While we may not have seen yet the worst effects of the novel coronavirus before it – hopefully! – blows itself out on its journey across the world, already its impact has been felt with governments having to resort to crisis-management measures to ensure public health safety. And chess is no different, where, just like sporting events and mass gatherings, many major events are now being cancelled.
Now that the virus has a foothold in many countries, already the Reykjavik Open, Sharjah Cup, Bangkok Open and the Dubai Open have cancelled, and there is speculation that next could well be the first elite-level event, the Grenke Chess Classic in April – featuring Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Vishy Anand and Levon Aronian – with the German organisers announcing on social media they are keeping a close eye on developments and will make a further update next week.
There’s also a strong rumour that FIDE could be set to either cancel or perhaps postpone this year’s biennial 185-nation team Olympiad – one of the major highlights of the chess calendar – that was scheduled for Moscow in August. Even the Candidates Tournament, that kicks-off next week in Ekaterinburg, Russia has taken a hit, with the late withdrawal last week of Teimour Radjabov, the unexpected World Cup victor from Azerbaijan.
Radjabov has now been replaced by Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who came so close in many qualifiers to secure an automatic spot. Originally, FIDE announced that the Azeri had made the decision to withdraw for “personal reasons”, but the players himself disputed this, stating that he had directly asked for a postponement of the eight-player, three-week-long event that will decide Carlsen’s next title challenger due to the coronavirus crisis, and when this was declined, he withdrew.
The coronavirus outbreak has, though, led to FIDE issuing stringent new health and safety measures at the candidates that will include no handshakes and temperature-testing players before games. But as yet, there’s no indication whatsoever from FIDE on what might happen should a player show signs of a fever or, later, perhaps tests positive for Covid-19.
Yet amidst all the unknown fear and creeping unease, it is still ‘business as usueual’ with major events already underway, the most important being the latest leg of the FIDE Lausanne Women’s Grand Prix leg that’s taking place inside the Olympic Museum in the Swiss City. The tournament is the third of four Grand Prix events where the winner and the runner-up will qualify for the 2021 Women’s Candidates Tournament. With the recently re-crowned Ju Wenjun suffering an early setback, making all the early-running was the world champion’s defeated young Russian title challenger, Aleksandra Goryachkina, and her fellow compatriot, Alina Kashlinskaya, who have the joint-lead on 4½/7.
1-2. GM Aleksandra Goryachkina (Russia), IM Alina Kashlinskaya (Russia) 4½/7; 3-6. GM Nana Dzagnidze (Georgia), GM Harika Dronavalli (India), IM Zhansaya Abdumalik (Kazakhstan), GM Anna Muzychuk (Ukraine) 4; 7-8. GM Mariya Muzychuk (Ukraine), GM Pia Cramling (Sweden) 3½; 9. GM Ju Wenjun (China) 3; 10-11. GM Marie Sebag (France), GM Antoaneta Stefanova (Bulgaria) 2½; 12. GM Alexandra Kosteniuk (Russia) 2.
