06 Jan

The Battle of Hastings

It's one of those moments in time that changed history: The Battle of Hastings in 1066, when King Harold was killed when taking on William the Conqueror's army. But in chess, Hastings on the English south coast has another historical date, with 1895 seeing the launch of what went on to become one of the world’s oldest and most famous chess tournaments; and has been staged annually over the new year period since 1920-21.


The great American Harry Nelson Pillsbury famously made his spectacular debut on the international stage by surprisingly winning the inaugural 1895 Hastings invitational. Since then, it has been won by some of the most famous names in the game, notably during its golden era, through the 1920s and 30s, by the likes of Jose Raul Capablanca and Alexander Alekhine; and after the war, all of the Soviet elites from Mikhail Botvinnik through to Anatoly Karpov became regular attenders to Hastings.

Bobby Fischer was invited as a 14-year-old in 1957-58 but declined as the U.S. Championship - a qualifier for the first rung of the world championship - was organised over the same new year period. And indeed, the U.S. Championship continued to be played over the same period throughout the Sixties, and with Fischer dominating the national title for a decade, it was impossible for him to ever consider accept a further invite.

Sadly, its heyday is long past; world champions no longer show up, with the top players nowadays being mere jobbing grandmasters. The venerable old tournament all but lost its status, the name though being the only association with its glorious past. There were constant fears that Hastings could well be lost to the chess world. But it survives, and indeed this year could well be set for a revival of sorts, with new sponsorship coming from Tradewise - who also sponsor the Gibraltar Masters - allowing a new generation to tread in the footsteps of the greatest players to have graced the game.

This year’s 91st edition, ended on Tuesday in a two-way tie between GM Jahongir Vakhidov of Uzbekistan and GM Aleksander Mista of Poland, who both top-scored on 7/9 to share the title. The top U.S. player was IM Justin Sarkar, who was involved in a five-way tie on 6.5/9, a half point behind the winners.

GM Glenn Flear - GM Aleksander Mista
Hastings Masters, (9)
Grünfeld Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bd2 This move looks a little strange - but the whole nub of the Grünfeld Defence revolves around Black chip, chipping away at White's pawn centre supported by his bishop on g7. This attempts to prevent that, as after a ...Nxc3, White will play Bxc3 and contest the diagonal. However, I've never really been impressed by White's ideas in this line. 5...Bg7 6.e4 Nxc3 7.Bxc3 0-0 8.Qd2 c5 It's the standard Grünfeld fayre of chipping away at White's centre that is always a good plan. 9.d5 Bxc3 10.Qxc3 Taking back with a piece on c3 is the big idea behind 5.Bd2 - but if instead 10.bxc3 Qd6! 11.Nf3 (Not 11.Qh6 Qe5! and Black is now better.) and Black is no worse and ahead in development. 11...Bg4. 10...e6 11.Rd1 exd5 12.Rxd5 Qe7 13.Bd3 Be6! A pseudo pawn sacrifice from Black, who gets on with his plan of rapid development. Black will soon recapture on a2. 14.Rxc5 Rd8! The threat is, of course, to take on d3 and then the rook on c5. And to prevent this, again it costs White in fully developing his pieces. 15.Be2 Nd7 16.Rc7 Bxa2 17.f3 Be6 18.h4 White is in a jam, and wants to find a way to active his knight stuck on g1 and his rook on h1. Taking on b7 wasn't really on, as it leaves Black - despite for now being a pawn down - ideally placed for the ending: 18.Rxb7 Rdb8! 19.Rxb8+ (19.Rc7 Rb3 20.Qd4 Qb4+! 21.Qxb4 Rxb4 and Black will soon regain his pawn with a big advantage going into the endgame.) 19...Rxb8 and again, with Black threatening ...Qb4 going into an ending, White has no way of defending b2 and Black's a-pawn quickly running up the board. 18...Qd6 Now the weakness on g3 is fully exploited by Black. By now, I think White must have been regretting big-time his choice of opening. 19.h5 Qg3+ 20.Kf1 Ne5 21.hxg6 Nxg6! This recapture sees Black's knight finding wonderful outposts on e5, f4 and h4 - and he's now ready to strike with White's lack of development. 22.Nh3 Rac8 23.Rxc8 Rxc8 24.Qd2 Bxh3 25.Rxh3 Qf4! (See Diagram) 26.Qd4 The exchange of queen's offers no respite for White, as he'd walk right into a technically lost rook and pawn ending: 26.Qxf4 Nxf4 27.Rh4 Nxe2 28.Kxe2 Rc2+ 29.Kd3 Rxb2 and Black's passed a- and b-pawns will decide the day. 26...Rc2 Black most likely would have been better first playing 26...Qg5 to prevent Qd8+ and keep the pressure on, as White would still be left uncoordinated trying to get his rook somehow into the game whilst at the same time trying to defend his king from ...Rc1+ etc.  27.Qd8+ Kg7 28.Qd4+ Qe5 It seems Black correctly judges that even exchanging queens now gives him the big advantage in the ending. 29.Qxe5+ Nxe5 30.b3 Ng6 31.Bc4 a6 32.Bxf7?! White, most likely in time-trouble, now cracks - but the alternative didn't look any better: 32.Bd5 b5 and Black is soon going to be following up with ...a5-a4 etc. 32...Nf4! White perhaps had overlooked this move that leaves him dead in the water. He was hoping for 32...Kxf7? 33.Rxh7+ Ke6 34.Rxb7 with very realistic drawing chances.  33.Rh4 Nxg2! Nicely timed, as White can't play 34.Rg4+ Kxf7 35.Rxg2 Rxg2 35.Kxg2 as 35...a5 wins.  34.Rh5 Ne3+ 35.Ke1 Kxf7 36.Rxh7+ Ke6 37.Rxb7 Ra2 And unlike the previous note, White is just lost here, as Black already has a pawn back on g2, defends a6, and now threatens ...Ke5-f4 and clearing up. 38.f4 Ng2+ 39.Kd1 Nxf4 40.Kc1 Ne2+ 0-1 If 41.Kb1 Nc3+ picks up the e-pawn after Kc1 with the simplest of wins.

0 Comments January 6, 2016

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