“A queen sacrifice, even when fairly obvious, always rejoices the heart of the chess-lover,” once observed the great Savielly Tartakower (1887-1956). And no truer words were ever spoken from the legendary grandmaster of the epigrams, as there is really no moment in chess that is more magical, more heart-pumping, more exciting than witnessing a stunning queen sacrifice on the board – no matter if it is straightforward or prosaic.
And there are quite a few examples of “parting with the lady” in the annals of top-level chess. Of course, such games are always entertaining to play through – and at a young age, they can even entice you more to the entertaining side of chess. And playing through a book crammed to the gunnels with nothing but queen sacrifices I once received as a birthday present, soon became a much-treasured – and dog-eared! – companion, and still is to this day.
That book is Queen Sacrifice by Yakov Neishtadt, the influential Soviet-era writer and Editor-in-Chief of 64 magazine. This is not just a gimmicky book full of exotic queen sacs, but rather its a niche tome with an in-depth look at the nature of the most stunning and daring sacrifice of them all in chess, with over 400 instructive examples that are guaranteed to give your game a much-needed shot in the arm.
And when trawling through the games amassed from the weekly roundup of tournament play from a recent edition of Mark Crowther’s TWIC (The Week in Chess), I stumbled across a rarity in a queen sacrifice that happened at the 2nd Goa Open in India. The rarity is that the queen sacrifice came as early as move 8(!) – and another rarity being that it came in the form of a stunning new opening novelty!
Little-known IM Rathnakaran Kantholi, rated only 2338 – and the 156th-ranked player in all of India – has a reputation as being one one of the most flamboyant players on the Indian chess scene, with a reputation for playing stunning and dazzling sacrifices, so much so that he has acquired the fearsome reputation of being “the Indian Tal” – and he more than lived up to this sobriquet with his sensational bolt from the blue in round three against the three-time Georgian champion GM Mikheil Mchedlishvili!
GM Mikheil Mchedlishvili – IM Rathnakaran Kantholi
2nd Goa Open, (3)
English Opening, Three Knights
1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 f5 4.g3 Absolutely nothing wrong with this move per se – but in view of the exciting new prospects emanating from this game, I dare say that the more popular and pragmatic move here of 4.d4 will become the automatic choice for now. 4…Nf6 5.d4 e4 6.Nh4 d5 Up till now, this move was the third choice in this sideline – not anymore! 7.Bg5 The only real try for an advantage. 7…Bb4 8.cxd5 Mchedlishvilli obviously doesn’t know what he’s about to walk into. If he did, he would have opted for the more conservative 8.e3 – but then again, we wouldn’t have had all the coming fun! 8…Nxd5!?!N [see diagram] I would imagine by a serendipitous moment of leaving an engine running, Rathnakaren has ‘discovered’ a new, wild novelty of a stunning queen sacrifice on move 8! Previously, the preferred and obvious move here was 8…Qxd5?! , played in eight previous games, according to the databases. But after 9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.e3 f4!? 11.Ng2! with the knight coming to the commanding f4 square after 11…f3 12.Nf4 White clearly stands much better. 