Jones, Kurnosov, Neverov lead in Hastings

1/1/2009 – As the 84th Hastings Congress heads into 2009, the lead is shared by Gawain Jones of England, Igor Kurnosov of Russia and Valery Neverov of Ukraine. Lower down the lists, some amateur players have produced brilliant efforts, helped in at least one case by advance sight of what is surely the greatest chess book ever written. Onsite reporter Steve Giddins explains.

Hat-Trick Hero Marches On

FM Steve Giddins reports on round two of the Hastings Masters

This year's Official Programme for the Hastings Congress includes a list of all the past winners of the Premier/Masters, starting with the legendary Harry Nelson Pillsbury in 1895. Looking through the list, which includes almost all of the greats of 20th century chess, only three players have ever won the event in three successive years. Salo Flohr did it in 1931-33, a fact no chess writer ever mentions without also quoting his joke about believing he was supposed to win all three prizes one year, after he heard a lift attendant announce "First floor, second floor, third floor". Some sixty years later, Flohr's hat-trick was matched by Russian GM Evgeny Bareev, who triumphed in 1990-1992. The tournament's triptych of hat-trick heroes is completed by Valery Neverov of the Ukraine, who has won the Hastings Masters, either outright or shared, in each of the last three years. He clearly has his sights set on eclipsing his two famous rivals, and establishing a fourth successive win, and yesterday he claimed his place on top board for today's third round, after beating David Eggleston.

Neverov,Valery (2571) - Eggleston,David (2368) [E25]
Hastings Masters 2008
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.f3.
Currently a trendy way to meet the Nimzoindian, after Anand used it to establish a near-winning advantage against Kramnik in game 2 of their recent world championship match. 4...d5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 c5 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Qd2. The most common move here is 8.dxc5, which looks ugly, but does most to open lines and expose Black's potential dark-square weaknesses. Neverov prefers to retain his mobile pawn centre, although Black is not supposed to have serious problems in this line. 8...f5 9.Nh3 0–0 10.e3 Nc6 11.Rb1 cxd4 12.cxd4 b6 13.Bb5 Bb7 14.0–0 Nc7. Black plays to hold back the advance e3-e4, and also prepares to exchange bishops by Ba6. However, the black knight loses rather a lot of time, and it may be that the straightforward 14...Rc8 was preferable.  15.Be2 Ba6 16.Bxa6 Nxa6 17.Bb2 Nc7 18.Nf4 Ne7?! Rather passive. 18...e5 looks normal, when White cannot have more than a very small advantage. 19.Rbc1 Ned5 20.Nd3 Na6  21.e4.

White has now achieved all his strategical objectives, and holds a clear advantage. It is typical of this 4.f3 variation, that if White manages to complete his development and get his central pawns rolling, he stands better, so Black needs to find more effective counterplay than Eggleston has managed here. 21...fxe4 22.fxe4 Nf6 23.Qe2 Nc7 24.Nf4 Nfe8 25.d5 exd5 26.exd5 Qd7 27.Ne6 Nxe6 28.dxe6 Qe7 29.Rxf8+ Qxf8 30.Qe4 Rb8 31.Qe5?! He could win material immediately by means of 31.e7 Qf7 32.Be5 Qxe7 33.Qc4+. Neverov's choice is less incisive, but his advantage is so great, that it does not change the outcome of the game. 32...Qd6 32.Qe4 Qe7 33.Rf1 Nd6 34.Qe5 Rf8 35.Rxf8+ Kxf8 36.Bc3 a5 37.Bd4 Qc7 38.h3 Ne8 39.Qe3 Nd6. 39...b5 40.Bb6 is no better. 40.Bxb6 Qc6 41.Bxa5 1–0

The top two games were both drawn, as was the board three encounter between Hunt and Howell. In the latter, David Howell avoided a couple of potential move-repetitions early on, but later over-pressed and was close to losing at one point.  Jones and Conquest joined the lead on 2/2, both with easy wins, whilst Stephen Gordon achieved the same score, with a longer and tougher grind against Chris Briscoe. Mark Hebden also maintained his 100% score, in a wild game, which attracted a large crowd of spectators.

