John Henderson
By John Henderson

At the end of a year like no other, when Covid has altered so much of our lives, we need to at least take some positives before we bid good riddance to the horrors of 2020. The ancient game of chess received a renaissance with the double digital boost with the online Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour – now the ‘Champions Chess Tour’, with the second leg, the Airthings Masters, getting underway on 26 December – and Netflix’s unexpected global No.1 hit of the year, The Queen’s Gambit.

The breathtaking performance of Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon is an outstanding tour de force: a standout portrayal of a fiercely determined young woman battling sexism and personal demons on her way to the top of the chess world in the 1960s. Adapted from Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel of the same name, this Netflix miniseries with a wonderfully lush Mad Men vibe to it, came out of nowhere and then had everyone binge-viewing and talking about it.

And fiction met reality recently on the back of the unheralded success of The Queen’s Gambit, as Taylor-Joy even got to meet up online with the original Beth role-model for a winning female chess star, Judit Polgar, the all-time women’s No.1! See the not-to-be-missed exclusive Netflix interview below.

Moscow’s fabled Central Chess Club last week concluded its Russian men’s and women’s championship that witnessed the emergence of a new teenage star with aspirations of being like Beth. Polina Shuvalova, aged 19, took the tournament by storm by winning her first six games and looked set to take the title on her debut.

But she couldn’t keep up her earlier electric pace, with the title going to the favourite, Aleksandra Goryachkina, after Shuvalova unable to win again in the second half of the tournament, subsequently caught in the final rounds, with both finishing tied on 8/11, and then the heartbreak of losing an Armageddon tie-breaker.

One of the highlights of The Queen’s Gambit was some of the stunning games adapted from real praxis play by chess consultants Garry Kasparov and Bruce Pandolfini that followed Beth’s progress through the ranks to her ultimate winning moment in Moscow – and similarly last week in Moscow, Alina Kashlinskaya’s Beth-like brilliancy against three-time former Russian champion, Alisa Galliamova, certainly wouldn’t have felt out of place in the miniseries.

Final standings:
1-2. GM Aleksandra Goryachkina, IM Polina Shuvalova, 8/11; 3-6. IM Alina Kashlinskaya, WGM Leya Garifullina, GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, IM Marina Guseva, 6½; 7-8. WGM Natalija Pogonina, IM Alisa Galliamova, 6; 9. WGM Olga Girya, 4; 10. GM Valentina Gunina, 3½; 11. WFM Yulia Grigorieva, 2½; 12. WFM Tatyana Getman, 2.

