“How do you find enough material to fill a weekly column?”
The question comes up surprisingly frequently from my poor, deprived non-chess-loving friends. Little do they realize there’s a fire hose of chess news shooting out every day, that dozens of events and thousands of games are being played nearly every week, that it’s not a question of seeking out scraps of news to fill a column but more a question of how much of the cargo and crew I have to throw overboard just to keep the vessel seaworthy.
Just this week, in the dog days of summer, we have the U.S. Junior, the U.S. Junior Girls and the U.S. Senior Championships all in full tilt in St. Louis. The FIDE World Cup knockout tournament (with world champ Magnus Carlsen is still in the hunt, though U.S. No. 1 GM Fabiano Caruana was upset and eliminated Monday by Kazakh GM Rinat Jumabaev) and the FIDE Women’s World Cup are underway in Russia. There’s a charming and instructive new book out from longtime local star, computer chess pioneer and former senior world champ GM Larry Kaufman (“Chess Board Options: A Memoir of Players, Games and Engines,” New In Chess, 224 pages, $24.95) that we will get around to reviewing, and Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” just grabbed 18 Emmy nominations.
Did we mention that Tuesday, July 20, is International Chess Day?
If I didn’t have a pesky day job, there’s enough material out there to fill up two columns a day, with plenty left over. Chess, as someone once said, is a sea in which a gnat may sip and an elephant may bathe.
Speaking of the U.S. Juniors, we have an excellent attacking win from newly minted GM Hans Moke Niemann. The 18-year-old New Yorker got off to a fast start with two wins and a draw in his first three games, including a powerful demolition of top seed and fellow New Yorker GM Nicolas Checa in Round 2.
Checa as Black gets an unusually open center out of this Winawer French but still must deal with the perennial problem child bishop on c8 — a problem Niemann never gives him a chance to solve. After 12. 0-0-0 Ng4?! (already the obvious 12…Bd7? loses a pawn to 13. Bxf6 Bxf6 14. Bxh7+! Kxh7 15. Rxd7, but 12…h6 definitely looks more prudent in a game where the kings are positioned on opposite wings) 13. Bxe7 Qxe7 14. Qe4 Nf6 15. Qh4 Re8, White doesn’t need to be asked twice to attack: 16. g4! g6 17. g5 Nd5 18. Ne5!.
Sketchy now are both 18…Bd7 19. Ng4 e5 20. h3!, preventing the trade of minor pieces and threatening 21. Bc4 to dislodge the knight, and 18…h5 19. Rhe1, and the looming sacrifice on g6 will be even more disruptive. But the game’s 18…f6?! opens the floodgates for a White attack that will pour through the open files on the kingside and in the center.
Niemann breaches the defense with the devastating 19. Nxg6! hxg6 20. Bxg6 fxg5 (Rf8 21. gxf6, with the killer 22. Rhg1 is on tap no matter how Black recaptures) 21. Qh6 Bd7 (the bishop finally gets in the game, but far too late; also losing was 21…Rd8 22. Rhg1 Qg7 23. Qxg5 Rd7 24. Rxd5! exd5 [Rxd5 25. Bh7+ Kf8 26. Qxg7+] 25. Re1 Rf7 26. Bxf7+ Kxf7 27. Re7+) 22. Bxe8 Qxe8 23. Rhg1 — Black has two minor pieces for the rook and pawn but has no answer to the coming blitz down the g-file.
Niemann concludes an impeccably conducted attack with a final flourish: 28. Rf7 Qh8 29. Rxd5! exd5 30. Qd6!, and Checa resigned not needing to see lines like 30…Qe8 31. Rf8 Rc8 32. Rxe8+ Kxe8 33. Qe5+ Kd8 34. Qf6+ Kc7 35 h4, and Black is down material and helpless against the advance of the h-pawn.
Speaking of the FIDE World Cup, the talk of the early rounds was a game played far away from the top boards. Against Danish GM Mads Andersen, Chilean GM Pablo Salinas Herrera pulled off an attack featuring a sacrificial orgy — including three queen sacrifices — that would not have been out of place in the days of Paul Morphy and Johannes Zukertort. With White missing a chance or two to turn the tables, this 26-mover is already being talked about as a candidate for game of the year.
