Yannick Pelletier: My most memorable game

by Yannick Pelletier
1/10/2021 – A six-time Swiss chess champion, Yannick Pelletier is only one of three Swiss players to have defeated a reigning world champion — he beat Magnus Carlsen with the black pieces in 2015. In his most memorable game, Pelletier looks at a fine win he obtained over Ruslan Ponomariov in his home town of Biel, back in 2004.

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MMMG #9: Winning at home

Yannick PelletierYannick Pelletier was born in Biel on 22 September 1976. A chess grandmaster at 24, he won the Swiss championship six times. His first victory in the national event was obtained in 1995 and the latest in 2017. 

Pelletier is only one of three Swiss players to have defeated a reigning world champion, as he got the better of Magnus Carlsen with the black pieces in 2015 — Oskar Nägeli defeated Alexander Alekhine in 1932, while Viktor Korchnoi beat world champions in numerous occasions.

An excellent team player, the Swiss grandmaster has represented his country at Chess Olympiads and European Team Championships since 1996. As a club player, he has won the French Team Championship with Clichy no fewer than four times. In November 2016, representing the SG Zurich at the European Club Cup in Novi Sad, he achieved his best-ever rating performance (2803) by scoring 6 out of 7 points on board 3.

Pelletier is also a highly appreciated commentator and trainer, having authored or collaborated in ten ChessBase Fritztrainer DVDs. The fact that he is fluent in French, English, German, Spanish and Russian helps a lot!

From 2013 until 2018, he worked as the Tournament Director of the International Biel Chess Festival.

Yannick Pelletier

Yannick with his older son at a local nature park just outside Biel | Photo: Macauley Peterson

In his most memorable game, Pelletier looks at a fine win he obtained over Ruslan Ponomariov in his hometown of Biel, back in 2004.

Ponomariov, Ruslan vs. Pelletier, Yannick 
Biel International Festival, 2004

Being a native from Biel, it is only natural to contribute to this series of “Memorable Games” with a victory from the Biel Festival.

I will be completely honest and claim that I would not have become a grandmaster if this event had not existed. It first inspired me when, as a little boy, I watched great masters compete on the stage. Indeed, who would not dream of being up there? A few years later, in 1989 and 1990, I got closer and worked as a board boy. I carefully followed games move by move and reproduced them on giant boards for the spectators.

In 1997, there I was, sitting at the board. As an IM, I received an unlikely place in the top tournament alongside Anatoly Karpov, Vishy Anand or Boris Gelfand. That year marked the retirement of Hans Suri, the founder and organizer of the Festival. He had supported me since the first day I entered the Biel chess club. Without a doubt, he wanted to make me a last gift. After this magical edition, I regularly took part in the GM Tournament until 2011. These were very tough events, and painful defeats were not rare. But there were also successful appearances and nice games. In fact, no matter the result, I learnt a great deal from analysing my games afterwards.

I have chosen to annotate my victory against Ruslan Ponomariov from the 2004 edition. Besides being an attractive game, it also perfectly illustrates my approach in the opening. At the time, engines played a secondary role in my preparation, so that I had developed a liking for rare or forgotten lines and ideas.

Ruslan Ponomariov, Yannick Pelletier

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Qc7 The Sicilian Taimanov was part of my repertoire against 1.e4. But I did not play it as frequently as the French, which I had employed earlier in this event, and which Ruslan had probably expected.

6.Be3 Nf6 


About half a year before that, I had beaten “baby” Karjakin (understand here the Russian grandmaster was 13 years old) at the Pamplona tournament with 6...a6. Yet, I did not feel like entering one of these fashionable lines again. In my preparation before the summer, I had found some ideas with this secondary move. 

7.f4 Bb4 This has become the main move in this position, but at the time, it was not considered as good as 7...d6.

8.Ndb5 Qa5 


9.Bd2 My opponent was obviously on his own already, and his choice is not optimal.

It is now established that 9.e5 is better. Two years after this game, I faced it against Joe Gallagher at the Swiss championship. The game went 9...Ne4 10.Qd3 Nxc3 11.bxc3 Be7 12.g3 0-0 13.Bg2 f6 14.exf6 Bxf6 15.0-0 d5 with a complicated fight.

9...a6 10.e5 axb5 11.exf6 Bxc3 12.bxc3

I remember that the main variation of my preparation went 12.Bxc3 b4 13.fxg7 Rg8 14.Bd4 (14.Bf6 Qf5) 14...Nxd4 15.Qxd4 b3+ 16.c3 (16.Kf2 bxa2) 


16...Qxa2 17.Rd1 Qxb2 18.Bb5 f5 (18...Ke7? 19.f5+-) 19.Qf6 (19.Bxd7+ Kf7) 19...Qa3 20.Qxe6+ Qe7 21.Qxe7+ Kxe7 with approximate equality. 

