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08 Apr

Beat the Clock

For those of a - ahem - certain generation, Beat the Clock was a catchy 1979 disco single from the American rock duo Sparks. Mael brothers Ron and Russell, say they were inspired to write it being big fans as kids of the famed game show Beat the Clock.  And beating the clock has been a tournament fixture ever since the first chess clock was introduced into praxis in Paris in 1867. 

But arguably the biggest horological revolution came - just over two decades ago - in one of the more lucid moments from eight-time U.S. Champion and former World Champion Bobby Fischer, with the introduction of his digital chess clock that added increments of time to prevent time-trouble blunders, that once seemed like a crackpot scheme.  Now Fischer’s innovation is almost universally used at all levels.

But despite the digital revolution, time-trouble blunders still happen in chess - and one looks as if it could ultimately decide the outcome of the U.S. Championship in St. Louis, as second seed Wesley So saw his debut title hopes all but being dashed in the final seconds of his round six battle with Ray Robson, as he blundered in a superior position to lose.

And with an unbeaten Hikaru Nakamura easily drawing with Sam Shankland, the U.S. No. 1, on 4.5/6, maintains his half point lead at the top now over Robson, on 4-points.  So is now in the chasing pack with Alexander Onischuk and Sam Sevian, a full point behind the leader on 3.5-point. Meanwhile, in the chase for the women's title, there could a new addition to the roll of honor, as the Prague-born University of Texas-Brownsville student, WGM Katerina Nemcova, unbeaten on 5/6, has a clear full point lead at the top over three-time defending champion GM Irina Krush and former champion IM Rusudan Goletiani, on 4-points.

R Robson - W So
U.S. Championship, (6)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 Nxe4 5.Re1 Nd6 6.Nxe5 Be7 7.Bf1 Nxe5 8.Rxe5 0–0 9.Nc3 Ne8 10.Nd5 Bd6 11.Re1 Nf6 12.Nxf6+ Qxf6 13.d4 c6 14.Be3 b6 15.Bd3 Bc7 16.d5 Be5 17.c3 cxd5 18.Qg4 d6 19.Qa4 Qd8 20.Rad1 Be6 21.Bb5 a6 22.Bc6 b5 23.Qa3 Rb8 24.Qxa6 b4 25.Ba7 Rc8 26.cxb4 A true mess is looming on the board, and one that requires careful calacultation from both sides; especially with time-consuming variations such as. 26.Bb7 bxc3 27.Bxc8 Bxc8 28.Qd3 Qh4 29.g3 Qa4 30.Bd4 cxb2! (30...c2 31.Rd2 Ba6 32.Qe3 Rc8 33.Rc1 Qxa2 34.Bxe5 dxe5 35.Qxe5 and White should easily round-up the c-pawn.) 31.Bxe5 dxe5 32.Qb1 f6 33.Qxb2 d4 and Black has good compensation with the strong pawn chain and the big White weakness down the a8-h1 diagonal. 26...Qh4 27.Rxe5 If 27.g3 Qxb4 28.b3 Rc7 29.Be3 Bc3 30.Rf1 (30.Re2 Bc8 31.Qb5 Bg4) 30...Bh3 with a plus for Black. 27...dxe5 28.Bc5 Rfd8 29.a4 d4 Black is easily winning now - but the clock plays a decisive part in the tables being turned. The clinical route to victory for So was 29...Qg5 30.Bb7 Rb8 30.Bb7 Rb8 31.Ba7 Qe7! 32.Bxb8 Rxb8 33.Bf3 Qxb4 34.a5 g5 Not bad, but much better was 34...Bf5!, with Bc2 to follow being hard for White to defend against.  But time waits for no man, as the famous quote goes. 35.h3 Qxb2 (See Diagram) For reasons we'll soon see,  35...Qc5 had to be played. 36.Qd6! A wonderful move to have when your opponent is in time trouble, as it threatens many things - and on different wings of the board. 36...Rc8? [A simple blunder, induced by So's digital clock metaphorically ticking down.  If Black defends the d-pawn, then White will have better than a perpetual after 36...Rb5 37.a6! Qa2 38.Bc6! Rb1 39.Qd8+ Kg7 40.Qxg5+ Kf8 41.Qd8+ Kg7 42.Rxb1 Qxb1+ 43.Kh2 and the a-pawn is unstoppable.However, So could have salvaged a draw with 36...Qb4 37.Qxe5 Rb5 38.Qf6 Qxa5 39.Qxd4 (39.Rxd4 Qe1+ 40.Kh2 Qe5+ 41.Qxe5 Rxe5 is an easy draw) 39...Re5 with an equal position. 37.Qxe5 h6 38.Qxd4 Qxd4 39.Rxd4 Rc1+ 40.Rd1 Rc7 41.a6 Ra7 42.Bb7 1–0

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