06 Nov

Gladiatorial Candidates

It was confirmed earlier this week from organizers Agon that the FIDE Candidates tournament will take place in Moscow, Russia, running 10th to 30th March 2016. The event is sponsored by the Russian-based Tashir Group run by Armenian-born billionaire Samvel Karapetyan who backed the 2014 Petrosian Memorial - and that gives us a clue to the final piece of the jigsaw for the eight-player line-up that will determine Magnus Carlsen’s next title challenger.


Armenia is a notoriously tight-knit community; and despite the tournament being held in Moscow, there’s no place for the in-form Russian ex-champion Vladimir Kramnik, as Armenian No.1, Levon Aronian was named as the sponsor's wildcard nominee. Other players already qualified include: Viswanathan Anand of India, qualified by being the defeated challenger in the last World Championship match; Americans Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura, respective winner and runner-up in the FIDE Grand Prix; and Russians Sergey Karjakin and Peter Svidler, respective winner and runner-up in the FIDE World Cup.

And by the end of this month, Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria and the young Dutch star Anish Giri - barring a total disaster at the upcoming European Team Championship in Iceland - should be confirmed as being the top two qualifiers in the year-long race of average rating spots.

So that’s the eight among whom Magnus’s next title challenger will emerge. I can’t see Anand surprisingly defying the odds and his age like last time to again challenge Magnus. If I were a betting man, the three I would back in this gladiatorial contest would be: Nakamura, Caruana and Karjakin. They are of the right age and hungry for a challenge.  And if I was pushed even further, I would say Nakamura could be the one with the ‘right stuff’ to emerge to face his nemesis. And with their history and backstory, and also America being heavily touted as the venue for the next title match, that could well be a match-up that best attracts the attention of the public and the media!

So much for the stars of today, but what about the stars of tomorrow with the recently-concluded World Youth & Cadets Championships in Porto Carras, Greece? Team USA, Sponsored by Two Sigma Investments, sent their largest-ever delegation to the mega youth championships and will be returning home with four medals. The top podium pick was Clarissa Yip, 11, from Andover, Massachusetts, who won the silver medal in the Girls U-12 after she tied for first with 9.5/11 and took 2nd place on tiebreak. Other podium winners were Justin Wang (Open U-10), David Peng (Open U-12) and Agata Bykovtsev (Girls U-16) who all earned bronze medals.

And in the decisive final rounds, two top California juniors, David Peng and Andrew Hong, produced an epic battle of wills where the ultimate winner was destined for a medal. Peng won, but Hong - who was among the contenders for gold at one stage - tried to hang in as best he could until the bitter end.

