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21 Apr

The Double Bill

Chess news travels fast these days - very fast.  With the rise of the Internet (or the “Worldwide Web,” as nobody ever calls it anymore) over the past two decades or so, we’ve witnessed an explosion not only of chess sites and blogs, but also a major development with the extensive live broadcast coverage of practically all of the top elite events - and this is all a far cry from the dark days of yore, when it could take weeks for games from major tournaments to be seen.

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But with the digital revolution, major chess tournaments and matches can be seen live online, much like a major sporting event on your TV, provided by the likes of chess24.com, with some of the best grandmaster commentary teams in the business today. And not only do you get the commentary, you also get to see the players live from the playing hall as they sweat over the board, and even get to listen in to their post mortem/press conferences - and all from the comfort of your own home.

But we’ve never had it so good as now, with the Altibox Norway Chess Tournament (with five of the top-10) and the US Championship (with three of the top-10) going back to back. That’s two major events sharing a ‘Double Bill’, with one event finishing just as another starts - and over 9 hours of live top-10 chess with expert commentary from the likes of Jan Gustafsson, Peter Svidler, Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and Jennifer Shahade.

So after following Magnus Carlsen & Co. in Stavanger, where all the games were drawn, save for one big game that we feature below, it was straight over to St. Louis without barely enough time even to think about putting the kettle on let alone drink a cup of tea, as we smoothly segued right into the 2016 US Championship, where the  highlight of the day’s coverage there came with Fabiano Caruana's 'spiffy' move (his description, not mine!) to take the sole lead with five rounds to play, while at the same time the US No.1 yet again leapfrogged Vladimir Kramnik in their now daily battle for the world No.2 spot on the unofficial live ratings.

In today’s diagram above, Alexander Onischuk, the 2006 US Champion, has just played 24…Rxe4 and his world was rocked (or perhaps that should be ‘rooked’) by Caruana’s stunning riposte 25.Re5!! Taking full advantage of the back-rank mating threat. The game finished quickly after 25...Rxe3 26.fxe3 Rb8 27.Ra5 Kf8 28.c4 and, with the threat now being 29.c5 with a crashing position, Onischuk resigned.

Standings
1. Fabiano Caruana 5/6; 2. Wesley So 4.5; 3. Ray Robson 4; 4-5. Hikaru Nakamura, Jeffrey Xiong 3.5; 6-7. Alexander Shabalov, Alexander Onischuk 3; 8. Sam Shankland 2.5; 9-10. Gata Kamsky, Aleksandr Lenderman 2; 11-12. Akshat Chandra, Varuzhan Akobian 1.5.

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Earlier in the day, at the Altibox Norway Chess Tournament in Stavanger, it was the young, always well booked-up Dutch star Anish Giri who was perhaps looking to ambush Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s pet-line in the Sicilian Najdorf, only to see the rising French star get his ambushing in first, with a novelty that perhaps bamboozled his opponent.

Photo © | Tarjei J. Svenson/Matt & Patt 

According to the seasoned scribe Dominic Lawson, the former Fleet Street editor, columnist and broadcaster (who for his sins also doubles as president of the English Chess Federation), “Nothing excites jaded Grandmasters more than a theoretical novelty” - but I can tell you that the excitement-level can more than double when that novelty comes in a mainline Sicilian Najdorf Poisoned Pawn Variation, as it did in today's game of the day.

Round 2
Grandelius draw Aronian
Li Chao draw Kramnik
Giri 0-1 Vachier-Lagrave
Toaplov draw Carlsen
Eljaniov draw Harikrishna

Standings
1-3. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) 1.5/2; 4-7. Li Chao (China), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Anish Giri (Netherlands) 1; 8-10. Nils Grandelius (Sweden), Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine), Pentala Harikrishna (India) 0.5.

