The Berlin Pfft - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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The third and final leg of the FIDE Grand Prix in Berlin turned into a damp squib and something of a big anti-climax in the eyes of the fans following two largely uneventful classical draws in the all-American final, as Wesley So went on to edge out Hikaru Nakamura to claim victory following a  tiebreak-decider on Monday.

What particularly irked the fans was game 2, which turned out to be a dull and now notorious theory repetition in the Berlin Defence, that in response received a collective onomatopoeian “pfft”, as the disappointing early handshake proved to be a bad advert for the normally vibrant German metropolis.

The players had obviously decided they weren’t going to take any risks, so instead opted to “take it” to the tiebreak. And after a third successive draw, as the fates would have it, it proved to be a Berlin after all that decided things in Berlin, as So cashed-in big-time on a rare Nakamura outright blunder to take the title and match by 1½-½ in the tiebreak-decider, and 2½-1½ overall.

Winning a major event is always nice, but for So, the €24,000 prize money and finishing the series in third place overall might well be scant reward and regarded as being something of a pyrrhic victor for the US champion, as he was obviously disappointed that he will not now by going to the ‘big dance’ of the Candidate Tournament this summer in Madrid that will decide Magnus Carlsen’s next title-challenger.

Nakamura was confirmed before the final as the Grand Prix winner, and will join runner-up Richard Rapport of Hungary in Madrid. The one disappointment for Nakamura though, will be that big blunder in the tiebreaker, as it turned out to be a short-lived few days as world number 1 in both rapid and blitz ahead of his Norwegian arch-rival, as Carlsen once again returns to the rapid top-spot.

