guess that this is Gustafsson's main line against the King's Indian. He only needed to check a few databases. Kramnik's own weapon against the King's Indian has been the Bayonet Attack 7.0-0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.b4.

7...c6 8.0-0 exd4 9.Nxd4 Re8 10.f3 d5

The freeing central thrust is based on a pin along the e-file.

11.cxd5 Nxd5

Preferable to 11...cxd5 12.Qb3.


12.Bf2 allows 12...Nf4 with good play for black.




Preventing black's star move Nb8-c6.The rook goes to an open file and indirectly protects the e-pawn. This computer move is based on a nice tactical trick, taking advantage of the weak last rank and a lack of black's queenside development.

At first glance the rook move looks like an oversight. Can't black simply take the pawn?
After 13...dxe4 14.fxe4 Rxe4?! it seems like white's position is collapsing.
But in positions like this the computers show marvelous tactical skills.


White begins a nice combination with 15.Ne6! Qd7 (After 15...Qxd1? 16.Rxc8+ mates soon.) 16.Nxg7!
(A shocking choice, but 16.Nc7 Rxe3 17.Nxa8 Nc6 has been known for nearly 20 years to be sufficient for black.)
After 16...Rxe3 it appears now that the knight on g7 is caught and black should win. But the combination continues with two astonishing moves:


17.Bg4! Qxg4 (After 17...Qxd1 18.Rxc8+ Kxg7 19.Rxd1 the back rank pin is devastating; white wins the knight.)
18.Nh5!! and white wins, for example:
a) 18...Qxd1 19.Rxc8++-;
b) 18...gxh5 19.Qd8+ Kg7 20.Qf6+ Kg8 21.Qxf7+ Kh8 22.Qf8+ Qg8 23.Qf6+ Qg7 24.Rxc8+ mates.
c) 18...Qxh5 19.Rxc8+ Kg7 20.Qd8 Nd7 21.Rxa8 and white wins.

Before 13.Rc1 was played, the theoretical move was 13.Qb3 protecting the bishop on e3 and planning 14.Rad1, for example 13...dxe4 14.Rad1 and now after 14...exf3? 15.Rxf3 Qe7 16.Bc4 white has a wonderful collection of attacking pieces and the game is over.

But black can sneak out and counter 13.Qb3 with 13...Nc6! 14.Rad1 Nxd4 15.Bxd4 Bxd4+ 16.Rxd4 Qf6! for example:
a) 17.Rxd5 Be6 18.Rd6 Bxb3 19.Rxf6 Bxa2=
b) 17.Qxd5 Be6 18.Qc5 Rec8 19.Qb4 a5 20.Qa4 Rc2 21.Qxc2 Qxd4+ 22.Rf2 Rc8.
C) 17.Rd2 Qf4 18.Qxd5 Qe3+ 19.Rf2 Be6 20.Qd3 Qb6 21.Qb5 Qe3 Gustafsson-Kotronias, Kemer 2007.



A timeout move in the middle of a raging battle, a brief moment allowing the kings to look for their lost horses. Anti-positional, slow, horrible - the move earned disapproval. It leaves a big hole on b5 where a whole army can hide. It seems that black only marks the time before he sets his queenside pieces into motion. But there are tactical elements defining the position. As long as black maintains the pin along the e-file, white can't do much. More importantly, the mad pawn dash is aimed at white's main idea of playing Qd1-b3.

Gustaffson was ready for 13...Nc6 14.Nxc6 bxc6 15.Rxc6 Bb7 16.Rc1 dxe4 17.Qxd8 Raxd8 18.f4 Bd4?! 19.Kf2 Bxe3+ 20.Kxe3 Kf8 21.Rc7 Re7 22.Rfc1 with white's edge as in the game Gustafsson-Maze, Aix-les-Bains 2011.

Suat Atalik went only half-way with the a-pawn against Handke in Cappelle la Grande in 2000. He played 13...a6 and came under a surprisingly strong attack 14.Qb3 dxe4 15.fxe4 Rf8 16.Rxf7! Rxf7 17.Rf1 Bf6 18.e5 Kg7 and now white missed 19.exf6+!, for example 19...Kg8 20.Qxf7+! Kxf7 21.Bc4+ wins; or 19...Rxf6 20.Qc3! with a decisive attack.


Gustafsson continues with his major idea. Other moves are not dangerous:
14.Nb5 Nc6 15.Qa4 dxe4 16.fxe4 Be5! 17.g3 Be6 black is fine;
14.Qd3 Na6;
14.Bf2 dxe4 15.fxe4 Nc6 16.Nxc6 bxc6 17.Rxc6 Qxd1 18.Rxd1 Bxb2.


A strong pawn sacrifice that finds white's light pieces in awkward positions.

15.Qxd5 Qxd5 16.exd5 a3 17.b3

Leaving a potential queen on the board. Woodchoppers would take the dangerous pawn off the board with 17.bxa3 although after 17...Bd7 they have to be prepared to give up two pieces for a rook: 18.Nc2 [18.Kf2?! Rxa3!] 18...Rxe3!? [Sacrificing the rook the other way is weaker: 18...Rxa3 19.Nxa3 Rxe3 20.Rc7 Rxa3 21.Rxb7] 19.Nxe3 Bd4 20.Kh1 [White can't hold onto his knight: 20.Kf2? Rxa3!] 20...Bxe3 21.Rc7! b6 22.d6 and it is still not easy for black to coordinate his forces.