Photo: Showing no setback after losing her world title bid, Aleksandra Goryachkina is back in the groove to take a share of joint-first | © David Llada/FIDE Women’s Grand Prix
GM Aleksandra Goryachkina – GM Antoaneta Stefanova
Lausanne Women’s Grand Prix, (4)
Pirc Defence, 150 Attack
1.Nf3 g6 2.e4 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nc3 Bg7 5.Be3 This is the so-called “150 Attack”. In the 1980s, a new generation of English players – notably GM Michael Adams – began to experiment with this sharp line against the Pirc. The main idea is Be3, Qd2, Bh6, advance the h-pawn and then deliver mate. Naturally, this seemed too good to be true, and was quickly dubbed the “150 Attack” (a quirk of the English grading system, with 150 equating to an 1800 Elo), since it seemed that only a club player would use such a blatant caveman attacking system and expect the game to finish in checkmate. Over the years, there have been various refinements to the 150 Attack, mainly whether to play an early f2-f3 or h2-h3 and Nf3 – and Goryachinka opts for the latter via the Classical Two Knights route. 5…0-0 6.Qd2 a6 7.Bh6 c5 8.Bxg7 Kxg7 9.dxc5 dxc5 10.Qxd8 Another thing Black needs to be wary of, is the sudden shift to a queen-less endgame where White takes advantage of a possible e5 push to disrupt Black’s development. 10…Rxd8 11.e5 Nfd7?!? The wrong option, and, from here, Stefanova is struggling to stay in the game. Despite the popular chess maxim of “a knight on the rim is dim”, she had to play 11…Nh5! so as not to stop the development of her bishop. 12.0-0-0! White has an easy game with simple development – not so for Black. 12…Nc6 13.Bc4 Nb6 14.Rxd8 Nxd8 15.Rd1 Bd7 Things just get more and more awkward for Stefanova as she lags in development and fails to find good squares for her pieces. Her best option was trying 15…Bg4 16.Be2 Nd7! putting pressure on the e5-pawn. 16.Ng5 Also good was 16.Bd5!? Rc8 (Not 16…Nxd5? 17.Nxd5 where Black losses the e7-pawn due to the threat of Nb6 and the double attack on the rook and bishop.) 17.h3 Bc6 18.Ng5! Nxd5 19.Nxd5 Bxd5 20.Rxd5 b6 21.a4 Nc6 22.Ne4 and Black faces a difficult endgame, as it will not be easy to get his rook and knight to good squares. 16…Bc6 17.Bf1 h6 18.Nge4 Ne6 19.g3 f5 20.exf6+ exf6 21.a4 There’s nothing much in the game – but the crucial factor is White having the better pieces and no pawn weaknesses. 21…f5 22.a5 Nd7 Black is letting her position stray again, and with it, little by little, Goryachinka seizes the initiative. The best try for equality was 22…fxe4 23.axb6 Rf8! 24.Bg2 Ng5! (I wonder if it could be as simple as Stefanova missing this resourceful move? Perhaps she only thought she had 24…Nd4? where 25.Bxe4 Ne2+ 26.Nxe2 Bxe4 27.Rd7+ Kg8 28.Nf4 Rf6 29.Re7 Bf3 30.Re3! Bc6 31.b3 that leaves White with the extra pawn and successfully annexing the …c5-pawn?) 25.Rd2 Nf3 26.Rd6 (The alternative walks into a repetition after 26.Re2 Nd4 27.Rd2 Nf3 28.Re2 Nd4 etc.) 26…Rf6 27.Rd8 Ng5 and the f2 handicap gives Black full equality. 23.Nd6 Ne5 It looks as if Black is unravelling – but it is all smoke and mirrors. 24.f4! Ng4 25.Nxb7! [see diagram] Black’s game collapses under a tsunami of tactics. 25…Ne3 26.Re1 Nxf1 27.Rxe6 Bxb7 28.Re7+ Kg8 29.Rxb7 The pawn weaknesses on both wings prove to be a big liability for Black. 29…Nxh2 30.Nd5 Black can’t stop Nc7xa6xc5, so tries to create her own threat with a running h-pawn – but White’s running a-pawn is more dangerous, being closer to home. 30…Nf1 31.Nc7 Rf8 32.Nxa6 Nxg3 33.Nxc5 h5 34.a6 h4 35.a7 h3 36.Nd3 The knight is heading to f2 to cover the vital h1 queening square, forcing Black’s hand. 36…Ne4 37.Rb8 h2 38.Rxf8+ Kxf8 39.a8Q+ Kg7 40.Qxe4 The simplest solution of all, with the White knight coming to h1 and her king covering the e-pawn. 40…fxe4 41.Nf2 e3 42.Nh1 Kf6 43.b4 Kf5 44.b5 Kxf4 45.b6 Kf3 46.b7 Kg2 With the knight also covering f2, if 46…e2 47.Kd2 also easily wins. 47.b8Q Kxh1 48.Qg3 1-0 With the Black king entombed on h1, Stefanova resigns, as there’s no stalemate but a checkmate. After 48…g5 (If 48…e2 49.Kd2 e1Q+ 50.Kxe1 g5 51.Kf2 g4 52.Qg2#) 49.Kd1 g4 50.Ke1 e2 51.Qf4 g3 52.Kxe2 g2 53.Qe4 Kg1 54.Qd4+ Kh1 55.Qd5 Kg1 56.Qd1#