Everyone loved the 8th World Champion Mikhail Tal. Books and songs were written about the legend whose imaginative attacking style and amazing, unexpected combinations captured our hearts. They called him “the Magician from Riga”, famed for his swashbuckling attacking skills and prowess with combinations that showed that romantic adventures were still possible in chess.
The World Chess Hall of Famer was known for aggressive, even reckless attacking play. He’d make sacrifices so novel and absurd that, even if there was a winning counterattack, which there often was, his bamboozled opponent wouldn’t be able to find it. In fact, Tal’s play produced positions so complex that neither side could fully calculate the repercussions. Tal played merely on instinct, and invariably his gambles would prevail. To top it all off, he spent the whole game staring you down with his intimidating glare.
“Some sacrifices are sound; the rest are mine,” Tal once famously said. He also said you must be prepared to “take your opponent into a deep dark forest where 2+2=5, and the path leading out is only wide enough for one.” For Tal, he was more often than not the “one” that the path was only wide enough for!
The only player around in today’s game who can live up to Tal’s maxim is the exciting and wildly unpredictable Richard Rapport – and the rising young Hungarian star didn’t disappoint for his team, OSG Baden-Baden, the Schachbundesliga multi-time reigning champion’s, with yet another Tal-like imaginative adventure, as he left the strong Swiss grandmaster Noel Studer stranded and bewildered during his walk into the deep dark forest.
GM Noel Studer – GM Richard Rapport
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c6 4.Nbd2 f5 5.g3 Nd7 6.Bg2 Nh6!? In the Dutch Stonewall, invariably we see the knight developing on its natural square with 6…Ngf6 – but because Rapport transposed into the Dutch via the Slav ‘triangle’ route, he has this extra dimension to the game with the knight developing more aggressively on h6, where, from f7, it can cover the vital age-old Dutch battle for the e5 square. Also, as we will soon see, it offers more dynamic attacking chances with …Nh6-f7 to make way for …g5 and the further knight hop …Nf7-h8-g6. All this is perfectly logical in Rapport world! 7.Qc2 Nf7 8.b3 g5!? Hyper-aggressive, but immediately it throws Studer’s game-plan into chaos, as the usual White way of dealing with the Dutch Stonewall is eventually to play Nf3-e5-d3 and then Nd2-f3-e5 and total control over the strategically critical e5 square. 9.e3 Bd6 10.Bb2 a5 11.h4 Studer clearly doesn’t like the prospect of castling kingside without first attempting to stop any pawn breaks on that wing of the board – but it all spectacularly backfires on Studer. 11…g4 12.Ng1 0-0 13.Ne2 Nf6 14.Nf4 Qe7 15.0-0 If Studer thought that with no kingside pawn breaks that castling would be safe, then he’s in for a big shock! 15…Nh8 Only in Rapport world! The knight is heading to g6 to disrupt White’s only active piece on the board, the Nf4. 16.c5 Bc7 17.a3 Ng6 18.b4 Nxf4 19.exf4 Nh5! It’s only now we see suddenly see the danger on the kingside, as Rapport totally flummoxes his opponent with an audacious series of Tal-like sacrifices to bludgeon down the door of the White king. 20.Rfe1 Nxf4! 21.gxf4 Bxf4 22.Nc4 Studer begins to panic – but you can see why with the kingside attack crashing in like a tsunami. The logical choice to hang on was with 22.Nf1! Qxh4 23.Qd3 Bc7 – but eventually …f4 and …g3 will hit like a tin opener ripping open the White king. 22…Qxh4 23.Nb6 e5!!? [see diagram] You can’t deny that Rapport doesn’t lack cojones! After already sacrificing one piece, he now shows no fear by going all-in with the follow-up offer of the rook sacrifice, gambling that by swiftly bringing his light-squared bishop into the attack will be the deciding factor. 24.Nxd5? [Studer must have been like a rabbit caught in a coming headlight by now. Obviously the rook was taboo: if 24.Nxa8? Bh2+ 25.Kf1 f4 26.Bxd5+ (Not 26.f3? gxf3 27.Bxf3 e4 will soon crash through to win.) 26…cxd5 27.Ke2 f3+ 28.Kd1 Bf5 29.Qb3 Qxf2 the attack is just too powerful – if the king doesn’t get mated, then …f- and …g-pawns will win the day. It’s hard to stay calm and objective when your opponent is set on taking you into the dark deep forest as he hacks his way through to your king, but the only defence for Studer, as those killjoy engines calmly point out, was 24.dxe5! Bh2+ 25.Kf1 f4 as this time 26.f3! does work, and now 26…Bf5 27.Qc3! a simply must-find move that threatens e6 and a swift counter mating attack on the Black king, that now forces 27…axb4 28.axb4 Rxa1 29.Rxa1 Be6 30.Nd7! Gxf3 31.Bxf3 and the fight goes on – but with the king still caught in no man’s land, just who would fancy trying to defend this dangerous position? 24…cxd5 25.Rxe5? Studer is now in full panic mode – but everything is falling around him anyway. The only alternative was 25.Bxd5+ Kh8 26.Kf1 and try the run of shame to the queenside – but after 26…Rd8 27.Bg2 Be6 the Black attack can’t be stopped. 25…Bh2+ 26.Kf1 Bxe5 27.Bxd5+ Kg7 28.dxe5 axb4 29.Ke2 Instead, 29.c6 might have limped on a few more moves after 29…Qe7 but Black’s extra material and the precarious state of the White king will soon prove decisive. 29…Rxa3!!? The clinical win was the simple 29…bxa3 – but in Rapport world, he intends to finish the game with a flourish by dramatically sacrifices even more material! 30.Bxa3 bxa3 31.Qc3 f4 32.Rxa3 Studer could have limped timidly on a little longer with 32.e6+ but after 32…Qf6 33.Rxa3 Qxc3 34.Rxc3 Rd8 35.Bb3 (It’s much the same after 35.Be4 Rd4 36.Bf5 Bxe6 37.Bxe6 Re4+ etc.) 35…Bxe6 36.Bxe6 Re8 Black easily wins the R+P ending with the two extra pawns. 32…f3+ 33.Ke3 Qg5+ 34.Kd3 Rd8 35.Qd4 Be6 0-1 White throws in the towel, as 36.Bxe6 Qg6+ 37.Kc4 Rxd4+ 38.Kxd4 Qxe6 picks up the bishop to easily win.