23 Jun

Drawing To A Close

Denmark's Bent Larsen (1935-2010) was often described as “the ultimate chess battler,” always interested in wins and first places. He played with enormous energy and great fighting spirit. Offering him a draw was a waste of time, as many grandmasters would testify to. He would decline it politely, but firmly. "No, thank you," he would say and the fight would go on and on and on and on.


And such was the ‘Great Dane’s’ total aversion to the so-called grandmaster draw and draws in general, I often wondered at the irony of his one and only invitation to play in Scotland, at the Dundee Centenary International of 1967, as the players there were commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Dundee International of 1867, a tournament that had the dubious distinction of officially declaring that “a draw should be reckoned as half a game to each player engaged in it,” thus introducing the half point into the chess-scoring system, as before this drawn games were - and a lot of the times, exhaustively - replayed to a conclusion.

But things had to change, as the quick draw was becoming a blight on the game - and now most major tournaments these days, such as those in the Grand Chess Tour, including the 3rd Norway Chess 2015 Tournament in Stavanger, have the so-called Sofia/Corsica Rules in force, which forbid draws by mutual consent. Shared points are only allowed in totally drawn positions and the player must first ask the permission of the arbiter, who can be advised by a strong grandmaster as to whether it is a draw or, in fact, instruct the player to continue with the game if there’s play left in the position.

In general, we do now see more fighting chess - which is what the fans, the media and and the sponsors want to see - but sometimes, as the great Mikhail Tal once commented, “If grandmasters are intent on making a draw, even flame-throwers can’t make them want to fight.” And in round 7 in Stavanger, all the games proved to be drawn, and all by the legal loophole of a threefold repetition or a perpetual check!

Round 7:

Nakamura draw Grischuk
Vachier-Lagrave draw Carlsen
Aronian draw Anand
Hammer draw Giri
Topalov draw Caruana.

Round 7 standings: 1. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 6/7; 2-3. Viswanathan Anand (India), Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 4.5; 4. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 4; 5-7. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Fabiano Caruana (Italy/USA) 3; 8-9. Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 2.5; 10. Jon Ludvig Hammer (Norway) 2.

V Topalov - F Caruana
3rd Norway Chess 2015, (7)
Schlecter/Grünfeld Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 c6 4.Bg2 d5 This Schlecter/Grünfeld formation is as solid a defense as there is. Its a very difficult nut to crack, and this could well be the reason why it was Vassily Smyslov's chosen 'battleground' for his 1957 World Championship victory over Mikhail Botvinnik. 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Nf3 Bg7 7.Nc3 0-0 8.Ne5 The whole structure of this opening for both sides generally evolves around control of the crucial e5 square. 8...e6 9.0-0 Nfd7 10.Nf3 By far the most popular reply here is 10.f4 to further control e5. But 10. Nf3 is the more modern approach, favoured by the likes of Aronian, Radjabov and Mamadyarov. 10...Nf6 11.Bf4! The "!" is for fighting spirit. White's optimum best move here is putting the knight on e5 again - but Caruana will simply repeat the position with Nfd7. So as Topalov has never been one to actively seek early draws in the game, he goes down the other route. 11...Nc6 12.Ne5 Nxe5 13.Bxe5 Bd7 14.Qd2 Qe7 15.Rac1 All of this is know avenues - and all games with a very high percentage of draws. Caruana is nothing if not a safe player with the Black pieces - especially when he's facing the tournament leader who is on a streak! 15...Bc6 16.Rc2 Rfd8 17.Rfc1 Ne8 18.Bxg7 Kxg7 19.e3 Nd6 20.Ne2 Bb5 21.Nf4 Rac8 22.h4 Rxc2 23.Rxc2 Rc8 24.Rxc8 Nxc8 25.Qa5 Qd7 26.b3 b6 27.Qc3 Qc6 28.Qa1?! Just when you think all the major pieces are coming off and this game is heading for drawsville, Topalov throws a spanner in the works with a very unusual move. While he may have wanted to avoid the exchange of queens, the best option for this was surely with 29. Qb2, where he can still play ideas such as a4, but crucially preventing Caruana from playing Qc2. 28...Qc7 29.Bh3 With the simple threat of Bxe6, and if fxe6 then Nxe6+ forking king and queen. So this forces Caruana's hand by having to play the active move here. 29...Qc2 30.a4 Ba6 31.Qa3!? Now, if 31.b4?! Bc4! and with Nd6-e4 coming, Black will have practical winning chances with the better pieces, queen and with White having weak pawns on the queenside. Faced with this, Topalov thinks out of the box. 31...Qd1+ 32.Kh2 Qd2 33.Bg2! If 33.Kg2 Qe1 is very strong - so Topalov offers the f2-pawn to decoy Caruana's queen from the action, and at the same time activating his own queen to save the day. 33...h6 If 33...Qxf2 34.Qc1! defends e3 and coming to c7 to generate enough counter-play to - in the nick of time - escape with a perpetual check with 34...h6 35.Qc7 Qxe3 36.b4 g5 37.hxg5 hxg5 38.Qd8! gxf4 39.Qg5+ Kh7 40.Qh5+ Kg8 41.Qg5+ etc. 34.a5 Qxa5 35.Qc1! (See Diagram) Again saving the day; and saving the tournament leader's unbeaten run. 35...Qb4 36.e4 Qxd4 If 36...dxe4 37.d5! e5 38.Qa1 Qd4 39.Ne6+ fxe6 40.Qxa6 Ne7 41.Qxa7 Kf7 42.d6! Qxd6 43.Bxe4 will draw, as Black's b- and doubled d-pawns will be weak. 37.exd5 e5 38.Ne6+ fxe6 39.Qc7+ Kf6 40.Qd8+ Kf7 There's no escaping the perpetual check, unless, of course, you want to create a 'helpmate' theme with 40...Kf5?? 41.Qf8+ Kg4 42.Bf3# 41.Qd7+ Kf8 42.Qd8+ Kf7 43.Qd7+ Kf8 Not 43...Ne7?? 44.d6 winning. 44.Qd8+ draw by perpetual check.

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