13 Jan

I Am Rapport

There’s a lot to be said about the telling of a joke: the timing has to be just right otherwise the joke doesn’t work.  The “I’m not Rappaport” vaudeville routine was a joke you have to think about.  Still, no matter how many times I’ve seen the multi-award winning Broadway hit or movie (with the great Walter Matthau) of the same name, I still don’t get it. Why doesn’t this joke work for me? I ask myself.

After 26.Nxf7+!!

But the bottom line is that Herb Gardner’s “I’m Not Rappaport” is a play about a man who never tells the truth. Well, never is never really correct.  Maybe the better option is telling you he rarely tells the truth but is having the time of his life making up stuff as he goes along. And while Rappaport doesn’t work for me, what does is Rapport, namely Richard Rapport - and he's  having the time of his life making up stuff at the chessboard as he goes along!

Not that long ago, the Hungarian was the world’s highest ranked teenager but now, aged 20, his teen years are behind him. He’s also blessed with a very imaginative style of play that gained him a very large fan base - and Rapport’s encounter late October 2016 with Levon Aronian, at the European Club Cup, won many plaudits and accolades as a leading candidate for both Game of the Year and Move of the Year.

And in December, as the latest New In Chess arrived in the post, just like everyone else who reads this popular magazine, I headed first to the last page and their “Just Checking” feature, where top players answer a combination of lifestyle/chess questions, where Richard Rapport gave arguably one of the best and insightful series of answers for 2016. One of the questions Rapport answered was that his favourite square on the chessboard was “f7” - and coincidently at the time as I was reading his answers, this square turned out to be his downfall in the opening game of an intriguing pre-Christmas match against the exciting young Chinese star Wei Yi, who now replaces Rapport as the world’s highest ranked teenager.

Not Rappaport but Rapport!

The four game classical element of the Wei-Rapport match in Yancheng, China ended in a draw, 2-2; with a win apiece in the opening two games. There was then a two-game game blitz match, and that was also drawn 1-1 before Rapport won the final Armageddon game with the black pieces to take the bragging rights as the match-winner.

GM Wei Yi - GM Richard Rapport
Yancheng Match, (1)
French Defence, Tarrasch
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 b6!? More standard here is 3...Nf6 or 3...c5 - but Richard Rapport is unusual among young GMs in today's game, in that he is very creative and likes to play offbeat openings systems in a quest for complications in the middlegame. 4.Ngf3 Nf6 5.e5 Nfd7 6.c4 This is White's best shot here for an advantage. If he plays the 'normal' c3, then Black can play a quick ...Ba6 to exchange off the white-squared bishops, which means there's less of a chance of a White attack against Black's king. 6...c5 7.cxd5 exd5 8.Bd3 Nc6 Now if 8...Ba6 9.Bxa6 Nxa6 10.0-0 Be7 11.Nb1 and suddenly Black's d-pawn is weak, as it is not supported anymore by the strong French 'e6' pawn link. 9.0-0 Be7 10.Re1 Threatening to push with e6, so... 10...Nf8 11.Bb5! Bd7 12.dxc5 bxc5 Black's 'hanging pawns' on c5 and d5 present an early target for White, who has successfully completed his development and looking to exploit his early advantage. 13.Nf1 Rb8 14.Be2 White could also have tried 14.a4 Nb4!? 15.Ne3 a6 16.Bf1 Bc6 with an interesting struggle ahead. 14...Be6 15.Qa4 Qb6 16.Ne3 If Black can consolidate his position and get his king castled to safety, then he has the better prospects. To prevent this, Wei Yi goes on the offensive by sacrificing a couple of pawns to keep the king in the middle of the board. 16...Nd7 17.Qf4 Qb4 If 17...0-0 18.Rd1 d4 19.Nf5 with White having the makings of a strong kingside attack. 18.Qg3 Nd4 19.Bd2 Nxe2+ 20.Rxe2 Qxb2 21.Rae1 g6 22.Ng4 Qxa2 Black has two pawns, but there's no safety for his king. If he can resolve that, then he's winning. 23.Nf6+ Kd8 Not 23...Nxf6?? 24.exf6 with a deadly double attack on b8 and e7 winning a piece. 24.Ng5 Rb6 This is admittedly a very human-like move as it covers e6. However, with no twitching nerves of human nature, our silicon friends suggests here 24...d4! that immediately stops Bc3 and also covers e6 with the queen. Now, if 25.Qf3 h6 26.Nxe6+ Qxe6 27.Ba5+ Nb6 28.Bxb6+ Rxb6! (The only move. If 28...axb6? 29.Ra1! and White's rook is sneaking in the back door via the a-file to a7 with the deadly check on d7, and Black can't do anything to prevent this.) 29.Nd5 Rb8 (The immediate 29...Rb7? gets hit by 30.Nf4 Qd7 31.e6!) 30.Ra2 Rb7 31.Nf4 Qd7 and now 32.e6? can't be played because of 32...fxe6 33.Nxe6+ Qxe6! winning due to the back-rank mating threats. But yes, life is still a tad awkward for Black in the position after 31...Qd7, but there's no clear way to force home a win for White - and he is still two pawns down in the position. 25.Bc3 Qa3 Now comes the decisive hit on Rapport's 'favourite square'... 26.Nxf7+!! Bxf7 27.e6 Bxe6 Black is totally busted. If 27...Bxf6? 28.Bxf6+ Nxf6 29.Qxa3 wins the queen. And if 27...Nxf6 28.exf7 d4 29.Rxe7 Nd5 30.Rb7! is a forced mate. Resigned to his fate, Rapport at least goes down fighting. 28.Rxe6 Rxe6 29.Rxe6 Qa2 30.Nxd7 Kxd7 31.Rxe7+ Kxe7 32.Qc7+ Ke6 33.Qc6+ Ke7 34.Qxc5+ Rapport's king is left stumbling around dazed and confused in no man's land, as Wei Yi checks his way to safeguarding all the back-rank mating threats. 34...Ke6 35.Qc6+ Ke7 It's no use looking to escape by going up the board, as Black's king quickly finds itself being mated in all lines: 35...Kf5 36.Qf6+ Kg4 (36...Ke4 37.Qf3#) 37.h3+ Kh5 38.g4+ Kh6 39.Qh4#. 36.Qb7+ 1-0 Black resigns, as after 36...Ke6 37.Bxh8 and White's queen defends against the mating threat on b1, whilst the bishop prevents the mate on a1. 

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