Pert and Howell in British Knockout finals

by Sagar Shah
12/4/2015 – In the inaugural British Knockout Championships, Nigel Short had to pull out at the last moment for health reasons. He was replaced by ChessBase author Nick Pert, who made the most of this golden opportunity as he beat Hawkins and McShane to reach the finals. David Howell now stands between him and the title. We have an illustrated report and analysis on the semi-finals.

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Pert and Howell through to the British Knockout finals

The first edition of the British Knockout Championships is being held from the 1st to the 10th of December 2015, alongside the various events at the London Chess Classic. The tournament started with eight players. As shown in our quarter-finals report, four players were eliminated and an equal number advanced to the next round. The semi-finals were held on the 2nd of December and following was the pairing:

Nick Pert – Luke Mcshane
David Howell – Gawain Jones

Nick Pert vs Luke McShane

Luke McShane (right), with a rating of 2687, was the clear favourite in this match. However Nick Pert (left), who had defeated the British Champion Jonathon Hawkins in the previous round, was on a high and definitely could not be taken lightly. In the first classical time control game of the match, Pert obtained a winning advantage after just 15 moves in the opening. He was dominating throughout the game, but McShane hung on, and finally was able to draw the game.

[Event "British ch-KO 2015"] [Site "London ENG"] [Date "2015.12.02"] [Round "2.1"] [White "Pert, Nicholas"] [Black "McShane, Luke J"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A49"] [WhiteElo "2569"] [BlackElo "2687"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "160"] [EventDate "2015.12.01"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 O-O 5. O-O d6 6. Nc3 $5 {It seemed obvious that White wanted to play the Fianchetto Variation of the King's Indian, but now the game is being steered into the Pirc territory.} Nbd7 7. a4 $5 {What is the idea of this move? Apart from gaining space on the queenside it throws the ball back in Black's court.} (7. e4 {would have been Pirc.}) 7... e5 8. dxe5 dxe5 9. a5 $1 {Allowing a move like a6 is almost out of question.} a6 10. Qd3 $1 {The queen gets ready to settle down on the c4 square which would be perfect for it.} Re8 11. Qc4 h6 12. Rd1 {White has not much of the control in the centre, but his pieces are so nicely placed. He is clearly better.} Rb8 $2 13. Nh4 $1 {Suddenly defending the g6 pawn is not at all easy.} b5 (13... g5 {This move doesn't lose the pawn but is a positional catastrophe.} 14. Nf5 Bf8 15. h4 $18 {Black's position would crumble in a few moves.}) 14. axb6 cxb6 15. Nxg6 $18 {White is a pawn up and Black has absolutely no counterplay. It is surprising that Nick couldn't finish off the game quickly.} b5 16. Qb3 Qc7 17. Nh4 Bf8 18. Be3 Nb6 19. Bxb6 Rxb6 20. Nd5 Nxd5 21. Bxd5 Rf6 22. e4 Bc5 23. Rd2 Bh3 24. c3 Qc8 25. Qd1 Kh8 26. b4 Bb6 27. Rc1 Rg8 28. c4 bxc4 29. Rxc4 Qd7 30. Rdc2 Qd8 31. Qc1 Kh7 32. Rc6 Rg5 33. Qe1 Bd7 34. Rxf6 Qxf6 35. Qe2 Bg4 36. Qd2 Bd7 37. Qd3 Rg8 38. Qf3 Kg7 39. Nf5+ Kh7 40. Qh5 Rg5 41. Qxf7+ Qxf7 42. Bxf7 Bxf5 43. exf5 Rxf5 44. Bc4 Rf3 45. Ra2 Kg7 46. Kg2 Rc3 47. Bd5 Rd3 48. Bc4 Rc3 49. Be6 Bd4 50. Rxa6 {White has two extra pawns. The only technical difficulty are the opposite coloured bishops. But even so White should be winning here.} Rc2 51. Ra2 Rc6 52. Bd5 Rd6 53. Be4 Kf6 54. b5 Ke7 55. Rc2 Rb6 56. Bc6 Rb8 57. f4 exf4 58. gxf4 {White has two passed pawns now – this should spell his opponent's doom.} Rg8+ 59. Kf3 Rg1 60. Re2+ Kf6 61. Rd2 Bc5 62. Rc2 Rf1+ 63. Kg4 Be3 64. Rc4 Rb1 65. Kf3 Bg1 66. Rc2 Rb3+ 67. Kg4 h5+ 68. Kxh5 Kf5 69. h4 Kxf4 70. Rc1 Rg3 71. Bd5 Ke5 72. Ba2 Rg2 73. Bb3 Be3 74. Rc6 Rg7 75. Bc2 Rb7 76. Bd3 Rd7 77. Bg6 $6 (77. Bc4 {would have kept both the pawns intact and given White excellent winning chances.}) 77... Rd5 $1 { Now Kf4 is a big threat and the b5 pawn is also hanging.} 78. Bf7 (78. b6 Kf4+ 79. Kh6 Kg3+ 80. Kg7 Kxh4 $11) 78... Rxb5 79. Kg6 Rb6 80. Rxb6 Bxb6 {Quite a heartbreak for Pert.} 1/2-1/2

