It seemed like old times again at the FIDE World Team Championship, as Russia – who once used to dominate all team tournaments, following on from the Soviet hegemony created during the post-war years – goes for gold going down the home stretch of the final three rounds of the competition in Astana, Kazakhstan. In a four-horse race for the podium placings, just one point separates Russia, who lead ahead of India and England, with the USA just off the medal pace.
After losing to the USA in the shock result of the competition in round two, China’s misery was compounded by Russia, who comfortably beat their seeding rivals in the next round – and the China crisis continues even today, with the reigning Olympiad champions in round six being held to an unlikely draw by lowly-rated tail-enders Egypt, which effectively rules them out of a medal placing.
Team USA has had what can only be described as “a mixed bag” of results – and some memorable chess moments along the way, as witness today’s game – following their upset win over China: drawing with England and Kazakhstan, losing to Azerbaijan, before steading the ship with a solid win today over Sweden that put them back in the race for a medal – but they now face the daunting task of a potential murderer’s row having to play Russia, India and Iran in the closing rounds.
As Kingpin magazine explains, the term ‘Irish Pawn Centre’ was first coined by the late, great Tony Miles in the launch issue of the short-lived glossy magazine International Chess, with England’s first grandmaster annotating his game from the 1978 Amsterdam zonal tournament against Ireland’s Eamon Keogh, and found himself with the I.P.C. and won…the round after Keogh himself also had the I.P.C. against Francisco Sanz in the tournament.
I well remember reading that original Miles article, where he captured the zeitgeist of Keogh’s brace of tripled isolated pawn games perfectly. Since then, every time any similar pawn-like structure is seen in chess, invariably it comes with a tip of the hat to the ever-witty Miles and his I.P.C. – but now we might have to create a new coining of the ‘Polish-American Isolated Pawn Centre’, as the latest US recruit to the Stars and Stripes, GM Dariusz Swiercz, found himself involved with a complex top-board tussle against local hero Rinat Jumabayev, that involved no fewer than five(!) isolated pawns on the f-file – and the quintet also being joined by the two kings for what was almost a near-perfect alignment down the f-file!
At least Russia is not having it all their own way in Astana. In the Women’s Team Championship, China – remarkably minus the services of Hou Yifan, the women’s world #1, and Ju Wenju, the current Women’s World Champion – offered something for Beijing to cheer about, being the only team on a perfect score of 12/12, after they beat top seeds and Olympiad champions Russia in round five; a result that effectively decided the outcome of the gold medal.
Open: 1. Russia, 10/12; 2-3. India, England 9; 4. USA 8; 5. China 6; 6. Iran 5; 7-9. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Sweden 4; 10. Egypt 1.
Women’s: 1. China 12/12; 2. Russia 10; 3. Ukraine 9; 4. Georgia 8; 5-6. India, Kazakhstan 6; 7. USA 5; 8-9. Armenia, Hungary 2; 10. Egypt 0.
Photo: Local hero Rinat Jumabayev finds in front of him a sight rarely seen in chess – an almost perfect alignment of pieces and pawns down the f-file! | © David Llada / FIDE World Team Championship.
GM Dariusz Swiercz – GM Rinat Jumabayev
FIDE World Team Championship, (4)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d3 a6 6.c3 d6 7.a4 0-0 8.Re1 h6 9.h3 Re8 10.Nbd2 Be6 11.Bxe6 Rxe6 12.b4 Ba7 13.Qc2 Qd7 14.Nf1 d5 15.Ng3 Rd8 16.Bb2 b5 17.Qb3 dxe4 18.dxe4 Rd6 19.axb5 axb5 20.Nf5 Rd3 21.Rxa7!? From what seems a simple position out of the “quiet” Giuoco Piano, and from out of nowhere, the game now takes a very strange twist that leads to a highly-amusing diagram-moment! 21…Rxf3! Forced. If 21…Nxa7? 22.Nxe5 Qe6 23.Qxe6 fxe6 24.Ne7+! Kh7 25.Nxd3 Rxd3 26.Ra1 Rd2 27.e5! and when the dust settles, White will have a decent winning advantage, e.g. 27…Ng8 (The resulting position is fraught with dangers for Black: if 27…Ne4 28.f3 Ng3 29.Rxa7 Ne2+ 30.Kh2 Rxb2 31.Rxc7 Nf4 32.Kg3! Nxg2 33.h4 Ne3 34.f4 Rd2 35.Kf3 Nc4 36.Rc6 it’s going to be difficult stopping White’s e- and f-pawns.) 