At the 83rd Hastings International Chess Congress, after seven of the ten rounds, three players share the lead on 5.5, with a further ten players half a point behind. Simon Williams, Vadim Malakhatko and Nidjat Mamedov go into round 8 with a half point lead over the field. Williams, who is the only non-grandmaster amongst the leading group (he has the required norms, but still needs the 2500 rating threshold) faces top seed Malakhatko, whilst Mamedov has the black pieces against Mark Hebden. The top four games can be followed live on Playchess.com, starting at 15.15 European time each day.
Malakhatko,V (2603) - Lalic,B (2500) [D24]
Premier Hastings ENG (7), 03.01.2008
1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 c5 5.d5 e6 6.e4 exd5 7.e5 Ne4!? The old move here is 7...Nfd7, but the text has become popular in recent years. One of its main practitioners is the pugnacious FIDE vice-president and ex-European Champion, Zurab Azmaiparashvili. It has always seemed to me that he is a player whose moves one ought to be able to rely on – not only is he a very strong GM, but when he does occasionally play a bad move, he has been known to take it back! 8.Nxd5 The sharpest response. The ending after 8 Qxd5 Nxc3 9 Qxd8+, etc. is known to offer White little. 8...b5 9.b3 Be6 10.bxc4 Nc6 11.Bd3 Qa5+ 12.Nd2 Nc3 13.Nb3 Nxd1+ 14.Nxa5
It was at this point that your correspondent, with the unfailing instinct for scandal of a true investigative journalist (Woodward, Bernstein, Giddins...) wandered into the commentary room for the first time this week, just at the very moment that Chris Ward was enlisting the help of Fritz, via the manager of the Chess & Bridge bookstall! Chris assures me that it is the first time he has ever done this, and the position is very complicated...
If I remember correctly, the silicon beast offered the extraordinary variation 14...Nxe5 15.Be4 0-0-0 16.Bf4 Nxc4 17 Ne7+! Bxe7 18.Bb7+ Kd7 19.Bc6+ and a draw by perpetual! What none of us knew was that Malakhatko had in fact reached this position before. The game Malakhatko-Sulava, San Marino 2006, had indeed seen Black play 14...Nxe5, but the game had continued 15.Nc7+ Kd7 16.Be4 Kxc7 17.Bxa8 Nc3 18.Bd2 Bd6 19.Bxc3 Rxa8, with an unclear position, that was eventually won by Black. Malakhatko presumably had something up his sleeve, other than just his arm, whilst Lalic was obviously well aware of the predecessor game. He now produced his prepared improvement. 14...Nxa5 15.Nc7+ Kd7 16.Nxa8 Nc3 17.Bd2 b4 18.Bxc3 bxc3
Black's preparation seems to have produced satisfactory results, since although he is nominally an exchange down, the errant steed on a8 looks to have a limited shelf-life. However, appearances can sometimes be deceptive. 19.Rb1 Kc8 20.0–0
20...Be7? The critical moment. This wastes a vital tempo, which allows White to get his KR active on the a-file. Correct was 20...Nc6, when the position seems quite unclear, although it is still not 100% clear precisely how Black will eliminate the a8 knight. 21.Rfc1 Bg5? 21...Nc6 was still better, but the position is already difficult. 22.Rxc3 Bd2 23.Ra3. Suddenly, Black is lost. His knight will eventually be driven from a5 and thence, from c6, whereupon the a7-pawn will drop, and the knight on a8 will be released from its imprisonment. Lalic tries to wriggle, but the rest is easy for White. 23...Rd8 24.Be2 Rd4 25.Rb5 Bxc4 26.Rxc5+ Kd8 27.Raxa5 Bxa5 28.Bxc4 Bb4 29.Rd5+ Rxd5 30.Bxd5 Kd7 31.Bxf7 1–0. [Click to replay]
Falko Bindrich is one of several strong German youngsters playing at Hastings, gaining international experience before taking part for the German Youth team at the Dresden Olympiad later this year
Mark Hebden, who has hardly missed a Hastings Congress in 30 years
WGM Anna Zozulia, wife of top seed Vadim Malakhatko
"This is the man you want, officer!". Arbiter Stewart Reuben (left), pictured with IM Mike Basman, who is believed still to be dodging an international arrest warrant for "crimes against chess orthodoxy".
