Nothing embodies the festive season more perfectly than those wonderful colorful wooden Nutcracker figures that adorn many Christmas displays worldwide – or better yet, a trip to see a performance of The Nutcracker! The musical score, stunning sets, mischievous mice, royalty, magic animals, and dolls coming to life…it allows us to wallow in pure Christmas joy as an adolescent girl is transported from a Christmas party into a magical dreamworld, the Kingdom of the Sweets.
Lev Ivanov’s 1892 ballet – loosely based on a darker story by E.T.A. Hoffmann – with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous, sugar-spun music has fast become a Christmas institution for a very good reason. But it wasn’t always this way. Initially, it did not enjoy great success – but despite this, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite for the ballet prevailed as one of the composer’s most famous works, and this is what saved it.
The Nutcracker ballet was not popular outside of Russia for many years. Its first United States performance did not come until 1944 in San Francisco, a little comradely tribute to the Soviet allies during World War II. Its popularity didn’t soar until after its New York City performance became a hit in the 1950s, and now the ballet is an instantly-recognizable holiday classic enjoyed by millions every year.
And even in Russia, the chess world is getting in on this holiday tradition with the annual Nutcracker Classical Match of the Generations, that runs 19-24 December at the fabled Central Chess Club in Moscow. The Scheveningen tournament features a team of veteran “Kings” (Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Boris Gelfand, Alexei Shirov and Sergei Rublevsky) taking on a team of younger, rising star “Princes” (Vladislav Artemiev, Grigoriy Oparin, Andrey Espenko and Daniil Yuffa).
And there’s also a parallel “Queens” vs “Princess” women’s match: Queens: Ekaterina Kovalevskaya, Galina Strutinskaia, Elena Zaiatz, and Tatiana Grabuzova. Princesses: Aleksandra Maltsevskaya, Elizaveta Solozhenkina, Ekaterina Goltseva, and Aleksandra Dimitrova.
World #3 and Berlin Candidates hopeful, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has dominated the opening rounds with two equally impressive back to back wins, his first being a nice and very instructive exchange sacrifice that had all the magic of a dreamworld!
The First Move Chess Column will be on a break now and will return once again on Wednesday 3 January 2018. Happy Holidays!
GM Grigoriy Oparin – GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
Nutcracker Classical, (1)
1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 g6 3.c4 dxc4 4.Na3 Bg7 5.Nxc4 Nc6 6.d3 e5 7.Bd2 Nge7 8.b4 Be6 If 8…e4? 9.dxe4 Bxa1 10.Qxa1 0-0 11.Qf6! and White is on top. 9.Rc1 Nd4 Mamedyarov has won the opening battle with his dominance of the d4 square. 10.Bg2 Wishful thinking from White, but then again, after the slightly better 10.Nxd4 exd4 11.Bg2 Bd5 Black will find a way to engineer …Nd5-c3 that will tie White down to a back-foot defense. 10…Bd5 11.e4 It may well solve one immediate problem, but by playing this very committal move, then, long-term, White’s chronic weakness with his backward d-pawn will be a big handicap. 11…Nxf3+ 12.Qxf3 Be6 13.0-0 Nc6 The d4-outpost is too ready a tempting target. 14.Bc3 0-0 15.Qe3 Qd7 16.b5 Nd4 17.Bxd4 exd4 Mamedyarov’s advantage is easy for all to see with his active bishops and his opponent’s chronic pawn weaknesses on the queenside. 18.Qg5 a6! 19.b6 There’s no other option now, as after 19.bxa6 Rxa6 Black will soon hone in on White’s pawn weaknesses. 