Traditions upheld at Hastings – what a shame!
Round nine report by Steve Giddins
Hastings is a tournament where tradition has always been important, but some traditions are better than others. Saturday was a day when it was some of the less fortunate traditions of grandmaster chess than were on display.
As we enter the final two rounds of the tournament, most spectators would expect the excitement to increase, as players fight it out for the top prizes. Alas, all too often, the opposite happens, and the leaders content themselves with agreeing short draws amongst themselves, to preserve their position. After the scandal of last year's final round here at Hastings, when three of the top four games were halved out inside 30 minutes' play, we had hoped that this year would be different. But already, we have the first signs that our hopes may be disappointed. On top board in round 9, Azerbaijan's Nidjat Mamedov had what appeared to be the ideal situation. Half a point ahead of the field, and with the white pieces. Surely the perfect platform to launch a serious bid to win the tournament? A win will leave him with one hand already on the trophy, going into the final round. But what happens? The "Wary Azeri" makes seven quiet developing moves, and then offers his opponent a draw, which, needless to say, is accepted with alacrity!
Pathetic, really. I know of no more cynical branch of sport than boxing, but even in that world, it has for decades been accepted practice that fighters who fail to give of their best in the ring can have part or all of their purse withheld. It is surely time we introduced a similar system for grandmasters, who receive "appearance fees" and then fail to put in much of an appearance when it matters. Of course, Hastings could also introduce its own version of the so-called Sofia Rules, banning draw offers before move 50 – except that our version, for obvious reasons, would be called Battle Rules!
Fortunately, the other three show boards all produced fighting chess. Malakhatko moved into a share of the lead, by beating Pavlovic. It was the day of the latter's 44th birthday, and it is a long-standing tradition in chess, that people always play badly on their birthday. Back in the 1970s, Bill Hartston was one who used to suffer from this, since his birthday always fell in the middle of the British Championship. After losing several key games on the fateful day, he finally hit upon the idea of emulating royalty, by celebrating an "official birthday" on the rest day in the middle of the event, and ignoring the real thing when it came along. Once he started doing this, he won three birthday games in a row!
Pavlovic adopted a slightly different approach. Rather than expecting any presents from the top seed, Pavlovic himself was the first to offer a gift, in the form of the Benko Gambit pawn. However, Black ran into trouble in the early middlegame, and a sacrifice of two pieces for a rook proved unavailing. Meanwhile, Simon Williams was facing another unfortunate tradition, which is that one always loses one's first game after securing the Grandmaster title. He too was unable to break with the tradition, being thrashed in decisive fashion by Nick Pert:
Pert,N (2539) - Williams,Si1 (2475) [A43]
Premier Hastings ENG (9), 05.01.2008
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 c5 3.d5 b5 4.Bg5. This is a favourite anti-Benko system of several English players, notably Hebden and Arkell. 4...Qb6 5.a4! Hebden usually prefers 5.Bxf6 here, but the text may well be stronger. Now 5...b4 is unattractive, since a subsequent Nbd2-c4 will come with tempo, but Simon's reply is also not very alluring. 5...bxa4 6.Nc3 Qxb2 7.Bd2
One is more used to seeing Simon on the white side of such positions. The immediate threat is 8.Rb1 Qa3 9.Nb5, so Black is forced to lose more time with his queen. 7...Qb6 8.e4 d6 9.e5. Continuing in energetic fashion. Black will soon come under pressure along the f3-a8 and a4-e8 diagonals. 9...dxe5 10.Nxe5 e6?! 10...a6 11.Qf3 Nbd7 looks compulsory, but Black's position is already very poor. After the text move, he is virtually lost. 11.Qf3 Qc7 12.Bb5+ Kd8. 12...Nbd7 13.d6 Qb8 14.Rb1 is decisive. 13.Nc4 Bd6 14.Bg5. 14.Nxd6 is also winning, but Pert prefers to pile on the pressure. 14...Rf8 15.0–0–0 Bb7 16.Ne4 Bxd5 17.Ncxd6 Qxd6
18.Rxd5! Qxd5 19.Rd1 Kc7 20.Rxd5 Nxd5 21.Qg3+ Kb7 22.Qd6 1–0. [Click to replay]
Jones, Neverov and Lalic all won with the black pieces, to join the 6.5 point group, whilst Glenn Flear beat Stewart Haslinger with white, to do the same. The Lalic game showed the value of following the latest trends in opening theory.