In the second game nothing spectacular happened and Nick was able to comfortably equalize with the Black pieces. In the end McShane managed to win a few pawns, but the opposite coloured bishop endgame once again resulted in a draw. After the classical games ended in a 1:1 tie the players went into a rapid game with 15 minutes each and five seconds increment per move. Pert showed his aggressive intentions in the first rapid game when the players reached the following position:

Luke Mcshane – Nick Pert, Rapid Game one

In the above position Pert, who was Black, went 8…g5!? Although this move is not objectively so great, in the game it worked wonders as McShane quickly exchanged the queens and gave Black very easy equality.

[Event "British ch-KO 2015"] [Site "London ENG"] [Date "2015.12.02"] [Round "2.3"] [White "McShane, Luke J"] [Black "Pert, Nicholas"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B30"] [WhiteElo "2687"] [BlackElo "2569"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "90"] [EventDate "2015.12.01"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 d6 4. O-O Bd7 5. Re1 Nf6 6. c3 a6 7. Bf1 e5 8. h3 g5 $5 {This move might not be 100% sound, but it is quite interesting. It is one of the favourites of Simon Williams!} 9. Nxg5 Rg8 10. d4 h6 11. Nf3 Bxh3 { The pawn has been recovered, but now White could have got a very nice edge with d4-d5. Instead he decided to exchange the queens and this ended with equality.} 12. dxe5 $6 (12. d5 $1 {It seems counter-intuitive to close the center when your opponent is attacking your king. But here the attack is not so scary and White has a clear edge after} Ne7 13. b4 $1 b6 14. bxc5 bxc5 15. Na3 Bg4 (15... Ng6 16. gxh3 $18) 16. Qa4+ Bd7 17. Qc2 Ng6 18. Rb1 $16) 12... dxe5 13. Qxd8+ Rxd8 {Black has equalised out of the opening and has an excellent position – his idea of scaring his opponent worked out very well. Later on McShane tried to be too ambitious and ended up in a bad position, giving Pert the lead.} 14. Nbd2 Bg4 15. Nh4 Nh5 16. Nc4 Be6 17. Ne3 Nf4 18. g3 Nd3 19. Bxd3 Rxd3 20. Kg2 Be7 21. Nhf5 Bg5 22. Ng4 h5 23. Bxg5 hxg4 24. Be3 c4 25. Rh1 Ne7 26. Nxe7 Kxe7 27. Rh5 f6 28. Bc5+ Kf7 29. Rh7+ Rg7 30. Rh8 Bd7 31. Re1 Bc6 32. Kg1 Rg8 33. Rh7+ Rg7 34. Rh8 Rd2 35. Ba3 Ke6 36. Rh4 a5 37. Bf8 Rgd7 38. Rxg4 Rxb2 39. a3 Rc2 40. Bc5 Rxc3 41. f4 exf4 42. gxf4 Rcd3 43. e5 Rd1 44. Kf2 Rxe1 45. Kxe1 Kf5 0-1

Nick Pert – Luke Mcshane, rapid game two

Once you are in the lead you tend to get a little defensive. But nothing like that happened to Nick. In the above position he went in for the very nice positional pawn sacrifice with 5.d5! After 5…exd5 6.exd5 Bxd5 7.Nf4, White had excellent compensation, thanks to the lead in development and the control of the d5 square.

