Chess is not a game of perfect.
If every move were impeccable, every game would end in a draw. Very often, it’s what the player does after he screws up that determines the outcome.
If you drop a pawn, sometimes it’s best to launch a kamikaze attack rather than allow your opponent to placidly convert his material advantage. If you’re facing a deadly attack, look for ways to head for a dreary endgame, on the theory that your opponent now will have to give up her dreams of a brilliant checkmate and grind out a long, pedestrian ending instead. And sometimes, you can do everything possible to play your way back into a game after a mistake, only to see another mistake put you back on the canvas.
That third scenario played out at the recent FIDE Women’s Candidates semifinal match, and because of it, Chinese GM Tan Zhongyi will advance and rising Russian star GM Aleksandra Goryachkina is out of the running for a chance to challenge women’s world champion GM Ju Wenjun of China. The next women’s world champion will hail from China, as Tan now faces off with compatriot GM Lei Tingjie for the right to take on Ju.
The Tan-Goryachkina match came down to a tense encounter in the fourth game, where Black gets in trouble early on in the venerable Cambridge Springs QGD line. Goryachkina’s pieces are already looking misplaced when White breaks on top after 17. Qe2 Rac8? (either 17 … Bb4 or 17…Bf8 would have saved Black a world of trouble) 18. c5! Qa4?! (White’s pawn advance set up the nasty threat of 19. Nc4, but Black still might have limited the damage with 18…Bxd3 19. Qxd3 Bb4 20. Nc4 Qa6 21. a3 Ba5 22. Qb3) 19. Bxa6 Qxc2 20. Bxc8 Rxc8 21. Qa6!, with a powerful double threat.
After 22. Bg3?! (Bd8! was an even better execution of the same idea; e.g. 22…Nb8 23. Qxa3 Rc8 24. Qxa7! Rxd8 25. Qxb6 Rf8 26. Nf3 Qxa2 27. Ne5, and White’s passed c-pawn is a monster) e5 23. Nf3 Bxc5, Black has to cede the piece for two pawns, as even worse would have been 23…Bb2 24. Nxe5 Nxe5 25. Bxe5 Rc6 26. Qxa7, and if 26…bxc5?, 27. Qa8+ wins on the spot. Goryachkina keeps battling, helped by Tan’s decision to maroon her knight on h4 with no good way back into the action after 30…e4!.
But Black’s hard work is spoiled once again in the game’s critical phase: 31. Bb8!? (Ng6 Kf7 32. Nf4 g5 33. Ne2 saves the piece, but White still has issues after 33…f5) g5 32. Qxa7 (see diagram), and now 32…Qe6!, preserving for now the critical b-pawn, just might have saved the half-point and the match; i.e. 33. Nf5 Qxf5 34. Qxb6 Kg7 35. Bd6 e3! 36. Qxc5 Qb1+ 37. Kh2 e2 38. Qc7+ Kg6 39. Bb4 Qxb4 40. Qc2+ Kg7 41. Qxe2, and Tan faces the always-taxing chore of trying to win a pawn-up queen ending. Instead, after 32…gxh4? 33. Qxb6 Ne6 34. a4, material equality has been restored but White has a clear win just pushing her a-pawn.
Black rushes to get her king involved in the defense, but that only leads to a killer series of checks — 38. Qg8+ Kd7 39. Qf7+ Kc6 (Kc8 40. Qe8 is a very cute mate) 40. Qc4+, and White will collect the Black knight with check for an elementary win; Goryachkina resigned.
A master-level example of how to save a lost position — or how to swindle, if you prefer — came in British GM Tony Miles’ game against the fine Tunisian GM Slim Bouaziz at the interzonal held in Riga in 1979. (It’s featured in Australian GM David Smerdon’s 2020 book “The Complete Chess Swindler” from NewInChess, with a very fine analysis by the author.)
Suffice it to say Miles badly botches the opening phases of this Sicilian, allowing White a strong pin on the d-file, and after 32. Nb6 Nxb6 33. Rxd8, finds himself down the exchange without compensation and with a worse position. But even though the engines give White a huge winning advantage for the next 12 moves, Black continually sets problems for his opponent with vague but menacing gestures toward a kingside attack.
