In the early part of the last century, the path to chess mastery for any talented young player often ran through Czechoslovakia, a bohemian country that enjoyed a long tradition of popular chess culture. The most famous chess café – sadly now a casino – was ‘U Novaku’ just off Prague’s Wenceslas Square, and in 1907, the Carlsbad tournament was won by rising star Akiba Rubinstein, and the first of what proved to be four great chess events held in the Czech spa town.
Now in this new century, the country which has since changed its name to the Czech Republic in the aftermath of a popular and peaceful revolution, is once again enjoying a chess renaissance. It can all be traced to what was intended as a showcases for Czech prodigy David Navara in 2003, with the annual CEZ Chess Trophy, and the rising young star playing a series of handpicked matches against elite-level opponents.
Now, with a Kafkaesque-like metamorphosis, the Czech Republic has an impressive newcomer to the chess circuit, the 2nd Prague International Chess Festival, running February 12-21, that seems to be following the very successful formula adopted for over half a century by the world’s most famous and longest-running super-tournament, the Tata Steel Chess Festival in the little Dutch coastal town of Wijk aan Zee, with a mini-version on a less grander scale, with two grandmaster groups, a tournament for talents and multiple opens.
The marquee event is the Prague Masters, and although there are no players from the world’s top 15, the field does include six players from the top 30, and headed by Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland), and also featuring Nikita Vitiugov (Russia), Alireza Firouzja (FIDE), Santosh Vidit (India), David Navara (Czech Rep), Pentala Harikrishna (India), David Anton (Spain), Sam Shankland (USA), Markus Ragger (Austria), and Nils Grandelius (Sweden).
One of the more intriguing early battles proved to be the meeting between top-seed Jan-Krzysztof Duda and the 2018 US Champion, Sam Shankland, that – as expected – soon turned into a very entertaining encounters, with both players famous for not holding back – and one that Shankland will be kicking himself for not winning.
Photo: Sam Shankland misses his chances in a no-holds barred Sicilian Najdorf | © Vladimir Jagr/Prague Chess Festival
GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda – GM Sam Shankland
Prague Masters, (3)
Sicilian Najdorf, Adams Attack
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.h3 The Adams Attack is named not after the English GM Michael Adams but rather Weaver Adams (1901-1963), the early 20th century American master. Bobby Fischer adopted Adams’ line with considerable success after he abandoned 6.Bc4, and you will find two fantastic wins with this line fully annotated in Fischer’s timeless tome My 60 Memorable Games: Najdorf (Varna ’62) and Bolbochan (Stockholm ’62), the latter for which Fischer won the brilliancy prize. Despite Fischer’s successes, the whole line never really caught on until the early 1990’s when White players were running out of ideas on how to play against the labyrinth of the heavily analysed Najdorf variation. 6…e5 A common approach is 6…e6 and a Scheveningen variation set-up – but 6…e5 is the true move of a Najdorf diehard like Shankland. 7.Nde2 h5 Stopping any ideas of a kingside expansion with g4. 8.Bg5 Duda spent a considerable amount of time on this move, almost as if he was totally flummoxed by Shankland’s 7…h5. 8…Be6 9.Bxf6 Qxf6 10.Nd5 Black has the bishop-pair, but White has the d5-outpost, so an intriguing tussle lies ahead. 10…Qd8 11.Qd3 Nd7 12.0-0-0 g6 13.Kb1 Nc5 14.Qa3 Bg7 The e-pawn hasn’t been left hanging, if 14…Nxe4?? 15.Qa4+ picks up the knight. 