Staunton Memorial: Peace, self-pampering and back to battle

8/16/2008 – Round six of the Staunton Memorial saw a major outbreak of peace, with five draws out of six games. But then came the free day, which in the case of our reporter was filled with mushrooms sauteed in pink champagne, some exquisite 1975 port in solid silver, monogrammed goblets, and Wagner's "Ring Cycle". Life does not get a great deal better, says Steve Giddins, in his round 6-7 reports.

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Round six

Peace in our time

The 6th round of this year's Staunton Memorial saw a major outbreak of peace, with five, mostly short, draws out of six games. One contributory factor was the complete absence of any international pairings – all six games saw English v English or Dutch v Dutch. Another factor was probably the impending rest day. Experience shows that the round before a rest day often tends to be relatively quiet, as players batten down the hatches and prefer not to risk going into the free day off the back of a loss. The third, and possibly decisive factor, was the very pleasant drinks party organised for 6pm, the attraction of which helped to ensure that all of the players were keen to finish their games early, so as not to waste valuable imbibing time!

The centrepiece game of the day was the clash between Adams and Short. The latter surprised his opponent by wheeling out Alekhine's Defence, a rare weapon in Short's armoury. The surprise worked, as Adams failed to play the most accurate line and then missed a tactic, being somewhat fortunate that no serious damage was done:

Adams,Mi (2735) - Short,N (2655) [B04]
6th Staunton Memorial London ENG (6), 12.08.2008
1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 dxe5 5.Nxe5 c6 6.Bd3 Nd7 7.0-0 Nxe5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.Nd2 g6 10.Nf3 Bg7 11.h3 Nb4 12.Be4 Bc4 13.Qxd8+ Rxd8 14.Re1 Bd5

Here Adams played 15.Bd2? (correct was 15.Bf4), completely missing the reply 15...Nxc2! Luckily, though, White can regain his mislaid pawn by 16.Bxc2 Bxf3 17.Be3 Bd5 18.Bxa7, since 18...Ra8, followed by taking on a2 is risky, because of a later b3, trapping the bishop. Short instead played 18...Be6 19.Re2 0–0 20.Bc5  and accepted Adams' draw offer.

Van Wely is one player who usually plays for the full point in every game, but today he mixed up his opening lines and played 7.Qa4, instead of 7.Ne5. The former allows Black to sacrifice queen for rook and minor piece, with a very solid position, as has been known for over 25 years. L'Ami was not even born when the line was played in the game Kasparov-Andersson, Niksic 1983, but Erwin knows his theory, and duly rattled out the equalizing line. In fact, all 21 moves of the game had previously been played in L'Ami (!) - Stern, Bundesliga 2006.

Smeets-Werle was an even shorter draw, as was Sokolov-Timman. Peter Wells played the sharpest game of the day, against Cherniaev, and should certainly have won against the latter's extremely optimistic play. However, the clock was again Peter's great enemy, and he repeated moves in a position where he was objectively winning.

Wells,P (2526) - Cherniaev,A1 (2431) [B30]
6th Staunton Memorial London ENG (6), 12.08.2008
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 e6 4.0-0 Nge7 5.b3 a6 6.Bxc6 Nxc6 7.Bb2 b5 8.Na3 Rg8 9.c4 g5 10.cxb5 axb5 11.Nxb5 Ba6 12.a4 g4 13.Ne5 Nxe5 14.Bxe5 d6 15.Bc3 Rg6 16.d4 Bg7 17.Qd2 Rc8 18.dxc5 Bxb5 19.axb5 dxc5 20.Qb2 Bxc3 21.Qxc3 Qd4 22.Qg3 Qxe4 23.Ra7 e5 24.Qh4 Re6 25.h3 Kf8 26.Rd1 Kg7 27.Rdd7 Qe1+ 28.Kh2 Rf8 29.Qxg4+ Rg6

Play continued 30.Qf5 Rf6 31.Qg5+ Rg6 32.Qf5 Rf6 draw, but even in the final position, 33.Qh5 should give White a winning advantage.

