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John Henderson
By John Henderson

The FIDE World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk in Russia is all over, with Teimour Radjabov celebrating after he scored a surprise upset victory over Ding Liren to win the biggest prize of his career. The Chinese top seed and world #3 is now left wondering what exactly went wrong with his game-plan, especially as at one stage everything looked to be going to script after a brilliant takedown of his eventual Azeri nemesis in game 2.

It’s all likely scant conciliation now for runner-up Ding (who took home $80,000 and a candidates spot for all his efforts), but at the closing ceremony, it was further announced that he had also been awarded the Brilliancy Prize by a panel of experts provided by the Russian Chess Federation, working in cooperation with one of the tournament sponsors, pAB InBev Efes, for that standout win.

The ‘Brilliancy Prize’ is a throwback to a more romantic era in the game, just as tournaments were becoming established, with these additional prizes aimed at encouraging imaginative play. According to the Oxford Companion to Chess, the first beauty prize in chess was awarded in 1876 to the Englishman Henry Bird (1829-1908), for his win against Irishman James Mason at “The Clipper Free Centennial Tourney”, held at the Café International in New York, to commemorate the centenary celebrations of the United States Declaration of Independence.

The tournament was sponsored by the collaboration of the New York Clipper – or The Clipper, as it was more commonly known – weekly newspaper and Siegfried Lieders, the flamboyant owner of the chess-fabled Café on Broadway in the metropolis. He donated the first three prizes and a silver cup – the ‘Leiders Cup’ – for the most brilliant game, voted on by a panel of experts, that went to Bird for his see-saw battle against Mason – and much like Radjabov, Mason went on to win the tournament despite being on the receiving end of the brilliancy prize!

Such awards soon became a tradition in chess, and they were often bestowed by private patrons of the game. By definition, the chess brilliancy does not need to be a perfect game, it may not be even sound – Bird’s debutant beauty prize was far from perfect – but it should include a moment when something astonishing, beautiful and inspiring happens on the chessboard, such as Ding’s win over Radjabov below.

Photo: At least Ding Liren still finds something to smile about, as he receive his Brilliancy Prize award | © FIDE World Cup

GM Ding Liren – GM Teimour Radjabov
FIDE World Cup Final, (2)
English Opening, Flohr-Mikenas Attack
1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 3.e4 The Flohr-Mikenas Attack, named after the Czech player, Salo Flohr, and Lithuanian master Vladas Mikenas, who blazed a trail with this sharp line. It was popularised again in the 1980s by Garry Kasparov, Viktor Kortchnoi, Tony Miles and Yasser Seirawan. 3…c5 Another choice in this line is 3…d5 4.e5 Ne4. 4.e5 Though it looks scary having to retreat so early in the game, Black has enough resource to equalise by counter-attacking the advanced pawns. 4…Ng8 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.d4 cxd4 7.Nxd4 Nxe5 8.Ndb5 a6 9.Nd6+ Bxd6 10.Qxd6 f6 11.Be3 Ne7 12.Bb6 Nf5 13.Qb4 Nc6 14.Qc5 Qe7 If you are intent on playing ..d6, then now could well be a good a time as any. After 14…d6 15.Bxd8 dxc5 16.Bb6 White wins back the c5-pawn – but it is not so clear, as Black generates lots of good counter-play with 16…Nfd4! 17.0-0-0 e5 18.Bd3! (The immediate grab with 18.Bxc5 allows 18…Bg4 19.f3 Bf5 20.Bd3 Bxd3 21.Rxd3 b5 22.cxb5 axb5 23.Kb1 Kf7! with lots of chances for both sides.) 18…Bg4 19.f3 Bf5 20.Bxf5 Nxf5 21.Bxc5 Ncd4!? 22.b3 (Not 22.g4? Ne3! and Black is doing fine.) 22…Ne6 23.Bb6 0-0 and Black is OK with …Rac8 and …Nfd4 on the horizon. 15.0-0-0 d6?!? It’s interesting how we can all be “seduced” by computer stats – this move scores a very healthy score of 2.5/3 for Black, but it is only with three games, and the position is very dangerous for Black, who has an extremely difficult defence ahead of him. Instead, 15…Qxc5 16.Bxc5 d6 17.Bxd6 Nxd6 18.Rxd6 was seen in the Kortchnoi-Timman Candidates Match 1991, which is better for White – but Black has a solid position, and the game ended in a draw after 43 moves. Given what happens now to Radjabov, I think if he had his time again, he would have opted for trading queens over what he played. 16.Qa3 0-0 17.g4! Ding cuts straight to the chase by with his all-out attack. 17…Nh6 18.Rg1 Nf7 Also playable is 18…f5 that worked well in a previous game – but White followed-up badly by capturing on f5 and after …Nxf5, Black was more than OK with his active knights. More testing, however, has to be 19.g5! Nf7 20.f4 and I imagine Radjabov wanted a more solid version of this by omitting …f5 – but Ding soon shows why this is the wrong approach. 19.f4 Bd7 20.h4! Taking a leaf right out of the Alpha Zero playbook, Ding relentlessly ploughs on with his all-out attack. 20…a5 21.g5 Kh8 The human can sense the fear, but the engine knows no fear and wants to go for 21…Nb4 22.Qb3 Be8!? 23.a3 fxg5!? 24.axb4 axb4 25.Qxb4 Ra1+ 26.Kc2 Rxd1 27.Nxd1 gxf4 with a very murky position. 22.Qb3 Rfc8 Unfortunately for Radjabov, 22…a4?! walks right into the trap of 23.Qa3! and now Ne4 (hitting the d6-pawn) can no longer be met by …Nb4. 23.Kb1 e5? This just creates the self-inflicted wound of a big hole on d5 that Ding exploits. It’s hard to be objective here, as Radjabov is on the ropes, but if 23…Be8 24.Bh3! Nfd8 25.f5! is just going to create that d5 hole anyway. 24.Nd5 Bf5+ 25.Ka1 Qe6 26.gxf6 gxf6 27.a3 Rab8 A good a try as any was 27…Nb4!? 28.Qf3 Nxd5 29.cxd5 Qe7 30.Re1! but White is bossing the position with his active pieces and more space. 28.Bg2 Rg8 29.Ne3! The knight makes way for another piece, with the threat now of Bd5 winning a piece that all but forces Radjabov to go “desperate” now. 29…Nd4 30.Bxd4 exd4 31.Nxf5 Qxf5 32.Bd5 Rxg1 33.Rxg1 Nh6 34.Qb6 It’s total domination now from Ding, as there are just too many weaknesses in the Black position – and Radjabov also has to stop Qc7 (or even Qxb7 if the rook moves) mating on g7. 34…Qd7 35.Qxd4 Qe7 36.Ka2 Nf5 37.Qc3 b6 It’s suicidal to play 37…Nxh4?? as 38.Qg3 Ng6 39.f5 Ne5 40.Qg8+! forces mate. 38.h5 Re8 39.h6! [see diagram] Setting up a brilliant finale of Re1 Qxe1 Qxf6+ mating to win the tournament Brilliancy Prize! 39…Ne3 40.Re1 1-0 Radjabov resigns, with no way to stop Rxe3 either winning a piece or mating after Qxf6+.

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