Chess

The view from on high

8 August 2020

9:00 AM

8 August 2020

9:00 AM

‘Cabin crew, ten minutes to landing!’ Are there any more exhilarating words? Soon, for a few precious minutes, one can fix one’s gaze on the approaching landscape. The patchwork fields, the lines of terraced houses and shuffling cars — all woven together in an intricate fractal. From a certain point of view, these simple things are the crowning achievements of civilisation.

Photographers at large chess tournaments often choose to capture an aerial view of the playing hall. To my eyes, it makes for a similarly uplifting sight. Hundreds of chess boards aligned in an arena, their occupants riveted with dedication — what better evidence of human society in rude cultural health?

The Olympiad, a major biannual international team tournament organised by Fide (the International Chess Federation), always gives rise to such a spectacle. Alas, this year’s event (slated for Moscow) has been cancelled, though an Online Olympiad is being organised in its place. I look forward to playing later this month (England’s initial games run from 14-16 August), but will miss the intense camaraderie of the traditional event. At its best, the Olympiad really does embody Fide’s motto ‘Gens una sumus’ (We are one family). Still, there are green shoots! Last month’s chess festival in Biel, Switzerland, was one of the first major over-the-board events to be staged in months, and the organisers posted drone footage of the playing hall. This was heartening on many levels. I will loudly proclaim the aforementioned spiritual considerations — and add that when writing a chess column, it helps when there are chess events to write about.


On reflection, there’s one more reason. For months, we have been bombarded with all sorts of alarming aerial images: from empty cities to angry protests and packed beaches. By contrast, the sight of people just playing chess is refreshingly innocent, though the mark of social distancing was clear. The playing hall was populated sparsely, with double-width tables or plexiglass screens to separate the players.

England’s top player Michael Adams finished in third place in the festival’s headline event, the ‘Grandmaster Triathlon’, which saw a combination of classical, rapid and blitz chess. Adams went on a fantastic run in the blitz event, sharing first place with 11/14, but the overall event was won by the Polish grandmaster Radoslaw Wojtaszek, a long-time second of Vishy Anand.

Arkadij Naiditsch–Radoslaw Wojtaszek

Biel Grandmaster Triathlon, July 2020

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 Bb5+ Nd7 4 d4 cxd4 5 Qxd4 a6 6 Bxd7+ Bxd7 7 c4 e5 8 Qd3 b5 9 Nc3 bxc4 10 Qxc4 Be6 11 Qd3 h6 12 O-O Nf6 13 Rd1 Be7 14 Ne1 O-O 15 Nc2 Qd7 16 Ne3 Rfc8 17 Bd2 Bd8 18 Ncd5 Qb7 19 Bc3 Nxd5 20 Nxd5 Rc6 The position is about equal. Black’s bishop pair offsets the advantage of the outpost on d5. 21 h3 Rac8 22 Kh2 Bg5 23 f3 Rc5! Seizing the initiative. Now, …Bxd5 looks undesirable for White, so: 24 Ne3 Qb6! Threatens …Rxc3. 25 Re1 Bf4+! Softening up the kingside, since 26 Kh1 Qd8 is dangerous. 26 g3 Bxe3 27 Qxe3 Qc6 28 a3 f6! (see diagram) A key move, placing a diagonal barrier in front of White’s bishop. 29 Rad1 Rd8 30 Rd2 d5 31 exd5 Rcxd5 32 Rxd5 Qxd5 33 f4 Bc8! A powerful manoeuvre. 34 fxe5 Bb7 35 Rg1 fxe5 36 g4 This attempt at a counterattack fails, but White was otherwise condemned to a grim defence. Rf8 37 g5 Rf3 38 Qxe5 Rf2+ 39 Kg3 Rg2+ 40 Rxg2 Qxg2+ 41 Kh4 Qf2+ Now 42 Qg3 hxg5+ 43 Kg4 Bc8+ wins the queen, or 43 Kh5 g6+! 44 Kxh6 Qh4+ 45 Kxg6 Qh7+ 46 Kf6 Qf7 mate White resigns

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