The only winner of the day was Jon Speelman, who beat the luckless Bob Wade. The latter secured a decent position from the opening, but went wrong at a crucial stage:

Speelman,J (2524) - Wade,R (2167) [A41]
6th Staunton Memorial London ENG (6), 12.08.2008
1.d4 d6 2.g3 Nd7 3.Bg2 e5 4.c3 Ngf6 5.e4 Be7 6.Ne2 b6 7.c4 Bb7 8.Nbc3 0-0 9.0-0 a6 10.a4

Here, the wily veteran struck with the typical tactical blow 10...b5! Play continued 11.axb5 axb5 12.Rxa8 Qxa8 13.Nxb5 Bxe4 14.Nxc7 Qb7 15.Bxe4, and now Black could have secured a perfectly satisfactory position with 15...Qxc7, followed by 16...Qxc4. Instead, Bob chose the weaker 15...Qxe4? 16.Nc3 Qf5? (16...Qxd4 is better), and after 17.N7d5 Bd8 18.Be3 he remained a pawn down for no real compensation, eventually losing in 37 moves.

So before the rest day, the scores are as follows: Adams 5, van Wely 4, Short, Speelman, Timman and Smeets 3.5, Wells 3, Cherniaev, L'Ami, Werle and Sokolov 2.5, Wade 0.


Round seven

Eat Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we play chess

As anthropologists have long since pointed out, the invention of games, chess included, is one of the things which separates homo sapiens from all other life forms on this planet. Only humans invent recreations, which have no direct practical importance for survival and propagation of the species. The same may be said of other human developments, such as music and literature, and also of food. Only humans have developed a culture of creative cooking, mixing ingredients, etc. Rather than merely eating to live, humans tend, at least to some extent, to live to eat, unlike the majority of less-developed species – such as termites, to take an example purely at random.

With that in mind, Wednesday's rest day was a chance for the hard-working players and organisational team of the Staunton Memorial to catch up on their cultural delights and replenish their sadly-depleted calorie intake. Whilst on playing days, the only literature which gets read is Informator, and dinner often ends up being a quickly-snatched hamburger, the rest day provides the opportunity for some serious relaxation and self-pampering.

I am not sure exactly how the players chose to spend their day off, but in the case of the organisational team of myself, Ray Keene and Eric Schiller, the day started with a leisurely cooked breakfast (to those who have not tried them, I can especially recommend mushrooms sauteed in pink champagne!), followed by a day of glorious reading (in my case, Marcus Aurelius). The highlight of the day was dinner chez Keene, where a liberal quantity of Chinese food was washed down with an equally liberal quantity of the Keene family wine lake. The evening was topped off by an exquisite bottle of 1975 port (served in solid silver, monogrammed goblets – what else?), with musical accompaniment in the form of "The Entrance of the Gods into Vallhalla", from Wagner's "Ring Cycle". Life does not get a great deal better; indeed, it is almost enough to make one feel sorry for the termites!

Sadly, though, all good things come to an end, and rest days are no exception. On Thursday 14 August, noses returned to the grindstone, as the seventh round of the 2008 Staunton Memorial took place. Refreshed from their day off, the players served up the best and most exciting day's play so far. Games between Timman and Van Wely are almost always great battles, and the latest instalment of their rivalry was no exception. Timman's piece sacrifice yielded a promising attack, but he missed a forced win with 25.g4!, which displaces the black rook with decisive effect. Instead, Timman found a sequence which regained his piece, with an extra pawn, but the resulting rook ending was drawn.

Adams looked to have the chance of establishing a near-decisive grip on the tournament, but was unable to convert his advantage, in the face of bulldog defence from Cherniaev. The move 42.Nxf4! was a particularly ingenious try, although it should not have sufficed, as Adams missed a very clever win in the double rook ending: 49...f3 50.Rg7 f2 51.Rcxc7, Rxb3+! 52.Kxb2 Rf3+ and 53...f1(Q), when the BK can run to f8 and escape the perpetual. Nigel Short also claimed after the game to have missed good winning chances against Speelman. Short identified the move 28.a4 is the main culprit, with 28.Kc2 poitentially gaining a vital tempo in the subsequent K+P ending.

Many expected the game L'Ami-Smeets to be a quick draw, considering that the two players are not only good friends, but where eben born on the vert same day of the very same year! However, the young Dutch GMs all have great fighting spirit, and L'Ami dealt the reigning Dutch champion a serious blow. Black chose a strategically risky line of the Slav, in which he gives up the whole bishop pair and opens up the position. His 17th was an attempted improvement on the famous game Kasparov-Bareev, Novgorod 1994, where Black was crushed, but L'Ami soon established a clear advantage. In desperate time-trouble, Smeets somehow made the time-control, but with a pawn less and one of the worst knights I have ever seen, he resigned immediately thereafter.