GM Anish Giri - GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
4th Altibox Norway Chess, (2)
Sicilian Najdorf, Poisoned Pawn Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 h6 8.Bh4 Qb6!? The 'Poisoned Pawn' proper, after 7...Qb6, was a big favourite of Bobby Fischer when he romped in his pomp during the late 1960s/early 70s. However it was all but ‘played out’ at elite levels with the theory on it being so deep and mostly computer-generated. The early noughties saw it making a comeback of sorts though, thanks to this new modern day twist of throwing a little spanner in the works with 7...h6 - and this has become a pet-line for the Frenchman, so kudos to Giri for 'taking him on' in this. 9.a3 Alternatively, the main-line runs 9.Qd2 Qxb2 10.Rb1 Qa3 11.Bxf6 gxf6 12.Be2 Nc6 13.Nxc6 bxc6 14.0-0 Play becomes razor-sharp; Black has a pawn and the bishop pair, but White has excellent compensation with attacking chances against the Black king. 9...Be7 You may think that White's 9.a3 looks like a duffer's move, but in fact it has great logic behind it, as Black now can't take the 'poisoned pawn' with 9...Qxb2?? as the 10.Na4 wins the Black queen! Believe me, there's been many poisoned pawn newbies that have fallen for that trick with a3. However the main drawback to it is that Black simply reverts to a more standard Sicilian Najdorf where 9.a3 is not a useful move to have on the board. 10.Bf2 Qc7 11.Qf3 Nbd7 Last year at the London Chess Classic, Vachier-Lagrave got easy equality with 11...b5 12.g4 Nc6 13.0-0-0 Bb7 14.h4 d5 15.e5 Ne4! 16.Nxe4 dxe4 17.Qc3 Rc8 18.Rh3 b4! 19.axb4 Nxb4 20.Qxc7 Rxc7 21.f5 0-0 and a draw in 43 moves, Grischuk-Vachier-Lagrave, London 2015. 12.0-0-0 White has no time to develop his other bishop with 12.Bd3, as after 12...b5 Black has instant equality; and indeed, a previous Vachier-Lagrave game continued: 13.0-0 Bb7 14.Qh3 0-0 15.Rae1 Rfe8 16.Kh1 Nc5 17.Bh4 Nxd3 18.cxd3 Qc5 19.Bf2 Qh5 and Black is minimally better here, the Frenchman going on to win in 63 moves (Solak-Vachier-Lagrave, Rhodes 2013). 12...b5 13.g4 g5! Usually this is a good move for Black in the big mainline Najdorfs, as he gains the dark-square control and access to the e5 square for his knight. 14.h4 gxf4 15.Be2 Rg8!? A Poisoned Pawn novelty! Previously seen here before was 15...Ne5 16.Qxf4 Nexg4 17.Bxg4 e5 18.Nd5 Nxd5 19.Qf3 Bxg4 20.Qxg4 Nf6 21.Qf3 Rc8 22.c3 Rg8 and in this sharp position, White has a small edge, but the 2013 ICCF correspondence/email game between Kekhaev-Yamaliev ended in a draw after 40 moves. No doubt Giri was waiting with some sort of fiendishly well-worked line to ambush MVL, but the Frenchman got his 'Najdorf ambush' in first! And amazingly for someone so resilient and well-prepared as Giri, he immediately blunders with... 16.Rdg1?! It looks like a natural fit, doesn't it?  But we'll soon see why it is wrong.[Instead, all the engines seem to give the silicon seal-of-approval to the immediate push 16.g5! hxg5 (Black has to be careful here, as he could easily fall into a typical Sicilian sacrificial onslaught with the fantasy variation after 16...Ne5 17.Qxf4 hxg5 18.hxg5 Nh7 19.Rxh7! Bxg5 20.Qxg5! Rxg5 21.Ncxb5 Qe7 (No better is 21...axb5 22.Rh8+ Ke7 23.Bh4 f6 24.Bxg5 Nf7 25.Rh7 fxg5 26.Rf1 Kf8 27.Nxb5 and White's winning.) 22.Nxe6!! Bxe6 (If 22...fxe6 23.Nxd6+ Qxd6 24.Rxd6 and again White is winning.) 23.Rh8+ Qf8 24.Nxd6+ Ke7 25.Nf5+) 17.hxg5 Rxg5 18.Rh8+ Rg8 19.Rxg8+ Nxg8 20.Qg2 Ngf6 21.e5! with a dangerous attack brewing. And with all these fantasy variations probably swirling around Giri's head here, he picks the one line that gives Black the best play. 16...d5! This move is a complete table-turner. 17.exd5 Ne5! Now 18.Qxf4 is ruled out as it loses the queen to 18...Nd3+. Giri's queen is now forced to h3 where it falls into another pin - now watch how MVL pieces spring to life for a quick win. 18.Qh3 exd5 19.Re1 Kf8 20.Nf5 This is the only option, as the pin on g4 would have been impossible to cope with otherwise. 20...Bxf5 21.gxf5 Bc5 22.Qf1 If 22.Bxc5+ Qxc5 the threat of ...Rg3 and ...Rxc3 bludgeon's open all the access to White's defenceless king. 22...d4 23.Nb1 Ne4 24.Bf3 Nxf2! 25.Bxa8 Ned3+ 26.Kd2 Nxe1 27.Qxf2 If 27.Kxe1 d3! soon crashes through to win material and mate. 27...d3 28.Qxe1 Be3+ 0-1

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