Abu Sufian,S (2361) - Lalic,B (2500) [C11]
Premier Hastings ENG (9), 05.01.2008
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 Be7. This move has become fashionable over the past year or so, and has been scoring very well for Black. 8.Qd2 0–0
9.0–0–0? One thing practice has established is how badly White has done with this move. After the reply, Black already has a very strong attack. Abu was clearly unaware of this, since he accompanied the move with a draw offer. 9...c4! 10.f5 b5 11.fxe6 fxe6 12.h4. The game Pruissjers-Li Shilong, Dieren 2006, saw White try accepting the b-pawn, but he also lost drastically: 12.Nxb5 Rb8 13.Nd6 Bxd6 14.exd6 Nb4 15.Kb1 Nf6 16.a3 Ne4 17.Qe1 c3 18.b3 Qa5 19.Bc1 Nxc2 20.Kxc2 Bd7 21.b4 Qa4+ 22.Kd3 c2 23.Rd2 Qb3+ 24.Ke2 Bb5+ 25.Rd3 Qxd3# 0–1
12...Qa5 13.Ng5. White is already practically lost. 13.Kb1 b4 14.Ne2 c3 is terrible for him, so Abu tries a desperation attack. Lalic swats it away with ease. 13...b4 14.Qe2 bxc3 15.Qh5 h6 16.Qg6 Bxg5 17.hxg5 cxb2+ 18.Kb1 Ndxe5 19.dxe5 Nb4 0–1. [Click to replay]
Amongst the other games, mention should be made of Bob Eames, who has had the tournament of his life. He moved onto six points, after crushing Vladimir Georgiev with the black pieces, and now needs to beat Stuart Conquest in the final round to complete an IM norm.
The leading final round pairings are as follows: Mamedov (7) - Malakhatko (7); Chatalbashev (6.5) - Neverov (6.5); Jones (6.5) - Pert (6.5); Lalic (6.5) - Flear (6.5). As you see, the Wary Azeri's cynicism of round nine has been rewarded with another white, and the chance to secure a guaranteed share of first prize, with another micro-draw. Of course, it is always possible that the fearless grandmaster will fight to the last pawn, in an attempt to win the tournament outright. By the same token, it is also possible that Amy Winehouse will be elected Chair of the Temperance Society, Britney Spears will win a Good Parenting Award, and the ever-charming Alexander Chernaiev will play through an entire weekend tournament, without once complaining about the pairings. But don't hold your breath.
Round ten report by Steve Giddins
Sometimes it is depressing to be proved right:
Mamedov,Nid (2575) - Malakhatko,V (2603) [C42]
Premier Hastings ENG (10), 06.01.2008
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3 Be7 7.Bf4 Nc6 8.Qd2 Be6 9.0–0–0 Qd7 10.Ng5 Bxg5 11.Bxg5 f6 12.Be3 0–0–0 13.Be2 Rhe8 14.Rhe1 a6 ½–½. Mind you, this masterpiece was dragged out to almost 25 minutes' playing time, making it a veritable marathon alongside Mamedov's nine-minute effort the day before. [Click to replay]
Equally disappointing was the 15-move draw between Lalic and Flear on board four. A win for either would have brought a share of first place, rather than a share of third-umpteenth. But the Carpathian Warrior was White, and Flear evidently did not think much of his chances of winning with black, so that too, ended after half an hour's play. Fortunately, the white players on the other two show boards were endowed with rather more intestinal fortitude. Jones launched himself at Nick Pert's French Defence, in highly imaginative fashion:
Jones,G (2567) - Pert,N (2539) [C03]
Premier Hastings ENG (10), 06.01.2008
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Be7 4.Ngf3 Nf6 5.e5 Nfd7 6.Bd3 c5 7.0-0 cxd4 8.Nb3 Nc6 9.Re1 Nc5 10.Nxc5 Bxc5 11.Ng5 Bb4 12.Qf3 Qe7 13.Re2 h6
White has already sacrificed a pawn, and now continued in van banque style: 14.Nh7!? Qh4 15.Bf4 Bf8 16.Bg3 Qe7 17.Qg4 Nb4 18.Bb5+ Bd7