12...gxf6 This was my not-so-hard-to-find novelty over 12...g6, which had been played earlier between two strong amateurs.

13.Qg4 b4 14.Qg7 Rf8 15.Qxf6 bxc3 



Before the tournament, I had played training games with my second and very good friend GM Javier Moreno. He had taken back with the Queen, but Black seemed to be doing fine, e.g. 16.Qxc3 Qxc3 17.Bxc3 b6= followed by Ba6. Keeping Queens makes a lot of sense, as the black King is vulnerable. But the white monarch is not safe either. 1

16...Qc5 17.Bd3 b6

A logical move to develop and exchange the Bishop on a6, but not the best. This position is so complicated and unusual, that some inaccuracies are unavoidable. 


Nowadays computers immediately indicate 17...Ra3 , with the idea 18.Bb2?! Rxd3! 19.cxd3 Qe3+ 20.Kd1 Rg8 with a strong attack, as 21.g3 is met with 21...Qxd3+ 22.Kc1 Qe3+ 23.Kd1 Qf3+ 24.Kd2 Qg2+ 25.Kc3 b6 Frankly, it is still far from clear why Black is winning, but we shall trust the engine. White should rather play 18.Kd2, but his position looks a bit suspicious.

18.Bxh7 Ra4?! 19.0-0-0! 



19...Rxa2?! is too slow because of 20.Rhe1. 

20.Bb2 Bb7 21.Rhe1 Nxa2+?

Black should play 21...Nd5 22.Qe5 d6 23.Qg7 Rxf4 with a complicated position. 


22.Kb1 Bd5 

22...Nb4? 23.Rxe6+! is a nice mating trick! 23...fxe6 (23...dxe6 24.Rd8#) 24.Bg6+ Rf7 25.Qxf7+ Kd8 26.Qxd7# 



Ruslan loses his way in the complications. He probably thought that he should reduce the number of attacking pieces, and that the a2-knight would be caught later on. But this sacrifice does not yield the expected result.

Stronger was 23.f5! Nb4 24.fxe6 dxe6 25.h4, when White’s castle proves sufficiently solid to fight against the four attacking pieces. In the meantime, the h-pawn is running down the board.

23...Qxd5 24.c3?! This was the idea, but it objectively hastens the end.

24...Qd2 25.Qe5 



This surprising resource is also the best move. It cuts off the Bishop from h7 and creates the threat of Qd3. On the other hand, the weakness of the black King is only relative.

26.Bg6+ Kd8

I rejected 26...Ke7 because of 27.Ba3+ (not 27.Qg7+? Kd8 28.Qxf8+ Kc7 and mate follows), but missed 27...Nb4!, which leads to a win: 28.Bxb4+ Rxb4+ 29.cxb4 Qxb4+ 30.Kc2 Rc8+ 31.Kd1 Rc5 32.Qg7+ Kd6-+

27.Qe3 Qxe3 28.Rxe3 Rh8 The g6-bishop is imprisoned, which forces the exchange of Rooks.


29.Rh3 Rxh3 30.gxh3 


30...Rxf4 The a2-knight is abandoned to its fate, but the Rook collects the white pawns. It will also support the f-pawn, so that the game is basically over.


31.Kxa2 Rh4 32.Bc1 Rxh3 33.Kb3 Rxh2-+ 

31...Rh4 32.Bd1 Rxh3 33.Kxa2 f4 34.Bg4


35...Rxh2 36.Kb3 e5 37.Bf3 Rh3 38.Bg2 Rg3 39.Bf1 f3 40.c4 Rg1 0-1


Mastering the Sicilian Najdorf

This Najdorf-DVD is suited for the beginner as well as experienced club players. Pelletier presents a classical repertoire that's easy to learn and covers all you need to know about the Najdorf.


Yannick was born in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland, and was first introduced to chess at age 7. He won the U16 Championship in 1991, and became the first Swiss-born Grandmaster in 2000. Five time Swiss Champion (1995, 2000, 2002, 2010, 2014), he is the current director of the renowned Biel/Bienne Grandmaster Tournament. Fluent in six languages, Yannick is a popular commentator and has covered such top tournaments as the Zurich Chess Challenge and the Alekhine Memorial in 2013.


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