SIMPLECHESS

Aix Action!

The four players at the top of the tournament got there in different ways, but all were involved in combative play.
It is noticeable for example that there were several black wins on the top tables throughout the event.

Vladimir Potkin led from start to finish.

Ter Sahakyan,S (2575) - Potkin,V (2653)

Aix-les-Bains (4th round) 25.03.2011

Sicilian Taimanov (B48)

1.e4 c5 2.♘f3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.♘xd4 ♘c6 5.♘c3 ♕c7 6.♗e3 a6 7.♕d2 ♘f6 8.0-0-0 ♗b4 9.f3 ♘e5 10.♘b3 b5 11.♕e1

Threatening ♘xb5.

11...♗e7 12.f4 ♘g6 13.e5 ♘g4 14.♘e4 ♘xe3

He could also continue without this exchange. For example 14...0-0 15.♗c5 ♗b7 16.♗xe7 ♘xe7 17.♗d3 f5 18.♘d6, and now Black shouldn't be tempted by the g-pawn and settle for the solid 18...♗d5! with chances for both sides, Szabo,K-Kristjansson,S Budapest 2006.

15.♕xe3 0-0 16.h4!

Ter Sahakyan aims to exploit the position of Black's knight which lacks prospects.

The solid alternative 16.♗d3 ♗b7 17.♖he1, would not be particularly threatening.

16...♗b7 17.h5 ♖ac8 18.♗d3

18...♘xe5!

An active solution.

Instead 18...♘h4 19.g4 would leave the knight stranded in no man's land.

19.fxe5 ♕xe5

Black has two central pawns and the bishop pair for the piece. Furthermore, White's centralized pieces are precariously placed.

20.♘bd2!

Instead 20.♕e2 enables Black to pick up a third pawn: 20...f5 21.♘c3 ♕xe2 22.♗xe2 ♗xg2 23.♖hg1 ♗c6.

20...f5 21.♘f3 ♕c7 22.♘eg5

22...♗d5?!

An imprecise move.

Potkin aims to avoid the counter-sacrifice on e6, but this wasn't in fact that dangerous. So after 22...h6! 23.♘xe6 dxe6 24.♕xe6+ ♔h8 25.♘e5 (25.♗xf5? ♕f4+) 25...♗g5+ 26.♔b1 ♖f6 the position would remain unclear.

23.♘h4?

White sidelines one knight and leaves the other loosely placed.

A better continuation would be 23.h6! g6 24.♔b1 when White retains a certain solidity, whereas Black's monarch would require long-term attention.

23...♕c5!

Annoying for White to face as he now has to give ground.

24.♕d2

Rather than 24.♕xc5?? ♗xg5+.

24...♗f6 25.a3

Otherwise, 25.♔b1 b4 would also be ominous for White's king.

25...b4!

Again exploiting the fact that White's knight on g5 requires the protection of the queen.

26.axb4 ♕d4 27.c3 ♗xg5

Also good is 27...♕xb4.

28.♕xg5

28...♖xc3+! 29.♗c2

Instead, 29.bxc3 ♕xc3+ 30.♗c2 ♗b3 leads to mate.

29...♖xc2+! 30.♔xc2 ♖c8+ 31.♔b1 ♗e4+ 32.♔a1 ♕xb4

Black's attack is decisive.

33.♕e3

33.♖h3? fails to 33...♕a4+ 34.♖a3 ♕xd1+.

33...♖c5 34.♖d3 ♖b5

White can't meet all the threats.

0-1

Here's the new champion's penultimate round win, again with the Black pieces.

Jobava,B (2707) - Potkin,V (2653)

Aix-les-Bains (10th round) 01.04.2011

Slav Defence (D11)

1.c4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.♘f3 ♘f6 4.♕b3

White shows that he wants to avoid the main lines of the Slav.

4...e6 5.♗g5 h6 6.♗h4 dxc4 7.♕xc4 b5 8.♕c2 ♗b7

The thematic plan for Black will be to prepare, and then get in, ...c5 to liberate this bishop.

