Out with the old, in with the new

1/3/2009 – Chess players with hangovers are not a pretty sight. Chess players with New Year's Day hangovers are even less pretty. Sure giveaway signs are bloodshot eyes and excessive coffee consumption. The wisest players take a half point bye on New Year's Day. For those who didn't do that at Hastings, there were mixed fortunes. Steve Giddins presents the highs and lows.

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...and in with the new

FM Steve Giddins reports on round five

After the New Year's Eve binge comes the New Year's Day hangover... Despite the 2.15 p.m. start time, the 1 January round always sees plenty of players who are looking the worse for wear, after the previous night's exertions. You know the giveaway signs – bloodshot eyes, coffee consumption at an all-time high, and players walking round very gingerly, as if making an exceptional effort not to allow their heads to move even the tiniest bit. As always on such occasions, those of us who did not indulge to excess (or even at all) the previous evening feel particularly smug, and struggle to resist the temptation to put on an exaggerated attitude of bonhomie...

The standard of play often suffers in consequence of all this. Indeed, for some of the worst affected souls, the need to play a game of chess at all is deeply resented, as being a gross intrusion on a shattered sleep pattern. Even defeat can be welcome, providing it occurs quickly, since it at least provides the opportunity of a rapid return to bed. Perhaps the wisest players are those who take a half point bye on January 1st.

One player who seems not to have over-indulged on 31 December is Igor  Kurnosov. Round five of this year's Hastings Masters saw the Russian GM move into the sole lead, after winning as Black against Gawain Jones. The latter, on the other hand, may have enjoyed his New Year's Eve; I hope he did, because he had a very poor start to 2009.

Jones,Gawain C (2548) - Kurnosov,Igor (2606) [B23]
Hastings Masters 2009
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 e6 3.f4 d5 4.Nf3 d4 5.Bb5+ Bd7 6.Bxd7+ Qxd7 7.Ne2 d3 8.cxd3 Qxd3 9.Qa4+ b5 10.Qb3 Qxe4 11.Qxb5+ Qc6 12.Nc3 Nf6 13.0–0 Bd6 14.Ne5 Bxe5 15.fxe5 Nd5 16.Nxd5 exd5 17.Qe2 0–0

Gawain's Grand Prix Attack has yielded no advantage, but he would not be worse after a move such as 18.b3. Instead, he had what looks like a rush of blood. 18.b4? Gawain must have had something in mind, but I am not sure what. As far as I can see, this move simply loses a pawn. 18...cxb4 19.Bb2 Qe6 20.Qh5 Nc6 21.Rae1 d4. I fear that round about here, Gawain must have had the immortal words of Private Frazer ringing in his ears: "We're doomed, Cap'n Mainwaring,  quite dooooooomed, I tell ye!" 22.d3 Qxa2 23.Bc1 Rae8 Black is just two pawns up, for nothing at all. 24.Re4 Re6 25.Rh4 h6 26.Bf4 Rg6 27.Bg3 b3 28.e6 b2 29.Qb5 Rxe6 30.Rh5 a6 31.Qb7 Na5 32.Rxa5 Qxa5 33.Qxb2 Qc3 34.Qb1 Re2 35.Qb7 Qxd3 36.Bd6 Qe3+ 37.Kh1 Re1 0–1. [Click to replay]

While this was happening, top seed Emanuel Berg was winning in crushing style, after his IM opponent chose a dubious opening variation:

Berg,Emanuel (2623) - Bergez,Luc (2356) [B01]
Hastings Masters 2009
1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.Bb5+ Bd7 4.Bc4 Bg4 5.f3 Bf5 6.Nc3 a6. This line does not really have a great reputation at GM level as it is, but if it is to be playable at all, I suspect the more usual 6...Nbd7 should be preferred. The text has been played before, but not at a high level, and Berg gives a fairly good clue as to why this is. 7.g4! Bc8 8.g5 Nh5 9.d4 b5 10.Bb3 g6 11.Nge2 Bg7 12.Nf4 Nxf4 13.Bxf4 Nd7 14.Qd2. As Yasser Seirawan is fond of saying in such positions, "White has the extra pawn and the compensation" 14...Nb6 15.Be5 0–0 16.Qf4 Ra7 17.a3 Qd7 18.h4. Having led the black king up the steps of the scaffold, Berg picks up his axe, to administer the coup de grace. 18...Bb7 19.Bxg7 Kxg7 20.h5 Raa8 21.0–0–0 Rad8 22.hxg6 fxg6 23.Qe5+ Kg8