Bergez,Luc (2356) - Hebden,Mark (2515) [C56]
Hastings Masters Hastings (2.9), 29.12.2008
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.e5 d5 6.Bb5 Ne4 7.Nxd4 Bc5 8.Nxc6!?
Until quite recently, the only time one saw this move played was in games involving unknown amateurs, usually playing against Paul Morphy around the middle of the 19th century. However, in recent years, there has been a flurry of computer analysis, which seems to show that the move is not only playable, but also very dangerous – for both sides! 8...Bxf2+ 9.Ke2 Qd7! Hebden's improvement on 9...Bg4+ 10.Kf1 Qh4?, which he played against Jonathan Arnott, in the British QP a few years ago. After 11.Qxd5, Black is completely lost, and Mark duly went under in that game. 10.e6! fxe6 11.Nxa7 c6 12.Nxc8 cxb5 13.Nd2 Ra4 14.Nxe4 Rxe4+ 15.Kxf2 0–0+ 16.Kg3

Not a position you see every day in GM games! Black has sacrificed a piece, for which he has compensation in the form of the a large lead in development and the exposed white king. Precisely what is happening in this position can be determined only after much detailed computer analysis, but my silicon friend's first impression is that Black is better. 16...Qxc8 17.Kh3 Qc4?! This looks like a misstep. The computer likes 17...Qc7, with ideas of Qe7 or Qf7, and with the additional point that 18.Rf1? loses to 18...Rh4+! 19.Kxh4 Qxh2+, etc. 18.g3 Rf2 19.Re1 Rd4?! And here 19...Rxe1 is better. Now the advantage swings over to White. 20.Qh5 Re4 21.Be3 Rf5 22.Qe8+ Rf8 23.Qe7 Qc8 24.c3 d4 25.cxd4?! By now, both players were getting short of time, and the position remains highly complex. 25.Bg1 seems better, but I would emphasise that only deep analysis will yield reliable conclusions about the position. 25...e5+ 26.Kg2 Qc2+ 27.Kh1 exd4

28.Bxd4?? White finally cracks under the pressure. 28.Qxb7 Rxe3 29.Qd5+ Kh8 30.Qxd4 should lead to a draw. After the text, White is seriously worse at least, and the French IM was unable to hold the position, in time-trouble. 28...Rxe7 29.Rxe7 Qc6+ 30.Kg1 Rf7 31.Rxf7 Kxf7 32.a3 Qd5 33.Rf1+ Kg8 34.Bc3 g5 35.g4 Qd3 36.Re1 Qf3 37.Re5 Qxg4+ 38.Kh1 h6 39.Re1 Kf7 40.Re3 Qf4 41.Re1 Qf2 42.Rg1 Kg6 43.Rg2 Qf1+ 44.Rg1 Qf3+ 45.Rg2 h5 46.Bd2? Qd1+ 0–1.

As if that game was not enough for one day's entertainment, the pairings also threw up the offering Rudd-Williams. Between the two of them, this pair have provided many of the most entertaining moments of the congress over the past few years, and fireworks were naturally expected on this occasion too. They did not disappoint us, an extremely sharp game eventually ending in a draw. This encounter is presented below, with notes by Jack Rudd.,

Rudd,Jack (2344) - Williams,Simon Kim (2494) [B72]
Hastings Masters 2008 [Rudd,Jack]
1.e4 c5 A surprise; I had been expecting a French. 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 a6!?

The "Dragdorf" variation, much favoured by Gawain Jones, and once used by him to draw with Nigel Short in the EU Championships.7.f3 b5 8.Qd2 Bb7 9.0–0–0. I wasn't really up on Dragdorf theory, but the English Attack works well enough against both the Dragon and the Najdorf, so it would seem reasonable to assume it works with their hybrid. 9...Nbd7 10.Kb1 Rc8 [10...h5 11.a3 Bg7 12.Bd3 Rc8 13.Rhe1 Ne5 ½–½ Saravanan,V (2420)-Murugan,K (2410)/India 1994] 11.Nb3 Bg7 12.Ne2 0–0 13.Bh6 Nb6 14.Bxg7. Maybe somewhat inaccurate: [My experience with Soltis variations meant I wanted to play an immediate 14.h4 , but I was worried by 14...Nc4 15.Qc1 - I'd missed that 15...Nxe4?? is just answered by (15...Bh8!?) 16.Bxg7] 14...Kxg7 15.h4 Nc4 16.Qc1 h5 [16...a5 is another possibility, daring me to prove that my kingside attack can actually inflict some damage.] 17.Nbd4 e5

