The famous olden-times German master Richard Teichmann (1868-1925) is reputed to have once said: “Chess is 99 per cent tactics and only one per cent strategy.” Whether it’s a truly correct statement or not, it remains at least a lasting truism for the Royal Game, and chess fans looking to improve can do worse things than sharpen their tactical vision, as the ability to accurately calculate and spot such possibilities is vital to being successful at the board.
There are many famous books dedicated to a plethora of tactical games and tactical diagram moments from games – and another destined for the annals by more than living up to Teichmann’s percentage maxim was 18-year-old Sam Sevian’s virtuoso tactical takedown of Ray Robson, in easily the best game of Round 7 of the United States Chess Championship, as the race for the 2019 national title at the world-renowned Saint Louis Chess Club now begins to intensify.
Sole leader Hikaru Nakamura continued his winning run with some sublime endgame technique to ruthlessly squeeze the full point out Varuzhan Akobian, as he continues his quest to win a fifth national title. Elsewhere, Fabiano Caruana, the big pre-tournament favourite, can count himself lucky to stay in the chasing pack with a dramatic, though somewhat unlikely, last-gasp marathon 126-move win over Timur Gareev.
It got down to the bare-bones of a lone rook and bishop versus rook endgame that should just be a technical draw – but in praxis, proving so is a lot easier easier said than done when you have been staunchly defending for so long, and at move 122, with the game all but looking set for a draw at any moment, Gareev blundered his way into a mating position, and was forced to resign just a few moves later.
Joining Caruana and Sevian in the chasing pack a half point behind the leader is U.S. Championship debutant Leinier Dominguez – the five-time ex-Cuban champion, before his recent federation switch – who beat Aleks Lenderman. The 2017 U.S. champion, Wesley So, fell off the pace after he was easily held to a draw by early frontrunner Jeffrey Xiong.
1. H. Nakamura 5/7; 2-4. F. Caruana, L. Dominguez, S. Sevian 4½; 5. W. So 4; 6. J. Xiong 3½; 7-10. A. Lenderman, S. Shankland, R. Robson, A. Liang 3; 11-12. V. Akobian, T. Gareev 2.
U.S. Women’s Championship:
1. J. Yu 6½/7; 2. A. Zatonskih 6; 3-4. A. Wang, T. Abrahamyan 5; 5. C. Yip 3½; 6. A. Eswaran 3; 7-8. A. Gorti, A. Sharevich 2½; 9-12. S. Foiser, E. Nguyen, I. Krush, M. Feng 2.
Photo: Could Sam Sevian’s inspired play make him the dark horse for the title? | © Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club
GM Ray Robson – GM Sam Sevian
U.S. Championship, (7)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 In recent years, this has become the more popular, though the somewhat reserved way of avoiding the notorious “Berlin Wall” endgame after 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 that Vladimir Kramnik famously rehabilitated during his 2000 World Championship challenge in London that had Garry Kasparov hitting his head against, which ultimately led to him losing his title. Trouble is, if this is all White has, then Black is doing really well in the Berlin. 4…Bc5 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.0-0 Nd7 7.c3 0-0 8.d4 Bd6 9.Bg5 f6 10.Bh4 Qe8 A nice little nuanced touch from Sevian, not only indirectly attacking e4, but, more importantly, seeks to launch a kingside attack with a future …Qg6. 11.Nbd2 Nb6 12.h3?! Ultimately, Robson’s dramatic downfall can directly be traced back to this move, as it only invites Sevian to hit his opponent with a tsunami of tactics. Better was the more solid option of 12.Bg3 – but then again, that said, even this early in the game, Black has instant equality and an easy game. 12…exd4 13.cxd4 Qg6 This just highlights how foolish Robson’s miss-placed bishop has become, unable now to play Bg3 to bolster White’s vulnerable kingside. 14.Kh1 Be6 15.a3 Bf4 The way in which Sevian gains more space to dominate the board is impressive, much in the same way that Bobby Fischer in his pomp would overwhelm his hapless victims. 16.Re1 f5! Sevian is systematically ripping open the position for his pieces to launch an unstoppable attack. And perhaps realising – Star Trek Borg-like – that resistance would be futile, Robson all but signs his own death warrant. 17.exf5 Bxf5 18.Qb3+ Nd5 19.Qxb7? It’s never wise to grab the poisoned b-pawn in chess at any time; and particularly more so here, with Sevian’s pieces primed and poised to strike. I came to the conclusion that Robson was now resigned to his fate, and just wanted the nightmare in front of him to come to an end quickly, instead of trying to prolong what would have been his inevitable death with 19.Nc4 Qh6 20.Nce5 a5! Stopping the capture on b7, which losses the queen. 21.Be7 (If 21.Qxb7 Bxe5 22.Rxe5 (Unfortunately, 22.Nxe5 drops the defence oh the haplessly-placed bishop on h4) 22…Rfb8 and the queen is lost.) 21…a4! 22.Qc4 b5! 23.Qa2 (If 23.Qc5 Bxh3! and the kill comes swiftly.) 23…Rfe8 24.Bh4 (The bishop is humiliatingly forced back to h4, as it fends off, for now, the tactical volley facing the White king after 24.Bc5 Bxh3!) 24…Bxe5! The tactical key to winning becomes the overworked Nf3. 25.Rxe5 Rxe5 26.dxe5 Be4 27.Bg3 Bxf3 28.gxf3 Qxh3+ 29.Kg1 Rf8 There is no easy way to prevent the winning rook lift of …Rf5-h5 mating without walking right into another mating attack. 30.f4 Rf5 31.Qb1 Nxf4 32.Qe4 g5 33.Rd1 Rxe5!! and White can’t avoid being mated. 19…Rab8 20.Qxa7 I can just imagine what Robson’s inner-thoughts were here: “Make it quick, make it painless – please!” 20…Rxb2 21.Nc4 Bxh3! [see diagram] With a final volley of tactics, Sevian is only too happy to oblige! 22.gxh3 Qd3 23.Kg2 Bd6 24.Ng1 If 24.Ne3 Black can ignore the material and cut straight to the chase with 24…Qe4! that will soon force mate after 25.Kg1 Qxf3 26.Nxd5 Qxh3 27.Ne7+ Kh8 28.Re5 Qxh4 29.Ng6+ hxg6 30.Rf1 Rbxf2 31.Rxf2 Qxf2+ 32.Kh1 Qh4+ 33.Kg1 Qg3+ 34.Kh1 Rf1#. 24…Rfxf2+! 25.Bxf2 Qg3+ 0-1 Mate on h2 or f2 is coming next – a very impressive, dominating win that could inspire Sam Sevian on to win the title!