Honoring Tal - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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During a golden period from 1957 to 1960, Mikhail Tal, the “magician from Riga”, was twice champion of the USSR, had the best result at the Munich Olympiad, the Interzonal, the Candidates tournament, and the world’s then youngest world champion at 23-years-old. Unfortunately, he also lived the high-life by smoking and drinking to excess, and, tragically, in his later years, an addiction to morphine from the many chronic illnesses he suffered.

As a result of this, Tal died early, at 55, by a heady cocktail of chronic ill-health, vodka and chain smoking. Many said that Tal ‘lived for blitz’, and never was this fact truer than in late May 1992, when he was seriously ill in hospital – yet somehow he ‘escaped’ his intensive care bed to play for the Moscow blitz title.

His arrival in an emancipated state stunned everyone; even more stunned was his first round opponent, Garry Kasparov, who succumbed to a typical Tal queen sacrifice, as he defeated the then world champion, and went on to tie for second prize. That game proved to be Tal’s swan song. A month later, he died of major organ failure in the same hospital bed he’d escaped from.

The Tal Memorial is normally held in November – but this year, it was hit by an overcrowded schedule of the upcoming Berlin Candidates Tournament, the Chess Olympiad and the World Championship match in London. So instead, it comes in early spring, running 2-4 March, and a strong ten-player field competing in a single round robin rapid taking place in the Museum of Russian Impressionism in Moscow.

Yet despite the Candidates Tournament coming next week, four players couldn’t miss the chance to honor everyone’s hero Tal, including Candidates’ top-seed Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who after beating five-time former world champion, Viswanathan Anand, took the sole lead at the end of the first day.

Standings:
1. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), 2.5/3; 2-4. A. Grischuk (Russia), V. Anand (India), H. Nakamura (USA) 2; 5-7. D. Dubov (Russia), S. Karjakin (Russia), V. Kramnik (Russia) 1.5; 8. B. Gelfand (Israel) 1; 9-10. I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia), P. Svidler (Russia) 0.5

Photo: © Eteri Kublashvili (RCF)

GM Viswanathan Anand – GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
11th Tal Memorial Rapid, (3)
French Winawer, Armenian Variation
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Ba5!? The more normal reply here in the French Winawer is 5…Bxc3 – but this interesting off-beat line is called ‘The Armenian Variation’ – a tag given to it by Alexander Khalifman, in honor of Lputian Smbat and Rafael Vaganian, who invested a lifetime and lots of Elo points in support of it. 6.b4 cxd4 7.Nb5 More murkier is 7.Qg4!? – a line that famously featured in Fischer-Tal Leipzig Olympiad of 1960. It’s also a move I had a ringside press seat back in 2000, as it featured in two Anand-Khalifman key encounters at Linares and Dortmund that caused many die-hard followers of the Armenian Variation to lose a lot of sleep over. 7…Bc7 8.f4 Bd7 9.Nxc7+ Qxc7 10.Nf3 Ba4 The hit on c2 forces a slight concession from White of the awkward rook defense. 11.Ra2 The reason for defending c2 with the rook, is that 11.Bd3 Qc3+ gives Black easy play after 12.Bd2 Qxd3! 13.cxd3 Bxd1 14.Rxd1 Ne7 with equality. 11…Ne7N Technically a novelty, as common here is 11…Nc6 – but there’s no real difference, as we more or less transpose back into known territory. 12.Nxd4 a6 13.Be3 Nbc6 14.Bd3 Nxd4 15.Bxd4 Bb5! This soon tempers any thoughts Anand might have had over launching a rapid kingside attack. 16.0-0 Nf5 17.Bf2 h5 The f5 knight dominates White’s dark-squared bishop, so Shakh keeps the knight on its excellent outpost. 18.a4 Bxd3 19.cxd3 Rc8 20.a5 Hindsight is always 20/20; and here, long-term, this move only serves to fix White’s pawns and makes them a target going into the endgame. It’s not a big mistake, per say – but it does end up being a weakness that is difficult to resolve. 20…d4 The …Nf5 now totally dominates White’s bishop. 21.Ra1 Qd7 22.Qf3 Qd5 23.Qxd5 exd5 24.Rfc1 Kd7 White is not losing the endgame. We have equality, but it only takes one little further slip-up for White’s position to be in crisis. 25.Be1 f6 26.exf6 gxf6 27.Kf2 Ne3 28.Kf3 Anand should have played 28.Rab1 to maintain the balance – but it could well be that he simply underestimated the long-term difficulties he faced in the double rook and pawn ending following his opponent’s next move. 28…Nc2 29.Ra2 Nxe1+ 30.Rxe1 Rc3! 31.Rae2?! White is losing a pawn regardless – but in rook and pawn endings, there’s losing a pawn and losing a pawn! And here, Anand misses his moment to activate his rooks and king with the better 31.Rd2 Rb3 32.g4! hxg4+ 33.Kxg4 Rh6 34.Kf5 Rxb4 35.Rg2 and White’s activity will be more than enough for the pawn to secure a draw. 31…Rxd3+ 32.Kf2 Rh7 33.b5 axb5 34.Rb2 Kc6 [see diagram] Black’s pawns may well be shattered: but he has two extra – and his king now becomes very active! 35.Re6+ Kc5 36.Rb6 Ra3! 37.Rxf6 And here’s Anand’s dilemma – if 37.R6xb5+ Kc4 all that White has succeeded in doing is help his opponent’s king further up the board, where it wants to be, to push home the passed d-pawn. 37…d3 The d-pawn can’t be stopped. 38.f5 Kd4 39.Rb4+ Kc3 40.Rxb5 Rd7 41.Rc5+ Kd4 42.Rc1 Ra2+ 43.Kf3 d2 44.Rd1 Kd3 45.Re6 d4! While one d-pawn is close to queening, the other shields off any checks from the White rook. 46.f6 Ra3 0-1 White resigns, as there’s no way to stop the d-pawn, as after 47.Kf2 Kc2 48.Ke2 d3+ easily wins.

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