18.Nf5+! gxf5 19.Ng3! [The obvious 19.Qg5+? Kh8 20.Ng3 Nh7 leads nowhere for white.] 19...Ne8 [19...f4 is the critical response, and it may just stand up: 20.Nf5+ Kg6! (20...Kg8? 21.Bxc4 Rxc4 22.Rxd6 Nd7 23.Rhd1 Rc7 24.g3 and black is tied up and I can break open the king in short order.) 21.Bxc4 Rxc4 22.Rxd6 Qc7 23.g4 (23.g3 Bxe4 24.fxe4 Rxe4) 23...Rc6 24.gxh5+ Kh7 25.Rhd1] 20.Nxf5+ Kg8 21.Rh3 Qf6 22.Rg3+ Kh7 23.Rg5 Rh8 24.g4 I'd missed black's 28th when I played this, and thought I was just winning. [Fritz here prefers to go into the ending with 24.Bxc4! Rxc4 25.Nxd6 Nxd6 26.Rxd6 Qxd6 27.Rxh5+ Kg7 28.Qg5+ Qg6 29.Qxe5+ f6 30.Qe7+ Qf7 31.Qxf7+ Kxf7 32.Rxh8 , after which I have four pawns for the piece, with a probably winning position.] 24...hxg4 25.Bxc4 Rxc4 26.Rg1 Bxe4 27.R1xg4? [27.fxe4 Rxe4 28.Ne3 is surprisingly hard for black to deal with: the idea of bringing the knight backwards hadn't occurred to me.] 27...Bxc2+ 28.Qxc2 Qxg5 29.Rxg5 [29.hxg5 Rxc2 30.Rh4+ Kg6 31.Ne7+ Kxg5 (31...Kg7 forces perpetual) 32.Rxh8 Rf2 33.Rxe8 Rxf3 is unclear, but black's passed pawns probably give him the better winning chances.] 29...Rxc2 30.Kxc2 Rg8 [30...Rf8 is black's best option if he wants to win this: 31.Kd3 f6 32.Rg2 d5 33.Rc2 and white has some play for the pawn.] 31.Rh5+ ½–½.

(Not) Keeping up with the Joneses

FM Steve Giddins reports on round three of the Hastings Masters

Gawain Jones seized the sole lead after round three of the 2008 Hastings Masters, as he became the only player still on 100%. In his meeting with rival young England talent Stephen Gordon, it was Jones who secured temporary bragging rights, after Gordon erred in a relatively balanced middlegame:

In this typical Queen's Indian middlegame, Black could secure comfortable equality with 18...Rc8. However, Gordon instead went for the trickier 18...Ba6?, which must have been based on a miscalculation. Play continued 19.Nc7 Bxf1 20.Nxe8 Qxe8 The obvious 20...Bxg2 loses to 21.Qc8. 21.Bxf1 f6 This is presumably the position Gordon had foreseen at move 18. Black looks to be fine, but Jones now found the nice tactical blow 22.Bb5!, which I assume Gordon had missed. Black's bank rank problems mean that he is now quite lost, and he resigned after the further moves 22...Qd8 23.axb4 fxe5 24.dxe5 d4 25.Bd3 Nc3 26.Qf4 Qd5 27.e6 1–0.

