IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO SIGN UP FOR FALL 2019!

John Henderson
By John Henderson

Much like the wonderful late Eighties Rick Moranis Walt Disney comic science-fiction family film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, no player really wants to find themselves being miniaturised at the chessboard. That’s because in chess, “miniature” is the term used to describe a decisive, short game – generally accepted to be games that last for just 25 moves or – perish the thought – even fewer.

While it might be assumed that miniatures only happen to inexperienced players, however even some of the very best world-class players have been known to have lost in a miniature. At Wijk san Zee in 1993, former world champion Anatoly Karpov unwittingly blundered a piece on move 12 to the three-time US champion Larry Christiansen and promptly resigned. Staying on the American theme, the shortest miniature between two titled-players – a record that still stands today – came during the 1984 US Championship encounter between IMs Kamran Shirazi and Jack Peters. The game went 1 e4 c5 2 b4 cb4 3 a3 d5 4 ed5 Qd5 5 ab4? Qe5+ and Shirazi resigned.

Not to be outdone, even my own homeland makes it into the infamous annals. Scotland’s Robert Combe has the dubious distinction of being on the receiving end of the shortest miniature ever to be played in the long and storied history of the Chess Olympiad. Playing White against Wolfgang Hazenfuss, at the 1933 Folkestone Olympiad, their game started 1 d4 c5 2 c4 cxd4 3 Nf3 e5 4 Nxe5?? Qa5+ and Combe – who went on to become a future British Champion – resigned.

And while we generally have a picture in our minds of miniatures being dazzling, d’Artagnan-like brilliantly-played games, all the above-mentioned brevities were induced by blunders – and this can, and does, happen at top grandmaster-level, even in a world championship qualifier! One such miniature occurred today in the opening round of the 16-player knockout Riga FIDE Grand Prix in Latvia, as the Czech Republic’s David Navara got himself all tangled up after he missed a key move in a tricky attack launched by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, with the Frenchman’s stunning 19-move win proving not only to be the highlight of the round, but also the only decisive game of the day.

Round 1:
S. Karjakin ½-½ A. Giri; W. So ½-½ P. Harikrishna; P. Svidler ½-½ J-K. Duda; S. Mamedyarov ½-½ D. Dubov; N. Vitiugov ½-½ A. Grischuk; L. Aronian ½-½ Y. Yu; H. Nakamura ½-½ V. Topalov; M. Vachier-Lagrave 1-0 D. Navara.

Photo: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (middle) explains his miniature during his presser to the official live coverage commentary team  | © Niki Riga / World Chess

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – GM David Navara
Riga FIDE Grand Prix, (1)
Caro-Kann Defence, Two Knights
1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Nc3 The slightly obscure Two Knights against the Caro-Kann – once a favourite weapon of both the young Bobby Fischer and Nigel Short – is not as innocuous as it looks at first, and many games have ended with a quick, potent punch. 3…Bg4 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 Nf6 6.Be2 e6 7.0-0 Bc5 8.Rd1 Bd4 The only way to stop White expanding in the centre with d4 and e5. 9.Qf4 e5 This only chases the queen to the g-file – exactly where it wants to be! The crunch line Navara really had to play into was 9…Bxc3 10.dxc3 Nxe4 11.c4! Now we see another reason for Rd1, as White will open the game further with the double c4. 11…0-0 12.cxd5 cxd5 13.c4 Nc6 14.cxd5 exd5 15.Be3 and White has excellent compensation for the pawn with his bishop-pair and his rooks centralised on d1 and c1 – but Black does have a solid position and the extra pawn. 10.Qg3 dxe4 11.d3 White can win back the pawn right away with 11.Qxg7 Rg8 12.Qh6 Rg6 13.Qh4, the only drawback is that Black has active pieces – but where’s the fun in that? Rather than that, MVL decides to turn it into a genuine pawn sacrifice by opening the game up for his pieces to get active – and he’s rewarded by his ‘spirit of adventure’ with an unexpected quick win! 11…exd3 12.Bxd3 What’s not to like here? MVL has his pieces primed for a kingside attack, the Black king looking vulnerable still in the middle of the board, and there’s also a problem for the Black queen with the pin on the d-file – all well-worth the investment of a pawn! 12…Nbd7 As dangerous as the position looks, Navara had to live on the edge by playing 12…0-0 13.Ne2 Bxf2+!? 14.Qxf2 (The only move. If 14.Kxf2? e4 and Black has a big advantage.) 14…e4 15.Bg5 exd3 16.Rxd3 Qb6! at least with the queens off, there’s less of a chance of being mated! 17.Qxb6 axb6 18.Bxf6 gxf6 19.c4 and White stands better due to the activity of his pieces and the shattered black pawn structures on both wings of the board – but there’s a whole world of difference between being ‘better’ and actually winning here, as Black still has the extra pawn and now there’s reduced material on the board. 13.Ne2 Even stronger was the more obvious continuation 13.Qxg7 Rg8 14.Qh6 and with Bf5 looming in many lines, White clearly stands much better. 13…0-0? [Castling right into it! It’s a moot point now, but Navara may well have just made a mistake in his analysis by getting the move order wrong. Certainly, on the previous move, castling was a radical bailout – but now, it is just a move too late. The only way Navara could stay in the game was with 13…Bc5 to remove the bishop from the problematic pin on the d-file. And now, if 14.Qxg7 Rg8 15.Qh6 e4 16.Bc4 Qe7 and with …0-0-0 coming next, Black is still in the game and stands no worse. 14.Bf5! [see diagram] With this move, and the simple threat of c3 and Bg5, suddenly Navara is losing – there’s no way now to stop either a winning attack on the Black king or taking advantage of the pin down the d-file. Something has got to give now. 14…Nc5 The enormity of the problems Navara has here is seen with 14…Re8 15.Bg5! and it is hard to see how Black avoids losing material or his king. 15.Bh6! Navara is doomed after this move. 15…Nh5 16.Qg4 Qd6 This may well have been enough for Navara to hang on by his very fingertips if it wasn’t for the little matter of the problematic …Bd4 – and it is possible that Navara could have overlooked that the bishop was lost at the end of it all. But the position is lost anyway, even if Navara had gone for 16…g6 17.Bxf8 Kxf8 18.Nxd4 exd4 19.Rxd4 Qe7 20.Qh4 which at least would have prolonged the game. 17.Qxh5 Qxh6 18.Qxh6 gxh6 19.c3! 1-0 As the dust settles, the bishop has embarrassingly been caught somewhat short of squares.

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