24.Rxh7! "Off with his head!" 1–0. [Click to replay]

David Howell proved too strong for the rapid-fire Jack Rudd

Defending champion Valerij Neverov (right) had a very narrow escape against Dutch IM Willy Hendricks

Didier Leroy v Adam Hunt

Stephen Gordon's second straight win saw him move within half a point of the lead, as did Didier Leroy and Simon Ansell, both of whom had good wins. Simon Williams bounced back in typically ebullient style, after his defeat in the previous round:

Williams,Simon Kim (2494) - Lock,Gavin R (2252) [D15]
Hastings Masters 2009
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 a6 5.h4.
To the best of my database's knowledge, this is a novelty. Indeed, after his 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.h4!? of two rounds ago, it is the second h2-h4 novelty that Simon has played in this tournament. 5...h6. This does not appear strictly necessary. The immediate 5...dxc4 was a natural alternative. 6.g3 dxc4 7.Ne5 b5 8.Bg2 Bb7 9.a4 e6 10.0–0 Nd5 11.e4 Nxc3

12.Qf3!? 12.bxc3 Nd7 leads to a normal Catalan-style position, with about equal chances. With the text, White tries to provoke a weakness on the kingside, before recapturing the knight. 12...Ne2+ 13.Kh2. Consistent. 13...Qf6. 13...Qc7 looks a trifle more natural, but Lock has the idea of taking the initiative on the kingside himself. 14.Qxe2 g5?! Black allows himself to be provoked into "punishing" the move 5.h4, but with so little development, the idea is optimistic, to say the least. 15.Ng4 Qxd4? And this is taking the optimism altogether too far. Black should try 15...Qd8 although I would still rather be White. 16.Rd1 Qg7 17.Bd2 Be7 18.axb5. Suddenly, Black's position is falling apart. 18...0–0 19.Bc3 f6 20.Qxc4 Kh8 21.hxg5 hxg5 22.Rh1 Qf7 23.Kg1+ Kg7 24.bxc6 Nxc6 25.Nh6 1–0. [Click to replay]

Main roads or side-streets?

FM Steve Giddins reports on round six

One of the biggest dilemmas facing any chessplayer, especially those below master level, is whether to employ main line openings, or rely on less theoretical sidelines. The extent of modern opening theory is now so great that to play main lines requires an enormous of work, and many hours of home preparation and study. For most amateur players, burdened, as they are likely to be, with job, family, dog and mortgage, the requisite time is simply not available. Even if the flesh is willing, the spirit is frequently weak. Regardless of results, a lot of players simply find it boring to trot out 15-20 moves of established theory at the start of each game, and prefer to use their own heads, from the very beginning of the game.

At GM level, inevitably, one finds far fewer players who eschew main line openings, but there are some brave souls still willing to do so. The Brits, ever since the "English Chess Explosion" of the 1970s, have always had a reputation for preferring offbeat lines. Quite apart from Mike Basman, the high priest of recondite opening schemes, players such as Tony Miles made a healthy living with openings that the average Russian GM would not been seen dead employing. Tony's apogee was his successful 1.e4 a6 2.d4 b5 against Karpov, but other English players have done a huge amount to make openings such as the Trompovsky and f4-Sicilian respectable.