Hebden and Neverov drew a steady game on top board, as did Berg and Conquest. Russian GM Igor Kurnosov outplayed his opponent, to join the leaders, whilst David Howell did likewise in a controlled positional game against Thomas Rendle. Amongst the other players to move onto 2.5 was Simon Williams, who won the sort of game that gives King's Indian players nightmares:

Williams,Simon (2494) - Poobalasingam,Peter (2235) [E60]
Hastings Masters.2008
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.h4!?? Fans of Simon's play are rarely surprised to him play an early h4, but even I have never seen it quite this early! However, aggressive though the move's intentions may appear, it proves in reality to be the basis of a classic positional squeeze! Don't believe me? Read on... 3...d6 4.Nc3 Nbd7. Black's opening play seems rather cooperative. A more active approach might be better suited to exposing the downside of 3.h4. I, for example, would have been very tempted by 3...c5, intending a Benko-style gambit after 4.d5 b5. 5.e4 e5 6.d5 Nc5 7.Qc2 a5 8.Be2 h6 9.h5 g5 10.Be3 b6 11.Bd1 Bd7 12.Nge2 c6 13.Bxc5! Initiating a plan to seize control of the light squares, notably f5. To that end, White removes one of the black minor pieces capable of controlling those squares. In the resulting structure, Black's KID bishop will be the worst piece on the board. 13...bxc5 14.Ng3 cxd5 15.cxd5 Be7 16.Be2 Kf8 17.Bb5. Naturally, White would love to exchange light-squared bishops. Equally naturally, Black declines. 17...Bc8 18.Nd1 Ne8 19.Ne3 Ng7 20.Be2 Rb8 21.0–0

This is the sort of KID nightmare every black player dreads. The late Tigran Petrosian, in particular, had a habit of obtaining similar positions as White – see the game Petrosian-Schweber, Stockholm Interzonal 1962, for a typical example. White's task is to break through on the queenside, which Simon duly does. 21...Kg8 22.b3 Kh7 23.Bg4 Ba6 24.Rfb1 Rf8 25.Qc3 Bb5 26.a3 Be8 27.b4 axb4 28.axb4 Rb5 29.Ra7 cxb4 30.Rxb4 Qb8 31.Rxb5 Qxa7 32.Rb1 f5? Making things easier, but Poobalasingam's desire to hit out is quite understandable. 33.Nexf5 Bd7 34.Qe3 Qc7 35.Qb6 Qxb6 36.Rxb6 Bxf5 37.Bxf5+ Kg8 38.Rb7 Bf6 39.Be6+ Kh8 40.Rd7 Ne8 41.Nf5 Bg7 42.Ne7 1–0.

Lower down the tournament, there were several excellent games. I was impressed by the elan with which the white player in the following game dispatched his opponent. Vladimir Prosviriakov, a Russian who now lives in the USA, has been a regular visitor to Hastings in recent years, and here he punishes his opponent's opening errors in emphatic style:

Prosviriakov,Vladimir (2327) - Knight,Simon (2148) [C13]
Hastings Masters (3.39), 30.12.2008
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 e6 3.Bg5 d5 4.Nbd2 b6 5.e4 dxe4 6.Nxe4 Be7 7.Bxf6 Bxf6 8.c3 0–0 9.Bd3 Bb7 10.h4 Re8 11.Nfg5!
The slightly unusual move-order has tricked Black into a poor variation of the Burn French, which is an accident-prone line at the best of times. Prosviriakov loses no time in taking advantage. 11...g6 12.Qf3 Kg7? 12...Bxe4 was the only way to stay on the board, but Black is still in dire trouble. 13.Nxh7 Bxh4 14.g3 Be7 15.Nhg5 Bxg5

16.Rh7+! Applying the wellie boot in no-nonsense fashion. 16...Kxh7 17.Qxf7+ Kh6 18.Ke2 Ba6 19.Rh1+ Bh4 20.Rxh4+. 20.Nf6 forces mate more quickly, but few human players would refrain from taking the queen! 20...Qxh4 21.gxh4 Bxd3+ 22.Kxd3 Nc6 23.Qf4+ Kg7 24.Qxc7+ 1–0

It was also a very good day for a couple of the local Hastings Chess Club members. A few months ago, Rasa Norinceviciute won the prestigious internal championship of the Hastings Club, the first woman to do so since Vera Menchik in 1930! Yesterday she scored an excellent point against Dave Ledger. However, pride of place amongst the Hastings players must go to club stalwart Richard Almond, who won a superb game against Bob Eames. For reasons that will become clear, it is especially close to my heart:

