2018 Combination of the Year

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

Early 2018 in the Gibraltar Masters the Bulgarian GM (Grandmaster) Ivan Cheparinov won a brilliancy against Alan Pichot, an Argentinian GM. This game was recently adjudged “Best Combination for 2018” by the top chess website Of added interest is that it came about from the Sicilian Poisoned Pawn Variation, a very popular line here in the Philippines due to the influence of Bobby Fischer.

Before we look at that game here is something I wrote in 2016. It is one of the earliest games in the Poisoned Pawn Variation played by the “Magician from Riga” Mikhail Tal. I will try to keep my comments brief.

Tal, Mikhail — Tolush, Alexander V. [B97]
URS-ch23 Final Leningrad (17), 06.02.1956

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 8.Qd2 Qxb2 9.Rb1 Qa3 10.e5 dxe5 11.fxe5 Nfd7 12.Ne4 Qxa2

Taking the e5 pawn is too dangerous: 12…Nxe5? 13.Nb5 is an attack on black’s queen as well as threatens checkmate on d8. There is only one reply: 13…Nd3+ 14.Bxd3 axb5 15.Bxb5+ Bd7 16.0–0 Black is in a very bad way. Take note that White is threatening Bxd7+ Nxd7 Rxf7!

13.Rb3 Qa1+ 14.Kf2 Qa4 15.Bb5?!

Later on it was discovered that 15.Nxe6! is even stronger: 15…fxe6 16.Nd6+ Bxd6 17.Qxd6 Rf8+ 18.Kg3 Nf6 (18…Rf7 19.Qxe6+ Kf8 20.Bc4) 19.exf6 gxf6 20.Be2! White has a decisive advantage.

15…axb5 16.Nxb5 f6

[16…Qxe4?? 17.Nc7#]

17.exf6 gxf6 18.Re1! Ra6

[18…fxg5 19.Nc7+ Kd8 (19…Ke7 20.Qxg5+; 19…Kf7 20.Rf3+ Kg8 21.Qxg5+ Bg7 22.Nxe6 mates) 20.Nxe6+ with forced mate. Here is a sample line: 20…Ke7 21.Qxg5+ Kxe6 22.Nc5+ Kd6 23.Rd1+ Kc7 24.Ne6+ Kc6 25.Qd5#]

19.Bxf6 Nxf6 20.Nxf6+ Kf7 21.Rf3! Qh4+

[21…Qxb5 22.Nd5+ Ke8 23.Nc7+ etc]

22.Kf1 e5

[22…Qc4+ 23.Kg1 Bc5+ 24.Kh1 Qxb5 25.Nd5+ Kg6 26.Rf6+ the end]

23.Qd5+ Be6 24.Nd7+! Kg6

[24…Ke7 25.Qc5+ Ke8 (25…Kxd7 26.Rd1+ leads to mate) 26.Qc8+ Ke7 27.Qxb8 material is equal but Black’s king is too exposed]

25.Nxe5+ Kg7 26.Rg3+ Qxg3

[26…Kf6 27.Qd8+ Be7 28.Qxh8+ Kf5 29.Rf3+ Kg5 30.Qg7+ Kh5 31.Qxh7+ Kg5 32.Qg6#]

27.Qxb7+ Nd7 28.hxg3 Rb6 29.Qc7 Bc5 30.Nxd7 Bc4+ 31.Re2 [31.Re2 Re8 32.Nxb6+] 1–0

Later on it was discovered that Black can improve his chances in this line by inserting the moves …h6, Bh4. Amongst other reasons the combination used by Tal in the game above would not work anymore. Let us retrace our steps:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 h6 8.Bh4 Qb6 9.Qd2 Qxb2 10.Rb1 Qa3 11.e5 dxe5 12.fxe5 Nfd7 13.Ne4 Qxa2 14.Rb3 Qa1+ 15.Kf2 Qa4

We now have the position as in the game above with 7…h6 8.Bh4 inserted. Tal’s combination doesn’t work as 16.Bb5 is refuted by 16…axb5 17.Nxb5 Bc5+! Because now the white bishop is unprotected on h4. 18.Nxc5 Qxh4+ 19.g3 Qd8 20.Nd6+ Kf8 21.Qf4 Qe7 White still has an attack but Black’s bishop and pawn advantage weigh in heavily.

OK, this explains why nowadays the Poisoned Pawn Variation starts with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 h6 8.Bh4 Qb6. Now it is time to look at the Pichot-Cheparinov game.

Pichot, Alan (2552) — Cheparinov, Ivan (2699) [B97]
Gibraltar Masters, 2018

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 h6 8.Bh4 Qb6 9.Qd2

White also has the option 9.a3 hoping for 9…Qxb2?? 10.Na4

9…Qxb2 10.Rb1 Qa3 11.e5 dxe5 12.fxe5 g5

The other main line is 12…Nfd7 13.Ne4 Qxa2 14.Rd1 Qd5 15.Qe3 Qxe5 16.Be2 Bc5 17.Bg3 with a very complicated position. Najer, E (2687)-Vachier Lagrave, M (2798) Dortmund 2016 0–1 36.

13.exf6 gxh4 14.Be2 Qa5 15.0–0 h3

A new wrinkle. Previously 15…Nd7 was almost exclusively played.

