In our previous column, ‘Keep Calm and Wash Hands’, we detailed how the novel coronavirus has impacted several major tournaments that have now been forced to cancel, the Chess Olympiad in Moscow in August potentially coming under threat, and World Cup winner Teimour Radjabov withdrawing – and replaced by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – on the eve of next week’s Candidates Tournament in Ekaterinburg, Russia, and nothing but further disruption expected.
The coronavirus crisis is a brutal numbers game of damage limitation that has now been officially classified today as a ‘pandemic’ by the World Health Organization (WHO). Many countries have declared a state of emergency by closing schools, universities, restricting travel, and banning large gatherings. The Czech Republic was forced into such draconian measures this week that saw the immediate ban on outdoor events of more than 500 people and indoor events of more than 100 people – and all while the World Senior Team Chess Championship(s) was already underway in the capital of Prague.
With 106 teams and nearly six hundred players taking part (four per team plus one reserve), everyone fully expected an immediately cancellation – but instead of that, a ‘Plan B’ was swiftly put into place with the tournament split into six different venues that got around the ban. This led to some commentators jumping to conclusions by criticising the game’s governing world body, FIDE, for breaking the spirit of the new law and the organisers their duty of care to the seniors. But it was, it seems, a well thought-out alternative plan.
FIDE were quick to clarify that the decision to split the tournament into smaller rooms was actually the personal suggestion and supervised by Professor Roman Prymula, a FIDE Master, who also just happens to be the Deputy Minister of Health for the Czech Republic and one of the most foremost epidemiologists in the country, and a leading consultant to WHO!
Apart from now being split into different rooms and locations, the World Senior Team Chess Championship is also split into two different age categories of +65 and +50. The USA are the defending +50 champions, and the all-Grandmaster team of Alexander Shabalov, Gregory Kaidanov, Joel Benjamin, Alex Yermolinsky and Igor Novikov are setting the pace with a perfect score start of 5/5.
Photo: The ‘old guys’ of Yermolinsky, Benjamin, Kaidanov and Shabalov set the pace | © World Senior Team Championship
GM Alex Yermolinsky – GM Jim Plaskett
50+ World Senior Team Championship, (4)
English/Queen’s Indian Defence
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 b6 The Queen’s Indian/English Defence has been something of a near lifetime passion for “Gentleman” Jim Plaskett, with the English GM scoring some memorable victories from these set-ups. 4.g3 Bb7 5.Bg2 Bb4 6.d3 0-0 7.e4 d5 The best move, as this forces White to fix his central pawns. 8.e5 Nfd7 9.cxd5 Bxd5 10.0-0 Bxc3 11.bxc3 c5 Black is really no worse here, if anything having slightly the better of the position – but he gets carried away with choosing a wrong plan to hit at White’s fixed central pawns. 12.d4 Nc6 13.Ng5 Bxg2 14.Kxg2 Ndb8 Also playable – but certainly less ambitious – was 14…h6 15.Ne4 Ne7 16.Nd6 and try to play around the Nd6 with 16…cxd4 17.cxd4 Qc7 18.Qg4 Qc6+ 19.Kg1 Ng6 20.Ba3 Rfd8 that the engines assess as near-to-equal – but that imposing Nd6, whether it be grandmaster- or club-level, would have all Black players feeling a little uncomfortable. 15.Qf3 Yermolinsky doesn’t want to give the veteran English GM the d5 square for his queen, but better was 15.Qc2 Qd5+ 16.f3 g6 17.dxc5 Nxe5 18.Rd1 Qxc5 19.Ne4 Qc6 20.Rd6 Qb7 21.Qe2 Nbd7 22.Bf4 where White has more activity and lots of easy piece-play for the pawn. 15…cxd4 16.cxd4 h6 17.Ne4 Qxd4?! The complications don’t quite work for Plaskett, as the position is not as “messy’ as he perhaps thought it would be. Instead, better was consolidating with 17…Qd5!? 18.Rd1 Rd8 as the tactics after 19.Bxh6 equals out with the counter-punch 19…Nxd4! 20.Qg4 Qxe5 21.Bxg7 Qxg7 22.Rxd4 Qxg4 23.Rxd8+ Kg7 24.Rg8+ Kxg8 25.Nf6+ Kg7 26.Nxg4 Na6 27.Rd1 Rc8 28.Rd4 Rc7 which should end in a draw – albeit Black will need to be wary of White’s potentially problematic passed h-pawn. 18.Ba3 Nxe5 19.Nf6+ gxf6 20.Qxa8 Re8 21.Rad1 Qa4 22.Bd6 Na6 23.Rd4! [see diagram] The move that really seals the deal for Yermolinsky, as it forces the trade of queens and simplifies the position to White’s material and positional advantage. 23…Qc6+ The only move. If 23…Qb5 24.Qxa7 Qc6+ 25.f3 Nc5 26.Qc7 once again the queens are coming off the board, only here Black has also lost the a7-pawn. 24.Qxc6 Nxc6 25.Rg4+ Kh7 26.Rc1 In normal circumstances, Black’s couple of pawns and good anchor squares for the knights would be more than enough compensation for the exchange – but here, White’s active rooks and the ability to restrict the knights just leaves a technically won game. And to his credit, ‘Uncle Yermo’ gives us a masterclass on just how to convert the win. 26…Na5 If one knight on the rim is dim, then two has to be doubly dimmer. 27.Rc3 f5 28.Rh4 White’s active rooks are just systematically stretching Black’s game where, move by move, it just gets more and more difficult. 28…e5 29.Ra4 Re6 30.Bb4 Nxb4 31.Rxb4 Kg6 The only chance of some sort of survival chances was with 31…Nc6 32.Rbc4 Nd4 33.Rc8 a5 34.R3c7 Kg7 35.Rd7 But even here, White’s rooks are just too good. 32.Rc7 Kf6 33.Rh4 Kg6 34.Ra4 e4 Black opts to throw in a couple of pawn to try to get his knight back into the game – but it is too late now. 35.Rxa7 Nc6 Black could have offered more resistance with 35…Rc6 36.Ra6 Nc4 37.Rb4 f6 but after 38.a4! Rc7 39.h4 h5 40.Kf1 Rc5 41.Ke2 Black can only look on helpless. as White centralises his king and will soon be following up with Rb4-b1-d1-d8 and Ra6-a8 and the rooks swinging over to the kingside to pick off the vulnerable h5-pawn. 36.Rb7 Ne5? Black is in complete collapse now, with the b-pawn now unprotected. 37.Rb4 Re8 38.R4xb6+ Kg7 39.Rb5 f4 40.gxf4 Nd3 41.Rf5 Rf8 42.h4 Kg6 43.Rbb5 f6 44.h5+ Kf7 45.Rb6 Ke7 46.Kf1 Black is effectively in zugzwang now, with all moves basically losing. 46…Ra8 47.Rfxf6 Rxa2 48.Rbe6+ Kd7 49.Rxe4 Rxf2+ 50.Kg1 1-0 Black resigns with no way to stop the h6-pawn falling and White’s rooks and passed h-pawn easily winning.