Almond,Richard (2139) - Eames,Robert (2329) [E99]
Hastings Masters (3.38), 30.12.2008
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.Nc3 0–0 5.e4 d6 6.Be2 e5 7.0–0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Ne1 Nd7 10.f3 f5 11.g4.
Originally popularised by Pal Benko, this line has long been a favourite of Richard's. 11...Kh8 12.h4 Ng8 13.g5 h6 14.Kg2 f4 15.Rh1 Rf7 16.Nd3 Bf8 17.Qg1 Rh7. Richard's play in this game was based very closely on the game Cheparinov-Stellwagen, Amsterdam Open 2005. That game had appeared, with deep notes, in a truly  magnificent book entitled 50 Ways to Win at Chess. The author of the said book, clearly a man of taste, discernment and exceptional generosity, had given Richard an advance copy of the relevant chapter, during the previous Hastings tournament, and Richard had duly studied the game in some detail. Until now, he had not had the chance to employ the line, but today Bob Eames unwittingly walked into the variation. His last move is the first deviation from the predecessor encounter, which had continued as follows: 17...Kg7 18.Kf1 Be7 19.Bd2 hxg5 20.hxg5 Bxg5 21.Nb5 Bh6 22.c5 a6 23.Na3 Ndf6 24.Nc4 Ne8 25.Ncxe5 dxe5 26.Nxe5 Rf6 27.Bc3 Kh7 28.Qg5 Qe7 29.Bd4 Qf8 30.Kf2 Ng7 31.Rag1 Nh5 32.Rxh5 gxh5 33.Qxh5 Ne7 34.Bd3 Bf5 35.exf5 Rd8 36.Ng4 1–0. A beautiful effort by Topalov's youthful second, and one which supplied almost all of the main ideas seen in the present encounter. 18.Kf1 hxg5 19.hxg5 Rxh1 20.Qxh1+ Kg7 21.Qh4 Be7.

22.Nxf4! As the Cheparinov game above shows, such piece sacrifices are entirely thematic in this variation. Black's hopelessly cramped log-jam of pieces on the queenside will be unable to come to the aid of their beleaguered monarch. 22...exf4 23.Bxf4 Ne5 24.Bd2 Nf7 25.f4 Kf8 26.Kg2 c5 27.Rh1. White systematically brings up the reinforcements, and takes aim at the enemy king.  27...Bd7 28.Qh7 Be8 29.Bg4 a6 30.Be6 b5 31.Qxg6 Ra7 32.Rh8 1–0.

A great game by Richard. As for 50 Ways to Win at Chess, it must surely be not merely the greatest chess book ever written, but one of the greatest contributions to world literature since the invention of the printing press...

Out with the Old

FM Steve Giddins reports on round 4 of the Hastings Masters

At the risk of sounding as though I am auditioning for a part on Grumpy Old Men, I have to say that New Year's Eve has always been one of my least favourite days of the year. There is something about the enforced frivolity of such occasions that always arouses my natural contrariness, but it goes deeper than that. TV schedules certainly do not help. I suspect I am still traumatised by childhood memories of the BBC's annual "Hogmanay Show", which featured a variety of so-called "family entertainers" from north of the border, led by a kilted character named Andy Stewart. I know we sassanachs are biased about such matters, but it is rather hard for the average ten-year-old to come to terms with the sight of a large, hairy bloke, marking the start of a new year by dancing across a TV screen, singing about glens and claymores, and wearing what appears to be a skirt and knee-length socks. Adulthood at least brought the advantage of my own TV, and hence the opportunity to vote with my on-off button, whilst passing the 18-year mark also meant that the pub was an option. Even so, New Year's Eve has continued to disappoint. Paying to get into one's local, standing all night elbow to elbow with the local yobbery, and waiting 15 minutes to get served every time one's glass is empty, has never really been a great attraction. 

