01 Apr

When The Goat Eats The Wolf

In 2005, Garry Kasparov shocked the chess world by announcing his retirement at the end of the Linares tournament. He was just weeks away from turning 42, and he reasoned wisely that chess doesn’t get any easier with the depleted brain cells once you pass 40. Similarly, Gata Kamsky, 42, has hinted heavily over the last few years that he would likely also be hanging up his pawns at around the same age as Kasparov - and it looks as if that day is coming sooner rather than later for the five-time US Champion.

After 35.Bd2!

In round two of the 2017 US Championships currently ongoing at Rex Sinquefield’s Scholastic Center and Chess Club of Saint Louis, Kamsky made a horrible blunder and was forced into resigning in just 22 moves (and with white) against Varuzhan Akobian. And the hurt continues to come for Kamsky, as he’s now crashed to a second successive defeat, this time going down in flames to Ray Robson in round 3.

Clearly, the pressure of playing at this level is beginning to take its toll now on Kamsky. A few years back, he announced that he would retire from playing for the national team when he reached the age of 40 and did so. But following two tough back-to-back losses, there were reports on social media that he dramatically announced his retirement from chess, telling Maurice Ashley, that “the goat ate the wolf”.  Now, it is April Fools' Day, and it all sounds cryptically Eric Cantona-like, but it is probably a perfect analogy for what Gata Kamsky must be feeling right now, retirement announcement or not.

Meanwhile, in other news of the round, Wesley So’s unbeaten streak continues, this time stretching to 59 games - but not before he was made to sweat all the way before escaping with a draw against defending champion Fabiano Caruana to keep the streak intact. There’s now a five-way tie at the top, with top seed So joined on 2/3 alongside past champions Hikaru Nakamura and Alexander Onischuk, and young guns Daniel Naroditsky and Yaroslav Zherebukh.

Gata Kamsky | © Austin Fuller

1-5. D. Naroditsky, H. Nakamura, A. Onischuk, W. So, Y. Zherebukh, 2/3; 6-10. F. Caruana, S. Shankland, J. Xiong, R. Robson, V. Akobian, 1½; 11. G. Kamsky, ½; 12. A. Shabalov, 0.

Women’s Standings
1. I. Krush, 2½/3; 2-4. A. Zatonskih, S. Foiser, A. Virkud, 2; 5-8. T. Abrahamyan, J. Yu, M. Feng, N. Paikidze, 1½; 9-11. C. Yip, K. Nemcova, A. Sharevich, 1; 12. E. Nguyen, ½.

