Chess24 Sopiko Scotch

7th Howard Staunton Memorial (5)

A Game of two halves

Drawn round 5 a disappointing return for the UK.

A game of two halves

Round 5 (August 12, 2009) Netherlands 2.5 UK 2.5
Short, Nigel D - Van Wely, Loek ½-½ 39 B84 Sicilian Scheveningen
McShane, Luke J - Smeets, Jan ½-½ 50 C42 Petroff's Defence
Adams, Michael - L'Ami, Erwin ½-½ 23 B12 Caro Kann Advanced
Howell, David W L - Werle, Jan 1-0 49 C45 Scotch Game
Jones, Gawain C B - Sokolov, Ivan 0-1 54 C63 Ruy Lopez Schliemann

When one thinks of comparisons between different sports and games, chess and football are not the two which spring most obviously to mind as having much in common (for the benefit of any American readers, I should point out than when I use the term "football", I refer of course to the game you know as "soccer", and not to the vastly superior game played on the American gridiron!). Indeed, it is hard to think of anything they have in common. Whilst even the brutal world of boxing has spawned a few champions with a keen interest in chess, not to mention the barbarism that is chess-boxing, I can only recall one prominent footballer over the last 30 years who showed any interest in the Royal Game, namely Ossie Ardiles. Admittedly, soccer is not a game in which I take a huge interest, so please forgive me if I have missed someone out, but I think my basic point is valid - with the possible exception of the shot-glass version of the game, it is hard to imagine the average Premiership footballer settling down to a nice game of chess of an evening.

Yet, despite this apparent incompatibility of the two games, yesterday saw a rather interesting chess and football coincidence. In the first place, presumably to honour the fact that the Staunton Memorial tournament consists principally of a match between England and Holland, the two nations' footballers decided to have a match between themselves as well. As those of you who watched this encounter will know, it was what cliche-obsessed football managers are wont to refer to as "a game of two halves". At the 45 minute mark, England trailed 2-0, courtesy of some defensive play that would have been regarded as excessively generous coming from a team of Father Christmas impersonators. It seemed that all was lost, but in the second half, a stirring fightback saw England wrest a 2-2 draw. "The lads dun good", as the England manager would doubtless have said, had he been a native English speaker.

Strangely enough, a rather similar scenario, albeit with colours reversed, was played out at Simpsons-in-the-Strand, in round 5 of the Staunton Memorial,  After two hours' play, the England team, blessed with the advantage of the white pieces, had an advantage somewhere between slight and very clear, on virtually every board. Indeed, Jan Timman, having perused his countrymen's positions, went up to Nigel Short and joked "It looks like Lucerne 1982 again!", a reference to the Olympiad of that year, when England defeated The Netherlands 4-0. But it was not to be. From there until the first time control, English advantages seemed to shrink inexorably, half points drifted away, and there was even the unthinkable possibility that England could lose the day's match. In the end, they did not do so, but a 2.5 - 2.5 draw seemed a relatively poor return for England, from the positions that had made Timman so pessimistic.

The first sign of trouble came in Nigel Short's game:

GM Short,N 2684 - GM Van Wely,L 2655

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e6 7.f4 Be7 8.Be3 0-0 9.g4 d5 10.e5 Ne4 11.Nxe4 dxe4 12.Qd2 Bh4+ 13.Kf1 Be7 14.Qc3 Bd7 15.Rd1 Qc8 16.Qxc8 Rxc8 17.c3 Ba4 18.Rc1 Nc6 19.Bd1 Bb5+ 20.Nxb5 axb5 21.a3 Na5 22.Be2 Nc4 23.Bxc4 bxc4 24.Re1 f5 25.exf6 gxf6 26.Bd4 f5 27.Rg1 Kf7 28.gxf5 exf5 29.Rg7+ Ke6 30.Rxh7 Rg8 31.Rh6+ Kf7 32.Rb6 Rg4 33.Be3 Rh8

Loek van Wely

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ r
_ p _ _ b k _ _
_ R _ _ _ _ _ _
_ _ _ _ _ p _ _
_ _ p _ p P r _
P _ P _ B _ _ _
_ P _ _ _ _ _ P
_ _ _ _ R K _ _

