Another Queen’s Gambit story

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

Last Tuesday I told you the story of GM Andrei Sokolov and how the Queen’s Gambit Declined Blackburne Variation did him in. He wasn’t the only one whose ship was sunk by that line. There is also Nigel Short.

Grandmaster (GM) Nigel Short (born June 1, 1965 in Leigh, England) was the first Englishman to play for the world chess championship, this was in 1993 in London, where he faced Garry Kasparov (Garry won 12.5-7.5).

Short’s first attempt in the world championship cycle started in 1985 when he narrowly qualified from the Biel Interzonal. He tied for the last qualifying slot with John van der Wiel (Holland) and Eugene Torre but won the play-off. Nigel was eliminated though in the Montpellier Candidates’ Tournament when he finished only 10th out of 16.

His next attempt is the subject of our article today. This was the 1987-1990 cycle. The qualifiers for the Candidates’ Matches were:

From the Interzonals:

Subotica 1987: Sax, Short, Speel Szirak 1987: Valery Salov, Johann Hjartarson, Lajos Portisch Zagred 1987: Korchnoi, Yasser Seirawan, Jaan Ehlvest

Finalist/Semi-Finalist from previous Candidates: Andrei Sokolov, Jan Timman, Rafael Vaganian, Yusupov

Sponsor’s Nominee: Kevin Spraggett

Anatoly Karpov, the previous challenger to the title, was seeded directly into the second round.

The match-ups:

Kevin Spraggett vs. Andrei Sokolov, 6.5-5.5

Jonathan Speelman vs. Yasser Seirawan, 4.0-1.0

Nigel Short vs Gyula Sax, 3.5-1.5

Artur Yusupov vs. Jaan Ehlvest, 3.5-1.5

Jan Timman vs. Valery Salov, 3.5-2.5

Lajos Portisch vs. Rafael Vaganian, 3.5-2.5

Johann Hjartarson vs. Viktor Korchnoi, 4.5-3.5

There were three upsets in the first round: Spraggett, the sponsors’ nominee who did not have to pass through the qualifying stages, shocked the chess world by eliminating the previous year’s candidates’ finalist.

Johann Hjartarson covered himself with glory by defeating Viktor Korchnoi, and Yasser Seirawan, the American Champion, lost to Jonathan Speelman. Korchnoi and Seirawan were expected to have an easy time with their opponents but they both succumbed.

Seirawan was surprised himself that he lost so easily. In addition to being an active player he also founded the chess magazine “Inside Chess” which came out twice a month. Here is what he wrote:

“Jonathan was a journeyman professional. From 1978-1985 he hovered around the 2550-2590 class. In short, he was strong but not a standout.

“But in 1986 he became something much more than just another pleasant GM. He suddenly began to play very well. Extremely well. Though the victories weren’t automatic, they remained constant. But the blunders stopped, and he virtually stopped losing games. With this new-found strength, he qualified for the candidates’ cycle at the interzonal in Subotica, Yugoslavia.

“Why? Did Jonathan suddenly discover a secret stash of Popeye spinach? He may as well have. For the secret of Speelman’s success is a very unlikely one.

“For many years Jonathan suffered from a debilitating eye disease. He was going blind. Staring at the board for hours at a time gave him terrible headaches. The doctors forbade him from reading books or engaging in activities that would excessively strain his eyes.

“Happily, today Jonathan is no longer going blind. His doctors have arrested his condition through corrective surgery. The result is a totally different player. No longer cursed by eye pains, headaches, or gnawing fears, Jonathan comes to the board with an intense desire to play as well as he can.”

Quarterfinal matches:

Speelman, J vs. Short,N 3.5-1.5

Karpov, A vs. Hjartarson, J 3.5-1.5

Timman, J vs. Portisch, L 3.5-2.5

Yusupov, A vs. Spraggett, K 5.0-4.0

The Short vs. Speelman match was held at the downstairs cinema in the Barbican, London. Now, aside from the two protagonists being countrymen, they actually lived almost next door to each other, so neither of them were happy with the match-up. However, it did assure that at least one Englishman would advance to the Candidates’ semi-finals.

The first two games were hard-fought draws and then came the pivotal third game. Speelman wrote about this at length in his Best Games’ collection. I will summarize the circumstances behind this game.

The thing with the seconds. Short was seconded by GM John Nunn. Speelman’s usual second was GM William Watson, but Watson was friends with both players and has also done analytical work previously with Short, so he preferred to stay out of this one. In his place Watson recommended GM Jon Tisdall, an American-turned-Englishman-turned Norseman, as the replacement second.