19.Nf6+?! Once again imaginative, but possibly not sound. 19...gxf6 20.exf6 Qxf6? White's main point is that 20...Qd8? loses to 21.Rxe6+, but instead, the computer's recommendation of 20...h5! looks to give Black the advantage. This carries the tactical point that after 21.Qh3, Black can continue as in the game with 21...Qxf6 22.Be5 and now 22...Qh6, defending the rook on h8, whilst after the alternative 21.fxe7 hxg4 22.exf8+ Rxf8, Black retains his extra pawn. 21.Be5 Qg5 22.Bxd7+ Kxd7 23.Qxg5 hxg5 24.Bxh8 The upshot of the complications is that White has an extra exchange for a pawn, but the powerful central pawn mass allows Black to hold the balance. The game was drawn after 24...Rc8 25.c3 dxc3 26.Bxc3 Nc6 27.Rd1 Bc5 28.g3 b5 29.Kg2 d4 30.f4 gxf4 31.gxf4 f6 32.Be1 Kd6 33.Bh4 Rf8 34.Rde1 Nd8 35.Bg3 Kd5 36.h4 Bd6 37.h5 Rh8 38.Bh4 Be7 39.Rh1 Rxh5 ½–½. [Click to replay]
In the other top game, Chatalbashev outplayed Neverov from the opening, and soon had an ending with a healthy extra pawn. Then it all went wrong:
Chatalbashev,B (2581) - Neverov,V (2558) [D91]
Premier Hastings ENG (10), 06.01.2008
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bg5 Ne4 6.Bh4 Nxc3 7.bxc3 dxc4 8.Qa4+ Qd7 9.Qxc4 b6 10.e3 Ba6 11.Qb3 Bxf1 12.Kxf1 Nc6 13.Ke2 Na5 14.Qb4 c5 15.dxc5 0-0 16.Rhd1 Qb7 17.Rab1 Nc6 18.Qb5 Rfc8 19.c4 h6 20.a4 e5 21.cxb6 axb6 22.c5 Ra5 23.Qxb6 Qa8 24.Rd7 Rxa4 25.Qb7 Ra7 26.Qxa8 Raxa8
Although the extra passed pawn is currently blockaded, White must have excellent winning chances here. Play continued 27.Rbb7 g5 28.Bg3 Nd8 29.Rb5 f6 30.Nd2 Ra2 31.f4? White hopes to gets his bishop into play, but this move leads to pawn exchanges, which do not help his wining chances. exf4 32.exf4 Ne6 33.fxg5 Nxc5. Now the best White can hope for is a 2 v 1 ending on the same side, which he would be very unlikely to win. But it gets worse... 34.Rc7 Re8+ 35.Kd1? 35.Kf3 is better. Rd8 36.Rbxc5 Rdxd2+ 37.Ke1 hxg5 38.Rb5 Rxg2 Suddenly, White has gone from being a pawn up, to a pawn down. Even now, the paucity of pawns should enable him to draw, but doubtless shocked at the turn of events, the Bulgarian eventually lost his remaining pawn, and was ground down. 39.Kf1 Rgc2 40.Rxc2 Rxc2 41.h4 g4 42.Rf5 Rc4 43.h5 Kf7 44.Ra5 Bh6 45.Bh4 Rc6 46.Ra7+ Ke6 47.Rh7 Bf4 48.Rg7 Kf5 49.Ra7 Rc1+ 50.Kg2 Rc2+ 51.Kf1 Rh2 52.Ra5+ Be5 53.Bg3 Rxh5 54.Bxe5 fxe5 55.Kg2 Kf4 56.Ra1 Rh3 57.Ra8 Rg3+ 58.Kf2 Rf3+ 59.Kg2 e4 60.Rf8+ Ke3 61.Rg8 g3 62.Ra8 Kd4 63.Rd8+ Kc4 64.Rc8+ Kd4 65.Rd8+ Kc3 66.Re8 Re3 67.Re7 Kd2 68.Re8 Re1 69.Kxg3 e3 70.Rd8+ Ke2 71.Kg2 Ra1 72.Rb8 Ke1 73.Rh8 Ra7 0–1. [Click to replay]
A tragedy for Chatalbashev, but one must admire Neverov's tenacity. It is the third year in a row that he has finished outright or shared first at Hastings, and in each of the last two years, he has done so by winning in the last round, whilst his rivals were busy halving out. Perhaps there is some justice in the world after all?
In the other leading games, wins for Pavlovic and Bindrich lifted them to a high overall placing. Sadly, there were no norms achieved this year. Bob Eames had a marvellous fighting battle against Stuart Conquest, but the eventual draw was not enough for his IM norm.
So, another Hastings ends. As always, it was a great ten days, enjoyed immensely by all those involved. It is just a shame that, for the second year in a row, the lion's share of the prize money has been scooped by cynical ex-Soviet GMs, who profit from what in many other sports would be regarded as little more than match-fixing. Chess in general, and Hastings in particular, will never attract serious commercial sponsorship until this scourge of non-games is removed. For now, though, I bid you farewell for another twelve months, and hope that you have enjoyed the past ten days' coverage of the Celebration 83rd Hastings International Chess Congress.
PS. One of the evening entertainment events here at Hastings has been a series of "Master Classes", in which GMs spent an hour or so at the demo board, going over games played by the amateur players. Our Azeri hero, Mr Mamedov, was asked to do such a Master Class on the night before the final round. He declined, on the grounds that "I have an important game tomorrow"!! Don't ya love him?