Nigel Short

Position after 33...Rh8

Short's interesting opening idea 12.Qd2 had yielded a position which most of the crowd thought he would wrap up easily. However, Black's pieces are very active, and it is far from simple. At this point, Short reluctantly expended a precious tempo defending his h-pawn, having decided that after 34.Rxb7 Rxh2 35.Bc5 Rxf4+ 36.Kg1 Rfh4, he cannot escape the checks without losing his rook on e1. However, once this position appeared on the board in the post-mortem, he realised that he has 37.Bxe7! Rh1+ 38.Kf2 R4h2+ 39.Kg3 Rh3+ 40.Kf4 Rxe1 and now the discovered check 41.Bh4+ regains the rook! Admittedly, it is still not 100% clear that White is winning after another defence, such as 34...Rh3, but with an extra tempo over the game, he would certainly have had better chances. As it was, the game ended in a draw after

34.Re2 Rh3 35.Rxb7 Ke6 36.Rb6+ Kd7 37.Rb7+ Ke6 38.Rb6+ Kd7 39.Rb7+ ½-½

Shortly afterwards, the game Adams-L'Ami was agreed drawn, White's apparent pressure having not impressed Adams as much as it had some of the spectators. So, that was Lucerne 1982 out of the window. Still, 4-1 would still be a great result, we thought. At this point, Jones seemed to have a crushing position against Sokolov, Howell's opening preparation had brought him a great position against Werle, and McShane's 5.Qe2 Petroff was suddenly looking promising, after he tricked Smeets in the middlegame and picked up a pawn.

But then it got really ugly. For Gawain Jones, the 2009 Staunton has already been a bit of a horror story, and today's experience must match anything ever suffered by the victims of Dracula or Frankenstein:

GM Jones,G 2544 - GM Sokolov,I 2655

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 f5 4.d3 fxe4 5.dxe4 Nf6 6.0-0 d6 7.Re1 Bg4 8.h3 Bh5 9.Qd3 Qd7 10.Nc3 a6 11.Bxc6 bxc6 12.Ne2 h6 13.Ng3 Bf7 14.Qc3 g6?? 15.Rd1

Ivan Sokolov

r _ _ _ k b _ r
_ _ p q _ b _ _
p _ p p _ n p p
_ _ _ _ p _ _ _
_ _ _ _ P _ _ _
_ _ Q _ _ N N P
P P P _ _ P P _
R _ B R _ _ K _

Gawain Jones

Position after 15,Rd1

Suddenly Black must lose material, in view of the threat Nxe5.

15...Qc8 16.Qxc6+ Ke7 17.b3 Be6 18.Bb2 Kf7 19.Rd3 Be7 20.Qc3 Nd7 21.Rf1 Qb7 22.Nh2 Raf8 23.f4 Qb6+ 24.Kh1 exf4 25.Qd2!?

This allows an exchange sacrifice which complicates matters somewhat. The simple recapture 25.Rxf4+ retains the extra pawn and a clear advantage.

25...g5 26.Bxh8 Rxh8 27.Nf3 Nc5 28.Rd4

Ivan Sokolov

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ r
_ _ p _ b k _ _
p q _ p b _ _ p
_ _ n _ _ _ p _
_ _ _ R P p _ _
_ P _ _ _ N N P
P _ P Q _ _ P _
_ _ _ _ _ R _ K

Gawain Jones

Position after 28.Rd4

28...fxg3?

Tempting, but now White is clearly winning.

29.Rb4 Qa5 30.Ne5+ Kg7 31.Nc6 Qxa2 32.Nxe7?!

32.Qc3+ Kh7 33.Ra1 Rf8 34.Kg1 Bf6 35.e5 would leave Black with only two minor pieces for his queen.

32...Qb2 33.Rd4?

It is very tempting to shut the black queen out from e5, but this move imperils the win. Simpler was 33.Nf5+, although Black is still fighting. Needless to say, both players were short of time at this point.

33...Re8 34.Nf5+ Bxf5 35.exf5 Ne4

Ivan Sokolov

_ _ _ _ r _ _ _
_ _ p _ _ _ k _
p _ _ p _ _ _ p
_ _ _ _ _ P p _
_ _ _ R n _ _ _
_ P _ _ _ _ p P
_ q P Q _ _ P _
_ _ _ _ _ R _ K

Gawain Jones

Position after 35...Ne4

Suddenly Black has very dangerous counterplay.

36.f6+?

A further mistake. He has to play 36.Qb4, although matters are quite unclear after 36...Qxc2.

36...Kf8 37.Qb4 Nf2+ 38.Kg1

Ivan Sokolov

_ _ _ _ r k _ _
_ _ p _ _ _ _ _
p _ _ p _ P _ p
_ _ _ _ _ _ p _
_ Q _ R _ _ _ _
_ P _ _ _ _ p P
_ q P _ _ n P _
_ _ _ _ _ R K _

Gawain Jones

Position after 38.Kg1

38...Qxc2?

