Shoot-outs, a stand-off and the traditional round-up

by Jonathan Speelman
1/1/2023 – I’m not a particular devotee of Westerns, but I’ve seen enough to know that at the end there’s normally a shoot-out in which the protagonists have to be at their best to avoid losing their lives. Games of chess are thankfully not fatal, but in many of them there is a final tactical shoot-out, and however well you’ve played beforehand, you have to be able to handle this at least passably to get the win or draw that you deserve. | Pictured: Benny Watts, a main character in Netflix’s ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster

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Looking forward and back

[Note that Jon Speelman also looks at the content of the article in video format, here embedded at the end of the article.]

A very Happy New Year to everybody at the start of twelve months during which Magnus Carlsen’s world title should pass to either Ian Nepomniachtchi or Ding Liren, who are due to play in April, though other details are still unknown.

It’s usual at the start of the New Year to look both forward and back, and another big question of 2023 is how the numerous top class young players will fare. The first big test will be at Wijk aan Zee starting in a fortnight, when the “old guard” led by Carlsen, Ding and Fabiano Caruana will do battle in a field which includes Dommaraju Gukesh, Arjun Erigaisi, Nodirbek Abdusattorov and Vincent Keymer.

Looking backwards fairly briefly, 2022 saw the re-emergence of mass over-the-board chess as Covid receded in much of the world. Nepo won the Candidates in Madrid in June/July convincingly, and Ding started very badly but recovered in the second half of the eight-player double rounder and beat Hikaru Nakmura in the final round to snatch second place at the last. I guess that in terms of importance to chess history that was the game of the year.

The Olympiad was, of course, moved from Moscow to Chennai. Uzbekistan, led by Abdusattorov and captained by Ivan Sokolov, won and were greeted as heroes when they returned to Uzbekistan being awarded huge amounts of money by local standards, and cars. Armenia were second and the very exciting India II third. Gukesh on board 1 was the player of the tournament — though I should add that David Howell had the best performance rating of the Olympiad at a fantastic 2898 — and Nihal Sarin and Pragg also played very well, as did Erigaisi who was playing for India I.

Nodirbek Abdusattorov

Nodirbek Abdusattorov beat Gukesh Dommaraju in a dramatic game at the 2022 Olympiad | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

The Niemann affair has unfortunately been the chess news story of the second half of 2022. I’m not going to say much here except that while Hans Niemann has of course admitted to cheating on a couple of occasions online, this is very different from doing so over-the-board. People unfortunately do unpleasant things online: cheating at chess is far from the worst, but one of them and reprehensible. But cheating face to face is an order of magnitude worse, and personally I’m inclined to believe him.

Tactical shoot-outs

I’m not a particular devotee of Westerns, but I’ve seen enough to know that at the end there’s normally a shoot-out in which the protagonists have to be at their best to avoid losing their lives.

Games of chess are thankfully not fatal, but in many of them there is a final tactical shoot-out, and however well you’ve played beforehand, you have to be able to handle this at least passably to get the win or draw that you deserve. I’ve picked out some tactics from 2022 today, including some miniatures from the very recent world rapidplay in Almaty (but left a few out since I've used them for my annual competition in The Observer, the weekly British newspaper).

Before them, as promised last time, a magnificent stand-off in which there is mutual zugzwang on a board with three queens each and no pawns. I had a vague memory of this and asked for details last time. Grandmaster Zoltan Gyimesi very kindly sent me the study by Arpad Rusz, which will appear in a forthcoming book on queen endings by his fellow Hungarians IM Tibor Karolyi and GM Ferenc Berkes.

 
 

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Jonathan Speelman, born in 1956, studied mathematics but became a professional chess player in 1977. He was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980–2006 and three times British Champion. He played twice in Candidates Tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 1989. He twice seconded a World Championship challenger: Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.
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