Draw death? Not!

Chess Piece
Bobby Ang

Posted on February 04, 2016

78th Tata Steel Group A
Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands
Jan. 15-31, 2016

1. Magnus Carlsen NOR 2844, 9.0/13

2-3. Fabiano Caruana USA 2787, Ding Liren CHN 2766, 8.0/13

4-6. Wesley So USA 2773, Anish Giri NED 2798, Pavel Eljanov UKR 2760, 7.0/13

7-8. Wei Yi CHN 2706, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov AZE 2747, 6.5/13

9. Sergey Karjakin RUS 2769, 6.0/13

10-11. David Navara CZE 2730, Evgeny Tomashevsky RUS 2728, 5.5/13

12-14. Hou Yifan CHN 2673, Michael Adams ENG 2744, Loek Van Wely NED 2640, 5.0/13

Ave ELO 2740 Cat 20

Time Control: 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 50 minutes for the next 20 moves, followed by 15 minutes play-to-finish with 30-second increment added after every move starting from first move 1.

A few months back the Internet Chess Club (ICC) sponsored a tournament called the 2015 Ultimate Chess Championship. The time control was 15 minutes for the whole game plus 10 seconds added to your clock after every move. It was a “Freestyle” tournament, meaning all competitors were allowed to consult their computers, databases, books, end game tablebases, etc.

There were a total of eight finalists, and a Filipino won this event: Alvin Alcala, a former varsity player (Mapua) who played in the NCAA circa 1993-1997 (I believe Mapua was an NCAA three-peat champion then) but now an engineer based in Saudi Arabia. He plays under the handle “Enginemaster” in ICC and “Maximus” in other tournaments. Alvin’s winning score was one win and six draws. He won just one game, but the other competitors did not fare any better: four of them drew all their games, two of the others won one and lost one, and the cellar-dweller lost one game and drew six.

Wow! three decisive results out of 28 games. I asked my fellow-admins in the ICC why there were so many draws and they replied that it wasn’t for lack of trying. According to the admin who ran the tournament, the observation was that with all the powerful computer hardware and software around winning is basically impossible unless someone goes bonkers or is simply weak and has a bad computer or something.

So, is this where we are all heading to? When strong players meet do all their tactical and positional skill cancel each other out and all we are left with are draws?

* * *

Then how was Alvin able to win this game?

Ultimate Chess Championship,
Internet Chess Club (7), 04.10.2015

This game was played in the last round and Alvin very much needed to win to take first -- more than enough additional incentive to go for broke.

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bg2 Nb6 6.e3 Nc6 7.Nge2 Be7 8.0 -- 0 0 -- 0 9.f4 f6 10.d4 a5 11.f5 a4 12.d5 Nb8 13.g4 Ra5 14.Ng3 Na6 15.Qe2 a3 16.b3 c6 17.e4

Lots of tactics, but the engines see them all. For example, 17.dxc6 bxc6 18.Bxc6? does not work because of 18...Qc7 19.Be4 Nb4! (the obvious 19...Qxc3? fails to 20.Bd2) 20.Qe1 (White’s knight cannot move yet because of the threatened ...Ba6) 20...Ba6 21.Rf2 Nd3 White’s position is very uncomfortable.

17...Nb4 18.Rd1 Bc5+ 19.Kh1 Bd7 20.Bd2 Bd4 21.Qf3 Qe7 22.Nge2 Bc5 23.Rac1 Re8 24.Qg3 Kh8 25.g5 Rd8 26.Rf1 Be8 27.Qh4 Nd7 28.g6 Nf8 29.Rf3 Ra7 30.Rh3 b6 31.Rf1 Rad7 32.Ng3 Ra8 33.Qg4

With the idea of 34.Rxh7+. The rook cannot be taken because of 34...Nxh7 35.Qh5 with unstoppable mate.

33...Kg8 34.Rh4!

Now the threat is 35.Qh3. Black has to give up material to prevent mate.

34...Nxg6 35.Rxh7!

[35.fxg6 Bxg6 White has a knight for two pawns, but the Black king is already secure]

35...Kxh7 36.Qh5+ Kg8 37.fxg6 Bxg6 38.Qxg6 Qf7 39.Qg4 Kf8 40.Nf5 Ke8 41.Na4 Nxa2 42.Nxc5 bxc5 43.Be3 Nb4 44.Bxc5 a2 45.Bxb4 a1Q 46.dxc6! Rd3

The queen cannot be saved, e.g. 46...Qa7 47.cxd7+ Qfxd7 48.Qh5+ Kd8 49.Qh8+ Qe8 (49...Kc7 50.Rc1+ Kb7 51.Nd6+ Kb6 52.Bc5+) 50.Rd1+ Kc7 51.Qxg7+ Kb6 52.Qxf6+ Kb5 53.Bd2 Black is getting mated (threat is 54.Bf1+ Kc5 55.B4#). Let us play on for a few more moves: 53...Qf2 54.Nd6+ Kb6 55.Qxf2+ Kc6 56.Nxe8 Rxe8 57.Qa7, etc.

