England on the brink, fights back and leads 24.0:21.0

8/17/2009 – In round eight of the Howard Staunton Memorial the Dutch players struck a fearsome blow: a 1.5-3.5 victory to equalise their overall score against the Brits. But in round nine the island inhabitants hit back with a 4:1 win that put them in the overall 24-21 lead. With one round to go. In individual scores Nigel Short leads with 7.0/9, two points in front of his nearest rivals. Report by Steve Giddins.

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Howard Staunton, 1810 – 1874

Seventh Howard Staunton Memorial

The 2009 Staunton Memorial, which pits top British grandmasters against their Dutch counterparts, is taking place at Simpsons-in-the-Strand, from Saturday 8 August until Monday 17 August inclusive. The games start at 14.30 each day, except in the final round, which starts at 12 noon. Entry is free to spectators. The moves are being broadcast live on the official website, but there is a charge of £5.00 per round to log in and watch. The games become available for download in PGN some time after each round is completed. Details can be found here.

The tournament website is carrying daily reports by Steve Giddins, who describes the highlights of each round's play. Steve is assisted by some silicon friends, and the carbon-based entity of Tournament Director, GM Ray Keene. These reports are available free of charge.


Round eight – Sat. August 15th – The lull before the storm

Saturday was rather a quiet day at the 2009 Staunton Memorial. It was especially quiet physically, as the all-play-all group enjoyed their rest day, and there were consequently only five games going on in the playing room, as opposed to the usual ten. It was also much quieter in terms of spectators, despite being a weekend. On most days, we have been packed to the gunnels with spectators, but yesterday, the audience was fairly sparse. It is not hard to guess the reason - with the all-play-all group resting, there was no Victor Korchnoi. There is no question that the great Victor Lvovich has caught the public imagination in this tournament, and the chance to see this living legend in the flesh has brought the chess public to Simpsons in droves.

On the chessboard, though, the battle royal that has become the Anglo-Dutch match continued apace. After England had grabbed a two-point lead the previous day, our Dutch visitors showed their mettle by striking back in identical style, to tie up the match score again. There was a slight disappointment in the game Smeets-Adams, which produced the first really short draw of the match. Smeets seemed completely surprised by his opponent's 3...Bc5 against the Spanish, although this is a move which the Englishman has played a few times over the past year or so. But as Nigel Short commented about pre-game preparation, "You can't look at everything", and the venerable 3...Bc5, probably the oldest of all defences to the Spanish, had clearly slipped below the young Dutch GM's radar screen. He reacted by choosing the quietest possible treatment, including an early queen exchange, and there was absolutely no reason for either player to reject the draw at move 11.

Sokolov-Short was also drawn, this time in 29 moves. An unusual form of QGD also saw the queens come off early, but the game continued, and Short showed very accurate defence to neutralise his opponent's ambitions, Indeed, in the final position, it was White who had to be a little careful, and Ivan was unable to find anything better than a repetition. The post-mortem suggested that the immediate queen exchange by 15.Qc5 would have been better, the follow-up b3 and a4 potentially yielding a significant plus. This was indeed the plan Sokolov had intended in the game, but his execution thereof proved too slow.

Chronologically, the day started with the game van Wely-McShane, which begun at 12 noon, rather than the usual 14.30. As a late entrant to the tournament, McShane already had a prior engagement on Saturday evening, so he requested an early start, to which van Wely sportingly agreed. However, there the latter's generosity ended, as he took revenge for his loss against the same opponent in the first cycle. In a King's Indian Defence, McShane repeated the Chebanenko regrouping line, which he had already played against both L'Ami and Werle, earlier in his same tournament. This time, however, things soon went badly wrong:

Netherlands
1.5-3.5
England
L'Ami, Erwin
1-0
Howell, David
Van Wely, Loek
1-0
McShane, Luke
Werle, Jan
½-½
Jones, Gawain
Smeets, Jan
½-½
Adams, Michael
Sokolov, Ivan
½-½
Short, Nigel

Van Wely,L (2655) - McShane,L (2620) [E94]
7th Staunton Memorial London ENG (8), 15.08.2009

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0–0 6.Be2 e5 7.0–0 Nbd7 8.Be3 Re8 9.d5 Nh5 10.g3 Bf8 11.Ne1 Ng7 12.Nd3 f5 13.f3 a5. In both the earlier games, McShane had played the immediate 13...Be7 here, although it does not change the position fundamentally. 14.a3 Be7 15.Rc1. Van Wely's last two moves constitute a new treatment for this event. He dispenses with the move Qd2, which both his compatriots had played, and just proceeds with the most natural plan, which is the preparation of b4 and c5. 15...b6 16.b4 axb4 17.axb4 Ba6 18.Nb5 Nf6 19.Nf2