David Peng - Andrew Hong
WYCC Open U-12, (10)
Sicilian Najdorf, English Attack
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 The English Attack is a relative newcomer to chess praxis, and became a potent force during the early 1990s following a string of impressive results from the English (then) top-trio of Nigel Short, Michael Adams and Dr. John Nunn. 6...e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 h5 A necessity to stop White further expanding on the kingside with g4. 9.Nd5 Nxd5 Much better here is 9...Bxd5 10.exd5 Nbd7 and continuing with a set-up of ..Qc7, ...g6 and, if you can get it in, possibly ...Bh6 to exchange off the dark-squared bishops. 10.exd5 Bf5 11.Bd3 Bxd3 12.Qxd3 The problem for Black is, after the exchange of knights and bishops, White has the better development and a grip over the white-squares. 12...Nd7 13.0-0-0 Be7 14.Kb1 White want's to get off the half-open c-file and prevent Black playing ...Bg5 swapping off the bishops, as this will ease his game. 14...Rc8 15.c4 The immediate attack with 15.f4 proved very favourable for White in two top grandmaster encounters. 15...a5 16.Nd2 The knight is heading for e4 - and if it can safely get there, Black will have a difficult game. 16...a4 17.Qa3 Qa5 18.Ne4 Qa6 Also an option was 18...0-0 as taking the pawn my well prove problematic: 19.Nxd6 Qa6 20.c5 Bxd6 21.cxd6 Rc4! 22.Rc1 Rfc8 23.Rxc4 Rxc4 24.Rc1 Rxc1+ 25.Bxc1 (Not 25.Kxc1? Qf1+ 26.Kc2 Qxg2+ and Black is better) 25...Qc4! 26.Qc3 Qxd5 27.Qc7 Nc5 and Black has his pawn back, has the d6 pawn under control, and also has good attacking chances on the White king. 19.c5 dxc5 20.d6 Bf8 21.Rd5 If 21.Nxc5 Bxd6 22.Qxa4 Qxa4 23.Nxa4 Ke7 leads to an equal game. 21...b6 A tricky position, but Black has to keep his wits about him, as the position is fraught with danger: 21...Qc4 22.Rd2 f5 23.Nxc5! f4 24.Bf2 Rxc5 25.Bxc5 Qxc5 26.Qxa4 Qc6 27.Qa8+ Kf7 28.Rc1 and suddenly Black is lost. 22.Qc3 f6 The only sensible move, as 22...f5 crashes to 23.Rxe5+ Nxe5 24.Qxe5+ Kd7 25.Qxf5+ Kc6 26.Rd1 Kb7 27.Qd5+ Ka7 28.d7 Rd8 29.Bg5 and Black can resign. 23.f4! Rightly sensing the time was ripe for the position to be burst open. The defence is difficult for Black. 23...Qb7 Keeping the queen active with 23...Qe2 may well have been the braver and better option, as it temporarily disrupts White's plans; and the queen can always track back to help the defence with ...Qg4-e6. 24.Rhd1 exf4 25.Bxf4 Kf7 (See Diagram) 26.Qf3 Difficult to spot in the heat of battle, but the engine-suggested clinical win was the spectacular 26.Ng5+! Kg8 (Not 26...fxg5 27.Qc4! and suddenly Black's king, ripped off its defences, is being mated: 27...gxf4 28.Re1 Nf6 29.Rg5+ Nd5 30.Rxd5 etc.) 27.Qe3 fxg5 28.Qe6+ Kh7 29.Rxg5 Nf6 30.Rdd5!! and there's no defence to Rxh5+. 26...Qc6 27.Bc1 Over-cautious: The simple win now was 27.Rxh5. 27...Kg8 28.Qf5 To his credit, Black is hanging in there as best as he can - but his pieces are so awkwardly placed now, that something has to give. 28...Rh7 29.Qe6+ Kh8 30.Ng3 c4 31.Ne2 Nc5? Sometimes the pressures become so great in such positions, when you are hanging on for dear life, with your pieces badly placed, that you find you have to do something positive. But here, it simply loses. Black's only hope of survival was 31...a3 32.Nf4 Rh6 and wait for White ti find a concrete winning plan. 32.Qf7 Winning on the spot was 32.Rxc5! Qxc5 33.Nf4 Rh6 34.Rd5! Qc6 35.d7 Qxe6 36.Nxe6 Ra8 37.Bxh6 and again, Black can resign. 32...g5 Again the pressure is becoming too much, and Black feels the need to let off some steam just to see his pieces becoming active. 33.Qxf6+ Bg7 34.Qxg5 Qd7 35.Nf4 Ne4 36.Qe7 The game is over, but Black sets up a possible cheapo; the only hope in such dire straits. 36...c3 37.Qxd7 c2+ 38.Ka1 Bxb2+ 39.Bxb2+ He was hoping for the 'Hail Mary' with White reacting wrongly with 39.Kxb2? cxd1N+! followed by ...Rxd7 and ‘suddenly’ Black is winning. This shows that you should always play to the very end, even if you have a hopeless position. Stranger stuff has happened in chess - and will long continue to happen! 39...Rc3 40.Bxc3+ Nxc3 41.Qc8+ Kg7 42.Qxc3+ Kf7 43.Rf5+ Kg8 44.Qc8+ 1-0

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