Of course, as an English chessplayer, one tends to be in Hastings on New Year's Eve. Indeed, I recently worked out that of the 47 New Year's Eves that I have lived through, no fewer than 26 have been spent in Hastings – no disrespect to this fine old town, but I cannot help feeling that this statistic does not mark me out as a well-travelled citizen of the world. Still, at least one gets to spend the day itself watching some fine grandmaster chess and we had plenty of that yesterday, in the fourth round of this year's Hastings Masters. The most-eye-catching game on the top boards was the encounter between  Neverov and Williams:

Neverov,Valeriy (2571) - Williams,Simon (2494) [E70]
Hastings Masters 2008
1.d4 Nf6. Already a surprise from Simon, who is rarely seen defending closed openings with his f-pawn still at home. 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nge2. A relatively rare line, which was played quite a bit by certain Hungarian players, such as Gyozo Forintos. Against routine King's Indian play from Black, White plans direct action on the kingside, with moves such as Ng3 and h4. This can be extremely dangerous, as I have seen Simon himself demonstrate from the white side, and Black is well advised to adopt a slightly less stereotyped approach than in many KID variations. 5...a6 6.Ng3 h5. A typical reaction from Black, seeking to embarrass the knight. 7.Be2 c6 8.a4. That great demolisher of KIDs, Victor Korchnoi, has preferred 8.Be2 here. The text prevents Black's queenside expansion with b7-b5, but at the cost of ceding the b4 square to a black knight. 8...a5 9.0–0 h4 10.Nh1 e5 11.Be3 Nbd7 12.f4. The position has now become very sharp. Black's main issue is what to do with his king, since castling short looks rather risky in view of the weakness of the h-pawn. Simon elects to leave it in the centre, but it will not feel terribly safe there either, as the further course f the game shows. 12...Qb6. 12...Qxb2 looks very dangerous after 13.dxe5 Nxe5 14.Bd4. 13.fxe5 dxe5 14.c5 Qb4 15.Nf2 Bh6 16.Bxh6 Rxh6 17.dxe5 Nxe5 18.Qd6 Nfd7

19.Nb5!? With all his pieces out, and the black king stuck in the centre, this move is very tempting, but it is not clear that it gives White an advantage. 19...cxb5 20.Bxb5 Rh5?! This looks like a mistake.  Black should prefer 20...Nc6 21.Ng4 21...Rh5, which is quite unclear. In view of the threat to exchange queens on c5, White looks to have nothing better than 22.Rac1, when one possible line is 22...Rxc5 23.Nf6+ Nxf6 24.Rxc5 Nd7 25.Rxc6 bxc6 26.Qxc6 Rb8, when White has equality, at best. 21.Rad1 Ra6? And this certainly loses. Here, too, 21...Nc6 was best, again with an unclear position. 22.Qc7 Ra8. A dismal retreat, but 22...Qxc5+ 23.Qxc5 Nf3+ 24.gxf3 Rxc5 25.Bxa6 bxa6 26.Rc1 was no better. 23.Ng4 Kf8. Once again, there is no hope in 23...Qxc5+ 24.Qxc5 Nf3+, this time because of  25.Rxf3 Rxc5 26.Nf6+ etc. 24.Nxe5 Rxe5 25.Rxd7 Bxd7 26.Qxe5 Bxb5 27.Qh8+ Ke7 28.Qf6+ 1–0.

The top-board encounter between Jones and Conquest ended in a draw, whilst on board 2, Hebden failed to justify his knight sacrifice against Kurnosov, and eventually lost after a considerable time-scramble:

Kurnosov,Igor (2606) - Hebden,Mark (2515) [C89]
Hastings Masters 2008
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0–0 8.c3 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 c6 12.d4 Bd6 13.Re1 Qh4 14.g3 Qh3 15.Qe2 Bg4 16.Qf1 Qh5 17.Nd2

This position has been reached several times before in games involving the "2700 Club", with Black almost invariably choosing 17...Rae8. However, Mark uncorked the novelty 17...Nf4!? Nowadays, when a GM produces a new move in a variation so well-analysed as the Marshall, one can generally rest assured that it has been "Fritzed" (or "Rybka'd") to within an inch of its life, during home preparation. In the present case, however, I am not so sure, both because of the follow-up, and, most of all, the time usage. 18.gxf4 Bxf4 19.h4. After 19.Qg2 Bh3 20.Qxc6 Bxh2+ 21.Kh1 Bf4, Black has at least a draw.