19...Bxb5!? A radical decision, which surrenders control of a lot of white squares, and also leaves Black with a permanent and rather crippling weakness on the c-file. It is easy to criticise the move, but less easy to suggest a clearly superior alternative, as the white knight on b5 is a tower of strength, which also ties Black down to the defence of the c7-pawn. 20.cxb5 f4. This pawn sacrifice is a thematic idea in such positions, but here van Wely seems especially well-prepared to meet it. 21.gxf4 exf4 22.Bxf4 Nfh5 23.Bd2 Bg5 24.Nh3! I like this counter-intuitive move. The more obvious 24.Nd3 would be less effective, since it does not take control of the square g5. 24...Bxd2 25.Qxd2 Qh4 26.Kg2 Re7 27.Rc4 Qf6 28.Rfc1 Ra7 29.R1c2 Ne8 30.f4

Black's attempts to establish a dark-square blockade on f4 have failed, and it is clear that he has inadequate compensation for his pawn minus. Luke resisted long and hard, but was eventually ground down in 65 moves: 30...Neg7 31.R2c3 h6 32.Rf3 Qa1 33.Bd3 Ra2 34.Rc2 Rxc2 35.Bxc2 Qf6 36.Qf2 Kh7 37.Bb1 Qa1 38.Qc2 Qd4 39.Qc3 Qxc3 40.Rxc3 Nf6 41.Kf3 Nge8 42.Rc1 Kg7 43.Rg1 Kf7 44.Bd3 Nd7 45.Ke3 Nef6 46.Kd4 g5 47.fxg5 hxg5 48.Nxg5+ Ke8 49.Rf1 Rg7 50.h4 Rg8 51.Rc1 Rh8 52.Nf3 Kd8 53.Rg1 Ke7 54.Be2 Rh5 55.Ke3 Rh8 56.Nd4 Kf7 57.h5 Ra8 58.Ne6 Ra3+ 59.Kf4 Ne8 60.h6 Ndf6 61.h7 Nxh7 62.Bh5+ Ke7 63.Bxe8 Kxe8 64.Rg8+ Ke7 65.Rg7+ 1-0. [Click to replay]


Werle,J (2575) - Jones,G (2554) [E94]
7th Staunton Memorial London ENG (8), 15.08.2009

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.d4 0-0 6.Be2 e5 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.Be3 Qe7 9.d5 Ng4 10.Bg5 f6 11.Bd2 f5 12.exf5 gxf5 13.Ng5 Ndf6 14.f3 Nh6 15.Qc2 f4 16.Bd3

Black has no way to defend his h7-pawn, so the following complications are virtually forced. 16...Nxd5 17.Nxd5 Qxg5 18.Nxc7? This should lose. Instead, 18.Bxh7+ Kh8 19.Nxc7 is better for White. 18...e4! A classic pawn sacrifice, unmasking the King's Indian bishop. 19.Nxa8

19...exd3?? But this misses the win. I am not sure what Gawain overlooked here, but the natural follow-up 19...Bd4+ wins, as the computer confirms: 20.Rf2 (forced, since 20.Kh1 Nf5 wins, eg 21.Be1 (21.Bxf4 Qxf4 22.g3 exd3 23.Qxd3 Nxg3+ is decisive.; as is 21.g3 Nxg3+) 21...Ng3+ 22.Bxg3 fxg3 winning.) 20...Bh3 21.Kh1 exd3 22.Qxd3 Bxf2 23.gxh3 Rxa8.

20.Qxd3 Be6 21.Qe4 Qc5+ 22.Kh1 Be5 23.g3 Bf5 24.Qxb7 Qc8 25.Qxc8 Rxc8 26.Bxf4 Bxf4 27.gxf4 Rxa8

White looks as though he should win this ending, but in a time-troubled run-up to move 40, the half point slipped through Werle's fingers: 28.Rad1 Nf7 29.Rfe1 Kg7 30.Kg2 Kf6 31.Kf2 Rc8 32.Rd4 Be6 33.Re3 Rc6 34.Ra3 a6 35.b3 Nh6 36.Ra5 Nf5 37.Rd2 Bf7 38.Ke2 h6 39.Kd3 Bh5 40.b4 Bxf3 41.Rf2 Bh5 42.b5 axb5 43.cxb5 Rc5 44.Rb2 Rd5+ 45.Kc3 Ne3 46.Rb3 Be2 47.b6 Rd3+ 48.Kb4 Nc2+ 49.Kc4 Ne3+ 50.Kb4 Nc2+ 51.Kc4 Ne3+ 52.Kb4 Rd4+ 53.Kc3 Rd3+ 54.Kb4 ½-½. [Click to replay]

After this round the match score was all square, with just two rounds to go.


