Iran has witnessed some interesting revolutions in its history. But the most fascinating of all has been a very recent one in chess – especially since the game was banned under the tyrannical rule of spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini, who issued a decree that not only banned chess during the 1979 Islamic revolution but also forced the country’s chess players to go underground with their boards and pieces.
And this is a pity as the region was once steeped in chess heritage. According to H.J.R. Murray’s A History of Chess, Persia was the leading chess superpower of its day, with a form of the game we now know today being played there about 600AD; and that’s long before Europe took up the game. And indeed, the heritage is such that the word checkmate comes from the Persian term ‘Shaah maat’, meaning the king is ambushed (and not from the Arabic ‘Shah maat’, the king died, which is the etymology falsely given by most dictionaries).
Happily, the game is flourishing once again in Iran under a more moderate administration, and the nation witnessing a mini chess-boom. The Iranian federation now has one of the most professional chess coaching centers in Tehran; and the chess boom there has witnessed Iranian children beginning to rival dominant nations, such as India and China, in age-group championships.
One of the biggest beneficiaries to all of this looks to be the young 17-year-old Iranian star GM Parham Maghsoodloo, who could be on the verge of putting his country firmly back on the chess map once again. Currently, Maghsoodloo has been tearing up the field at the very strong 2nd Sharjah Masters hosted at the Sharjah Chess & Cultural Club in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates – and he could be set for a momentous result.
The Iranian teenager raced to a perfect start of 7/7 that included a win over Chinese top seed Wang Hao, and his best game, so far, being his powerful win over reigning British champion Gawain Jones in round seven. His streak finally ended in the penultimate round, when he was held to a draw by Azerbaijani’s GM Eltaj Safarli. But going into the last round, Maghsoodloo has the big advantage of having the outright lead, with a one-point advantage over his nearest rivals, Safarli and Wang, and already he’s guaranteed himself at least a share of the $15,000 first prize, no matter the result of his final game.
And with it, young Mr. Maghsoodloo – the U18 world No.3 – has boosted his 2615 rating by a further 30 points, a spike that’s likely to set him on a course to become the first Iranian player in history to break the 2700 barrier and a place in the world’s top 100.
Photo: Iranian hot-shot Parham Maghsoodloo | © Sharjah Masters
GM Gawain Jones – GM Parham Maghsoodloo
2nd Sharjah Masters, (7)
Sicilian Defence, Nimzowitsch-Rossolimo Attack
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Popularised by Aaron Nimzowitsch, the Rossolimo Variation took off by being almost the exclusive weapon of the one-man Olympiad, GM Nicolas Rossolimo, the US-French-Greek-Russian, who started his Olympiad career playing for France in 1950, then played for the US until 1966, before reverting again to the French tricolour for his final Olympiad in 1972. 3…e6 4.0-0 Nge7 5.Re1 Nd4 6.Nxd4 cxd4 7.d3 a6 8.Ba4 Nc6 9.Nd2 b5 10.Bb3 Bb7 11.f4 Qc7 12.Nf3 Rc8 13.Kh1?! I fail to understand the logic behind this move. White seems intent on sacrificing a pawn to open the game for some spurious play down the open f-file – but it all takes too much time and with a relocation of the rook to the f-file. If you want to play with an adventurous spirit here, then the more logical continuation was with 13.f5. 13…Bd6 14.Rf1 Whatever intentions Jones has in mind, it quickly backfires as Maghsoodloo consolidates his position and then goes on to outplay his opponent. 14…Bxf4 15.Bxf4 Qxf4 16.Nxd4 Qe5 17.Nxc6 dxc6! With this recapture, Black begins to take control of the position – the threat is to play …c5, castle, follow-up with …Rfd8 and pressure on the d-file with …c4 and a big advantage. 18.d4 Qxe4 19.Qh5 0-0 20.Qc5 Already White is in trouble – but if he can stop the freeing …c5, he might just be able to save the game. 20…Qh4 21.Rf3 Rce8 The threat isn’t to play …e5, but to facilitate the retreat of the queen with …Qe7, and then play …c5. 22.Rg3 Qe7 23.Qh5 c5 24.dxc5 f5! So simple, yet so effective. The pawn on c5 isn’t going anywhere, so Maghsoodloo seizes his chance to take advantage of his wonderful bishop with the direct and effective push of …f5-f4-f3 to open lines towards White’s king. 25.a4 f4 26.Rh3 The spite mating threat is easily parried – so perhaps better instead was looking for a foothold on the d-file with 26.Rd3? 26…g6 27.Qg4 Qxc5 It’s becoming clear now that all of Black’s pieces are primed and ready to launch an attack on the White king. 28.axb5 axb5 29.Bxe6+ Kg7 30.Qh4 h5 31.Rc3 Qb6 32.Bh3 f3! [see diagram] The speed in which Maghsoodloo has co-ordinated his pieces for the attack is very impressive. 33.gxf3 Bxf3+ 34.Rxf3 Rxf3 35.Bg2 Qf2! Continuing to pile on the pressure with yet another powerful move. White really has to trade queens now, and then limp on to the time-control – but that would be agony, so you can’t blame Jones for trying to keep some slim sliver of hope alive of saving the game by keeping the queens on the board. 36.Qb4 Re2 As Jones’ English compatriot, GM John Nunn, was wont to say when annotating such attacks: “Let’s invite another piece to the party!” 37.Rg1 Rfe3 38.Qxb5 The spite check achieves nothing. After 38.Qd4+ Qf6 White can resign here with a clear conscience. And the game continuation proves no different, as White plays out a few moves just to reach the time control before his inevitable resignation, rather than being mated. 38…Re1 39.Bf1 Qf3+ 40.Bg2 Rxg1+ 41.Kxg1 Re1+ 42.Bf1 Rd1 43.h4 Qg3+ 44.Kh1 Rd2 45.Be2 Qe1+ 0-1