[Event "British ch-KO 2015"] [Site "London ENG"] [Date "2015.12.02"] [Round "2.4"] [White "Pert, Nicholas"] [Black "McShane, Luke J"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A40"] [WhiteElo "2569"] [BlackElo "2687"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "145"] [EventDate "2015.12.01"] 1. d4 b6 2. e4 Bb7 3. Bd3 e6 4. Ne2 c5 5. d5 $1 {A very nice positonal pawn sacrifice.} exd5 6. exd5 Bxd5 7. Nf4 Bb7 8. O-O {While Black has an extra pawn, White has all his pieces in the game and has a very dangerous initiative.} Nf6 9. Nc3 (9. Nh5 $1 {would have been very strong as after} Nxh5 (9... Be7 $2 10. Nxg7+ $18) 10. Qxh5 Be7 11. Re1 Nc6 12. Nc3 $14 {White has an edge.}) 9... Be7 10. Bc4 O-O 11. Ncd5 Nc6 12. Re1 d6 13. Bd2 Ne5 14. Bc3 Re8 15. Bxe5 dxe5 16. Rxe5 $11 {White has regained the pawn with complete equality. In such a symmetrical position there were absolutely no chances for McShane to win. In the end he tried so hard that he lost the game.} Bf8 17. Rxe8 Nxe8 18. a4 Nd6 19. Be2 Qg5 20. Bf3 Rd8 21. g3 Qe5 22. c3 Bc8 23. Qe1 Qxe1+ 24. Rxe1 Bd7 25. Bd1 Re8 26. Rxe8 Bxe8 27. b3 Bc6 28. c4 Nf5 29. Kf1 Bd6 30. Ke2 Kf8 31. Kd3 g6 32. Ne2 Be5 33. Bc2 Bd7 34. Kd2 Nd6 35. Nec3 Nc8 36. Ne4 Kg7 37. h4 Bd4 38. Ke2 Bg4+ 39. f3 Bd7 40. Nec3 Be5 41. Kf2 Bb8 42. Ne4 h6 43. g4 Be5 44. g5 h5 45. f4 Bd4+ 46. Kg3 Bf5 47. Bd3 Kf8 48. Kf3 Bg4+ 49. Kg3 Bd1 50. f5 gxf5 51. Nef6 Nd6 52. Kf4 Bf2 53. Nc7 Bxh4 54. Nb5 Nb7 55. Nxa7 Be1 56. Bxf5 h4 57. Nc8 Ba5 58. Nxb6 Bxb3 59. Nbd7+ Ke7 60. Ne4 Bb4 61. Nb6 Kf8 62. Kg4 Be1 63. Nd7+ Kg7 64. Ndxc5 Bd1+ 65. Kf4 Na5 66. Nd3 Bg3+ 67. Nxg3 hxg3 68. Kxg3 Nxc4 69. Nc5 Kf8 70. Kf4 Ke7 71. g6 f6 72. Be6 Ne5 73. g7 1-0

With this win Nick Pert’s excellent performance at the British Knockout event continues, and he moves in to the finals. This also guarantees him a minimum £10,000 in prize money.

David Howell vs Gawain Jones

Howell against Jones was a bloody affair. In the first classical game David Howell came armed with an improvement over the game Rowson-Jones, which took place in the quarter-finals. This improvement which came up on the 19th move helped Howell played to take 1-0 lead.

[Event "British ch-KO 2015"] [Site "London ENG"] [Date "2015.12.02"] [Round "2.1"] [White "Howell, David W L"] [Black "Jones, Gawain C B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E92"] [WhiteElo "2693"] [BlackElo "2615"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "79"] [EventDate "2015.12.01"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. c4 Bg7 4. Nc3 O-O 5. e4 d6 6. Be2 e5 7. d5 Na6 8. Bg5 h6 9. Bh4 g5 10. Bg3 Nxe4 11. Nxe4 f5 12. Nc3 f4 13. Nd2 Nc5 14. Nde4 fxg3 15. hxg3 Nxe4 16. Nxe4 Bf5 17. Bd3 g4 18. Qd2 Qe8 19. O-O-O $5 {David Howell prepares an improvement over the game Rowson-Jones, which took place just a day ago. Rowson had 19.0-0 in that game. Of course 0-0-0 looks much more logical as now the rook is still on h1 on the semi-open file.} (19. O-O Qg6 20. Rfe1 Rf7 21. Rad1 Raf8 22. Re2 h5 23. c5 b6 24. cxd6 cxd6 25. Qb4 Rd8 26. Rc2 Bf8 27. Rc6 Rh7 28. Qd2 Be7 29. Qc2 Rf7 30. Rc7 Rdf8 31. Rxa7 Qh6 32. Qc6 Bxe4 33. Bxe4 Rxf2 34. Rxe7 Qe3 35. Kh2 h4 $2 (35... Qxe4 $1 $19) 36. gxh4 $2 (36. Rg7+ $3 {would have been a draw.} Kxg7 37. Qd7+ R8f7 38. Qxg4+) 36... Qxe4 37. Rg1 Qf4+ 38. Kh1 Qg3 39. Qc3 Qxh4+ 40. Qh3 gxh3 41. gxh3+ Kh8 {0-1 (41) Rowson, J (2569)-Jones,G (2615) London ENG 2015}) 19... b5 $5 {Gawain goes for aggressive play but is unable to get anything concrete.} 20. cxb5 $1 a6 21. b6 $1 {Keeping lines closed on the queenside was important.} Bxe4 (21... cxb6 22. Nxd6 $18) 22. Bxe4 Qa4 (22... cxb6 23. Rxh6 $1 $18 {is the neat point.}) 23. Qe2 $1 {A very strong move giving up the a2 pawn.} (23. Bb1 $2 cxb6 $17) 23... Qxa2 24. b7 $1 Rae8 (24... Rab8 25. Qxg4 $1 $16 Rxb7 26. Qe6+ Kh8 27. Rxh6+ Bxh6+ 28. Qxh6+ Kg8 29. Qh7#) 25. Rh4 Qa1+ (25... Rb8 $1 26. Qxg4 Rxf2 $1 27. Qe6+ Kh8 28. Rxh6+ Bxh6+ 29. Qxh6+ Kg8 $11) 26. Bb1 Qa5 27. Rxg4 $18 {White is clearly better now.} Qc5+ 28. Rc4 Qb6 29. Rd2 Qxb7 30. Qe4 Rf6 31. Qh7+ Kf8 32. Bf5 Re7 33. Be6 Ke8 34. Rdc2 Qb6 35. Rc6 Qa7 36. Rxd6 Rxf2 37. Qg6+ Rff7 38. Kb1 Qg1+ 39. Ka2 Qf1 40. Rb6 1-0