Round nine: Sunday August 16th 2009

Those of us who have followed the Staunton Memorial in recent years, and witnessed the rather one-sided victories achieved by our Dutch visitors in the team event, may be forgiven for thinking that we would never see a headline that reads "Chess challenge triumph – Brits on the brink". However, after yesterday's ninth and penultimate round of the 2009 event, that is just the headline that might be gracing today's back pages of the nation's tabloids, were chess to occupy its rightful place at the head of the country's sporting interests. The England team scored three wins and two draws, to take an imposing three-point lead in the match, heading into Monday's final round. The first to register the full point was Gawain Jones, who against Jan Smeets demonstrated a nice example of "move-ordering" the opponent in the opening. The game begun 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Nf3!? As we have seen earlier in the tournament, Smeets is a considerable expert on the Petroff, and would have answered 2.Nf3 with 2...Nf6. Now, however, he has a small problem. 3...Nf6 would return to the Petroff, but to a position usually reached after 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 exd4, whereas all top players, Smeets included, tend to prefer 3...Nxe4 in this line. Perhaps the most critical alternative is 3...Bb4+, but Smeets instead chose the simple 3...Nc6, transposing into a normal Scotch Game, the opening Jones was aiming for. All in all, it was a bad day for Smeets, as he soon missed what appears to be an extremely powerful tactical shot:

England
4.0-1.0
Netherlands
Short, Nigel
1-0
L'Ami, Erwin
Jones, Gawain
1-0
Smeets, Jan
Adams, Michael
½-½
Sokolov, Ivan
Howell, David
1-0
Van Wely, Loek
McShane, Luke
½-½
Werle, Jan

Short,N (2684) - L'Ami,E (2593) [B11]
7th Staunton Memorial London ENG (9), 16.08.2009

1.e4 c6. In his two previous black encounters with Nigel, Erwin L'Ami has played 1...e5 but been heavily defeated both times, including a fearful thrashing back in January at the Corus tournament. It was therefore not so hard to predict that he would switch to the Caro-Kann this time. 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 Nf6 6.Be2. Plans with d3 and g3 are more common. 6...dxe4. 6...d4 would be an attempt to keep things closed, but I suspect Nigel intended 7.e5. 7.Nxe4 Nxe4 8.Qxe4 Qd5 9.Qg4 Nd7 10.0–0 Nf6 11.Qa4 Qe4 12.Qxe4 Nxe4 13.Re1

This may look pretty harmless for Black, but in reality, he has not equalized. White has the bishop pair and better development, and the latter will secure him a space advantage. 13...g6 14.d4 Bg7 15.Bf3 Nf6 16.c4 Rd8 17.Be3 0–0 18.Rad1 e6 19.g4! The classic strategy in such positions, gaining space on the kingside. 19...h6 20.h4 Rfe8 21.Kg2 Nd7. This allows a central breakthrough, but in the long run, this is hard to prevent anyway.

22.d5! The opening of the centre will unleash the power of White's bishops, with the two black pawns on the queenside being under especially strong fire. 22...Ne5 23.dxc6 Nxf3 24.Kxf3 bxc6 25.b3. L'Ami has managed to eliminate one of the bishops, but now he has serious problems with his a-pawn, and once it moves, there will be a threat of Bb6, driving his rook from the open d-file. Black's position is extremely difficult. 25...a5 26.g5 hxg5 27.hxg5. Now Black must also consider possible penetration down the h-file, should his king stray too far towards the centre. 27...Ra8 28.Rd7 Bf8 29.Red1 a4 30.Rc7 axb3 31.axb3 Rec8 32.Rdd7 Rxc7 33.Rxc7 Rb8 34.Rxc6 Rxb3 35.Rc8

Now the passed c-pawn decides the issue. 35...f5 36.gxf6 Kf7 37.Ke4 Rb7 38.Bd4 g5 39.c5 Rb1 40.c6 Rc1 41.Be3 1-0. One of those games where the loser can legitimately ask "Where did I go wrong?". Nigel's response afterwards was to point out that in the Nimzoindian, White frequently expends tempi playing Qc2 and a3, in order to secure the bishop pair, and frequently stands slightly better as a result. Here, he has acquired the bishops at a cheaper cost in terms of tempi. "Bishops are better than knights! Why should White not be better in this line?" [Click to replay]


Nigel Short joking with your reporter in London Steve Giddins

Steve Giddins

Score after nine rounds (with one to go)

England: 24.0 – Netherlands: 21.0

Individual score and performances


All Play All Group

With eight rounds played and one to go Dutch GM Jan Timman is back in the lead, after having beaten IM Lawrence Trent, 2471, with the black pieces. His main rival, Russian GM Alex Cherniaev (2428), with whom Timman had shared the lead after eight rounds, drew his game (with the white pieces) against GM Peter Wells in ten moves. This means Timman goes into the final round half a point ahead, having to play GM Nigel Davies. Cherniaev, on the other hand, plays the tail-ender, Terry Chapman, who is rated almost two hundred points below him. Terry is one of the sponsors of the event and has lost seven games so far, winning just one (with black against Trent in round six).

Links

The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download the free PGN reader ChessBase Light, which gives you immediate access. You can also use the program to read, replay and analyse PGN games. New and enhanced: CB Light 2009!


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