From major club and international football to basketball, baseball and the golf, tennis tours, Covid-19 has totally decimated the annual sporting calendar with the suspension of all operations going into the foreseeable future. And chess also got hit, with the World Senior Team Championship in Prague finally having to abandon their ‘Plan B’ solution to the inevitability of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
As the Czech Republic declared a state of emergency on Thursday, and the sudden further enforcement of groups of more than 30 people now being banned, this meant the end of the world senior team championship for over-50s and over-65s with its prematurely finish after seven of the nine rounds being played.
The United States defending champions – Alexander Shabalov, Gregory Kaidanov, Joel Benjamin, Alex Yermolinsky and Igor Novikov – led the over-50s, and quickly agreed their four games with Iceland drawn after a few moves to once again taking gold (Russia taking the +65 gold). And with it, the world seniors now goes into the annals alongside another famous team tournament that ended in controversial circumstances due to a fast-moving world situation.
On 1 September 1939, the finals of the 9th Chess Olympiad in far off Buenos Aires, Argentina was marred by the outbreak of the Second World War, and the chess world was similarly thrown into a quandary. The British team went home as soon as hostilities between Germany and Poland started; and for those that stayed, the French, Polish and Palestine teams declared they would refuse to play against Germany.
Many delegates felt the Olympiad should have been abandoned, but the hosts were determined it should go ahead with the diplomatic solution of matches involving the remaining warring nations – France, Poland and Germany – being declared 2-2 draws. In the final standings, with more than a hint of of geopolitical irony, Germany defeated Poland by only half a point.
Photo: The ‘old guys’ of Yermolinsky, Benjamin, Shabalov (capt), Novikov and Kaidanov are repeat victors | © Vladimir Jagr/World Senior Team Championship
WGM Elena Fatalibekova – GM Joel Benjamin
50+ World Senior Team Championship, (2)
Philidor’s Defence, Antoshin Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 In the Philidor Defence, this avoids some of the problems associated with 3…Nf6 – and indeed, before safer ways were found of playing the Hanham Variation (via the Pirc Defence transposition route), this natural capture – popularised by Bent Larsen – was the way to play the Philidor and has never been totally abandoned. 4.Nxd4 Also playable – but rarer in praxis – is 4.Qxd4 – but the text recapture is the more natural. 4…Nf6 The most testing line is 4…g6, the Larsen Variation, where Black adopts a more aggressive Sicilian Dragon-like set-up. 5.Nc3 Be7 This is the more modest Antoshin’s Variation, named after the Russian Grandmaster Vladimir Antoshin, who popularised this line in the mid-1950s. 6.g3 0-0 Also an easy instant ‘equalising’ line is 6…d5! 7.Bg2 Re8 8.0-0 Bf8 A strategic retreat of the bishop, preventing Nd5, as the e4-pawn is under attack. 9.h3 Nc6 10.g4 h6 11.Nde2 Rb8 Preparing …b5 to expand on the queenside. 12.f4 Na5 Joel Benjamin is much-higher rated than his opponent, and he’s trying to lure her into complicated territory with a dog-fight. 13.Qd3 A cautious approach. More testing and complex was 13.g5!? Nh5!? where Black looks to sacrifice a pawn for open lines for his active pieces to exploit. 13…b5 14.b4 Nc4 15.Nxb5?! All the opening lines and tactics now swing the pendulum in Black’s direction. 15…Rxb5 16.Qxc4 Rb6 17.b5 d5 The obvious try to prise open the game, but better was 17…Bb7! 18.Nc3 a6 19.a4 Nxe4! 20.Nxe4 d5 21.Qe2 Bc5+ 22.Be3 Bxe3+ 23.Qxe3 dxe4 and Black has a big advantage. 18.exd5 Bxg4!? [see diagram] 19.Nd4 It’s the critical moment of the game, and White blinks, not liking the idea of 19.hxg4 Nxg4 20.Nd4 Qh4 21.Nf3 Qg3 with multiple threats of the rooks coming into play on g6 or e2. But, as in most cases these days, the omnipresent engine has no nerves and soon finds the hidden resource(s) of 22.f5! Bc5+ 23.Kh1! (Not 23.Qxc5?? Re2! 24.Rf2 Nxf2 25.Kf1 Ne4! and Black is winning.) 23…Re1 where there’s no winning attack, and Black has to bailout now with a draw with 24.Rxe1 Nf2+ 25.Kg1 Nh3+ 26.Kh1 Nf2+ 27.Kg1 Nh3+ etc. 19…Bd7 White is not down and out, but her kingside weakness just proves too much for her to deal with. 20.Nc6 Bxc6 21.dxc6 a6 22.a4 The point is that 22.bxa6 Rb4! 23.Qd3 Qa8 and Black has lots of active piece-play and loose pawns to target. 22…axb5 23.axb5 Nh5 24.Bb2 Qh4 25.Be5?? Under the relentless pressure, White blunders badly. She had to stay calm and play 25.Bd4 Rbb8 26.Bf2 Qf6 27.Rad1 where she stands no worse, and if anything, perhaps a little better. 25…Rxe5! Oops! So determined to stop …Bd6, White fails to realise that she drops the bishop to the queen hanging on c4. A pity, as it would have been interesting – and instructive – to see how Benjamin was going to squeeze his opponent in an effort to win. 26.Ra7 Rc5 The rest is simply just an easy clean-up job for the three-time US champion. 27.Qd3 Nxf4 28.Qf3 Bd6 29.Ra8+ Kh7 30.Qe4+ f5 31.Qe8 Re5 32.Qh8+ Kg6 33.Rg8 Nxh3+ 0-1