9.♘c3

After the slower 9.e3, it's easier for Black to free himself with his standard plan e.g. 9...♘bd7 10.♗d3 ♖c8 11.♕e2 a6 12.a4 ♕a5+ 13.♘bd2 c5 Gagunashvili-Timofeev, Warsaw 2005.

9...♘bd7 10.e4 ♕b6 11.♗e2

11...♘h5!?

Exploiting the fact that there is no really convenient way to cover f4.

12.d5!

Reacting immediately to the absence of the knight from the centre.

After the inferior 12.♕d2, Black can play ambitiously with 12...g5 13.♗g3 ♖d8 with a complex position.

12...♘f4 13.dxe6 ♘xe6 14.0-0-0?!

Over-optimistic.

The natural 14.0-0 seems more to the point as White has the easier development: 14...♗c5 (perhaps Potkin would have opted for 14...g5!? 15.♗g3 h5 16.h3 ♖d8 with double-edged play, as neither king will feel entirely safe in the coming middlegame) 15.a4 a6 16.♖fd1 and Black can't castle without making concessions.

14...♗b4 15.♔b1 ♘dc5

Putting on hold the idea of playing for ...c5, as Potkin is intent on castling short. Meantime, Jobava tries to exploit his lead in development.

16.♖d6 0-0 17.♘d5?!

Otherwise White has no chances for an advantage, and would be in danger of ultimately having the most vulnerable king.

Black has Hobson's choice, but it turns out to be a pleasant one all the same!

17...cxd5! 18.♖xb6 axb6

Black has given up his queen but his remaining forces are now very active.

19.a3

Jobava may have been relying on this follow-up, but Potkin had seen further...

19...dxe4 20.axb4 exf3 21.bxc5 fxe2 22.c6 ♘d4 23.♕d3

I suspect that the original idea was 23.cxb7, but this is met by 23...♖a1+! 24.♔xa1 ♘xc2+ 25.♔b1 e1=♕+ 26.♖xe1 ♘xe1 and even if White regains the rook with 27.♗g3 the endgame will be bad for White. Here is a sample line: 27...♘xg2 28.♔c2 g5 29.b8♖xb8 30.♗xb8 f5 31.♔c3 ♔f7 32.♗a7 ♔e6 33.♔b4 ♘e1 34.♔xb5 ♘d3 35.b4 ♘xf2 36.♔xb6 ♘d3 37.b5 f4 38.♔c7 f3 39.♗g1 f2 40.♗xf2 ♘xf2 41.b6 ♘e4 42.b7 ♘c5 43.b8=♕? ♘a6+.

23...♘xc6 24.f3

White is clearly in trouble after 24.♕xe2 ♖a4 25.♗g3 ♖fa8.

24...♖a4 25.♕d7 ♖xh4 26.♕xb7 ♖d4

There is no hope after 26...♖d4 27.♕xc6 ♖d1+ 28.♕c1 ♖fd8 29.♖e1 ♖xe1 30.♕xe1 ♖d1+.

0-1

I previously thought that Wojtaszek was a positional player. After seeing the following game, I'll have to revise my judgement!

Nisipeanu,LD (2673) - Wojtaszek,R (2711)

Aix-les-Bains (9th round) 31.03.2011

Sicilian Najdorf (B96)

1.e4 c5 2.♘f3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.♘xd4 ♘f6 5.♘c3 a6 6.♗g5 e6 7.f4 h6 8.♗h4 ♕b6

The so-called Poisoned Pawn variation. Black aims to grab the b-pawn, despite the risks involved with dropping behind in development.

9.♕d2 ♕xb2

10.♖b1

The following illustrates the dangers in this line: 10.♘b3 ♕a3 11.♗xf6 gxf6 12.♗e2 h5 13.0-0 ♘c6 14.♔h1 ♗d7 15.♘b1 ♕b4 16.♕e3 d5 (the improvement 16...♘e7! 17.c4 f5 18.a3 ♕a4 led to a black win in Qi Jianxuan-Karpov, Hannover 1983) 17.exd5 ♘e7 18.c4 ♘f5 19.♕d3 h4 20.♗g4 ♘d6 21.♘1d2 f5 22.a3 Spassky-Fischer, match Rejkyavik 1972, and Black had to shed material. A famous game.