19…Rac8 Stronger than taking the pawn, as Black retains all his active pieces. If 19…Bxc4 20.Rxc4 cxb6 21.Rfc1 Rac8 22.a4 it’s easier for White to fight for the draw from here, as he has a more active position than in the game – and there’s also the bonus of excellent drawing chances with opposite-colored bishops on the board. 20.bxc7 Rxc7 21.Nb6 Qd6 22.Nd5 White has pinned his hopes on this move, but Mamedyarov has an ace up his sleeve. 22…Rc3! [see diagram] A very strong exchange sacrifice from Mamedyarov, that just highlights how much he dominates this position with his striding bishops and a potential queenside pawn-roller storming down the board. 23.Rfe1 h6 Another nice little touch, simply nudging the White queen out of the danger area. 24.Qd2 Rfc8 25.e5 White is simply lost, but at least with the pawn sacrifice, he has some succor by activating his bishop down the g2-b7 diagonal. 25…Bxe5 26.Nxc3 dxc3 27.Qxh6 b5 Just look at how Black dominates: Mamedyarov’s bishops are über-active, the c-pawn is huge and is about to be supported by the other queenside pawns storming up the board. 28.Bh3 The only realistic option White had, where at least he’s trying to reduce the scope of Black’s bishops by exchanging off a set. 28…Re8?! The only miss-step Mamedyarov has the whole game. Black’s bishops dominated the board, so he should have avoided swapping off a set, as this only lessens White’s troubles. Instead, after 28…Bg7 29.Qh4 f5! was easier to convert the win. 29.Bxe6 Rxe6 30.Re4 Not the best. It’s difficult for White to defend here, but after the more accurate 30.Re3! Bd4 31.Rxe6 Qxe6 32.Qh4 Bf6 33.Qf4 Bg7 34.Qb4! White is still in the game with ‘chances’ of saving the game; though, admittedly, its a difficult and long defense with Black’s long-term ace of those rampant queenside pawns. The best White might hope for is an opportunity to sacrifice back the exchange with a timely Rxc3 and a queen and pawn endgame. It’s wishful thinking, but in chess, when you have a bad position, you always have to make your opponent work for the win. 30…Qxd3 31.Rce1 The doubled rooks on the e-file look good – but White’s position soon collapses when a set gets exchanged off. 31…Qd5 32.Qc1 Bd4 33.Rxe6 fxe6 34.Qc2 Kg7 35.Re4 e5 The computers may all say that White is holding here, but the human eye can quickly easily see that Black still holds all the winning chances by carefully advancing his queenside pawns down the board. 36.h4 a5 37.Kh2? For obvious reasons we’ll soon see, better was 37.Kg2! but after 37…b4 38.f3 Qe6 39.Rg4 Kh6 40.Qc1+ Kh7 41.Qc2 Qf5 42.Re4 White is forced back into passivity, and Black will carefully find the correct way to advance his queenside pawns. 37…Bxf2! The tactics on the White rook swiftly wins the game. 38.Rg4 Qe6 39.Kh3 Qc6! 40.Kh2 The bishop is taboo, as after 40.Qxf2 Qh1+ 41.Qh2 Qxh2+ 42.Kxh2 c2 the pawn queens. White can easily prevent the mate on h1 by not taking the bishop, but, in doing so, Mamedyarov manages to safely repeat the position to safely make the time control. 40…Qe6 41.Kh3 Bd4 42.h5 e4! An ingenious defense of g6, taking full advantage of the rook being pinned to the king stopping Rxg6+. If the queens come off the board, Black easily wins on the queenside. 43.Qd1 What else is there now? If 43.hxg6 there is no longer a direct threat to Black’s king, now shielded by White’s g6-pawn, and the easy win now is with 43…e3! 44.Qg2 Bf6! 45.Qb7+ Be7 and there’s no time for White to stop both the e- and c-pawns from queening. 43…Bf6 44.Kh2 g5 There’s no danger to the king now, and the passed pawns come into their own now. 45.Qe2 c2! Taking full advantage of White’s overworked queen, which can’t be diverted from taking the pawn, as it protects the rook. 46.Rxe4 Qc6 47.Re7+ Kf8 0-1 Oparin resigns, as all the checks are covered, and now there’s no way to stop the c-pawn from queening.