The new year hits fast and hard with the first major of 2020 kicking off on Saturday with the opening round of the 82nd Tata Steel Masters taking place in the fabled little North Sea coastal town of Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands, with a stellar 14-player elite field led by the big guns of world champion Magnus Carlsen, defeated former title challenger Fabiano Caruana, and the five-time ex-champion Vishy Anand.
And speaking of fabled chess towns, another can be found in the English Sussex coastal resort of Hastings – best known for the battle date of 1066 and the Norman Invasion of Britain – with its year-end tradition that dates back now almost a century ago to 1920/21 (with the exception of the war years 1940-1945). The tournament, though, dates back even further, as it styles itself as the world’s oldest international tournament.
That famous first Hastings 1895 edition brought together many of the world’s greatest players of the era, including pre-tournament favourites in first world champion Wilhelm Steinitz, his successor as second world champion, Emanuel Lasker, but was surprisingly won by the young American upstart, Harry Nelson Pillsbury, who made a name for himself on the back of his sensational debut on the international stage.
Since then, world champions from Steinitz to Anatoly Karpov have all played at Hastings, and during its peak years it saw regular visits from all of the Soviet elite. Fourteen-year-old Bobby Fischer was invited 1957-58 but declined as the US championship – a qualifier for the world championship – was organised over the same new year period. And indeed, the US championship continued to be played over the same period throughout the Sixties, and with Fischer dominating the national title for a decade, it was impossible for him to ever accept a further Hastings invite.
Sadly, Hastings’ golden era is long gone, and a lack of sponsorship almost put this historical tournament under threat of going out of business. Despite falling in stature over the past couple of decade or so, its cache name still resonates in the chess world – but it is all not bad news, as the 95th edition of the most historic international chess tournament received a vital lifeline with new sponsor, Caplin Systems, who specialises in desktop and mobile trading technology.
This welcomed revival meant that the Caplin Hastings Masters entry was one of the largest for many years, with a return to the Sussex coast once again of many visiting grandmasters, and headed by the three-time British champion and local hero GM David Howell. And in a keenly-contested battle at the Horntye Park Sports Complex that ran from December 28, 2019, until January 5, 2020, the title eventually went to the visiting Indian GM Magesh Chandran, a former graduate from University of Texas in Dallas.
The tournament dramatically swung Chandran’s way after a stunning penultimate round win over his compatriot, Deep Sengupta, also a former Hasting Masters winner. The win was enough to secure Chandran outright first place on 7.5/9, a half point ahead of second seed GM Roman Eduard of France.
Photo:Winner Magesh Chandran with sponsor John Ashworth (Caplin) and the Mayor of Hastings Nigel Sinden | © Caplin Hastings Masters
GM Deep Sengupta – GM Magesh Chandran
Caplin Hastings Masters, (8)
Two Knights Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 The Two Knights Defence arguably became famous after a mid-1960s battle in the 5th World Correspondence Championship between Russia’s Yacov Estrin and American Hans Berliner, who went on to clinch the title after his win in what is considered one of the most memorable correspondence games. The subsequent loss inspired Estrin to write a very instructive and influential opening book of that era, The Two Knights Defence, that just about everyone in the game from beginner to grandmaster learned from. 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 For those that like to live dangerously, then there’s always the ‘Fried Liver Attack’ (the clue is in the name, really) with 5…Nxd5?! 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Qf3+ Ke6. 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Be2 The standard reply, as I remembered from my dust old blue hardback copy of Estrin’s book. Also an option that came to being at the start of the digital era is the ‘Fritz variation’ with 8.Qf3!? Also there’s the line championed no less by multi-time US champions Bobby Fischer and Hikaru Nakamura, with 8.Bd3!? 8…h6 9.Nh3 A little unconventional. Standard is the more natural-looking 9.Nf3, but 9.Nh3 comes with a big world championship pedigree, having first being played by Steinitz against Mikhail Chigorin in their world championship duel of 1892. Also, Fischer dabbled with 9.Nh3, though mainly in simultaneous games. 9…Bc5 10.d3 0-0 11.0-0 Nb7 12.Nc3 Bd4N A novelty: 12…Nd5 and 12…Bb6 is usually played here. 13.Kh1 Nd6 14.Ng1 Re8 15.Na4 Nf5 As typical with the Two Knights Defence, White has an extra pawn, but his pieces are disjointed, and this makes for an interesting struggle of ideas. 16.Nf3 Ba6 There was also nothing wrong with 16…Bb6!? as now 17.Nxb6 axb6 and Black has good counterplay with lots of open lines for his active pieces, and will continue with …c5 and …Bb7 to keep the pressure on White’s king. 17.Nxd4 Qxd4 18.c3 Qd6 19.Be3 Rad8! Black’s only hope of staying competitive is to remain active. 20.Bxa7 e4 Black missed a trick with 20…Bb5!? 21.Bb6 Rb8 22.Bc5 Bxa4 23.Bxd6 Bxd1 24.Bxb8 Bxe2 25.Rfe1 Bxd3 26.Bxe5 Ne4 with a balanced struggle ahead. It could well be that Panchanathan may have seen all of this, but might have been concerned about the a-pawn going into any ending. 21.d4 Bxe2 22.Qxe2 h5 23.Bc5 Qf4 24.Nb6 Qh4! 25.Kg1! Forced; White has to avoid the pitfall of a possible …Ng3+ fork. If 25.a4? Ng4! 26.h3 e3! is winning and if 25.h3 e3! 26.Kg1 Ne4 and Black has a dangerous attack brewing. 25…Re6?! Puzzling, to say the least, as Black can cut straight to the chase with the attacking plan of 25…Ng4! 26.h3 e3! 27.Qf3 (The best try, as taking the knight is too dangerous: 27.hxg4 hxg4 28.g3 exf2+ 29.Qxf2 Nxg3 30.Qh2 Ne2+ 31.Kg2 Qg5 and the threat of g3 leaves White’s defences in tatters. 26.Nc4 White has been gifted the chance to regroup his knight to bolster against the threat of …e3. 26…Nd5 27.g3?! White has hit the ‘panic button’ as he starts to over-worry about the threat of …Nf4 – but this wasn’t the way to go about stopping the threat. The best try was 27.Kh1 Nf4 and now 28.g3! Nxe2 (28…Qh3 29.gxf4 Nh4 30.Rg1 Nf3 31.Rg2 Rg6 32.Qf1 (It’s a theme that we will soon return to in the game, but White has to be careful of walking into a surprise mate with 32.Rag1?? Qxh2+!! 33.Rxh2 Rxg1#)) 29.gxh4 Nf4 30.a4! and with the queens traded, and therefore no mating threats, that a-pawn is going to quickly run up the board unchallenged to win. 27…Qh3 28.Kh1? The critical moment of the game. The only hope White had was 28.f4 Rde8 29.Ne5! Nde3! 30.Rf2 with dynamic chances for both sides. 28…h4! The potential opening of the h-file means that the Rook lift …Re6-h6 comes with a very deadly threat – and one White has missed. 29.Rg1 Rh6 30.Qf1 White is totally oblivious to the coming coup d’état. 30…Qxh2+!! [see diagram] 0-1 White resigns rather than playing out to mate with 31.Kxh2 hxg3+ 32.Kg2 Rh2#