10...♕a3 11.e5

White wants to create action before Black has time to get organized.

11...dxe5 12.fxe5 g5!?

One of the critical lines continues with 12...♘fd7 13.♘e4 ♕xa2 14.♖d1 ♕d5 15.♕e3 ♕xe5 16.♗e2 ♗c5 17.♗g3 when White has great activity for the three(!) pawns. This variation has been tested by top-flight players on several occasions, without a final conclusion being drawn.

13.exf6 gxh4 14.♗e2 ♕a5!?

A rare idea that has the particularity of having been tested in some games between computer programs. In those encounters, Black was reasonably successful.

15.0-0 ♘d7 16.♔h1 ♕g5

Which is the most important: development?, or, an extra pawn along with potential on the dark squares?

17.♖f4 e5

Sharp. White now has to shed more material to keep the attack going.

18.♘d5

18...exd4

Black drops his queen after 18...exf4? 19.♘c7+ ♔d8 20.♘ce6+.

19.♕xd4

The rook on a8 is en prise, but even so after 19.♘c7+ ♔d8 20.♘xa8 d3! (20...♗d6? is however bad because of 21.♖xd4) 21.♗xd3 ♗d6 22.♖f2 ♕e5 Black has dangerous counterplay.

19...♔d8 20.♖d1 h3!

Softening up White's king.

21.g3 ♗d6

22.♖e4

Instead 22.♗g4 (best?) 22...♗xf4 (22...♕e5!? 23.♕f2 is murky) 23.♗xd7 ♗xd7 24.♕b6+ ♔e8 25.♕b4 ♔d8 26.♕b6+ ♔e8 27.♕b4 ♔d8 28.♕b6+ was drawn in Kreuzfahrtschiff-Flyingfatman, 2007.

22...♖e8 23.♘b6

Nisipeanu intends on cashing in his superior pieces, however Wojtaszek is now able to finally get himself organized.

23...♖xe4 24.♕xe4 ♕c5 25.♘xa8 ♘xf6 26.♕d3 ♔e7

White may have an extra exchange, but the knight in the corner is locked out of play.

27.♗f3 h5 28.♕e2+

After the exchange of queens with 28.♕d4, the position would be unclear. It's worth emphasizing that White's pieces in opposite corners would be a matter for concern, that is, not just the knight on a8, but also the king on h1.

28...♗e6 29.♗xb7 ♘g4 30.♖f1 h4!

Black seizes the initiative.

31.gxh4 ♘xh2?!

More precise is 31...♗e5! keeping his options open. As White can't do a great deal, Black, who now has the safer king, will be able to keep up the pressure.

32.♖g1?

Better is 32.♖e1 ♔f8 33.♕e3 when White seems to be fine due to the threat of perpetual check: 33...♕b4 34.♕h6+ ♔g8 35.♕g5+ ♔f8 36.♕h6+ ♔e7 37.♖xe6+ fxe6 38.♕g7+=.

32...♔f8 33.♖g5 ♕b4

Now White has problems along the first rank.

34.♕e4

34.♗c6 ♘g4 35.♕f1 is despatched by mate with 35...♕d2 etc.

34...♕b1+ 35.♖g1 ♘f1!

Apart from the immediate threat of ...♘g3+, Black's queen cannot be kept from invading on the second rank.

36.♕c6 ♘g3+ 37.♔h2 ♘f1+ 38.♔h1 ♕d1! 39.♕f3 ♕d2

The threat of mate on h2 is decisive.

0-1

Analaysis suggests that Alexander Moiseenko was fortunate to win his last round game against Luke McShane.

