An early and aggressive flick of the h-pawn can often throw an opponent. The British GM Simon Williams (popularly known as the “Ginger GM”) likes to call it "Harry the h-pawn" and he often unleashes it against his opponents by saying "there goes Harry up the board!". His videos on this theme are hugely entertaining and very instructive - and when it happens when he’s doing live online commentary, it’s often a source of much mirth and entertainment.
Without this aggressive use of the h-pawn, Simon thinks he would have never become a Grandmaster. Conversely, the great Soviet patriarch, Mikhail Botvinnik abhorred such early and aggressive “Caveman tactics” - so the patriarch would probably be spinning in his grave right now in Moscow’s renowned Novodevichy Cemetery after seeing such a strategy being deployed to catapult an unknown into the sole lead of the 69th Russian Championship Superfinal in Novosibirsk
In round eight, that’s what happened after GM Alexander Riazantsev was rewarded for bravely opting to throw Harry the h-pawn up the board early, and now he could well be on the cusp of potentially scoring the biggest victory of his career. His shock-tactics win over Dmitry Kokarev now gives him the sole lead on 5/8, and a crucial half point lead over a strong chasing pack going down the home straight.
And if he holds his nerve in those final three rounds, then Riazantsev, 31, could well become the biggest shock winner in the long and storied history of the Soviet/Russian Championship.
Leaderboard: 1. Alexander Riazantsev 5/8; 2-6. Alexander Grischuk, Dmitry Jakovenko, Vladimir Fedoseev, Peter Svidler, Evgeny Tomashevsky 4.5; 7-8. Aleksey Goganov, Nikita Vitugov 4; 9-11. Grigoriy Oparin, Dmitry Kokarev, Ernesto Inarkiev 3.5; 12. Dmitry Bocharov 2.
GM Alexander Riazantsev - GM Dmitry Kokarev
69th Russian Ch. Superfinal, (8)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 Ernst Grünfeld introduced this defence against none other than Alexander Alekhine in Vienna in 1922. Oddly enough, Grünfeld was known more for his classical style (Tarrasch-Steinitz school of chess) which tended to stay on the side of avoiding complex variations. Thus, when he deployed this new defence against 1.d4, unwittingly he overnight became the new hero of the growing Hypermodern School of Chess. 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.h4!? An early h2-h4 in the Grünfeld is often worth a punt against weaker opponents - however, this rather radical approach to the complex Grünfeld is getting tested quite a bit by 2700+ elite players these days. 5...dxc4 The point behind 5.h4!? is that if Black continues blithely with the usual 5...0-0 he gets hit instantly with 6.h5! as he can't play 6...Nxh5 due to 7.Nxd5. 6.e4 0-0 7.Bxc4 As we can now see, White has an easy attack in the making - and Black has to react actively to counter White's threats against his castled king. 7...c5 A good rule of thumb against a quick flank attack is to immediately counter-attack in the centre - and this is just what Black does. 8.d5 b5 Again, continuing correctly by reacting actively - and here, this is a well-known sacrificial motif that strikes at White's pawn centre. 9.Bxb5 Nxe4! 10.Nxe4 Qa5+ 11.Nc3 Bxc3+ 12.bxc3 Qxb5 13.h5 Ready or not, here comes Harry the h-pawn. 13...Qc4 14.hxg6 fxg6 Black has to break the accepted rule of recapturing towards the centre and keeping his pawns together as a unit, as this activates his pieces. If not, he can fall easily for 14...hxg6 15.Qd2! and suddenly Qh6 with designs on a quick mating attack down the h-file is on the cards. 15.Rh4! This rook lift has been seen before and is all good, as now the Black queen gets harried as White gains active piece play for the pawn. 15...Qxc3+ 16.Bd2 Qd3 While the fans were probably all raving at the cut and thrust of this game, we are still in known theory, the idea being that Black wants to throw in ideas of ...Ba6 and counter with his own mating attack on the White king! 17.Bh6! It may seem illogical, as White is a pawn down and exchanges queens, but the fact of the matter is that White's active piece play is very dangerous and Black has to tread carefully. 17...Qxd1+ 18.Rxd1 Re8 19.Ng5 Nd7 20.Ne6 Rb8 21.Nc7 Rd8 22.Ne6 Re8 23.Nc7 Rd8 24.Re4 With the minor exception of repeating moves with an extra 23.Nc7 Rd8, amazingly, we are still in known theory in this new aggressive line with 5.h4!?, following Mamedyarov-Giri from the 2013 SportAccord World Mind Games Rapid. 24...Rb7 25.d6! And now comes the Theoretical Novelty, or "TN" as nuanced players like to call it. In the aforementioned Mamedyarov-Giri game, White continued with 25.Bf4 and Black easily equalised and went on to win the game. But what Riazantsev wants to do is to open the game further to try to make use of all his active pieces - and Black cracks. 25...exd6 26.Ne8! Rb4! The correct way to continue, seeking to exchange rooks for easing the discomfort of his awkwardly placed pieces. However, it can get very awkward very quickly for Black if he reacts wrongly with 26...Nf8? 27.Rxd6! and suddenly White is winning. 27.Re3 Basically, despite Black being a pawn ahead, the game is equal as White's active pieces provide more than enough compensation - but Black has to be careful and react actively to unravel his pieces. 27...Bb7? Wrong! Black had to play 27...Ba6! as White can't take on d6 with the rook as in the game, as 28.Rxd6 Rb1+! 29.Kd2 Rb6 and White can't play Rxd7 with a knight fork on f6, as now ...Rxd7 is with check! And after Rxb6 Nxb6+, Black is marginally better in the ensuing endgame. 28.Rxd6! Black is in deep trouble, as White simply threatens Rxd7 winning due to the omnipresent threat of the knight fork on f6. 28...Rd4 29.Bg5! Now White is winning, as Black can't prevent the loss of material. 29...Rxd6 If 29...Rb8 there's the simple tactical point of 30.Rxd7! Rxd7 31.Nf6+ Kf7 32.Nxd7 and White is a piece up. 30.Nxd6 Rb8 31.Re7! While Black has successfully exchanged off a set of rooks, there's no easing of the pressure as now there's a little matter of a mating attack to worry about. 31...Bc6 32.Bh6! White threatens Rg7+ either mating the king on h8 with Nf7+ or winning lots of material with the 'windmill' if the king goes to f8. 32...Kh8 33.Nf7+ Kg8 34.Ng5 Black is either going to lose a lot of material or get mated - or worse, perhaps even both! So faced with this, he goes down in flames with a spite check. 34...Ne5 35.Rxe5 Rb1+ 36.Kd2 1-0