Gawain Jones struck back in the second game. After the opening it seemed highly improbable that he could win the game – Howell had comfortably equalized. However David made quite a few errors and in the end he had to throw in the towel after 99 moves.

The two rapid games weren’t without excitement. In the first one it was David who was pressing while in the second it was Jones. Both were a pawn up in their respectively games but they ended in draws.

The match now entered into the Armageddon phase. Jones had six minutes and the white pieces, while Howell, who was black, had five minutes. If the game ended in a draw then Howell would go through. This last clause made Gawain’s life really tough as he failed to get any sort of an advantage. Rather than let the game end in a draw he tried to play for some winning chances, but they simply did not exist. Howell won the game and the match and entered in the finals.

[Event "British ch-KO 2015"] [Site "London ENG"] [Date "2015.12.02"] [Round "2.5"] [White "Jones, Gawain C B"] [Black "Howell, David W L"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A29"] [WhiteElo "2615"] [BlackElo "2693"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "129"] [EventDate "2015.12.01"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bg2 Nb6 7. O-O Be7 8. Rb1 a5 9. d3 O-O 10. Be3 Be6 11. Bxb6 $5 cxb6 12. Qa4 Rc8 13. Rfd1 Bc5 14. e3 Bd7 15. Qe4 Re8 16. a3 f5 17. Qd5+ Be6 18. Qxd8 Rcxd8 $11 {Black has a comfortable position out of the opening.} 19. Rd2 Bb3 20. Bh3 g6 21. g4 Rf8 22. gxf5 gxf5 23. Kh1 Kh8 24. Rg1 f4 25. exf4 Rxf4 $17 26. Rg3 Rdf8 27. Kg2 b5 28. Re2 b4 29. Ne4 Be7 (29... Bd1 $1 $19) 30. axb4 Bxb4 31. Nfg5 Nd4 32. Ree3 Bd5 33. Kg1 h6 34. Nc3 Bc6 35. Nge4 Be7 36. Rg6 Kh7 37. Reg3 R4f7 38. Be6 Nxe6 39. Rxe6 Bh4 40. Rh3 Rf4 41. Rxe5 Bxf2+ 42. Nxf2 Rxf2 43. Re7+ R8f7 44. Rxf7+ Rxf7 45. Rh5 Rd7 46. Rh3 {Of course this move is dictated by the match situaiton. In normal circumstances Jones would have taken on a5 and held a draw. Here he was in a must-win situation and he tried his luck. But there was nothing in his favour and now Black snatches the initiative and the advantage.} (46. Rxa5 Rxd3 47. Rf5 Kg6 48. Rf2 $15) 46... b5 47. Re3 b4 48. Nb1 Bb5 49. Nd2 Bxd3 $19 50. Nb3 a4 51. Nc5 Rg7+ 52. Kf2 Bc2 53. Ne6 Rf7+ 54. Ke1 Ra7 55. Kd2 a3 56. Re1 Bf5 57. Nd4 Bg6 58. Nc6 Rd7+ 59. Ke3 axb2 60. Nxb4 b1=Q 61. Rxb1 Bxb1 62. Nc6 Rg7 63. Ne5 Rg2 64. h4 Rh2 65. Nf3 0-1

Nick Pert and David Howell will now face each other in the finals in a six-game match from the 4th to the 9th of December 2015, with playoffs, in case required, on the 10th of December. The first prize is a hefty £20,000. Will Nick Pert be able to continue his excellent form and win the title, or will David Howell stay true to his tag of the top seed and win the event? It promises to be a highly interesting match.

Pictures by John Saunders

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Sagar Shah is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant and would like to become the first CA+GM of India. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder of the ChessBase India website.
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