Our beloved game has long had an undeserved reputation as a kind of delicate hothouse flower, a sensitive plant that thrives only in those hushed rooms of “low ceilings and high foreheads.”
But chess far more resembles a hardy perennial, a dogged little shoot that can blossom in the desert, the rainforest and between the cracks of a New York City sidewalk. Chess has provided competition and consolation in some pretty unforgiving environments, including: prison cells, South Pole research stations, the trenches of World War I, the ghettos of Warsaw and the gulags of the old Soviet Union.
Just last month, two countries facing some pretty challenging times — Syria and Venezuela — managed not only to hold their national chess title tournaments but to produce some intriguing, dynamic games in the process.
New Syrian national champ Ali Hammoudi’s win over FM Malek Koniahli in a Closed Ruy Lopez is long but absorbing throughout. Hammoudi’s backward e-pawn is the early focus of the middle game play, but Black turns the table with strong pressure along the f-file that produces a raging attack after 34. Ng1 Nf4+! 35. gxf4 Qg4+ 36. Kh1 Qxh4+. Eschewing a draw, Hammoudi collects the White queen on 42. Kh1 R8xf4! 43. Nxf3 Rxf3, and the threat of 44…Rh3 mate forces 44. Qxe5 Rh3+ 45. Qh2 Qf3+ 46. Kg1 Rxh2 47. Kxh2 Qf4+, producing an unbalanced ending in which Black’s queen takes on the two White rooks.
Having too many weaknesses to cover, Koniahli never quite manages to coordinate his castles. Black picks up decisive material on 70. Rh6 h1=Q! 71. Rxh1 Qa8+, hitting both king and rook. Facing a hopeless ending, White resigned nine moves later.
Venezuela’s troubles can be seen in the fact that last month’s tournament in the northwestern city of Barquisimeto was apparently the delayed 2018 championship. But we still can appreciate the play of top-seeded FM Ronald Brizuela Abreu, who took clear first with a 6½-2½ result. One of his most exciting wins came against Mexican expert Richard Diaz Leon, who put up a spirited fight in their Tarrasch French before going astray at the very end.
Both sides walk a tightrope of offense and defense up through 30. Rd2 Qb1 (see diagram) 31. Bc3+ Kc6, when White could force his opponent to split the point with 32. Qxe7! Qe1+ 33. Kd4! (Kf4?? Nxg6+), when Black’s best is to take the perpetual on offer with 33…Qg1+ 34. Ke4 Qe1+.
Instead, it’s over in a flash after the game’s 32. Rxf8?? (perhaps banking on 32…Bxf8?? 33. Qd7 mate) Qe1+! 33. Kd4 (also losing was 33. Kf4 Qh4+ 34. Ke3 Rxf8 35. Qxe6+ Kc7 36. Rd7+ Kb8 37. Qxe7 Qf4+ 38. Kf2 Qxf3+ 39. Kg1 Qg3+ 40. Kh1 Rh8+ with mate to follow) Bc5+!, and White resigns as 34. bxc5 bxc5 is mate.
Koniahli-Hammoudi, Syrian Championship, Damascus, April 2019
1. 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. d3 b5 6. Bb3 Be7 7. O-O O-O 8. Nc3 d6 9. a3 Bg4 10. Be3 Nd4 11. Bxd4 exd4 12. Nb1 c5 13. h3 Be6 14. Bxe6 fxe6 15. Nbd2 Qe8 16. e5 Nh5 17. exd6 Bxd6 18. Ne4 Rd8 19. Nxd6 Rxd6 20. Qe2 Nf4 21. Qe4 Rd5 22. Rae1 Qh5 23. Kh2 Rdf5 24. Ng1 R5f6 25. g3 Nd5 26. Kg2 Qf7 27. Qe2 b4 28. axb4 cxb4 29. h4 a5 30. Nh3 h6 31. b3 e5 32. Kg1 Rf3 33. Kg2 Qf5 34. Ng1 Nf4+ 35. gxf4 Qg4+ 36. Kh1 Qxh4+ 37. Kg2 Qg4+ 38. Kh1 Qh4+ 39. Kg2 Qg4+ 40. Kh1 Qh4+ 41. Kg2 Qg4+ 42. Kh1 R8xf4 43. Nxf3 Rxf3 44. Qxe5 Rh3+ 45. Qh2 Qf3+ 46. Kg1 Rxh2 47. Kxh2 Qf4+ 48. Kh1 Qd2 49. Rc1 g5 50. Kg2 Kg7 51. Kf3 Kf6 52. Ke4 Qf4+ 53. Kd5 h5 54. Kc5 h4 55. Kb6 Qf5 56. Ra1 Qc8 57. Rfc1 Qd8+ 58. Ka6 Qa8+ 59. Kb6 Qd8+ 60. Kb5 Qd5+ 61. Kb6 h3 62. Rxa5 Qd8+ 63. Ka6 h2 64. Raa1 Qb8 65. Ka5 Ke5 66. Re1+ Kd5 67. Ka6 Kc5 68. Ra5+ Kc6 69. Re6+ Kd7 70. Rh6 h1=Q 71. Rxh1 Qa8+ 72. Kb5 Qxh1 73. Kxb4 Qe1+ 74. Ka4 g4 75. Rg5 Qe6 76. b4 Qa2+ 77. Kb5 Qxc2 78. Rd5+ Ke6 79. Rxd4 Qxf2 80. Re4+ and White resigns.
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. c3 c5 6. f4 Nc6 7. Ndf3 Qb6 8. h4 f6 9. Bd3 cxd4 10. cxd4 Bb4+ 11. Ke2 O-O 12. a3 Be7 13. b4 Kh8 14. Be3 Qd8 15. Ng5 fxg5 16. hxg5 Nxd4+ 17. Bxd4 Rxf4 18. Rxh7+ Kg8 19. Nf3 Re4+ 20. Bxe4 dxe4 21. Qh1 exf3+ 22. gxf3 Nf8 23. Rh8+ Kf7 24. g6+ Ke8 25. Rd1 b6 26. Qh7 Ba6+ 27. Ke3 Qc7 28. Qg8 Qc2 29. Qf7+ Kd7 30. Rd2 Qb1 31. Bc3+ Kc6 32. Rxf8 Qe1+ 33. Kd4 Bc5+ White resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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