Candidates tourney back

LET’S PLAY CHESS - Edgar De Castro (The Philippine Star) - April 4, 2021 - 12:00am

The FIDE Candidates Tournament, suspended halfway last year due to the pandemic, will resume play on April 19-29 in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and local bet Ian Nepomniachtchi shared the lead going into the final seven rounds with a one-point advantage. The winner of this eight-player, double-round robin   selection process will earn the right to play Magnus Carlsen for the world championship in November this year.

Standings after seven rounds: Vachier-Lagrave 4.5, Nepomniachtchi 4.5, Fabiano Caruana (USA) 3.5, Anish Giri (NED) 3.5, Alexander Grischuk (RUS) 3.5, Wang Hao (CHN) 3.5, Ding Liren (CHN) 2.5 and Kirill Alekseenko (RUS) 2.5.

While MVL and Nepomniachtchi remain the slight favorites, a number of quality players are still in serious contention for the title, including Giri, who showed excellent form and consistency in dominating the fourth leg of the online Meltwater Champions Tour.

*     *     *

In his march to victory at the Meltwater Champions Tour fourth leg, Giri delivered in the deciding tie break, capping a 41-move title-clinching victory.

W) A. Giri (NED)

B)  I. Nepomniachtchi (RUS)

Sicilian Defense

1. e4      c5

2. Nf3    e6

3. d4      cxd4

4. Nxd4 Nc6

5. Nc3    Qc7

This is known as the Taimanov Variation, a Sicilian variant introduced in the 70s by Russian world contender Mark Taimanov.

6. Be3    a6

7. g4       ...

In the game Giri vs Nepomniachtchi, 06-03 finals, play went 7. Nxc6 Qxc6 8. Be2 b5 9. e5 Bb7 10. Bf3 Qc7 11. Bxb7 Qxb7 12. Qd3 Bb4, with equal chances. (drawn in 37 moves).

7...          h6

8. h4      Nf6

9. Nxc6 bxc6

10. Qf3  d5

11. g5    hxg5

12. hxg5               Rxh1

13. Qxh1              ....

White has a slight edge in development as both players prepare for the middle game.

13....      Ng4

14. Bd2 Bb7

There are other possibilities, but 14....Rb8 is most accurate, according to the engine.

15. Qh3 Ne5

16. O-O-O            d4?!

A premature Pawn advance which releases tension in the center favoring White. Instead, 16....Ng6 is a better alternative maintaining the possibility of a center counterplay.

17. Nb1 c5

18. f4     Nc6?

Another premature action which spoils Black’s chances of survival. Correct is the natural 18....Ng6 with possibilities of stopping White from making headway.

19. g6!   ....

A timely Pawn advance which creates weaknesses on Black’s center Pawn structure.

19....      O-O-O

20. gxf7 Qxf7

21. Bc4  Kb8

Defending with 21....Re8 is not ideal because of 33. Qf1 and Black’s pieces will be passively tied down.  But the text move is no bargain either as White picks up the Pawn without much fuss.

22. Bxe6               Qc7

23. Bc4  Ka7

Now with material plus and positional advantage, White has a win.

24. Na3 Nb4

25. Re1 Be7

26. Kb1 Re8

27. e5    Bd8

28. Bb3 g5

29. Nc4 ....

29. Qh5! is stronger, according to the engine.

29....      gxf4

30. Bxf4                Nd5

31. Bd2 Qg7

32. Nd6 Rh8

33. Qe6 Bh4

34. Rc1  ....

34. Nxb7 Bxe1 35. Nxc5 Nb6 36. Bxe1 wins for White as well.

34....      Nc7

35. Qc4 Qxe5?

This loses more material, but Black’s game is hopeless anyhow.

36. Nf7  Qh2

37. Qxc5ch          Kb8

38. Qxd4              Rf8

39. Bf4  Bg3

40. Bxg3               Qxg3

41. Qb4 1-0

There’s no satisfactory reply anymore, e.g., 41....Qg7 42. Nd6 Qg2 43. Nxb7 and White wins.

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Solution to last week’s puzzle:

White to play and win.

White=Kg1, Qa4, Rd1, Re1, Bh6, Pa2, Pf2, Pg3, Ph2

Black=Kg8, Qc7, Re7, Rf3, Bf6, Pa7, Pb6, Pg6, Ph7

1. Qc4ch!            1-0

If 1....Qxc4 2. Rd8ch Re8 3. Rdxe8ch and mate. Or 1....Kh8 2. Qxc7 Rxc7 3. Re8ch and mate.

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