Jumping into the fray with an astonishing knight leap. It is a beautiful developing move, attacking white's light pieces and protecting the eighth rank at the same time.


Eliminating the knight is to black's advantage either after18.Nxc6 Rxe3 19.Kf2 Rxe2+ 20.Kxe2 bxc6 21.Rfd1 [21.Rxc6 Ba6+] 21...cxd5 22.Rxd5 Be6 with black's edge; or after 18.dxc6 Rxe3 19.cxb7 Bxb7 black wins.

White can match the intensity of black's last move with 18.Ne6!? since after 18...fxe6 19.dxc6 and white is better. However, 18...Nb4! 19.Nc7 Rxe3 20.Nxa8 Bf5 21.g4 Nxa2 slightly favors black.)



The splendid sacrifice deflects the white knight from the square b4.

19.Nxe3 Nb4



White tried to prevent the pin Bg7-d4. It is a normal human reaction. But he could have done it more subtly:
20.Kf2!? (A more compact defense preventing the bishop pin Bg7-d4. White should hold.) 20...Nxa2 [20...Bd4 is met strongly by 21.Rc4!] 21.Rc7 and the rook on the seventh rank and the passed d-pawn give white sufficient counterplay:


a) 21...Nb4 22.Rfc1 and white should win. 22...Bf5 23.Nxf5 gxf5 24.Rc8+ Rxc8 25.Rxc8+ Bf8 26.d6 Kg7 (26...a2 27.d7 a1Q 28.d8Q+-) 27.d7 Be7 28.d8Q Bxd8 29.Rxd8 a2 30.Rd1 Nc2 31.f4+-;

b) 21...Be5 22.Re7 Bd6 23.Re8+ Kg7 24.Bb5 Nb4 25.Bd7 a2 26.Bxc8 a1Q 27.Rxa1 Rxa1 28.Bxb7 Ra2+ 29.Ke1 Bxh2 30.Nc4=;

c) 21...Nc3 22.d6

c1) 22...Nxe2 23.Kxe2 Be6 24.d7 Rd8 (24...a2 25.Nd5! a1Q 26.Rxa1 Bxa1 27.Rc8+ Rxc8 28.dxc8Q+ Bxc8 29.Ne7+=) 25.Rxb7 a2 26.Ra7 Bxb3 27.Ra3 Be6 28.Rd1=

c2) 22...Be5 23.Bc4 (23.Rc5 Bd4 24.Rc4=) 23...Bxd6 24.Rxf7 Kh8 25.Nd5 b5 26.Re1 Bc5+ (or 26...Bf5 27.g4 Bc2 28.g5 (28.Nf6 g5!) 28...Nxd5 29.Bxd5 Rc8 30.Rc1) 27.Kg3 Bf5 28.Nxc3 bxc4 29.Rb7 Bd6+ 30.Kf2 a2 31.Nxa2 Rxa2+ 32.Kg1 Ra8 33.bxc4=);

The computers want to walk a tightrope, defending with a weird rook maneuver: 20.Rc7 Bd4 21.Re7


And somehow, in a mysterious way, they show us that all the roads lead to draws.

a) 21...Nxd5 22.Re8+ Kg7 23.Kh1 Nxe3 24.Rc1 Nd5 25.Rcxc8 Rxc8 26.Rxc8 Nc3 27.Rxc3 Bxc3=;

b) 21...Bf5 22.Rd1 Bc5 23.d6 Nc2 24.d7 Bxe7 25.Nxf5 gxf5 26.Rc1=

c) 21...Nxa2 22.Re8+ Kg7 23.d6 Nc3

c1) 24.Bd3 Ra5 (24...a2 25.d7±; 24...Nd5 25.d7 Bxd7 26.Rxa8 Nxe3 27.Rc1 Nd5+ 28.Kf1 Bb2 29.Re1 with edge.) 25.Rxc8 Bxe3+ 26.Kh1 a2 27.d7 Bg5 28.Ra1 Rd5 29.Rxc3 Bf6 30.Bc4 Bxc3 31.Bxd5 Bxa1 32.d8Q Bc3=

c2) 24.Kh1 Nxe2 25.Nc2 a2 26.d7 a1Q 27.Nxa1 Rxa1 28.Rg8+ Kh6 29.Rxa1 Bxd7 the chances are roughly equal;




White probably had nightmares about the move b7-b5, dislodging the rook on c4. But after the rook exchange, he wouldn't be able to cope with the a-pawn supported on the long diagonal by black's dark bishop. Instead of panicking, Gustafsson should have tried 21.Nc2 with good chances of surviving, for example 21...Nc3 22.Bd3 a2 23.Ra1; or 21.Nc2 Bf5 22.Nxa3 Rxa3 23.g4.

21...Rxa4 22.bxa4 Bd4 23.Kf2 Nb4 24.Rc1 a2!

A pretty finish, although 24...Bd7 would have sufficed.

25.Rxc8+ Kg7 26.Rc1 Nxd5 27.Rd1 Nxe3


After 28.Rxd4 a1Q 29.Kxe3 Qg1+ the queen will ravish the kingside pawns.

White resigned.

Note that in the replay windows below you can click either on the arrows under the diagram or on the notation to follow the game.

An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed Bobby Fischer's Elo rating. The correct rating is 2785.

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