As regular readers of these reports will know, short draws on the top four live boards are not all that popular with anyone, least of all certain boroughs of West London. But yesterday, a 12-move draw on board one proved to be one of the most well-received results of this year's tournament. The brief encounter between Simon Williams and Vadim Malakhatko brought Simon the precious couple of rating points that he needed to take his rating over 2500, and thus earn him his Grandmaster title. Earlier in the day, various groups of well-wishers could be seen, feverishly scribbling numbers on pieces of paper, as the various ups and downs of expected scores and k-factors were added, subtracted, multiplied, and otherwise subjected to processes that would have defied Euclid. The net result was that when sitting down to start his game against Malakhatko, Simon knew that a draw should be enough (should rather than would, only because final confirmation is still needed from FIDE). There were fears that he might decide to pursue his usual maximalist approach, and go all out for the win, but instead, more rational counsel prevailed, and at move 12, he muttered the word "draw", one not often heard from his lips. Malakhatko was not in the mood to disappoint him, and the resultant handshake meant that England now has another Grandmaster.
Simon Williams, determinedly hunting some rating points
There can have been few more popular titles, and it is especially nice that Simon should have wrapped up his title here at Hastings. Two years ago, he made his final norm here, and over the past few years, he has provided more entertainment than just about any other player. So our heartiest congratulations go out to him, and we hope he can now press on with the minor business of trying to win the tournament.
Whilst this was happening, it was the foreign players who were taking pole position in the Masters. Mamedov survived an inferior position to beat Hebden with Black, whilst Chatalbashev was again making use of his expertise in the Modern Benoni. In round five, he had given a fine demonstration of the merits of Black's position, but yesterday he showed the other side of the coin, in equally impressive style.
Chatalbashev,B (2581) - Satyapragyan,S (2404) [A70]
Premier Hastings ENG (8), 04.01.2008
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nc3 g6 7.h3 Bg7 8.e4 0–0 9.Bd3 Bd7 10.0–0. 10.a4 looks a more natural reaction to Black's last, but Chatalbashev is pursuing a central strategy. 10...b5 11.Re1 c4 12.Bc2 Re8 13.a3 Na6 14.Bf4 Qb6
15.e5. This appears to be a new move, as far as I can tell, but it is very logical. Just as Black has a queenside pawn majority in this opening, so White has a majority in the centre, and Chatalbashev quickly establishes a passed d-pawn. His plan now is simply to push the pawn through the middle of Black's position. 15...dxe5 16.Nxe5 Nc5 17.Qf3 a5 18.d6! Energetically pursuing his basic plan. Now 18...Qxd6 19 Nxg6 would result in the destruction of Black's kingside. 18...Be6 19.Rad1 b4 20.Na4 Qb5 21.Nxc5 Qxc5 22.Ba4! All very logical. White directs his pieces at the d7-square, which is the next stepping stone for his d-pawn. Nimzowitsch wrote that an enemy passed pawn is a dangerous criminal, who should be kept under lock and key. Black seems to have forgotten to bolt the cell door. 22...Rf8 23.Bg5 Ng4. An ingenious attempt to solve his problems tactically, but it fails to do so. 24.hxg4 Bxe5 25.Bc6 Ra6
26.Rxe5! The final blow. Now the mating threats against the king will cost Black his queen. 26...Qxe5 27.Bf6 Qxf6. 27...Qc5 28.Qf4 leads to mate. 28.Qxf6 Rxc6 29.axb4 axb4 30.Qe7 Rcc8 31.d7 Rcd8 32.Qxb4 Bxg4 33.Rd4 Bxd7 34.Qd2 1–0. [Click to replay]
The games on boards 4-6 were drawn after varying degrees of fight, but Pavlovic won quickly, to move into the second-placed group. Lower down the lists, there were some impressive games. Bogdan Lalic has been the target of some good-natured ribbing on my part, regarding his tendency to take too many quick draws. But he is an extremely classy player when he puts his mind to it, and he won a nice game against Richard Bates yesterday.