IM Alisa Galliamova – IM Alina Kashlinskaya
70th Women’s Russian Ch. Superfinal, (7)
King’s Indian Defence
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.d4 Bg7 4.e3 0-0 5.Be2 d6 6.0-0 Nbd7 7.Nc3 e5 8.b4 e4 9.Nd2 Re8 10.Bb2 Nf8 11.a4 h5 It’s a reversed King’s Indian Attack vs the French Defence, only this time with Black attacking the kingside and White the queenside – and quite often the first to blink in this chessic version of chicken losing. 12.Qb3 N8h7 13.Rfc1 Bf5 14.a5 a6 15.b5 c6 16.bxc6 bxc6 17.Qd1 Ng5 18.Bf1 Bg4 A better approach would have been 18…h4 and pushing on with …h3 to force g3 weakening the light squares around the white king. 19.Qe1 Qd7 20.Ba3 Rad8 21.c5 d5 The tension is released in the centre, but there’s a massive hole on b6 that’s got a big date with a rook landing there. 22.Rcb1 Qf5 23.Rb6 It was the move we predicted, but here we have an interesting juncture with first playing 23.h3! forcing Black now to go ‘all-in’ with what looks like a big bluff. If 23…Bxh3 24.gxh3 Nxh3+ 25.Bxh3 Qxh3 26.Qf1! Qf5 now 27.Rb6! Re6 28.Rab1 and it is going to take too long for Black to muster up a winning kingside attack for the sacrificed piece – and meanwhile, there’s now a major worry about a6 falling and White’s a-pawn close to queening. 23…Rc8 24.Rxa6 The immediate human reaction is that the Bf1 is needed to help fend off the attack, but the engine knows no fear and suggests that the best way forward was with 24.Bxa6!? Rc7 25.Bb7 Bh3 26.Qf1 The queen is a better defender than the bishop, and that a-pawn is now a major threat. Faced with that, Black needs now to go ‘all-in’ with 26…Ng4 27.Ne2 Bxg2! 28.Kxg2 (It’s a bold move to take with the king, but after 28.Qxg2 Nh3+! it all soon fizzles out to a repetition with 29.Qxh3 Qxf2+ 30.Kh1 Qxe2 31.Qg3 Qxd2 32.Qxc7 Nf2+ 33.Kg1 Nh3+ 34.Kh1 Nf2+ 35.Kg1 Nh3+ etc.) 28…Nf3 29.Ng3 Qd7 30.Bxc6! Admit it, we all saw the tactical reasoning behind the engine’s Qf1 now, didn’t we? 30…Rxc6 31.Qb5! Rec8 32.a6 h4 33.Rxc6 Rxc6 34.Bb4 hxg3 35.hxg3 g5! You just got to love a playing engine in these tactically-rich positions, don’t you? 36.Nf1 Kh7 37.Ra2 Qc8 38.Qb7 Nf6 39.Nh2 Nxh2 40.Kxh2 Ne8 and the betting is the game will end in a draw, as white’s a-pawn is too far down the board – but such engine fantasies are wonderful! 24…Bh6 25.Qb1?! Now was probably the last call for 25.h3 Nf3+! 26.Nxf3 (The only move, as it’s too dangerous to play 26.gxf3? exf3 27.Qb1 Qg5 28.Kh1 Qh4 29.Ra2 Bxe3! 30.fxe3 Rxe3 and White is dead.) 26…exf3 27.hxg4 Nxg4 28.gxf3 Nxe3 29.fxe3 Bxe3+ 30.Kg2 Bxd4 31.Qd2 Be3 32.Qe1 Bd4 33.Ne2 Bxa1 34.Qxa1 Qg5+ 35.Kf2 Qe3+ 36.Kg2 Qg5+ and a repetition. 25…Ne6 26.Ra2 If White can survive the coming kingside onslaught, then the passed a-pawn will win – but here’s the little snafu about such King’s Indian Defence opposing wing attacks: even if White succeeds in queening the a-pawn, always remember that it is mate that ends the game! 26…Qg5 27.Rb6 Bf5 For now, I would have continued the attack with 27…h4 first, but the move played doesn’t really change anything much, as eventually, the bishop will have to retreat anyway. 28.Qe1 Ng4 29.Nd1 Galliamova is attempting to make all the correct defensive retreats, and long-term that a-pawn should really win the day. But faced with this scenario, Kashlinskaya  – as most KID players do in such situations – is completely numb to what’s happening on the queenside, as she has only one thing in her mind: to mate her opponent’s king! 29…Qh4 30.h3 Ng5! The pressure is mounting, and Kashlinskaya is in no mood to be the one to blink first! 31.hxg4 hxg4 32.g3 When facing such KID do-or-die attacks, it’s never usually a good idea to be the one to voluntarily move a pawn in front of your king, unless you really, really have to – and here, Galliamova probably had to, as 32.Ba6? walks into 32…Nf3+! 33.Nxf3 gxf3 and the Black attack is crashing through; one line is 34.Qf1 Bf4!! 35.exf4 (There’s no stopping the mate. If 35.g3 Qh7 with …Kg7 followed by …Rh8) 35…Kg7! and carnage down the h-file. 32…Qh5 33.f4 It looks as if Galliamova is in full panic mode now, but this is her only hope for survival. If 33.Ba6 Nf3+ 34.Nxf3 gxf3 and we’ll soon be returning to the theme of the h-file carnage with …Kg7 and …Rh8. 33…gxf3 34.Nf2 Kg7 35.Ba6 Rc7 36.Nf1 Rh8! We all know what’s coming, but can Kashlinskaya find that added dash of élan that can turn a devastating attack into a published brilliancy? 37.Bb7 Bh3 38.a6 Bg2 39.a7 Qh1+!! [see diagram] Of course she can! And what a simply brilliant way to do it, with a stunning queen sacrifice for a picturesque forced mate! 40.Nxh1 Nh3+ 41.Kh2 Bxe3! 0-1 The final finesse, and White resigns, faced with the forced mate of 42.Nxe3 (Or even 42.Qxe3 Nf4+ 43.Kg1 Rxh1+ 44.Kf2 Rxf1#) 42…Ng5+ 43.Kg1 Rxh1+ 44.Kf2 Nh3#





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