Bob Wade's game against Sokolov was something of a tragedy for the veteran. Sokolov admitted afterwards that he started to panic after 20 moves or so, when he realised that he had no advantage and nothing to do at all. His attempts to make something happen rebounded and even left him standing worse, but Wade went seriously downhill in the final hour or the game, and a relieved Sokolov collected the full point.

The game of the day, undoubtedly, was the meeting between Werle and Wells, which provided a contrast of two centuries. The brilliance of Werle sacrificial finish was worthy of the heyday of Simpson's Divan in the 1850s, but the depth of the opening preparation definitely stamps the game as a 21st century effort:

Werle,J (2591) - Wells,P (2526) [D39]
6th Staunton Memorial London ENG (7), 14.08.2008
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 dxc4. The Vienna Variation is one of the sharpest and most deeply-analysed lines of the Queen's Gambit, and is also a favourite of Peter's. 5.e4 Bb4 6.Bg5 c5 7.Bxc4 cxd4 8.Nxd4

8...Bxc3+. This is the modern interpretation of the line. The older 8...Qa5 has also produced some memorable games, none more so than the following consultation game played during WW2: 8... Qa5 9.Bxf6 Bxc3+ 10.bxc3 Qxc3+ 11.Kf1 Qxc4+ 12.Kg1 Bd7 13.Rc1 Qa6 14.Nxe6 fxe6 15.Rc8+ Kf7 16.Rxh8 gxf6 17.Qh5+ Ke7 18.Qc5+ Kf7 19.Rf8+ Kg7 20.Qe7+ 1–0 Alekhine/Frank,H - Bogoljubow,E/Pfaffenroth, Warsaw 941

 9.bxc3 Qa5 10.Bb5+ Nbd7. The alternative is 10...Bd7. This is also razor-sharp, but its reputation has never fully recovered from the battering it took in the game Kasparov-Hjartarson, Tilburg 1989, which went as follows: 10...Bd7 11.Bxf6 gxf6 12.Qb3 a6 13.Be2 Nc6 14.0–0 Qc7 15.Rab1 Na5 16.Qa3 Rc8 17.Rfd1 Qxc3 18.Qd6 Qc7 19.Nf5 exf5 20.Qxf6 0–0 21.Rd3 f4 22.Rd5 h6 23.Qxh6 f5 24.Rb6 Bc6 25.Rxa5 Qh7 26.Qxf4 1–0

11.Bxf6 Qxc3+ 12.Kf1 gxf6 13.h4 a6 14.Rh3 Qb4 15.Be2 0–0 16.Rb1 Qd6 17.Rg3+ Kh8 18.Qd2 Rg8 19.Rbb3 Rxg3 20.Rxg3 b6. Apparently a novelty, but one which both players had analysed before the game. 21.Bh5 Bb7 22.Bxf7 Rf8

Remarkably, both players had had this very position on the board (or screen, to be strictly accurate) in their pre-game preparation! Werle now struck with a pawn sacrifice that Wells had apparently not examined.

23.e5!? Nxe5? The novelty has its effect. Wells presumably rejected 23...Qxe5 because of 24.Bxe6 Nc5 25.Bf5, which looks dangerous, but it is not clear that Black is actually in any danger after 25...Be4.

24.Bxe6 f5? Another error, this time fatal. 24...Be4 is better, although White has a strong attack after 25.Qh6. Now Werle crowns the game with a series of beautiful sacrifices.

25.Rg7!! Be4. If 25...Kxg7 26.Nxf5+ wins the queen. 26.Qh6 f4 27.Qf6!! 1-0. The second sacrifice, again on an empty square, leaves Black defenceless against mate. A beautiful finish by Werle, and one in keeping with the traditions of Dutch chess – as Ray Keene pointed out, Max Euwe was also famous for sacrifices on empty squares, as in such games as Alekhine-Euwe, Zurich 1934, and Geller-Euwe, Zurich 1953!

Standings after round seven

Steve Giddins

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