1 December 2023 4:40 PM
Chess title fight may be decided by a freeze and a bluff

The world chess championship may be decided by a freeze and a fake-out.

The unexpectedly compelling 14-game title match in Astana, Kazakhstan, between Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi and Chinese GM Ding Liren is entering the home stretch, after the Russian claimed a comfortable draw with White in Monday’s Game 11.

Nepo thus clings to a 6-5 lead with three games left, although Ding will have the advantage of the White pieces in two of the games still to be played as he tried to even the score and force a playoff.

Should he come up short, however, he will surely rue a couple of body blows he suffered midmatch, a sign of the nerves and psychological pressure players must deal with at every stage in such top-level matches.

In Game 7, as his many fans agonized online, Ding failed to hold a drawable game when he appeared to freeze in moderate time trouble, using up nearly all of his remaining time on a relatively straightforward move and then collapsing as he rushed to avoid a forfeit.

Ding could have bounced back after building up a winning position in the very next game, but a shrewd bluff by Nepo and another seeming case of nerves cost White the victory.

Both players have shown excellent fighting spirit in the match, and Ding in Game 8 came out swinging in a trendy Nimzo-Indian line — 9. Ra2!? is the hot new way to play the position — which put Black back on his heels positionally.

White builds on his initiative with the aggressive 11. Bg5 h6 12. h4!? hxg5 13. hxg5 g6 (Ne8?? 14. Qh5 f5 15. g6 wins on the spot) 14. gxf6 Qxf6 15. e5! dxe5 d5!, with a strong central push that forces his opponent to react.

Black is up to the defensive task until 21. Rh3 Nh4 22. g5 Bxe4? 23. Qxe4 Nf5 24. Rd2!, a move that Black admitted he missed and one that leaves the White d-pawn a positional bone in the throat of the Black defensive position. After 24…Rh8 (Nxd6? 25. Qxe5+ f6 26. Qh2 fxg5 27. Rxd6; or 24…Qxg5 25. Qxe5+ f6 26. Qe4 Rad8 27. f4! Qg4 28. Rdh2, with a killer attack down the file) 25. Rxh8 Qxh8 26. d7!? (even better was 26. Rd3! Rd8 27. Rh3 Qf8 28. Qxe5+, and if 28…f6, White has 29. gxf6+ Qxf6 30. Rh7+!, winning) Rd8 27. Qxe5+ Kh7.

But bluffing isn’t just for poker — with White dominating after 30. Qh2+ Kg7 31. Qc7 (see diagram), Black uncorks the unexpected 31…Qh4!!?. This feint, abandoning the rook for some dangerous-looking checks, should lose, but White gets a clear, stress-free edge on 31…Qf8 32. Qxa7 Qe7 33. Qxb6; now Ding must take risks with time pressure losing if he wants the win he has earned.

Black is rewarded as White backs down with 32. Kd1? (taking the rook wins after 32. Qxd8! Qe4+ 33. Re2 Qb1+ 34. Kd2 Qb2+ 35. Kd3 Qb1+ 36. Rc2! Qd1+ (Qxf1+ 37. Kd2 Qxf2+ 38. Kc1 Qe1+ 39. Kb2) 37. Ke4! Qxc2+ 38. Bd3 Nd6+ 39. Ke5 Qxd3 40. Qf6+ Kh7 41. d8=Q Nxc4+ 4.2 Kf4 e5+ 43. Kg4, and the checks will soon run out.

White misses one more chance before time control: 36. Qxa7 Ng4, when 37. Bc6!, preserving the d-pawn, holds real winning chances after 37…e4 38. Qc7 f5 39. Kb3 Ne5 40. Qxb6. Black alertly sacrifices a piece to create a formidable kingside pawn phalanx and eliminate White’s invaluable d-pawn with 37. Bf3? Nxf2! 38. Rxf2 f5 40. Qxb6 Rxd7. Ding must give back the piece to stop the pawns and the resulting rook ending is a dead draw.

Call it a swindle, but if the Russian claims the crown, this game could be the reason why.


There’s actually another world chess championship being held this month, getting far less attention even though the “players” are incomparably stronger than either Ding or Nepomniachtchi.

Longtime silicon bully Stockfish and challenger Leela Chess Zero are battling it out in the Top Chess Engine Championship. Through 80(!) games so far, Stockfish, a 13-time winner of the event, clings to a narrow 42-38 (15-11-54) lead. Stockfish’s mad-genius sacrificial win over LcO’s Pirc Defense belies the old stereotype that the engines are too materialistic to play Romantic, swashbuckling chess.

White is already sacrificing pieces after a dozen moves — 12. e5!? hxg5 13. e6!, when Black must avoid lines like 13…Nxd5 14. exf7+ Kxf7 15. Nxd5 Bxd5 16. Bxg6+! Kxg6 17. Qd3+ Kf7 18. Qxd5+ e6 19. Qxa8 — and again seven moves later with 19. hxg6! Bg4 20. Qf1 Bxd1 21. Kxd1 Nxd3 22. Qxd3, when despite being down an exchange and a pawn, White has real attacking chances on the open field of the kingside.