GM Wesley So – GM Hikaru Nakamura
FIDE Berlin Grand Prix Final, (TB 2)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1 There is nothing new except what has been forgotten in chess, to paraphrase Marie Antoinette’s dressmaker. Nowadays, this is a more common approach to avoid the dreaded ‘Berlin Wall’ endgame after 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 that witnessed the largely forgotten Berlin Defence come back to life, where after a century in the wilderness, Vladimir Kramnik dramatically rehabilitated it once again at top-level to successfully bamboozle Garry Kasparov in their 2000 World Championship Match in London. 5…Nd6 6.Nxe5 Be7 When the Berlin Defence was first popular in elite-level circles, during the mid-to-latter part of the 19th Century, the first World Champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, also favoured the 5.Re1 line – but it would have been followed up with 6…Nxe5 7.Rxe5+ Be7 8.Bd3 with the idea of Nc3, b3, Bb2 to launch a swashbuckling kingside attack, all of which I remember from reading a wonderful August 1979 article by Jimmy Adams in the venerable British Chess Magazine. But nowadays, in the more modern game, 6…Be7 is the preferred way to handle the Black side. 7.Bf1 Nxe5 8.Rxe5 0-0 9.d4 Ne8 A standard retreat. Given the opportunity, Black will play …d5 and …Nf6 and claim full equality. 10.d5 Slightly cutting across Black’s plans to equalise. 10…Bc5 11.Re1 d6 12.Nc3 Bf5 13.Bd3 Bxd3 So why not 13…Qh4, you might ask? The problem is that rather than defending f2 with Re2, White instead has 14.Ne4! Bxe4 15.Rxe4 Qxf2+ 16.Kh1 Qf6 17.c3 and a potentially dangerous kingside attack for the pawn; also, it is not-too-easy to see how Black develops his …Ne8. 14.Qxd3 Nf6 15.h3 Stopping the awkward …Ng4. 15…h6 And ditto with the awkward Bg5. 16.Bd2 Qd7 17.Qf3 Bd4 There was no easy answer to the threat of Bxh6. 18.Rad1 Renewing the threat of chopping on h6, only this time the …Bd4 under threat. 18…Rae8 19.Rxe8 Nxe8 Nakamura misses a trick. Our engine overlords will gleefully point out that 19…Rxe8! is a nice tactical resource, with the main line running 20.Bxh6 Bxc3 21.Qxc3 Qf5 22.g4 Qg6 23.Bf4 Nxg4! 24.Qg3 (Not 24.hxg4?? Qxg4+ 25.Kh2 Qxd1 winning.) 24…Nf6 25.Qxg6 fxg6 and total equality. 20.Qd3! The squeeze is on. 20…Bb6 21.Re1 Better and stronger was 21.Ne2! looking to follow-up with Bc3 and a promising kingside attack brewing. 21…Nf6 22.Ne4 Qf5! This totally nullifies any advantage So might have harboured here. 23.g4 Qg6 24.Bc3 Nd7 Nakamura’s position begins to drift a little again. The simpler solution looked to be 24…Nxe4 25.Rxe4 Qg5! where any coming ..f5 – and the potential hit on f2 – is going to make life rather uncomfortable for the White king. And faced with that dilemma, he’ll have to bail-out now with 26.Qd2 Qh4 27.Kg2 f5 28.Rf4 fxg4 29.Rxf8+ Kxf8 30.Qf4+ Kg8 31.hxg4 h5! 32.Bd4 hxg4 33.Bxb6 axb6 34.Qe4 Qh3+ 35.Kg1 g3 36.Qe8+ Kh7 37.Qe4+ and a draw. 25.Ng3 Qxd3 26.cxd3 g6 The only way to stop the main threat of Nf5. 27.Kg2 Looking to expand later with f4 and perhaps Kf3 and the better endgame prospects. If you go immediately for 27.Re7 then it is easier for Black to “react” to the situation, with 27…Rd8! and looking to follow-up with …Ne5, as White can’t hang on for long to extra pawn after twice chopping on e5 (see note below). 27…Ne5 This looks the only try for Nakamura. Too dangerous was 27…Nc5? 28.Ne4! Na4 (Again, the only move. After 28…Nxd3 29.Nf6+ Kg7 30.Nd7+ f6 (After 30…Kg8 31.Rd1! will win material, as 31…Nxf2 fails to 32.Nf6+ Kh8 33.Ne4+ Kg8 34.Nxf2 winning the piece and the game.) 31.Re7+ etc. 28.Rd1 It was not so easy to win a pawn with 28.Bxe5 dxe5 29.Rxe5, as Black simply has 29…Rd8! 30.Ne4 Kf8! stopping Re7 and eventually picking-off the d5-pawn. 28…Re8 29.Ne4 Kf8 It all starts to go horribly wrong now for Nakamura. The best move was the strategic retreat with 29…Nd7! 30.f4 f5! 31.gxf5 gxf5 32.Ng3 Kh7 and Black has lots of resources that will hold the game. 30.Nf6 Re7 31.a4 a5 32.h4 c6?? [see diagram] A big game-deciding blunder from Nakamura, which just goes to show that, at any level of the game, a simple tactic and knight fork can be missed from the equation. Nakamura’s position was awkward, but not losing. After 32…Nd7! 33.Nxd7+ Rxd7 34.g5 h5 35.Bf6 c5! 36.dxc6 bxc6 37.Rc1 Rc7 Black should be holding this – though not easy with the potential back-rank mates hanging in the air with the well-placed Bf6. 33.Bxe5 dxe5 No better was 33…Rxe5 34.Nd7+ more easily winning material and the game. Faced with going down though, to his credit, Nakamura battles on till the bitter end, making So work for his victory. 34.d6 Re6 35.Nd7+ Kg7 36.Nxb6 Rxd6 37.Nc4 Rd4 38.f3 Kf6 39.b3 b5 40.axb5 cxb5 41.Nxa5 h5 42.gxh5 gxh5 43.Kg3 Rd6 44.b4 So has everything protected, but he makes a little bit of a meal out of the process of converting the win. 44…Kf5 45.Nb3 Rg6+ 46.Kf2 Ra6 47.Na5 Rd6 48.Ke3 Rd4 49.Nc6 Rxh4 50.d4! This simplifies everything for So. 50…exd4+ 51.Rxd4 Rh1 52.Rd5+ Kg6 53.Rxb5 And with that, the rest of the game needs no further comment. 53…h4 54.Ne5+ Kg7 55.Kf4 Rg1 56.Ng4 h3 57.Rg5+ Kf8 58.Rh5 Kg7 59.b5 Rb1 60.Rg5+ Kh7 61.Nf6+ Kh6 62.Ng4+ Kh7 63.Kg3 Rb3 64.Rf5 Kg6 65.Rf6+ Kg5 1-0

 

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