The top boards of round six in this year's Hastings Masters showed opposite sides of the offbeat openings coin. The biggest story of the day came on board two, where top seed Emanuel Berg faced what liked a tricky pairing as Black against Stephen Gordon. In the event, though, the genial Swedish GM brought off a sensationally easy victory, thanks to a highly unusual opening choice:

Gordon,Stephen J (2521) - Berg,Emanuel (2623) [D08]
Hastings Masters 2009
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5.
The Albin is an extremely rare guest at GM level, although the mercurial Alexander Morozevich has used it successfuly on a few occasions. I cannot trace any examples of Berg playing it before, so it must have come as a complete surprise to Stephen Gordon. 3.dxe5 d4 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.a3. One of the main lines, although I cannot help feeling that such non-developing play ought to give Black greater tactical chances than the solid 5.g3.  5...Nge7 6.b4 Ng6 7.b5? This seems to be a novelty, but an unsuccessful one. The usual move here is 7.Bb2 and, only after 7...a5 does White advance 8.b5. 7...Ncxe5 8.Nxd4 Bc5 9.Bb2. Played after long thought, and a sign f the problems White already faces. The natural 9.e3 is strongly met by 9...Bg4!, when 10.f3? loses to 10...Qh4+ 11.g3 Nxf3+ 12.Nxf3 Qf6, whilst both 10.Be2 Bxe2 11.Kxe2 and 10.Qd2 Nh4 give Black a very strong initiative.  9...Qh4.  9...Nxc4 is also good, but Berg's move is still more energetic.  10.e3 Bg4 11.Qc2. 11.Be2 Nxc4 is yet another example of the tactical tricks Black has in this position. 11...0–0–0 12.Be2? Losing immediately. He had to try 12.Nd2 although even then, 12...Rhe8 leaves Black with the sort of position that would warm the cockles of any gambiteer's heart. 12...Bxe2 13.Qxe2 Bxd4 14.Bxd4

14...Rxd4! 15.exd4 Qxd4 0–1. White is totally defenceless against the threats of Qxa1, Nd3+ and Nf4. A stunningly easy victory for Berg, and an example of just how dangerous gambit lines such as the Albin can be, even at GM level. [Click to replay]

Round six was actually the most bloodthirsty round so far amongst the top players, with the top six boards all ending decisively. In addition to Berg's win, Kurnosov slayed Pavlovic's Dragon, Howell won an impressively smooth game against Ansell, and Neverov won in short order against French IM Bergez. Down on board five, the encounter between two English players showed the flipside of the offbeat openings debate:

Rendle,Thomas (2385) - Jones,Gawain C (2548) [B30]
Hastings Masters 2009
1.e4 c5 2.b3.
 There have been several examples of this move in the present tournament. In the past, both Spassky and Short have employed it as an occasional weapon, and with considerable success, but it is probably best reserved for games against weaker opponents. That scenario does not apply in the present game, but Tom's decision was probably influenced in part by the fact that he and Gawain are good friends and housemates, and presumably analyse a fair bit together. This always makes it hard to choose an opening when one meets the one's opposite number. 2...Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.Bb2 Nc6 5.Nf3 g6 6.Ng5!? The start of an ambitious plan, which ultimately backfires.  6...e6 7.Ne4 Bg7 8.c4 Nde7 9.Nd6+ Kf8. Although Black's king is misplaced, this causes him less inconvenience than that suffered by White, in the attempt to maintain his central pawn structure. 10.f4 Nf5 11.Nxf5 gxf5 12.d4?! This and the next create a very strange impression, and leave White completely busted. A move such as 12.g3 would only leave Black with a relatively small advantage. 12...Nxd4 13.Nd2?! f6 14.Nf3 fxe5 15.fxe5

15... Bxe5! Completing the demolition of the white position. 16.Nxe5 Qh4+ 17.g3 Qe4+ 18.Kf2 Qxe5. White could only dream of 18...Qxh1?? 19.Qh5 After the text, however, all illusions are shattered, and the rest is an execution. 19.Qd2 Qf6 20.Bg2 d6 21.b4 e5 22.Ba3 f4 23.bxc5 Bg4 24.gxf4 Qh4+ 25.Ke3 Bf5 26.Raf1 exf4+ 0–1. [Click to replay]

Other English titled players also had a good day. British Champion Stuart Conquest won a long, hard game against Hendriks, whilst Hebden and Williams also won, to move up towards the leaders. So too did Andrew Greet, who won his fourth straight game, to wipe out memories of his 0/2 start. So, heading into round seven, it is Kurnosov who leads with 5.5/6, half a point ahead of Howell, Neverov and Berg.

Standings after six rounds


































Bernal Moro,L
























































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