19...Rae8? Played after an extremely long think, which as I say, suggests that Hebden had not prepared this position very thoroughly, if at all. The best line for Black appears to be 19...Qxh4, after which the computer offers the following: 20.Qg2 Bh3 21.Nf3 Qh5 22.Bxf4 Bxg2 23.Kxg2. In the resulting position, White's three minor pieces are probably stronger than the black queen, but things remain relatively unclear. The text move, on the other hand, does not appear adequate. 20.Ne4 Bb8 21.Qg2 Kh8. Another option is 21...Rxe4 22.Qxe4 Bf3, but then White has the nice shot 23.Bxf7+!, forcing a much better ending after either 23...Qxf7 24.Qe6, or 23...Rxf7 24.Qe8+. 22.Bg5 f6 23.Nxf6. Not forced, but the simplest practical decision, especially with both players short of time. White returns the extra piece and simplifies to a technically winning position. 23...Rxe1+ 24.Rxe1 gxf6 25.Re4 fxg5 26.Rxg4 Bf4 27.hxg5 Re8 28.Kf1 Bd2 29.Re4. With two extra pawns, White only needs to avoid the swindles, in order to reel in the point, and he duly succeeds in this. 29...Rf8 30.Re2 Qxg5 31.Qxc6 Bf4 32.Re8 Bd6 33.Rxf8+ Bxf8 34.Qe6 a5 35.Qf7 Qg7 36.Qd5 a4 37.Bc2 Qh6 38.Ke2 Qf4 39.Qe5+ Qxe5+ 40.dxe5 Bh6 41.Bd3 Kg7 42.Bxb5 a3 43.b4 Bf4 44.e6 Kf6 45.Bd3 h5 46.Bf5 Bd6 47.Bh3 Ke5 48.Kd3 1–0.

Young Karl McPillips, who had beaten Cherniaev with Black in the previous round, had another excellent result, holding David Howell to a draw. However, the GM appears to have missed a photogenic chance in the following position:

Howell played 25...Kh8, but my house-trained silicon dachshund  points out the very nice back-rank cheapo 25...Qe4!!, after which White seems to have nothing better than 26.Rg5+ Kh8 27.Qf3 Qxf3 28.Rxf3 c6, when Black should win the ending. Instead, in the game. White was able to retain the queens, and the exposed black king and opposite-coloured bishops gave him counterplay.

Wins for Gordon, Berg and Pavlovic kept them all in the hunt, but Gormally ended 2008 on a thoroughly bad note, being completely crushed by French IM Didier Leroy, after a tortuous opening with the white pieces. And with that, we head into 2009. It is usual on such occasions to wish one's readers a happy and prosperous New Year, but the latter adjective sounds somewhat misplaced in the present economic climate. Nonetheless, I wish all readers of these reports the very best for 2009.

Standings after four rounds

Title Name Rating Fed
GM Kurnosov, Igor 2606 RUS
2720 2384
GM Neverov, Valeriy 2571 UKR
2760 2424
GM Jones, Gawain C B 2548 ENG
2776 2440
GM Berg, Emanuel 2623 SWE
2600 2407
GM Howell, David W L 2593 ENG
2538 2345
GM Conquest, Stuart C 2526 ENG
2642 2449
GM Pavlovic, Milos 2524 SCG
2526 2333
IM Gordon, Stephen J 2521 ENG
2505 2312
IM Bernal Moro, Luis Javier 2451 ESP
2530 2337
IM Hendriks, Willy 2447 NED
2476 2283
IM Hunt, Adam C 2431 ENG
2502 2309
IM Ansell, Simon T 2410 ENG
2372 2179
IM Bates, Richard A 2387 ENG
2458 2265
FM Eggleston, David J 2368 ENG
2443 2250
IM Bergez, Luc 2356 FRA
2439 2246
IM Knott, Simon J B 2348 ENG
2323 2130
FM Rudd, Jack 2344 ENG
2509 2316
IM Leroy, Didier 2286 FRA
2495 2302
McPhillips, Karl 2222 IRL
2560 2367


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