Now it is Black's turn to err. 38...Nxh3+ 39.gxh3 c5 would give him a winning advantage.

39.Rd2 Qc6 40.f7 Re4

Finally reaching the time control. White has long since lost control, and the position is now totally unclear.

41.Qb8+ Kxf7 42.Rdd1?

But not after this. White had to prefer 42.Rd3 when he can eliminate the g3-pawn, which is like a stake through his heart.

42...Qc5!

Suddenly White is lost, as his counterattack against the black king leads only to a blind alley. We now reach the climax of the horror film, as the poor helpless maiden that is White can only cower helplessly, as the evil vampire Vincent Price - or in this case, Ivan Sokolov  - closes in for his nocturnal blood transfusion..

Ivan Sokolov

_ Q _ _ _ _ _ _
_ _ p _ _ k _ _
p _ _ p _ _ _ p
_ _ q _ _ _ p _
_ _ _ _ r _ _ _
_ P _ _ _ _ p P
_ _ _ _ _ n P _
_ _ _ R _ R K _

Gawain Jones

Position after 42.Qc5

43.Rc1 Qe3 44.Rxc7+ Kg6 45.Qg8+ Kh5 46.Qf7+ Kh4 47.Rc4 d5 48.Rxe4+

48.Qxd5 Nxh3+ 49.Kh1 Qg1+ 50.Rxg1 Nf2# is mate.

48...dxe4 49.b4 Nxh3+ 50.Kh1 Qg1+!

Finally sinking his fangs decisively into White's neck. This time, the familiar combination is not mate, but the two passed pawns are as deadly as Frankenstein's monster.

51.Rxg1 Nf2+ 52.Qxf2 gxf2 53.g3+ Kh3 54.Ra1 e3 0-1

After that trauma, England fans were left facing the possibility of losing the round. McShane's extra pawn was balanced by the extreme passivity of his pieces, and his rook ending was soon drawn. It was left to David Howell to save England's embarrassment:

Jan Werle

_ _ _ _ _ _ r k
P _ _ _ _ _ _ _
_ _ p _ _ _ _ _
_ _ N _ R _ _ _
_ P _ _ _ _ p p
_ _ _ _ _ p _ _
_ _ b _ _ K _ P
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

David Howell

Position after 36...Bxc2

Excellent opening preparation in a Scotch Game had yielded Howell a powerful-looking positional bind, but Werle defended tenaciously, and the diagram position occurred in the midst of a furious mutual time scramble up to the first time control. Howell now flashed out:

37.Rg5

but the computer points out the deadly blow 37.Ne6, when White threatens Nc7. Play went on:

37...Ra8?

37...g3+ would have eliminated White's h-pawn and secured the draw.

38.Rxg4 Rxa7 39.Rxh4+ Kg7 40.Kxf3 Ra1

and the smoke cleared, to leave White with an extra pawn. The paucity of material offers Black some drawing chances, but it is still a grim position to defend. Werle has been having a wretched time at this year's Staunton, and he lost in short order.

41.Rc4 Bd1+ 42.Kf4 Ra2 43.h4 Rh2 44.Ke5 Bf3 45.Ne6+ Kh6 46.Nd4 Bd5 47.Rc5 Bg2??

47...Bh1 was compulsory.

48.Rc2!

Suddenly Black cannot move.

48...Kh5 49.Ne6 1-0

Thus, a dramatic "match of two halves" ended in a 2.5 -2.5 draw. As it happens, this is also the halfway mark in the event, so it seems an appropriate time to summarise the match and individual scores.

7th Staunton Memorial Scheveningen London (ENG), 8-17 viii 2009
ENGLAND SCORE NETHERLANDS SCORE
Michael Adams 2.5 Loek van Wely 3
Nigel Short 4 Ivan Sokolov 3
Luke McShane 3 Jan Smeets 3
David Howell 2.5 Erwin L'Ami 3
Gawain Jones 0.5 Jan Werle 0.5
  12.5   12.5

The match is tied, although the Dutch have more reason to be satisfied, since they have three "white" rounds to come, in the remaining five.

In the all-play-all group, Jan Timman strengthened his grip, by defeating Simon Williams. There were also wins for Korchnoi, Hendricks, and Wiersma, whilst davies-Cherniaev ended in a draw. Overall scores in that event are Timman 4.5, Cherniaev 3.5, Wells and Williams 3, Korchnoi, Davies, Wiersma and Hendricks 2.5, Trent 1, Chapman 0.

Report by Steve Giddins. Official site: http://howardstaunton.com/hsmt2009/Home.html

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