In the past, “seniors” in the chess world had always been defined as for those aged 60 or above. But arguably in one of Fide’s more popular decisions, a few years ago, the game’s governing body brought in a new age limit to bring chess more into line with other competitive senior tours, such as golf and tennis, and now there are two age sections in senior chess: Over-50 and over-65.
Since then, there has been a seismic and renewed growth in international competition at senior level – the latest being the 6th World Team Championship for 50 + & 65+ that took place from 7-15 July in Radebeul, near Dresden, Germany, that saw 127 teams compete for the two main titles on offer.
In the Open 65+ section, top seeds Team Russia, with a very strong all-grandmaster squad of Evgeny Sveshnikov, Yuri Balashov, Nukhim Rashkovsky, Vladimir Zhelnin and Nikolai Pushkov, proved just too strong for the opposition, and not unsurprisingly with a perfect 18-points, the defending champion’s easily retained their title ahead of Saint Petersburg and Germany II, who respectively took the silver and bronze medals.
But the Open 50+ section proved to be the toughest competition of all, and one where there was also considerable American interest in, as Team USA, with a very strong all-grandmaster squad of Alex Shabalov, Joel Benjamin, Jaan Ehlvest, Alex Yermolinsky and Sergey Kudrin, were top seeds and favourites for the gold medal – but Team USA suffered a major setback with a shock round seven defeat at the hands of England, and looked out of contention for the top spot.
But things swung wildly in the favour of Team USA in what transpired to be a very dramatic and tense final round. After crushing North American near neighbors Canada, 3-1, tournament leaders England collapsed to a loss to Germany I, a result that saw the gold medal going to Team USA by the narrowest of margins on 16 points, with England silver, and Lasker Schachstiftung GK, the German ‘amateur team’, bronze, both with 15 points.
Photo: ‘The Golden Guys’: Kudrin, Benjamin, Ehlvest and Shabalov (Yermolinksy missing) | © Official Site
GM Alex Shabalov – IM David Cummings
World Senior 50+ Team Championship, (9)
Sicilian Scheveningen (By transposition)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Be3 a6 From the Sicilian Taimanov, the game can invariably transpose into a Sicilian Scheveningen, as happens here. 7.f4 b5 8.Bd3 Bb7 9.Nb3 d6 10.Qf3 Nf6 11.0-0 Be7 12.Qh3 Both players set out their stalls: White is going for a kingside attack, while Black hopes to counter this with a central d5-break. 12…Nb4 13.Rac1 Nxd3 14.cxd3 Qd7 15.Na5 0-0 16.f5 exf5?! This looks to be just too risky. The Canadian top board had to try 16…e5 and then preparing the groundwork for the d5-break. 17.Rxf5 b4 18.Ne2 Rac8 19.Re1 Wisely, Shabalov avoids any trade of rooks to keep the pressure on his opponent with the looming kingside attack. 19…Ba8 20.Bd4 d5 21.e5 We now end up getting into the sort of tactical ‘mess and mayhem’ that Shabalov revels in! 21…Ne8 22.Nf4 Nc7 23.Nb3 Understandably, Shabalov wants to first bring his wayward knight back onside before he releases the tension – but the omnipresent playing engine tells us that he could have launched the direct attack now, with 23.e6! fxe6 24.Rh5! which certainly looks to be very strong, as it now forces 24…Bf6 25.Bxf6 Rxf6 26.Rxh7! Rxf4 27.Nb3! leaving Black’s game in ruins, as the only way to stop the awkward Nc5 looks to be 27…Ne8 28.Qh5 Kf8 29.Rh8+ Ke7 but alas there comes the further tactical melee with 30.Nc5!! Rxc5 31.Rxe8+ Qxe8 32.Rxe6+ Kxe6 33.Qxe8+ Kd6 34.Qd8+ Kc6 (There’s no escaping the further loss of material. If 34…Ke6 35.Qb6+ Rc6 36.Qe3+ Kf5 37.g3 Rg4 38.Qf3+ Kg5 39.h3! Rd4 40.Qe3+ etc.) 35.Qxa8+ Kd6 36.Qd8+ Kc6 37.Qe8+ Kd6 38.Qd8+ Kc6 39.h3 and with the bolthole created for the White king, Black’s wandering king out in the open will be vulnerable to losing all or most of the loose pawns. 23…Ne6 Another option was 23…Nb5!? 24.Bf2 Rc2 but after 25.Qg4 there looks to be no way to stop e6 coming. 24.Rh5 h6 25.Be3 Rc7 Black is doing his best to stay in the game – but the position now veers into critical, with just the slightest error proving fatal. 26.Qg3 Kh7? This is a panic reaction to White’s pieces amassing on the Black kingside. What was needed was a calm head and play 26…Bg5!? that seems to hold everything together, as now after 27.Nxe6 Bxe3+ 28.Rxe3 Qxe6 the pressure has been eased with the exchanges. White still holds the advantage – but Black is still in the game with fewer pieces left on the board to force home a sacrificial attack. 27.Nd4 Nxf4 The alternative was no better. After 27…Nxd4 28.Bxd4 Bc5 29.Bxc5 Rxc5 again 30.Rxh6+!! crashed home the attack – but only this time, with the knight hop Nf4-h5-f6. 28.Qxf4 Bc5 29.Rxh6+!! [see diagram] It was the obvious tempting sacrifice and one that Shabalov doesn’t miss the opportunity to play, as goes in for the kill now on the Black king. 29…gxh6 30.Qxh6+ Kg8 31.Qg5+ Kh7 32.Nf5 f6 33.Qh6+ Kg8 34.Bxc5 Qxf5 Black is well and truly bust, as after 34…Rxc5 35.exf6! there’s no way to prevent the simple plan of Ne7+ followed by Qg6 mate. 35.Qxf8+ Kh7 36.exf6 d4 There’s no hope for Black. If 36…Qf4 White needn’t over-complicate matters, as the simple ‘pin-and-win’ with 37.Qb8! will easily win, as there’s no way to prevent g3 forcing the over-worked queen off the diagonal that’s protecting the rook. 37.Re7+ Rxe7 38.Qxe7+ 1-0