16.Bf3 Nd7 17.Kh1

You have heard of “Freestyle” online tournaments, right? These are tournaments where the participants are allowed to use computer assistance. Anyway, this position was tried out in one of them and White decided to win the pawn on b7. This was some sort of reversed poisoned pawn since the shoe is now on the other foot — it is white who grabbed a pawn and black will try to prove it is too dangerous to take. That is exactly what happened. 17.Bxb7!? Bxb7 18.Rxb7 Rg8 19.g3 Qc5 20.Rf2 Ne5 21.Na4 Qd5 22.Rb3 Rd8 23.c3 Rg4 24.Qc2 Rxd4 25.cxd4 Qxd4 (threatening to capture the a4–knight, which is the one protecting c5) 26.Rb1 Ba3 27.Rbf1 Ng4 28.Qc6+ Kf8 29.Qc3 Qxc3 30.Nxc3 Bc5 31.Ne4 Be3 32.Rb1 Kg8 0–1 (32) EnjoyTheSilence (2439)-Rodo (1832) INT 2008.

17…Ne5 18.Rfe1

The pawn on h3 is dangerous to capture because after 18.gxh3 Nxf3 19.Rxf3 (19.Nxf3? Bd7 followed by Bc6) 19…b5 White always will have to watch out for the black bishop fianchettoing into the dangerous h1–a8 diagonal.

18…Nxf3 19.gxf3

[19.Nxf3 hxg2+ 20.Kxg2 Bd7 same idea as in the previous line — Black will follow-up with Bc6]

19…Rg8 20.Nxe6?

GM Pichot sees a combination but it has a big hole.


[20…Bxe6? 21.Rxb7 (threatening Qd7 mate) 21…Rd8 22.Rxe6+ fxe6 23.f7#]

21.Rxb7 <D>


Now we get our “Combination of the Year”


[21…Bxb7 22.Rxe6+ Kf7 23.Qd7+ Kg6 24.f7+ wins for White]


[22.Rxg1 Bxb7 23.f7+ Ke7–+ It is Black who is winning]

22…Qc5+ 23.Kh1

[23.Kf1 Qc4+]

23…Bxb7 24.Rxe6+ Kf7 25.Qd7+ Kg8!

Not 25…Kg6? 26.Qxb7 Qxc3 27.Qe4+ Kf7 28.Qd5 Kg6 29.Qe4+ draw.

26.f7+ Kg7

Black can still go wrong: 26…Kh8? 27.Qxb7 Qg5 (27…Qf2 28.Rg6!) 28.f4! Qxf4 29.Ne2 Qf1+ 30.Ng1 Ra7 31.Qd5 Rxf7 32.Qd4+ Kg8 33.Qg4+ Rg7 34.Rg6 Rxg6 35.Qxg6+ Kh8 36.Qc6= once again, the clear win is gone.


[27.Ne4 Qd5]

27…Qg5 28.Qd4+ Kxf7 0–1

A great tussle which does credit to both players.

Here is something for Filipino fans. Among the eight finalists is the Le Quang Liem vs. Paulo Bersamina encounter last month during the Asian Continental Chess Championship held here in Makati. Here it is again with some notes I wrote at that time.

Le Quang, Liem (2714) — Bersamina, Paulo (2444) [C50]
17th Asian Continental Chess Championship
Makati City (1.3), 10.12.2018

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.d3 Nf6 5.h3 h6 6.Nbd2 a6 7.c3 d6 8.Bb3 Be6 9.Bc2 Ba7 10.Nf1 d5 11.exd5 Nxd5 12.Ng3 Qd7

It looks to me like White’s set-up is too slow and Black is at least equal.

13.0–0 0–0–0 14.Re1 Nf4 15.Bxf4 exf4 16.Nh5 Bxh3! 17.Nxf4 Bg4! 18.d4 Qd6 19.Nd3 f6 20.Re4 h5 21.Qe2 Bf5 22.Re3 Bg4 23.Re4 Bf5 24.Re3 Bg4 25.Qf1 Ne7 26.Nd2 c6 27.Nc4 Qc7 28.Nc5 Nd5! 29.Re4 Kb8 30.Rae1 Ka8 31.Ne3! Nf4 32.Qc4 Bb8 33.Nf1 h4 34.Re7?

Correct is 34.Nxa6 Qd6 (34…bxa6 35.Rxf4! it is now White who is winning. Black cannot take the rook because of 35…Qxf4 36.Qxa6+ Ba7 37.Qxc6+ Kb8 38.Be4) 35.Qa4 It is still anybody’s game, but White thought that after the text move he is winning…

34…h3! 35.Rxc7

[35.g3 h2+ 36.Nxh2 Rxh2 37.Kxh2 Rh8+ 38.Kg1 Bf3 the end]


Threatening Rh1 mate.

36.Nh2 Bf3! 37.a3 Nh3# 0–1

A nice finish.

One of the arbiters told me that the two Vietnamese participants had come to the Philippines immediately after the Vietnamese National Championship and were exhausted. Quality really shows though and Le Quang Liem scored 6.5 out of the final 8 rounds to tie for first with Wei Yi and the Iranian M. Amin Tabatabaei. Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son qualified as well so overall it was quite a successful outing for them.


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 for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.