Lalic,B (2500) - Bates,Ri (2378) [E94]
Premier Hastings ENG (8), 04.01.2008
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0–0 6.Be2 Na6 7.0–0 e5 8.Be3 Ng4 9.Bg5 Qe8 10.Re1 exd4 11.Nd5 f6 12.Bf4 c6
13.Bxd6!? An interesting piece sacrifice. 13...cxd5 14.exd5 Qd8!? Fritz 11 prefers 14...d3 15.Bxd3 Ne5, with unclear play. 15.c5 f5? After this, Black is definitely losing. 15...Re8 is still unclear, although White has reasonable compensation for the piece. 16.Bxa6 bxa6 17.Bxf8 Bxf8 18.d6 Now the material balance is roughly equal, and the powerful passed pawn couplet gives White a decisive initiative. 18...Qf6 19.h3 Nh6 20.Qxd4 Qxd4 21.Nxd4 Kf7 22.Rad1 Kf6 23.Re8 Bb7 24.d7 1–0. [Click to replay]
There was also a fine win for Peter Poobalasingham, who destroyed Radovanovic's norm chances.
Poobalasingam,P (2158) - Radovanovic,J (2355) [C45]
Premier Hastings ENG (8), 04.01.2008
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Qh4. Did you realise that the Scotch Game loses a pawn by force? This is an old Steinitz favourite, which wins the e4-pawn, but at the cost of Black's development. 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Be2. 6.Ndb5 is generally regarded as the critical move, but the present game makes the text look pretty good too. 6...Nf6 7.0–0 Bxc3 8.Nf5 Qxe4 9.Bd3 Qg4 10.f3 Qa4 11.bxc3 0–0. It looks as though Black has got away with his act of larceny, and has escaped with his bag of swag, but now he discovers that the authorities are on his tail after all.
12.Nxg7! Kxg7 13.Bh6+! Kg8. 13...Kxh6 14.Qd2+ leads to mate: 14...Kh5 (or 14...Kg7 15.Qg5+ etc) 15.g4+ Nxg4 16.fxg4+ Qxg4+ 17.Kh1, and there is no defence to the threats of Be2, Rf5, etc. 14.Qd2 Qh4 15.Bg5 Qh5 16.Bxf6 White has regained his material , with an overwhelming attack against the exposed enemy king and undeveloped Black army. 16...Re8 17.g4 Qc5+ 18.Kh1 Re6 19.Qh6 Rxf6 20.Qxf6 Now White has a material advantage as well. The rest is easy. 20...Qe5 21.Qh4 Qg7 22.Rae1 Kf8 23.Be4 f6 24.Qh5 Ne5 25.Bxh7 d5 26.Bf5 c6 27.Bxc8 Rxc8 28.Rxe5 1–0. [Click to replay]
Finally, an episode which will delight lovers of chess curiosities.
Lyell,M (2197) - Calvert,D (2058) [B01]
Premier Hastings ENG (8), 04.01.2008
1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.Be2 Nc6 5.d4 0-0-0 6.c4 Qf5 7.Be3 Bxf3 8.Bxf3 Nxd4 9.Bxd4 Qe6+ 10.Be2 Qe4 11.0-0 Qxd4 12.Qa4 e6 13.Rd1 Qxb2 14.Nd2 Nf6 15.Rab1 Qa3 16.Qb5 Qa6 17.Qxa6 bxa6 18.c5 Rd4 19.Bxa6+ Kd7 20.c6+ Ke7 21.Nc4 Rxd1+ 22.Rxd1 g6
White now played the nice tactic 23.Nd6!, exploiting the fact that the knight cannot be taken because of the c6-pawn queening. Okay, a clever trick, but not reason enough to publish the game. However watch what happens: Nd5 24.Nc8+ Kf6 25.Nxa7 Bc5 26.Nb5 Bb6 27.Bb7 Ke7 28.Kf1 Rd8 29.Rd3 Nb4 30.Rxd8 Kxd8 31.a4 e5 32.Na3 Ke7 33.Nc4 Bd4 34.a5 Ke6 35.Ke2 Kd5
36.Nb6+! The same tactic on the b6 square. 36...Kc5 37.Nc8 Kb5 38.Nd6+. And now again on d6... 38...Kxa5 39.Nxf7 Kb5 40.Nd6+. And once more on d6, just for good measure! 40...Kb6 41.Ne4 Nxc6 Finally putting an end to the fun. The game was drawn after 42.Bxc6 Kxc6 43.g4 h6 44.Kd3 Kd5 45.f3 c5 46.Nd2 Bg1 47.h3 Bd4 48.Nc4 Bg1 49.Nb6+ Kc6 50.Nc4 Kd5 51.Nb6+ Kc6 52.Nc4 ½–½. [Click to replay]
Snooker break in Hastings: Gawain Jones lines up a red