‘Nezhmetdinovesque’ is the mouthful of an adjective I once used to describe the concept of a beautiful, sacrificial theme to a game about to be explained to an eager group of young chess students in Seattle by four-time US champion Yasser Seirawan. But as I looked around the room, there was nothing but vacant expressions on their faces - and somehow that didn’t really surprise me, because many have never heard of the late, great Russian genius, Rashid Nezhmetdinov (1912-1974).
This unheralded star never won a national championship or earned the grandmaster title, but he is revered by aficionados as one of the game’s greatest tacticians and combinational geniuses. His sensational sacrificial wins over Lev Polugaevsky - the game that Yasser was about to show his students - in 1958, Mikhail Tal in 1961 and Oleg Chernigov in 1962 are among the most anthologised games of the 20th century, and he fashioned at least another dozen or so brilliances that any grandmaster would be proud of.
Here in the West, though, ‘Super Nezh’ was unknown for many years as his games were not widely circulated, and it’s only been in the last couple of decades with the publication of two books (Super Nezh: Rashid Nezhmetdinov, Chess Assassin and Nezhmetdinov’s Best Games of Chess - both well worth reading) on him, that this unknown warrior from the past - who had an attacking flair and style that was more reminiscent of a bygone romantic era from the 18th and 19th century - has been ‘rediscovered’ to the annals of the game.
His hometown of Kazan has been holding a series of tournaments in his honour for the past 36 years, with the latest edition fittingly featuring a modern day star who is also a fan favourite and who plays in the style of Nezhmetdinov: the Russian former elite star Alexander Morozevich. And he easily won the opening rapid event with an unbeaten score of 8/9, and now the heavy favourite to win the Nezhmetdinov Cup Swiss tournament that follows all of this week.
Alexander Morozevich - Andrey Shariyazdanov
37th Nezhmetdinov Memorial Rapid, (3)
1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Be3 Nd7 5.Qd2 a6 6.h4 A typically aggressive response from Morozevich - and also right out of the Nezhmetdinov playbook: Attack! Attack! Attack! 6...h6 7.0-0-0 b5 8.f4 Ngf6 9.e5 Ng4 10.h5 Prying open the lines of attack towards the Black king. 10...Nb6 11.hxg6 fxg6 12.Nf3 0-0 13.Bg1 Bf5 14.Nh4 b4 15.Ne2 Nd5 16.Ng3 e6 17.Nhxf5 exf5 18.Bc4! Taking full advantage of the open lines he created - the pin will win a solid pawn. 18...c6 19.Qxb4 Kh7 20.Bxd5 cxd5 21.Ne2 Rb8 22.Qa3 Rf7 23.Rh3! Far from being hemmed in by the bishop on g1, the rook swings into action across the third rank for a mass exchange and a winning endgame. 23...Rfb7 24.Rb3 Bf8 25.Qa4 Something is going to have to give in the Black position. He's a pawn down, and with a few choice exchanges of pieces, Black will also not be able to defend his weak pawns on the queenside. 25...Qc8 26.Rdd3! (See Diagram) Threatening Rdc3 with an overwhelming position - Black now has no choice other than to accept his fate. 26...Qc4 27.Rxb7+ Rxb7 28.Qxc4 dxc4 29.Rd1 d5 30.Nc3 Rd7 31.b3 Bb4 32.Na4 cxb3 33.axb3 Rd8 34.c3 Be7 35.Kc2 g5 36.g3 h5 37.fxg5 Bxg5 38.Nc5 Be7 39.Ne6! Much stronger than taking on a6, which would allow Black's rook to at least swing into the game. But now, from f5, the knight has a superb outpost to pick off the more important Black pawns. 39...Rg8 40.Nf4 Nh6 41.Nxd5 Bd8 42.Bf2 h4 43.gxh4 Rg2 44.Rd2 Ng4 45.Be3 Rg3 46.Bg5 Bxg5 47.hxg5 Kg6 48.Re2 1-0