Prague: Robson beats Gelfand

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/24/2023 – Ray Robson joined Vincent Keymer in the lead of the Prague Masters tournament after beating Boris Gelfand in what turned out to be the only decisive game of round 3. Both Robson and Gelfand are known for favouring principled, theoretical lines, and that is precisely what they did in their direct encounter. The young US grandmaster prevailed following an engaging strategic battle. In the Challengers, Mateusz Bartel beat Vaclav Finek and is now the sole leader with 2½/3 points. | Photo: Anežka Kružíková

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In a remarkable article authored by Sundararajan Kidambi, the Indian GM points to a quote written by Vladimir Kramnik in which he describes Boris Gelfand’s classical playing style:

What impresses me most is his ability to create games, where all the moves, from the first to the last, are as though links in a single logical chain. This inexorable consistency in the realization of his strategic conceptions is, in my view, the main trait of Boris Gelfand the chess player.

Of course, Gelfand, a known admirer of Akiba Rubinstein, was educated in this classical model and never quite gave up on looking for such singular strategies (as dubbed by Kidambi) in his games. If we look at younger players, though, there are only a few who attempt to apply this approach in top competitions. One of them is 28-year-old US grandmaster Ray Robson.

Thus, it should not come as a surprise that the Robson vs. Gelfand direct encounter turned out to be a fascinating strategic struggle, emerging from a sharp theoretical opening line.

Notice White’s pawn on d6 — in this line of the Sicilian, Black agrees to ‘live’ with that intruder in exchange for dynamic superiority in the short term, mostly based on his strong light-squared bishop.

Gelfand here spent 17 minutes deciding how to continue, and he ended up playing the novelty 14...Rb8. In previous games, the natural-looking 14...Nd4 had been played, dealing with the attack against the c5-pawn. Gelfand’s idea is deeper, but it did not work out well for him in this encounter (although future improvements might prove the Israeli right).

The rook on the b-file was soon transferred to the third rank. Robson pragmatically captured the pawn on c5 and began to look for ways to ‘punish’ Gelfand’s bold approach. Soon after, the US grandmaster got to grab an exchange.

Returning with the rook would be too much of a concession at this point, so Gelfand replied to 19.Bc2 with 19...Rfb8, insisting on his singular strategy (the move is approved by the engines, by the way).

Robson again grabbed the material, surely counting on precise calculations. From that point on, he never let go of his advantage, showcasing great nerves to deal with Gelfand’s attempts to make the most of his initiative.

In the end, White’s a-pawn turned out to be the deciding factor.

45.Bxa7 followed, and Black’s connected pawns on the kingside were unable to create enough counterplay. Gelfand threw in the towel 15 moves later.

Boris Gelfand

Boris Gelfand during the second round | Photo: Anežka Kružíková

Results - Round 3

Standings - Round 3

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Bartel sole leader in the Challengers

Three games finished decisively in the Challengers section, and all three saw the player with the black pieces collecting the full point.

Mateusz Bartel, Paulis Pultinevicius and Jan Vykouk all won their round-3 encounters. Bartel’s win, his second in a row, left him in the sole lead with 2½ points. The Polish GM defeated Czech FM Vaclav Finek in a duel of co-leaders.

Engines consider this position to be equal after 19...Nxf2, but the only recapture that keeps the balance is 20.Qxf2, forcing the black queen to find another strong outpost (or to leave the board). Instead, Finek’s 20.Nxf2 left Black in the driver’s seat. Bartel’s pieces are much better developed than his opponent’s.

Much like Robson, Bartel was implacable in the conversion of his advantage. The game ended after only 31 moves. The Polish GM, now the sole leader, will face Jergus Pechac with white in Saturday’s fourth round.

Mateusz Bartel

Mateusz Bartel | Photo: Anežka Kružíková

Results - Round 3

Standings - Round 3

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.