As to be expected, the attack and defense between two 3500+-rated players are at times otherworldly: 26. Rf1 Qxa4! 27. Qh5 Re6 (the threat was 28. Qh7+ Kf8 29. Rxf6+! Bxf6 30. Bh6+ Bg7 31. Qh8 mate) 28. Qh7+ Kf8 29. Bh6 Qd4+ (amazingly, Black finds a way to parry the multiple mating threats) 30. Kc1 Bxh6+ 31. Qxh6+ Kg8 32. Rh1 f5!, but Stockfish gives the (theoretically) frazzled defender more to handle with 33. g4!!, showing the kingside attack is by no means done.

The White queen and knight prove stronger than Black’s queen and rook in crunch time: 33…fxg4 34. Qg5! (with the threat of 35. Qd8+ Kg7 36. Qh8+ Kxg6 37. Qg8+ Qg7 38. Qxe6+ and wins) Rd7 35. Qf5 Qe5 36. Rh8+! Qxh8 37. Qxe6+ Kf8 38. Qf5+ Kg8 36. Nf6+ Kg7 40. Nh5+! (a critical finesse; Black draws on 40. Nxd7? Qh1+ 41. Kd2 Qg2+ 42. Kd3 Qg3+ 43. Ke4 Qg2+, as 44. Kf4?? loses to 44…Qf3+ 45. Kg5 Qxf5+! 45. Kxf5 g3) Kh6 (Kg8 41. Qd5+ Kf8 42. Qa8+ picks off the Black queen) 41. Qxd7 Kxg6 (Black has three pawns for the piece, but Stockfish is not done) 42. Qxd6+! Kh7 (Kxh5 43. Qh2+) 43. Qf4 Kg6 44. Qxg4+ and the dangerous black pawns have been efficiently harvested.

As computers will do, Lc0 Zero plays it out to the bitter end — its cornered king finally mated after 53. Qf2+ Kh1 54. Ng3 mate.

(Click on the image above for a larger view of the chessboard.)

Ding-Nepomniachtchi, FIDE World Championship, Game 8, Astana, Kazakhstan, April 2023

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 d6 7. Ne2 c5 8. Ng3 Nc6 9. Ra2 b6 10. e4 Ba6 11. Bg5 h6 12. h4 hxg5 13. hxg5 g6 14. gxf6 Qxf6 15. e5 dxe5 16. d5 Ne7 17. d6 Nf5 18. Ne4 Qd8 19. Qd3 Kg7 20. g4 Bb7 21. Rh3 Nh4 22. g5 Bxe4 23. Qxe4 Nf5 24. Rd2 Rh8 25. Rxh8 Qxh8 26. d7 Rd8 27. Qxe5+ Kh7 28. Qh2+ Kg7 29. Qe5+ Kh7 30. Qh2+ Kg7 31. Qc7 Qh4 32. Kd1 Qxg5 33. Kc2 Qe7 34. Bg2 e5 35. Be4 Nh6 36. Qxa7 Ng4 37. Bf3 Nxf2 38. Rxf2 e4 39. Re2 f5 40. Qxb6 Rxd7 41. Qb8 Qd6 42. Qxd6 Rxd6 43. Bxe4 fxe4 44. Rxe4 Kf6 45. Re8 Draw agreed.

Stockfish-Leela Chess Zero, Top Chess Engine Championship, April 2023

1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. f4 Bg7 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Bd2 b6 7. Bd3 Bb7 8. Qe2 c5 9. d5 a6 10. a4 Re8 11. Ng5 h6 12. e5 hxg5 13. e6 Bc8 14. fxg5 Nbd7 15. gxf6 exf6 16. h4 Ne5 17. h5 fxe6 18. O-O-O exd5 19. hxg6 Bg4 20. Qf1 Bxd1 21. Kxd1 Nxd3 22. Qxd3 Qd7 23. Qf3 Ra7 24. Nxd5 Qe6 25. Re1 Qd7 26. Rf1 Qxa4 27. Qh5 Re6 28. Qh7+ Kf8 29. Bh6 Qd4+ 30. Kc1 Bxh6+ 31. Qxh6+ Kg8 32. Rh1 f5 33. g4 fxg4 34. Qg5 Rd7 35. Qf5 Qe5 36. Rh8+ Qxh8 37. Qxe6+ Kf8 38. Qf5+ Kg8 39. Nf6+ Kg7 40. Nh5+ Kh6 41. Qxd7 Kxg6 42. Qxd6+ Kh7 43. Qf4 Kg6 44. Qxg4+ Kh6 45. Nf4 Qe8 46. Qe6+ Kg5 47. Nh3+ Kh4 48. Qxe8 Kg4 49. Qg6+ Kf3 50. Qf5+ Kg3 51. Ng5 c4 52. Ne4+ Kg2 53. Qf2+ Kh1 54. Ng3 mate.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

Source : https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2023/apr/25/chess-title-fight-may-be-decided-freeze-and-bluff/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&rand=1247


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