GM Ray Robson - GM Gata Kamsky
US Championship, (3)
Sicilian Grivas
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Qb6 It looks strange at first, but it is perfectly playable. This is the Grivas variation, named after the Greek GM, Efstratios Grivas, who over 20-years poured his heart and soul over perfecting his eponymously named variation. In the grand scheme of things, the point behind it is to convince White to commit to the Nb3 retreat to take away some aggressive ideas, then Black will set up a small center and play a more normal Scheveningen-type position with the queen going back to c7 when hit by Be3. 5.Nb3 Nf6 6.Nc3 e6 7.Bd3 a6 8.f4 As mentioned in the above note, what's generally played here is 8.Be3 Qc7 with a more standard Scheveningen/Taimanov set-up - but Robson has a more aggressive idea in mind. 8...d5 Kamsky obviously didn't like the idea of playing 8...d6, as White has the aggressive plan of 9.Qf3 followed by Be3, 0-0-0 and going for it Caveman-style with a swift g4. Rather than that, he opts to transpose into a sort of bad Classical French position. 9.e5 Nd7 10.Qg4 When White can safely get in Qg4 in the French, normally this is a good plan because in order to develop his Bf8, Black will have to play ...g6, and that will weaken the dark-squares on the kingside. 10...Nc5 Normally in the French, this is OK. But here it doesn't look right, as White can simply exchange off the knight. Perhaps Kamsky should just have tried harassing White's Nb3 with 10...a5!? 11.Nxc5 Qxc5 12.a3 g6 As explained in the note above, this is a concession that Black was going to be forced into. 13.Nd1 Normally in the Classical French, White will have castled queenside that would give Black something to bite on with  ...b5 and ...a5 counterplay. But White hasn't committed his king yet, and this allows Robson to strategically re-route his knight for better options. 13...Nd4 14.Ne3 Bd7 15.0-0 Bb5 16.Qd1! A good strategic retreat that begins to signal problems for Kamsky's position. 16...Nf5 If 16...Bxd3 17.Qxd3 Rc8 18.Rf2! and White has more space, the better co-ordinated pieces, and Black's chronic dark-square weakness to hone in on. 17.Bxb5+ Qxb5 18.Nxf5 gxf5 Kamsky is going all-in in the belief that he will have counterplay with his rooks on the half-open c- and g-files. 19.Kh1 Rc8 20.a4 Qc4 21.c3 Bc5 22.Rf3! Robson finds a very resourceful way to activate his rooks, while at the same time cunningly hitting Kamsky's queen. 22...Rg8 23.b3 Qe4 24.Ra2! And this makes me begin to wonder if Kamsky perhaps failed to grasp fully what Robson had in mind with his clever 22.Rf3! 24...b5 Kamsky finds himself in a jam with his queen somewhat critically short of squares - and no good was 24...Qb1?! 25.Rb2 Qa1 26.Qc2 Bb4 27.Rd3! Rg4 28.c4! dxc4 (If 28...Rxf4 29.Rd1 leads to much the same thing.) 29.Rd1 and the queen is soon going to be snared in a trap of her own making. This leaves the only other realistic alternative being 24...Bd4!? 25.Bd2 (Not 25.cxd4? Qb1! and the tables are now turned.) 25...Bb6 26.Be1! Threatening Re2 again snaring the queen. 26...Be3 27.h3 d4 28.Re2 where, although Black's queen now has an escape route, White has a big advantage. 25.axb5 axb5 26.Rd3! The immediate threat is now Re2 embarrassingly trapping Kamsky's queen in the middle of the board! Not only that, but look how the other rook on a2 is now also playing a major role in preventing against the mate on g2! 26...d4 There was no other alternative now. Kamsky may well have saved his queen, but at what cost? 27.cxd4 Bb4 28.Be3 Qd5 29.h3 Kf8 30.Kh2 Rg6 31.Qf3! Forcing the exchange of queens, as 31...Qd7 gets hit with the immediate 32.d5 and a dominating position. Robson's rationale here is that Kamsky's queen on e4, combined with the rook on the g-file, could well be a headache and, despite the fact that he voluntarily damages his own pawn structure, this is the best way ahead to win as Black will have his rook on g6 out of the game for the ending. 31...Qxf3 32.gxf3 Rc3 33.Rxc3 Bxc3 34.Rc2 b4 This was Kamsky's best plan at trying to stay in the game - but Robson is more than ready for it. 35.Bd2! This forces a technically won rook and pawn ending - and despite the reputation of all rook and pawn endings being a draw, Kamsky here has no chances of activating his rook to attempt a 'hail mary' save. 35...Bxd4 36.Bxb4+ Ke8 37.Bc5 Bxc5 38.Rxc5 Kd7 39.b4 Rg8 40.b5 h5 Even given a couple of free moves to get in ...h4 stopping White's simple winning king march with Kg3-h4-h5 etc, Black is still lost as the king is cut off from the passed b-pawn on the queenside. 41.b6 Rb8 42.Rc7+ Kd8 43.Rxf7 The rest of the game is just a formality now for Robson to convert for the win, as he'll simply capture the h-pawn and push his own h-pawn right up the board forcing the rooks off and a won king and pawn ending. 43...Rxb6 44.Kg3 Rb4 45.Rh7 Ra4 46.Rxh5 Ke7 47.Rh7+ Kf8 48.Rb7 Rc4 49.h4 Rc1 50.h5 Rh1 51.Rh7 Ke8 If 51...Kg8 52.Re7 and White will win the e6- and f5-pawns. 52.h6 Kf8 53.Rh8+ Kf7 54.h7 Rh6 55.Ra8! Rxh7 56.Ra7+ Kg6 57.Rxh7 Kxh7 58.Kf2 1-0 Kamsky resigns, as Robson has the simple king march to victory with Ke3-d4-c5-b6 and will have the opposition to mop-up the e6- and f5-pawns. 

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