Moiseenko,A (2673) - McShane,L (2683)

Aix-les-Bains 11th round), 02.04.2011

King's Indian Defence (E70)

1.d4 ♘f6 2.c4 g6 3.♘c3 ♗g7 4.e4 0-0 5.♗d3 ♘c6

The Englishman hits at White's most sensitive spot on d4.

6.♘ge2 e5 7.d5 ♘d4 8.♘xd4

Black has no problems after 8.0-0 c5! 9.f4 d6 10.f5 ♕e8 11.♘g3 ♗d7 12.♖b1 a5 Marin-Istratescu, Budapest 1993.

8...exd4 9.♘e2

9...c5!?

An alternative move order is 9...♖e8 10.f3 c5 11.0-0 d6 12.♗g5, and we transpose back to the game. Moiseenko is a fan of this line, for example one of his games continued 12...♗d7 13.♕d2 a6 14.♘g3 b5 15.b3 bxc4 16.bxc4 ♖b8 17.♖ae1 Moiseenko-Markov, Polanica Zdroj 2008, and he went on to win on the kingside.

10.0-0 d6 11.♗g5 ♖e8 12.f3 h6 13.♗d2!?

The normal move is 13.♗h4 retaining the pin when Black has to decide whether or not to play with the risky ...g5.

13...♘d7 14.f4!

It's best to avoid ...♘e5.

14...♘f6 15.♕c2 ♗d7 16.a4

Another prophylactic move, as ...b5 is often Black's main source of counterplay.

16...h5!? 17.h3 ♕e7

18.e5?!

An enterprising, but ultimately dubious, pawn sacrifice.

The alternative is 18.♖ae1 when McShane could have sacrificed his queen with 18...♘xe4! 19.♘g3 ♘xg3! 20.♖xe7 ♖xe7 21.♖e1 ♖ae8, when he would have enough material and positional compensation for equality.

18...dxe5 19.fxe5 ♕xe5 20.♗f4 ♕e7 21.♗g5 ♕d6 22.♗xf6

The logical way forwards.

If 22.♗f4, Black can avoid the repetition with either 22...♕a6 or 22...♕f8.

22...♗xf6

23.♗xg6!

Inaugurating a kingside attack.

23...♖xe2!

A counter-shot that deflects White's queen.

24.♗h7+ ♔g7 25.♕xe2 ♔xh7 26.♖a3

All three White major pieces are poised for the attack, so Black has to be careful.

Inferior would be 26.♕xh5+ ♔g7 27.♖a3 ♖h8 when White runs out of ammunition.

26...♖e8?

This natural-looking move doesn't pass the test of analysis.

The correct plan involves covering the king with the bishop pair: 26...♔h6! 27.♖af3 ♗g5 28.♖xf7 ♗e8 29.♖xb7 ♗g6, when Black is better, although things would still be messy.

27.♕xh5+ ♔g7 28.♖af3 ♖h8

Black has lost a valuable tempo.

Instead, 28...♖e5 doesn't stem the tide for long: 29.♖g3+ ♔f8 30.♕h6+ ♔e7 31.♖gf3.

29.♖xf6!

Crashing through.

29...♖xh5 30.♖xd6

White emerges with an extra exchange and the game is essentially over.

30...♗xa4 31.♖df6 ♗e8 32.d6 ♔f8 33.♖1f5 ♖h4 34.♖xc5 ♗c6 35.♖cf5 ♖h7 36.♖f4 ♖g7 37.g4 d3 38.♖d4 1-0

In the next game (yet another Black win!), Polgar doesn't seem to be put off by a slightly shaky strategic position. She doesn't even seem to mind being the exchange down...as long as she has active pieces!

Grandelius,N (2547) - Polgar,Ju (2686)

Aix-les-Bains (3th round) 24.03.2011

Sicilian Najdorf (B90)

1.e4 c5 2.♘f3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.♘xd4 ♘f6 5.♘c3 a6 6.f3 e5 7.♘b3 ♗e6 8.♗e3 ♗e7 9.♕d2 h5

Restraining White's desired g2-g4 advance is the most popular in the position.