Things start out placidly enough in this Queen’s Gambit Semi-Slav, but the battle escalates quickly after 17. Nxd4 Bb4 18. Nde2?! (Nf5 Qf8 19. Nd4 would have kept things equal) Ne4!? (this puts Black on the road to immortality, but was actually not best; with first 18…Ne5! 19. Bg2 [to stop the knight fork on f3] Ne4 20. a3 Bxc3 21. Nxc3 Ng4, Black gets good pressure) 19. a3? (see diagram; Andersen misses a shot that would have kept him in the game: 19. Qxe4! dxe4 [Qxe4 20. Nxe4 Rxe4 21. Bxd7 Rc2 22. Bd4 Bxe1 23. Rxe1 is better for White] 20. Rxd7 Qf6 21. Rxb7 Bxc3 22. Bxc3 Rxc3 23. Nxc3 Qxc3 24. Rd1, and White has excellent chances of holding the draw) Nxf2!!, and the tactical floodgates are flung wide open.
The initial knight sacrifice isn’t hard to see, but all credit to Salinas Herrera for finding the subsequent brilliant moves that bring home the checkmate, with Black’s lurking bishop on b7 playing a major role in the final act.
Thus: 20. axb4 (no better was 20. Kxf2 Qxe3+ 21. Kg2 [ Kf1 Qf3+ 22. Kg1 Bc5+ 23. Nd4 Bxd4+ 24. Rxd4 Rxe1+ 25. Bf1 Rxf1 mate] d4+ 22. Kf1 Qf3+ 23. Kg1 Qh1+ 24. Kf2 Qxh2+ 26. Kf1 Qg2 mate) Nxh3+ 21. Kf1 (Kg2 d4+! 22. Kxh3 [e4 dxc3 wins] Qe6+ 23. g4 Qh6+ 24. Kg3 Rxe3+ 25. Kf2 Qxh2+ 26. Kf1 Qg2 mate) Qxe3 22. Qf5 — White’s queen defends against mate on f2, but now Black masterfully exploits his opponent’s overworked pieces.
The finale: 22…Nf6 23. Bc1 (the last chance to lose non-brilliantly was 23. Nb5 Bc6! 24. Bd4 Qh6 25. Nd6 Bd7 26. Qf3 Ng5 27. Qh1 Bh3+, even though Black wins here as well) Ng4!! (queen sac No. 1 — 24. Bxe3 Nxe3 mate and 24. Qxg4 Qf2 mate are both out, as is 24. Kg2 Nf4+! 25. Nxf4 Qf2+ 26. Kh3 Rxe1 27. Rxe1 Qxe1 28. Qxg4 Rxc3 29. Bb2 Bc8) 24. Rd3 d4!! (queen sac No. 2; this time both 25. Bxe3 and 25. Rxe3 allow 25…Nxh2 mate) 25. Red1 Qg1+!! (queen sac No. 3, and this time it’s an offer White legally cannot refuse) 26. Nxg1 Nxh2 mate — a magnificent tableau in which Black’s two knights, rook and bishop all contribute to ensnaring the king. Hats off to Andersen for letting Black play this one all the way to the end.
Niemann-Checa, U.S. Junior Championship, St. Louis, July 2021
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 dxe4 5. Nxe4 Nbd7 6. Nf3 Be7 7. Nxf6+ Nxf6 8. Bd3 c5 9. dxc5 Qa5+ 10. c3 Qxc5 11. Qe2 O-O 12. O-O-O Ng4 13. Bxe7 Qxe7 14. Qe4 Nf6 15. Qh4 Re8 16. g4 g6 17. g5 Nd5 18. Ne5 f6 19. Nxg6 hxg6 20. Bxg6 fxg5 21. Qh6 Bd7 22. Bxe8 Qxe8 23. Rhg1 Kf7 24. Rxg5 Qh8 25. Qg6+ Ke7 26. Rh5 Qf8 27. Rh7+ Kd8 28. Rf7 Qh8 29. Rxd5 exd5 30. Qd6 1-0.
1. Nf3 d5 2. e3 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. Nc3 e6 5. b3 Bd6 6. d4 O-O 7. Qc2 Nbd7 8. Be2 b6 9. O-O Bb7 10. Bb2 Qe7 11. Rad1 Rad8 12. Rfe1 Rfe8 13. Bf1 c5 14. cxd5 exd5 15. g3 Rc8 16. Bh3 cxd4 17. Nxd4 Bb4 18. Nde2 Ne4 19. a3 Nxf2 20. axb4 Nxh3+ 21. Kf1 Qxe3 22. Qf5 Nf6 23. Bc1 Ng4 24. Rd3 d4 25. Red1 Qg1+ 26. Nxg1 Nxh2 mate.
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