28.Nxg8 Nc6 29.Ra6 Nxe5 30.Ne7 Rxb2 31.Rxe6 Nd3 32.Nd5 and again, White has good chances of winning, as the c- and b-pawns are easy targets. 22.gxf3 Nxa7 23.c4 Qd2 24.Qc3 bxc4 25.Qxd2 Rxd2 26.Bxe5 Nc6 27.Bxf6 The chronic crippling of Black’s pawn structure just can’t be resisted – and rightly so, as the endgame should be to White’s advantage. 27…gxf6 28.Rc1 Nd4 It’s tricky – very tricky. The alternative looked better as it retained the passed c-pawn, but even 28…Ne5 wasn’t so clear after 29.Nxh6+ Kh7 30.Ng4 Nxf3+ 31.Kg2 Rc2! (the only way to defend the c-pawn) 32.Nxf6+ Kg6 33.Rxc2 Ne1+ 34.Kg3 Nxc2 35.Nd5 Nd4 36.Kf4 Nb5 37.Ke3 White certainly has good prospects of converting his advantage. And with that in mind, Jumabayev looks to confuse matters by heading to a complicated rook and pawn ending. 29.Rxc4 Nxf5 30.exf5 Rb2 Jumabayev is putting his faith in the mutually crippled kingside pawns will only help steer the game towards a draw – and given the alternatives highlighted above, it certainly looks the right choice. 31.Kg2 Kf8 32.Kg3 Rb3 33.Kg4 Kg7 34.Kf4 Kf8 35.Kg3 Kg7 36.Kg4 Kf8 37.Kf4 [see diagram] It’s an irresistibly, aesthetically-pleasing diagram moment that no chess journalist worth his salt just couldn’t resist! The reason being that this is not a position you would normally see every day in top tournament praxis, with five pawns and two kings, in near perfect alignment along the f-file, that looks more like a contrived, specially composed endgame study. 37…Ke8?! This just doesn’t look right – the name of the game in this bizarre endgame scenario should be looking at ways to prevent the White king infiltrating the position, which can be better achieved with 37…h5!? 38.Kg3 c6 39.Rxc6 Rxb4 40.Rxf6 h4+! 41.Kg2 (If 41.Kh2 Rf4 42.Kg2 Kg7 43.Rd6 Rb4! it’s hard to see this being anything other than a draw, as the Black rook and h4-pawn stop White’s king coming into the game.) 41…Kg7 42.Rd6 Rc4 43.Rb6 Rf4 and as in the above note, with Black oscillating his rook across the fourth rank, then the game can only end in a draw, as it is impossible for White to make any progress. 38.Re4+ This only pushes the Black king back to where it really should have gone anyway. It’s slim, but the best hope to try to win here had to be with 38.Kg4! Kf8 (The best option. If 38…h5+?! 39.Kxh5 Rxf3 40.Kg4 Rxf2 41.Rxc7 Rb2 42.Rb7 White has realistic “chances” to convert for a win, as the position has clarified somewhat with two passed pawns and a dominant rook on the seventh, not to mention a more mobile king.) 39.h4 Rb2 40.f4 Rb1! but I dare say this is also going to end in a draw. 38…Kf8 39.Rc4 Ke8 40.Re4+ Kf8 41.Rd4 Ke7 42.Kg4 Kf8 I think by now, both players were resigned to the fact that the crippled pawns on both sides would see the game only ending in a draw. 43.Kg3 Rc3 44.Rd8+ Kg7 45.Rd5 Rc4 46.Rb5 Kf8 47.Rb8+ There’s just no way for White to make any meaningful progress with his king effectively cut-off having to defend the f- and h-pawns, and his rook having to defend the b-pawn. 47…Kg7 48.b5 Kh7? Rook and pawn endgames, don’t you just love ’em? One right move and you are easily defending, one slight slip and you can be either left for dead or sweating again to hold the draw. The simple 48…Rb4 49.Rb7 h5 was enough for an easy draw – but Black has erred slightly, and White misses a golden chance to put his opponent back on the rack for a little more torture. 49.Rb7 It’s academic anyway, as it also looks to lead to a draw, but always. always in rook and pawn endings, invariably the best place to put a rook to attack a pawn is from behind – and here, after 49.Rc8! Rc5 50.b6 at least makes Black sweat and work a little more for the draw. The game should now continue: 50…cxb6 51.Rxc5 bxc5 52.Kf4 c4 53.Ke3 Kg7 54.Kd4 Kf8 55.Kxc4 Ke7 56.Kc5 Kd7 57.Kd5 Kc7 58.Kc5 h5! and we have a fortress in the king and pawn ending, as there’s no way the White king can get near to attacking any of the Black pawns now. 49…Kg7 50.f4 Rc3+ 51.Kg2 h5 52.h4 Kf8 53.b6 cxb6 54.Rxb6 Kg7 55.Ra6 ½-½