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09 Jan

The Fabled Chess Towns

The first major chess tournament of the new year kicks off this coming Saturday with the 79th Tata Steel Tournament in the fabled Dutch chess town of Wijk aan Zee, with an all-star field in the top-rated ‘Masters’ event capped by world No.1 Magnus Carlsen of Norway, American Grand Chess Tour winner Wesley So, defeated Russian world title challenger Sergey Karjakin, Armenia’s Levon Aronian, and Dutch star Anish Giri.


After 34.Qh2!

And speaking of fabled chess towns, the English coastal city of Hastings is best known - aside from the little historical matter of the 1066 thing - for its famous year-ending tournament tradition. The first great Hastings tournament was, of course, in 1895 - won by American upstart Harry Nelson Pillsbury ahead of a stellar field - but that was held in the summer and the New Year tournament tradition only date from 1920-1.

They have run continuously, apart from during the Second World War, and 2016-17 was the 92nd edition. It’s been a good while now since the glory days when the world’s best players came to Hastings for an all-play-all tournament; and indeed, eleven world champions have competed there, a record equaled only by Wijk aan Zee.

But despite being ‘downgraded’ due to a lack of sponsorship and squeezed in-between the London Chess Classic and Wijk aan Zee, the great Hastings tradition continues, thanks to new backing from Tradewise Insurance, and the 92nd edition was won by Indian GM Deep Sengupta who took clear first on 7/9 half a point clear of five players tied on 6.5.


Ramesh Praggnanandhaa | © Brendan O'Gorman

And of those tied for second spot, by far the greatest interest was that of the progress of 11-year-old IM Ramesh Praggnanandhaa also of India, who has 14 months and counting to break Sergey Karjakin’s long-standing record of being the world’s youngest grandmasters.  

The young Indian prodigy turned in his best performance to date, though he did ride his luck somewhat with his final round win over the experienced Danish Grandmaster Allan Stig Rasmussen.

IM Ramesh Praggnanandhaa - GM Allan Rasmussen
92nd Hastings Masters, (9)
Réti’s Opening
1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 Bf5 4.0-0 e6 5.d3 h6 6.Nbd2 Be7 7.b3 0-0 8.Bb2 The Réti Opening, named after one of the original pioneers of the hypermodern game, Austro-Hungarian Richard Réti (1889-1929), sees White playing on the flanks to undermine Black's center. 8...a5 9.a3 c5 10.a4 Understandably, White wants to prevent Black from playing ...b5 to establish a big pawn phalanx on the queenside. But perhaps a better way was with 10.Ne5 with the idea of playing for c4 to undermine Black's pawn center. 10...Nc6 11.Re1 Bh7 Prophylaxis, as e4 is coming anyway from White - so better now rather than later. 12.e4 Re8 13.Qe2 Nb4! Already showing up the problems with playing 10.a4, as now the knight has an excellent outpost on b4, and at the same time, it forces White to defend c2 in a somewhat awkward way with his rook. 14.Rac1 Nd7 15.h4 Qb8 Black by far has the easier position to play, the simple plan being ...b5 and trying to break-up White's queenside. 16.Nh2 Apart from opening up threats with the bishop on g2, White is also looking to play Ng5 (or Qg4) and a possible kingside attack in conjunction with the bishop on the a1-h8 diagonal. 16...d4! Black immediately snuffs out the influence of White's bishop on the a1-h8 diagonal - and now, he's clear to continue with his plan of breaking down White's queenside. 17.e5 Ra6 18.Nc4 b5 19.axb5 Qxb5 20.Ra1 a4 21.bxa4 Rxa4 22.Nf1 White is in deep trouble, and he can't exchange rooks, as after 22.Rxa4 Qxa4 23.Rc1 Rb8 24.Ba1 Nb6 and already Black has a near winning advantage. 22...Nb6 23.Na3 Qd7 24.Reb1 c4! The right break, as it suddenly brings the ...Bh7 back into the game, leaving Black totally in command now. 25.Nxc4 Nxc4 26.dxc4 Rxa1?! Far too cautious. The simple and effective 26...Nxc2! 27.Rxa4 d3! 28.Qf3 Qxa4 left White in dire straits with no play and close to resignation here. 27.Bxa1 Nxc2 28.Rb7 Qc8 Now, if 28...Qa4 29.Bb2 d3 30.Qf3 and White's menacing queen and rook keeps him in the game. 29.Bb2 d3 30.Qf3 Kf8!? It looks awkward, but there's a serious point behind this move, as Black wants to play ...Qxc4 without having to worry about back-rank mating threats after Rxe7! 31.Qf4 Bring the Bg2 into the game and also keeping tabs on the d2 square. 31...Bf5?! The game starts to dramatically flip here, and the big clue could well be that we're at move 31, and Black's in time-trouble and facing a mad-dash to reach move 40. If he had time on his hand, he will have seen no doubt that the answer to all his problems was 31...Rd8! and the omnipresent threat to push the dangerous d-pawn. 32.g4 g5 33.hxg5 Bxg5 34.Qh2! Probably missed by Black in the mad-dash to make the time control, but a retreating move (especially with a queen) is one of the most difficult moves to foresee in chess - and here, this retreat suddenly makes life difficult, as White can play f4 and follow-up with Qxh6+. 34...Bxg4 35.f4 Qc5+ 36.Kh1 Qf2 It's all gotten very random, very quickly - but the bottom-line is that White has an extra piece and Black has now real threats, just cheap tricks. 37.fxg5 Ne1 It's a hopeless cause, but 37...h5 and hoping for a ‘hail-mary pass' with the d-pawn might have proved better. 38.Ba3+ Kg8 The unexpected rook retreat covers everything wonderfully and leaves White with an extra piece. 39.Rb2! Be2 40.gxh6 Nc2 41.h7+ Kg7 42.Be7! Bf3 If 42...Rxe7?? 43.h8Q+ soon mates. 43.Bf6+ Kg6 44.Bxf3 1-0 Black resigns, as now if 44...Qxf3+ (or 44...Qxf1+) White can play 45.Qg2+ (or 45.Qg1+) exchanging queens and an easy win.  

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