9.Bxd8 Of course, White is pot committed. He could dramatically bailout with 9.Bd2 but after 9…Be6 Black already stands much better. 9…Nxc3 10.Qb3 Nxe2+! Clearly, this is the best discovered check with the knight, as capturing with the king walks into a big knight fork on d4 returning the queen with a winning position. 11.Kd1 Nexd4 It’s the activity of the Black pieces that makes this very speculative queen sacrifice just worthy of a punt – just think of all the thoughts that would probably be going through an opponents head caught out by this at the board! And what do the engines say? Not unsurprisingly, given the material imbalance, it favours White – but the advantage is negligible, hovering between +0.50 and +0.73. 12.Qe3 Alternatively, White could try to trade off some of those pesky pieces with 12.Qa4 Kxd8 13.Bb5 – but no doubt Rathnakaran has had this position crunched by an engine at home, and it soon becomes clear that after 13…Ke7! to vacate the d8 square for the rook, White isn’t out of the woods just yet, and indeed, now 14.Bxc6 Nxc6 15.Ke2 b5 16.Qd1 Be6 17.Kf1 Kf6 with the prospect of …Rad8 (or even …Rhd8) coming, Black stands no worse. 12…Be6! Again, the No.1 choice of the engines, and avoiding certain defeat with 12…Kxd8 13.Qg5+ Be7 14.Qxg7 Re8 15.Bc4 Bd7 16.Bf7 Rf8 17.Qxh7 Ne5 18.Ng6! and Black is in dire straits now, as 18…Rxf7 19.Qg8+ Be8 20.Nxe5 Rf6 21.h4! and the h-pawn is a clear runner. 13.Bg5 The critical move looks to be 13.Bxc7! and it is not clear if Black has anything here, as now 13…Rc8 14.Bf4 0-0 the body count shows Black has only a piece and a pawn for the queen – but still, White must fight to maintain equality. And unbelievable as it seems, the best move now is remarkably 15.Kc1! looking to seek a safe haven for the king on b1, albeit even if it temporarily entombs the rook on a1 for now. But then again, trying to fathom such ‘fantasy lines’ out at the board is not easy – and we can all understand Mchedlishvilli’s reluctance to move his king into the crossfire of a discovered check down the c-file. It is just not human nature to do this. 13…h6 14.Bf6? Of course, 14.Bf4 0-0-0! 15.Kc1 g5 and White is in big trouble. But the critical line is 14.Ng6! hxg5 15.Nxh8 0-0-0 16.Qxg5 Rd5! 17.Kc1 Rc5+ 18.Kd1 Rd5 and it looks as if White can’t avoid a perpetual, because if 19.Qg6 there comes 19…Nb3+ 20.Kc2 Rd2+ 21.Kb1 Rd1+ 22.Kc2 Rd2+ anyway. 14…gxf6 15.Kc1 0-0-0 It’s been a wild game up till now, but the pendulum now is moving in Black’s direction. The pieces are now swarming around the White king like a swarm of angry bees, and Rathnakaran’s speculative new queen sacrifice has proved a big resounding success. 16.Bh3 Bc5? Rathnakaran almost gets carried away by his own enthusiasm, as he almost lets his opponent off the hook with the only wrong turn of the game. Superior was 16…Ne5! 17.Rd1 c5 with total central domination of the board. 17.Bxf5 Nxf5 18.Qxc5 Nxh4 19.gxh4 Rd4! The threat of …Rc4+ allows Black to double rooks on the d-file – but it shouldn’t be enough to win. 20.b3 Rhd8 21.Rb1 Bg4 22.Kb2 White has finally managed to unravel somewhat – but it is all too late for Mchedlishvilli, who most likely was in dire time trouble by this stage of the game, as he bravely attempted to fathom out all the complications from his opponent’s brave queen sacrifice novelty, as he gets rushed into a couple of blunders. 