10.0-0-0 ♘bd7 11.h3

White's best at the point isn't that clear. Grandelius's choice indicates that by covering the g4-square he will be aiming for f3-f4.

11...h4

Black doesn't need to play ...h4, as White isn't threatening g2-g4, but it often comes in useful to fix the kingside. For example, after 11...♖c8 12.f4 b5 13.♗d3 ♗c4 14.♔b1 ♕c7 15.♖hf1 Black chose to play with ...h4 anyway in the following encounter... 15...h4 16.♖f2 0-0 17.♖g1 Thorhallsson-Ashley, Bermuda 1999, with a complex middlegame in prospect.

12.f4 ♖c8 13.♗d3 exf4 14.♗xf4 ♘h5

One of the points behind ...h4 is access to this square. Black's king will often stay in the centre, only castling if matters have clarified elsewhere.

15.♗e3 ♘g3 16.♖he1 ♗f6 17.♘e2!?

Rather tame-looking, as trading Black's knight on g3 looks like a lesser priority that occupying the d5-outpost. However the young Swede aims to take the sting out of Black's position. More direct is 17.♘d5.

17...♘xe2+ 18.♗xe2 ♗e5 19.♔b1 ♕f6

Judith relies on activity to balance any potential weaknesses in her pawn structure.

20.♘d4 ♘c5 21.♗f3 ♕g6 22.♗f2 ♔f8

Moving off the e-line. A sensible option, as in any case Black has to wait and see what White intends.

23.♕b4

After 23.♘xe6+ ♘xe6 (23...fxe6?! 24.♗d4 would leave Black with some problems) 24.c3 ♘c5 Black would be solid.

23...b5 24.♘f5!?

24...♘xe4!

A practical move that sacrifices the exchange for murky play.

Instead 24...♗xf5 25.exf5 ♕f6 26.♖d5 ♘d7 27.♕a3 would leave Black stretched to defend everything.

Otherwise 24...♕f6 25.♗d4 would also leave Black under pressure.

25.♘xh4 ♖xh4 26.♗xh4 ♘g3 27.♖d2 ♔g8

Grandelius's rooks don't have a major influence on events, so demonstrating any clear advantage for White is far from evident.

28.♗xg3

Another try, 28.♕a5 ♗f5 29.♔a1 ♗xc2 30.♕xa6 ♗f5 31.♖dd1 ♖c2 also looks complicated.

28...♕xg3 29.♖f1 ♖c4 30.♕a5 ♖a4 31.♕d8+ ♔h7 32.a3 ♕f4 33.♖fd1

33...b4!

Polgar's active pieces are able to create practical difficulties for the young Swede.

34.♗c6?

White would have been able to keep the balance with 34.♗g4! ♗xg4 35.♕h4+ ♔g6 36.♕xg4+ ♕xg4 37.hxg4 bxa3 38.c3=.

34...♕c4

Forking the bishop and king.

35.♖d4?

And here a better chance was 35.♗d5 ♗xd5 36.♖xd5 bxa3 37.♖xe5! dxe5 38.b3 ♖b4 39.♕d3+ when White can struggle on in an inferior endgame.

35...♕xc6 36.♕h4+ ♔g8 37.♕d8+ ♔h7 38.♕h4+

38...♔g6!

Black can play for more than a draw!

39.♖g4+ ♗xg4 40.hxg4

Or 40.♕xg4+ ♔f6 41.♕h4+ ♔e6 42.♕g4+ ♔e7 43.♕h4+ ♔e8 44.♕h8+ ♔d7 45.♕h5 ♔c8 and there is no draw.

40...♕xg2 41.♖d3 bxa3

White could also give two or three checks before resigning, but this wouldn't change the result.

0-1

Polgar,J (2686) - Iordachescu,V (2626)

Aix-les-Bains (10th round) 01.04.2011

Caro-Kann Advance Variation (B12)

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5

White gains space in the Advance Variation, but enables the light-squared bishop to comfortably develop outside the pawn chain.

