06 Jul

Independence & Chess

America’s Fourth of July holiday weekend saw a usual nationalist fervour of fireworks and flag waving with the Independence Day celebrations. But while we patriotically celebrated the occasion, very little is known about how a chess game played such a decisive part in America winning the Revolutionary War, that eventually led to independence from Great Britain.


On Christmas night, 1776, George Washington - with American forces facing defeat - gambled everything on a risky crossing of the Delaware River at Trenton, New Jersey, and captured 1,500 German mercenaries under the command of Colonel Rahl. A British loyalist near Washington’s camp had advance warning of the surprise attack and sent his son with a note to alert Rahl that morning - but Rahl had become so engrossed in a game of chess against a fellow officer, he inadvertently put the note into his pocket unread.

After the battle, the note was discovered, still unread, in the mortally wounded colonel's pocket. Had they been ready, Rahl’s army far outnumbered that of the Americans, and it is likely he would have won the battle and captured (or perhaps killed) in the process early influential leaders and Founding Fathers, such as Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, John Marshall, and Alexander Hamilton. 

A great American chess tradition over the Fourth of July weekend also takes place at the opposite end of the Delaware, with Bill Goichberg’s World Open being held at the Marriott Downtown Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - the very epicentre of patriotic fervour and activity during the American Revolution and also home to the Liberty Bell, the iconic symbol of American independence.

This annual extravaganza has proved to be a very reliable magnet for many of the world’s Grandmasters (with 28 out of a field of 221 in the top section) with it being one of the biggest and the most financially rewarding of all the U.S. Swiss Opens - though invariably the end result often leads to a big grandmaster logjam at the top. And his year proved no different, with a 7-way GM tie at the top - and a truly cosmopolitan logjam it was at that, involving seven different nations and no Americans! - on 7/9, and each winning $5,800.


But there needs to be a winner, and after an Armageddon playoff between the top two on tiebreak, Texas Tech University sophomore GM Gabor Papp, of Hungary, beat GM Victor Bologan, of Moldova, to take the bragging rights to the title and an extra $500 to boost his take-home winnings to $6,300.

World Open final leaderboard
1-7. GM Gabor Papp (Hungary), GM Victor Bologan (Moldova), GM Tamaz Gelashvilli (Georgia), GM Gill Popilski (Israel), GM Alex Shimanov (Russia), GM Vasif Durarbayll (Azerbaijan), GM Illia Nyzhnyk (Ukraine) 7/9.  The top-placed American on tiebreak was GM Gata Kamsky, a half point behind on 6.5-points.

GM Gabor Papp - GM Georgi Kacheishvili
44th World Open, (8)
French Defence, Tarrasch
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 More standard is 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 followed by 7.Ne2 or Ngf3. But here, the game resembles a Classical French Steinitz Variation with 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 - and as in all lines of the French, Black looks to break down White's centre with ...c5. 5...c5 6.Ngf3 Be7 7.c3 b6 A constant problem in the French for Black is what to do with the white-squared bishop tied in behind the French pawn structure. Here, Kacheishvili is looking to exchange off Black's 'bad bishop' for White's 'good bishop' with ...Ba6. 8.Bb5 a6 9.Bd3 a5 10.a4 White has to prevent Black developing a 'pawn-roller' on the queenside with ...b5. 10...Ba6 11.Bb5 The problem with White playing Bc2 or Bb1 is that Black now will have a 'good' white-squared bishop that cuts across White's game, stopping him castling. But with 11.Bb5, White prevents this, and if 11...Bxb5 12.axb5, White will have left Black with the problem of how to develop his knight on b8. 11...Qc8 12.0-0 Nc6 13.Qe2 0-0 14.Nb1 c4 15.Na3 Bxb5 16.Nxb5 Na7 17.Nxa7 Rxa7 18.g4 With no pawn breaks readily available for Black on the queenside, Papp goes for a rapid push on the kingside, where he has a big space advantage. 18...Re8 19.Be3 f5 Black has to play this now, or else face being pushed over with a pawn-roller on the kingside with f5 from White. 20.h3 Rf8 21.Kh2 b5 Black has to seek play on the queenside quickly, or else face being pushed over on the kingside. Here, the pawn sacrifice is only temporary, as White can never defend b5. 22.axb5 a4! A dual purpose move. Black's plan is to stop White playing a possible break with b3. Also, he can easily pick off the b5-pawn with ...Nb6 followed by ...Ra5 etc. 23.Rg1 Nb6 24.Bf2 Qd8 25.Rg2 Ra5 26.Rag1 Now all of White's assets are in play to launch an all-out attack on the kingside, gambling that Black doesn't have the time to do anything on the queenside. But it's a gamble, because if White's attack goes nowhere, then he's doomed on the queenside in the ending. 26...g6 27.h4 If Papp's intentions weren't clear before this, then they are now! 27...fxg4 28.Rxg4 Rf5 29.Nd2?! Better was 29.Ng5 Bxg5 30.Rxg5 Qf8 31.h5 Rxg5 32.fxg5 Qf4+ 33.Rg3 When White has 'chances' with Be3 coming to complicate the game. However in the heat of the battle, Papp gambles the house on being able to crash home the kingside attack - and his opponent cracks under the pressure. 29...Kf7?! The gut reaction is to move your king away from all the heavy traffic coming on the kingside - but here, the king simply gets in the way of his rook on f5. Much stronger was 29...Qf8! and White is tied down on both sides of the board now; and also, apart from hitting f4, Black has the possibility of playing the menacing ...Qh6. 30.Nf1 The idea is Ng3 hitting the rook on f5 and opening more lines with h5 etc. 30...Rh5 31.Ng3! Rxh4+ 32.Rxh4 Bxh4 33.f5! The tables now turn dramatically on a tactical twist: If 33...exf5 (or 33...gxf5) then 34.Nxf5! wins, as 34...gxf5 allows 35.Qh5+ picking up the hanging bishop on h4 with the added bonus of a crushing attack on the defenceless Black king. 33...Qg5 34.Be3 Qe7 Hopeless was 34...Bxg3+ 35.Rxg3 Qh4+ 36.Rh3 Qe4 37.fxg6+ Qxg6 38.Rg3 and again Black's king cannot be defended. 35.fxg6+ hxg6 36.Nh5! (See Diagram) All of White's pieces are now ideally placed to swarm around the Black king. 36...Nd7 37.Qf3+ Ke8 38.Rxg6 Rxb5 39.Kh3 More clinical was 39.Rxe6 Rxb2+ 40.Kh1 Rb1+ 41.Bg1 Qxe6 42.Ng7+ Ke7 43.Nxe6 winning, as Black can't capture the knight as Qg4+ picks off the bishop. However, with the time-control looming, Papp coolly moves his king out of any potential Rxb2+ and at the same time attacking the bishop on h4. 39...Be1 It's hopeless now. If 39...Kd8 40.Qg4 and the big threat is Rg7 winning more material or a mating attack. 40.Bg5 Qf7 41.Ng7+ 1-0 Black resigns, as there's a forced mating attack after 41...Kf8 42.Nxe6+ Ke8 43.Rg8+!! Nf8 (43...Qxg8 44.Nc7#) 44.Rxf8+ Qxf8 45.Qxf8+ Kd7 46.Qd6+ Kc8 47.Qc7#

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