15.h4 Rb8 16.Nec3 0-0 17.f3 f5 Black seeks to open the game up for his bishop-pair; if not, then, long-term, the backward d-pawn could become a liability. 18.Ne3 Duda has problems completing his development due to his self-inflicted fixed h-pawn, and he comes up with a ‘dodgy’ plan and suffers big-time – but is the h-pawn really under threat? White can try 18.Rg1!? as capturing with 18…Qxh4?! only helps White build an easy attack with 19.exf5 gxf5 20.g3! Qg5 21.Be2 with Rh1 and Rdg1 and a full kingside assault coming. 18…b5! Shankland’s attacking plan is clear and simple – and it is a wonder that Duda managed to survive the coming onslaught. 19.b4 Bh6 Shankland missed the better 19…fxe4! 20.Nxe4 (The knight is taboo, as 20.bxc5? sees Black winning the tactical skirmish with 20…b4 21.Qa4 bxc3+ 22.Ka1 Qc8! 23.Rxd6 Qxc5 24.Rxe6 Qxe3 25.Bxa6 exf3 26.gxf3 Rf4! 27.Bc4 Kh7 28.Qc6 Rxh4! The vulnerable backrank is now a problem. 29.Rf1 Rd4 30.Rxg6 Rbd8 31.a4 (If 31.Rgg1?? Qxg1! wins on the spot.) 31…Rxc4! 32.Rxg7+ Kxg7 33.Qxc4 Qd4 with Black having genuine winning chances with the running h-pawn and the precarious state of the White king.) 20…Nxe4 21.fxe4 and now 21…Bh6! with the strong …Rf2 to follow. 20.Ned5 fxe4 21.bxc5 b4 22.Nxb4 a5 23.Rxd6 At this stage, I don’t think anyone – players, commentators and punters – had a clue what was happening, as suddenly we have a genuine, bona fide mess on the board. 23…axb4 24.Qa6 bxc3+ 25.Ka1 Qxd6! Any queen sacrifice is exciting to see, but here, this is the automatic move to make, otherwise Black is in trouble due to the looming threat of a Rxg6+. 26.Qxd6 Bf7 27.Be2? Not an easy position to have on the board in front of you, and your immediate worry is that there might well be some sort of a mating net weaved with …Bc1 and …Bb2+ etc – but, like death and taxes, its a certainty that the engine will soon find the accurate escape for White with 27.Qc6! Bc1 (If 27…Rb2 and with c2 now protected, Black is forced into 28.Qa4! Rxa2+ 29.Qxa2 Bxa2 30.Kxa2 Rc8 and a draw similar to what happens in the game.) 28.Qa4 Bb2+ 29.Kb1 Ba3+ 30.Ka1 where now any threat on the a-file with 30…Ra8 is well met by 31.Ba6 with an equal game. 27…Rb2 Shankland has the right attitude, just the wrong follow-up. 28.Qa6 Rxa2+? [see diagram] The human instinct is to quickly restore material equality, but Shankland will be kicking himself for not thinking longer and deeper at what is the most critical juncture of the game, as he missed the win with 28…Rxc2! that simply leaves White in deep trouble, as …Rxa2+ is still coming, but there’s a sting in the tail that was probably missed by Shankland. It seems that what the American missed was that after 29.Bc4 (If 29.c6 Rxa2+ 30.Qxa2 Bxa2 31.Kxa2 c2! just wins. Now 32.Kb2 c1Q+ 33.Rxc1 Bxc1+ 34.Kxc1 Rc8 35.Bc4+ Kg7 36.Bd5 e3! and suddenly White is hopelessly lost in the ending and forced into 37.Be4 Rd8! 38.c7 Rc8 39.Kd1 Rxc7 and a lost ending.) 29…Rxg2! It might have been as simple as Shankland not realising in his train of thought that this capture also defended against Qxg6+ and now Black is winning. 30.Bxf7+ Rxf7 31.fxe4 c2 32.Qa3 Rgf2! and White is dead in the water, with the only way to stop …Rf1+ is 33.Qd3 c1Q+ 34.Rxc1 Bxc1 and a heavy loss of material – not to mention the fact that the White king looks set to be trapped in a mating net. 29.Qxa2 Bxa2 30.Kxa2 Rc8 The reality now is that the game is going to fizzle out to a draw due to the notorious opposite coloured bishops. 31.fxe4 Rxc5 32.Kb3 Kg7 33.Rh3 Bd2 34.g4! The more pawns traded off, then the easier it is to draw in such endings. 34…hxg4 35.Bxg4 Rb5+ 36.Kc4 Rb2 37.Bd1 Rb1 38.Rh1 Kh6 39.Kd5 Bf4 40.Kc4 Bd2 After all the pyrotechnics, and now with the time control made, the game peacefully ends in a draw by repetition. 41.Kd5 Bf4 42.Kc4 ½-½