3...♗f5 4.♘d2 e6 5.♘b3 ♘d7 6.♘f3 ♗g6 7.♗e2

Judith Polgar settles for a solid positional approach, just completing development whilst waiting to see how Black intends to hit at the white centre.

7...♘h6 8.0-0 ♘f5 9.c3

The more direct approach 9.♗d2 ♗e7 10.g4!? hasn't given White much joy after 10...♘h4 11.♘xh4 ♗xh4 12.f4 f5, as Black has a positive score from this position. Judith prefers to hold back on any self-weakening on the kingside.

9...♖c8

10.♗f4

After 10.♗d2 ♗e7, White could consider the redeploying 11.♘c1 e.g. 11...c5 12.♘d3 (one idea is a timely ♘-f4) 12...♗h5 13.dxc5 ♗xf3 14.♗xf3 ♘xc5 15.♘xc5 ♗xc5 16.♗e2 ♘e7 17.♗d3 ♘c6 18.♕g4 g6 19.♖ae1 Nisipeanu-Popov, Rijeka 2010, and the bishop pair gave White a plus.

10...c5?!

This looks premature due to the weakening of the a4-e8 diagonal, so 10...a6 first would have been more circumspect.

11.dxc5 ♗xc5 12.♘xc5 ♘xc5 13.♗b5+ ♘d7 14.♗g5 ♕c7

Iordachescu presumably decided that Black's solid position gave him no reason to be worried, but Polgar decides to profit from Black's centralized king to sharpen the struggle.

15.c4! a6 16.cxd5!

A surprise.

16...axb5 17.♖c1 ♕b8 18.dxe6 fxe6 19.♕b3

The initiative is worth a piece as Black is unable to coordinate his pieces.

19...♘f8

The following line also demonstrates Black's difficulties: 19...♗f7 20.♖xc8+ ♕xc8 21.♖c1 ♕b8 22.g4 ♘e7 23.♕b4 ♘d5 24.♕d6! ♕a8 25.♖c7!.

20.♕xb5+ ♔f7 21.♖xc8 ♕xc8 22.♖c1 ♕b8

Only two pawns for the piece, but the rook on h8 is a long way from being able to come into the game.

23.g4! ♘h6 24.♕b4 ♔g8 25.♗xh6 gxh6 26.♕e7

Threatening ♖c7.

26...♕e8 27.♕xb7 ♕a4 28.b4 ♗e8

Iordachescu is hoping to blockade the light-squares and activate the knight.

29.♕e7 ♕d7 30.♖c7!

Trading queens doesn't concern Polgar, it's what remains on the board that counts.

30...♕xe7 31.♖xe7

Black's pieces are all aligned along the first rank, rarely a good sign when the endgame is approaching!

31...♗c6 32.♘d4 ♗d5 33.b5

Passed pawns are made for pushing!

33...♘g6 34.♖c7 ♘xe5

Hopeless is 34...♗xa2 e.g. 35.b6 ♗d5 36.b7 ♗xb7 37.♘xe6! and 38.♖g7 mate.

35.f4

There is nothing wrong with the immediate 35.b6 either.

35...♘f7 36.f5! exf5 37.♘xf5 ♗e6

Avoiding mate, but the queenside pawns can now advance.

38.b6 ♗xf5 39.gxf5 ♔g7 40.b7 ♖b8 41.a4 ♔f6 42.a5 ♘d6 43.a6

There is no respite for Black.

43...♔xf5 44.a7 ♖g8+ 45.♔f2 ♘xb7 46.♖xb7 ♖a8

Surviving a little longer.

47.♔e3 ♔e5 48.♖xh7

If Black moves his king, White's goes in the other direction.

48...♖c8 49.♔d3 ♔d5 50.♖xh6 ♔c5 51.♖a6 ♖a8 52.h4 ♔b5 53.♖a1 ♔b6 54.♔e4 1-0