22…Nb4 23.Ka1 b6 24.Qc3 c5 25.a3 Nd5 26.Qc1 h5 Black has a solid position for his material deficit – but the position is still not easy for White to play. 27.Rg1 Clearly better was 27.h3! Bf3 28.Rg1 Rd7 29.Qh6 and with Rg7 coming, White is in control. 27…Rd3 28.Qc4 Rd4 29.Qc1 Rd3 30.b4? Better was 30.Qc4 looking to repeat moves, as 30…Nc3 31.Rbc1!? is not so clear, as witness 31…Ne2 32.Qxe4 Kb8! (Dangerous is 32…Nxc1 33.Qa8+ Kc7 34.Qxa7+ Kc6 35.Rxc1 and White has the upper hand.) 33.Rxg4! Nxc1 34.Rg7 Nxb3+ 35.Kb2 Na5 the knight comes back to defend c6 and b7 just in the nick of time. Now after 36.Qf4+ R8d6 37.Kc2 the game looks to be petering out to a draw. 30…Nc3 31.Qb2 Nxb1 32.Rxb1 Rf3 A little better was 32…c4!? 33.Qxf6 Rxa3+ 34.Kb2 Rf3 35.Qc6+ Kb8 and the White position is still fraught with danger, though likely with more time on his clock, White should hold this. 33.bxc5 Rdd3 34.Qb5 Rxa3+ 35.Kb2 Bd7! An easy move to miss when the flag on your digital clock is metaphorically hanging. 36.Qc4? Probably down to pure panic, as the position is getting complicated again. It is hard under the pressure at the board (and clock) to see that the best line was ending with a repetition, but White had to play 36.c6! Be6 37.Qxh5 Perhaps Mchedlishvilli just thought he might be walking into the danger zone with 37…Ra2+? (It’s just a draw after 37…Rab3+ 38.Ka1 Ra3+ 39.Kb2 Rab3+ 40.Ka1 etc.) but 38.Kc1 Kc7 39.Qe8! saves the day – now 39…Rc3+ 40.Kd1 Rxc6 41.Ke1 the threat of Qe7+ should be enough to safeguard a draw for White. 36…Ra4 37.Qg8+ Kb7 38.Rd1? In the mad dash to reach move 40, White makes one final error – and they all now take their toll on White’s position. The trouble is that Black’s pieces are all active and working as a unit, and White’s pieces are trying to find a way to stay in the game, but to no avail. His best shot at trying to save the game was with 38.Qd5+! Bc6 39.Qf7+ Ka6 40.cxb6 axb6 41.Qe6! and it is not so clear Black has enough to win – but certainly, it is easier (and more fun!) to play the Black side of all this mayhem! 38…Rxf2+ 39.Kb3 Rf3+ 40.Kb2 Rb4+ 41.Kc1?! With the time control made, it probably comes as no comfort to White that his best shot at offering resistance was with 41.Ka2! where now 41…Ba4 42.c6+! forced, otherwise White is losing quickly. 42…Bxc6 43.Qe6 Rb5 44.Rd8 Ra5+ 45.Kb1 Rf1+ 46.Kb2 Rf2+ 47.Kb1 Rb5+ 48.Ka1 Ka6! 49.Rd6 (Not 49.Qxc6? Rc5 50.Qxe4 Rc1+ 51.Qb1 Rxb1+ 52.Kxb1 Rxh2 easily winning the ending.) 49…Ra5+ 50.Kb1 Rf1+ 51.Kb2 Rb5+ 52.Ka2 Bb7 53.Rd4 Ra5+ 54.Kb2 Rf2+ 55.Kb1 Rb5+ 56.Ka1 Ra5+ 57.Kb1 Rff5! White has no checks, meanwhile Black threatens …Rab5, …Rfc5 and pushing the f-pawn. 58.Rb4 Rf1+ 59.Kb2 Rf2+ 60.Kb1 Rd5! Black will eventually find a way to covert, as just about every move White plays forces him further and further down the rabbit hole. 41…Rc3+ 42.Kd2 Rxc5 43.Ke1 Better was 43.Qg7 Rc7 44.Qxf6 but after 44…Bc6 Black’s king is secure, and the extra pawns will make a telling difference. 43…Ba4 44.Qf7+ Rc7 45.Qd5+ Bc6 46.Qxh5 Rg7! Once again, the White king has fallen into the danger zone. 47.Rd6 If 47.Ke2 Rb2+ 48.Ke3 Rb3+ 49.Ke2 f5! and the only way to stop …f4 winning is 50.Qxf5 Rg2+ 51.Ke1 Re3+ 52.Kf1 Rf3+ and White can resign. 47…Rb2 0-1 White resigns, as it’s pointless attempting to stave off the inevitable after 48.Rd2 Rb1+ 49.Kf2 Rb3 50.Ke2 Rh3 51.Rd1 e3 52.Rd3 Re7 53.Ke1 Rxh2 and the e-pawn will soon queen and mate.