47.c7 Qxc7 48.Nxg7+ Kf7 49.Ne6! Qca7 50.Qf5 Ke8 51.Rxa1 Qxa1+ 52.Bf1 Ra7 53.Kg2 Qb2+ 54.Kg1 Qc1 55.Qg6+ Kd7 56.Bc5 Rd1 57.Qf7+ Kc6 58.Qxa7 Rxf1+ 59.Kg2 Qc2+ 60.Kxf1 Qd3+ 61.Kf2 Qc2+ 62.Kg3 Qxb3+ 63.Be3 Qxe6 64.Qa6+ Kd7 65.Qxe6+ Kxe6 66.Kg4 Kf7 67.Kf5 Kg7 68.h4 Kf7 69.h5 [Black resigns] 1 -- 0

An incredible game!

Alvin’s secret is that he built a huge database collection of human games, correspondence chess games, computer engine games and freestyle chess games, and put together several “trees” of opening analysis, similar to the method described by Alexander Kotov in “Think like a Grandmaster”. Every move is a branch, and the possible replies to each move is a sub-branch.

Rather than just accept the move that the computer proposes, he goes through the trees before start time to work out how to steer the games to positions he wants.

If your opening repertoire is geared towards going for a playable middlegame, which is the old definition of opening play (in fact, that is the main lesson from How to Open a Chess Game, a legendary book comprised of opening lessons from Keres, Portisch, Larsen, Gligoric, Hort, Petrosian, etc), you will usually get a draw unless, of course, your name is Magnus Carlsen. Nowadays we live in different times -- if you want to win you have to gear your openings towards playing for a win. Not an easy matter, but it can be done.

Back to Wijk aan Zee. Ding Liren is a dynamic tactical player going up against the solid Sergey Karjakin who is an all-around player-who-knows everything, much like a computer. So how do you go about beating him? Go for a position he does not like!

* * *
Ding, Liren (2766) -- Karjakin, Sergey (2769) [E15]
78th Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee (5.5), 21.01.2016

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6

Karjakin has a solid opening repertoire. He is known to go for Nimzo Indian and Queen’s Indian formations.

4.g3 Ba6 5.b3 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Be7 7.Nc3 c6 8.e4 d5 9.Bd3 dxe4 10.Nxe4 Bb7 11.Qe2 Nbd7

Remember Frank Marshall’s story about his game with Amos Burn from the Paris 1900 tournament? Burn “was a very conservative player and liked to settle down for a long session of close defensive chess. He loved to smoke his pipe while he studied the board.”

Marshall speeded up his moves and discombobulated the Englishman who just couldn’t get his pipe going. Finally Burn was forced to resign on the 17th move one move away from mate.

In this game Karjakin was ready for a long session of quiet chess. He will exchange knights on e4 and then go for ...c6 -- c5 to challenge the center.

12.0 -- 0 -- 0!?

Queenside castling in a Queen’s Indian! This is not going to be a quiet game.

12...Nxe4 13.Bxe4 Nf6 14.Bc2 a5

Karjakin of course goes for the king.

15.Rhe1 b5 16.c5 b4 17.g4!

Naturally White has to get going on the kingside. There is no material risk involved here, as 17...Nxg4 18.Rg1 gets the pawn right back.

17...Ba6 18.Qe5 0 -- 0 19.g5 Nh5!

[19...Nd5 allows 20.Qe4 g6 21.h4 with a stock attack along the hgfile. On h5 at least the knight is blocking White’s h-pawn]

20.Qe4 g6 21.Qxc6 Ra7 22.Be4!

Karjakin’s idea is that 22.Qe4 Bb7 23.c6 Ba8 followed by ...Rc7 and it is Black who has the attack down the c-file.

22...Bb7 23.Qb6 Qxb6 24.cxb6 Bxe4 25.Rxe4 Rb7 26.Be3 Rc8+ 27.Kb1 Rxb6 28.d5! Rd6 29.Rd2 Kf8 30.dxe6 Rxe6 31.Rxe6 fxe6 <D>


Now we are back to slow end game play, but this particular end game is hard to hold for Black. Aside from the weakness of 36 his bishop is also hemmed in by his own pawns on the queenside and White’s pawns on the kingside. It is possible at this stage that it is a forced loss, especially with the efficient and accurate way that Ding proceeds.


Black cannot exchange rooks as then white’s king will go to b5 and wins the Black pawns in the queenside.

32...Rd8 33.Nd4 Ng7

[33...Kf7? 34.Rc7 is even worse]

34.Nc6 Rd1+ 35.Rc1 Rd5 36.Nxe7! Kxe7 37.Rc7+ Kf8

[37...Rd7? 38.Bb6 wins material for White]

38.Rc5! Ke7 39.Rxd5 exd5 40.Bb6 Kd6 41.Bxa5 Kc5 42.Bd8 Nf5 43.Kc2 Nd4+ 44.Kd3 Nf5 45.Bc7 Kc6 46.Bf4 Kc5 47.Be3+ Kb5 48.Ke2!

The intention is to go to e5 through f3.

48...Nh4 49.Bd2 Nf5 50.Kf3 Nd4+ 51.Kf4 Nc6 52.Be3 Ka6 53.Bc5 Kb5 54.Bd6 Ka5 55.Ke3 1 -- 0

Karjakin resigns. Ding will play f2 -- f4 -- f5 and win on the kingside.

Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.