Miles gets a queen and a rook along White’s back rank, keeping Bouaziz from cashing in his material edge or advancing his passed c-pawn. White’s eagerness to finish the game leads to tragic results as Black’s fighting spirit in a lost position pays off: 41. c6 h4! (still losing, but White shies away from the messy 42…Rxh3 43. Kxh3 Qh1+ 44. Qh2 Qxf3+ — the computer says White has nothing to fear from 45. Kxh4, but it must have looked scary at the board) 42. Rcd2 (to meet 42…Rxh3 with 43. Rd1!) Rc1! 43. Rc2 Qb1! (not giving White a second chance to play 44. c7 Rxh3 45. Kxh3, winning; Miles also would be happy with 44. Rxc1 Qxc1 and 45…Qxc6, with real chances of holding a difficult ending, which was certainly not what Bouaziz had in mind) 44. Rdd2 Rh1! 45. c7? (throwing away the win; 45. g5!, giving the king some luft, wins for White) Rxh3!! 46. Kxh3? (throwing away the draw, which could still be had on 46. Qf1! Rg3+ 47. Kf2 Rxf3+ 48. Kxf3 Qxf1+ 49. Ke3, with a perpetual check) Qh1+, and Black’s comeback is complete.
Thus: 47. Qh2 Qxf3+ 48. Kxh4 Be7+ 49. g5 Bxg5+!!, and White resigned before Black could demonstrate the mate after 50. Kxg5 f6+ 51. Kg6 (Kh4 g5 mate) Qg4 mate.
(Click on the image above for a larger view of the chessboard.)
Tan-Goryachkina, FIDE Women’s Candidate Pool A, Khiva, Uzbekistan, December 2022
1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Bg5 Nbd7 6. e3 Qa5 7. cxd5 Nxd5 8. Rc1 h6 9. Bh4 Nxc3 10. bxc3 Ba3 11. Rc2 b6 12. Nd2 Ba6 13. c4 O-O 14. Bd3 c5 15. O-O cxd4 16. exd4 Rfe8 17. Qe2 Rac8 18. c5 Qa4 19. Bxa6 Qxc2 20. Bxc8 Rxc8 21. Qa6 Rc7 22. Bg3 e5 23. Nf3 Bxc5 24. dxc5 Nxc5 25. Qa3 f6 26. Rc1 Qg6 27. Nh4 Qf7 28. Rd1 Rd7 29. Rxd7 Qxd7 30. h3 e4 31. Bb8 g5 32. Qxa7 gxh4 33. Qxb6 Ne6 34. a4 Kf7 35. a5 Nd4 36. Qc7 Ke8 37. Qc4 Qb7 38. Qg8+ Kd7 39. Qf7+ Kc6 40. Qc4+ Black resigns.
Bouaziz-Miles, Interzonal, Riga, USSR, September 1979
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Bd3 Nf6 6. 0-0 d6 7. c4 Be7 8. Nc3 O-O 9. Be3 Nbd7 10. f3 Re8 11. Qd2 Bf8 12. Rfd1 b6 13. Bf1 Bb7 14. Rac1 Rc8 15. Qf2 Qc7 16. b3 Qb8 17. Rc2 Ba8 18. Kh1 Rcd8 19. Bc1 Ne5 20. Bb2 d5 21. cxd5 exd5 22. exd5 b5 23. Nf5 b4 24. Na4 Bxd5 25. Rcd2 Qc7 26. Ne3 Qa7 27. Bd4 Qb7 28. Bxe5 Rxe5 29. Bc4 Rh5 30. Nxd5 Nxd5 31. g4 Re5 32. Nb6 Nxb6 33. Rxd8 h5 34. h3 xc4 35. bxc4 Qe7 36. R8d2 Re3 37. Rc2 Qe5 38. Rd5 Qa1+ 39. Kg2 Re1 40. c5 Rh1 41. c6 h4 42. Rcd2 Rc1 43. Rc2 Qb1 44. Rdd2 Rh1 45. c7 Rxh3 46. Kxh3 Qh1+ 47. Qh2 Qxf3+ 48. Kxh4 Be7+ 49. g5 Bxg5+ White resigns.
⦁ David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at email@example.com.
• David R. Sands can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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