The thing with Tisdall’s girlfriend. Jon Tisdall was a resident of Norway and his girlfriend joined him in London after the second game. She happened to buy a Norwegian newspaper on the way and, in the chess column, there was the game between Mikhail Gurevich and Andrei Sokolov (I showed you this last Tuesday) which was played only 10 days previously. When Tisdall saw the game he got really excited as it was the sort of sharp and complicated line against Short’s pet Queen’s Gambit Declined that they were looking for. What’s more he was reasonably certain that the other camp had not yet seen it.

The thing with game accessibility. In 1988 the information age had not yet arrived and the usual source of the latest game scores was the Swiss weekly bulletin Die Schachwoche. The next issue of the bulletin was due to arrive very soon with news on that game and indeed it arrived two days after game 3 of the match. In other words if they were to use Gurevich’s novelty it was now or never.

Speelman, Jonathan S (2645) — Short, Nigel D (2665) [D37]
Candidates qf4 London (3), 1988

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 0–0 6.e3 c5 7.dxc5 Nc6 8.Qc2 Bxc5 9.a3 Qa5 10.0–0–0 Be7

Surprised by Speelman’s 10.0–0–0, Nigel thought for 12 minutes and then responded with the move which was soon to become the main line. In Sokolov’s game which I showed you last Tuesday he responded 10…dxc4.


Speelman said that the main move for Black that he had analyzed was 10…Ne4. So he was on his own hereabouts.


Of course not 11…Nxg4? 12.cxd5 e5 13.Bg3 Nd8 14.h3 Black’s crucial e5–pawn will fall.

As I showed you last Tuesday the best continuation for Black is considered to be 11…dxc4 12.Bxc4 e5 13.g5 exf4 14.gxf6 Bxf6 15.Nd5 Ne7! Black is doing ok. The soon-to-be tripled f-pawns is not so bad. Let’s carry this on for a few more moves: 16.Nxf6+ gxf6 17.Rhg1+ Kh8 18.Qe4 Ng6 19.Qd4 Qb6 both sides have chances. Beliavsky,A (2690)-Jussupow,A (2630) Dortmund 1998 0–1 45.

12.h3 a6

Afterwards, the Short camp looked at the line and concluded that Black should have played 12…dxc4 13.Rxd8+ Nxd8 14.Bxc4= Nd5 15.Nxd5 exd5 16.Bd3 g6 when there are chances for both sides. That conclusion may be correct as after the text move 12…a6 White’s score against it in international competition is 4-0!


Speelman: “the critical position. After 41 minutes’ thought Nigel wrongly decided to lash out in the center with …”


White was more worried about 13…b5.

14.g5! Ne8

Speelman pointed out an “interesting” queen sacrifice here with 14…Ne4 15.Nb3 Qxc3?! 16.bxc3 Bxa3+ 17.Kb1 Bf5 and also revealed that it does not work, for White can escape with 18.Ka2! (18.Bd3? dxc4 19.Bxe4 cxb3!) 18…Bb4 19.Bxe5! Imagine that — he actually calculated all of this during the game!

15.Nb3 Qb6 16.Nxd5 Rxd5! 17.cxd5 exf4 18.dxc6 fxe3 19.fxe3!

Played not to take back the pawn but to open the f-file against the enemy king.

19…Bxg5 20.Kb1 bxc6 21.Bc4 Ra7 22.Rhf1 Bf6 23.Qe4!


Decisive. 23.Qe4! threatens not only the e8–knight but after the natural 23…Re7 White pole-axes (Speelman’s term) Short with 24.Qxe7! Bxe7 25.Rxf7 in his notes to the game Speelman breaks off here with the remark that White is winning. Just for curiosity’s sake let us carry the analysis further as the following moves are more or less forced: 25…Kh8 26.Rxe7 Bf5+ 27.Ka2 Bg6 28.Rxe8+! Bxe8 29.Rf1 g6 30.Rf8+ Kg7 31.Rxe8 White has a rook, and two pieces for the queen. Much more than enough.

23…Kf8 24.Qxh7

With the killer threat of e3–e4–e5 exposing Black’s weakness on f7.


[24…Qxe3? 25.Qh8+ Ke7 26.Rfe1]

25.e4 c5 26.e5 Bg7 27.e6 Bxe6 1–0

After 27…Bxe6 Short resigns without waiting for 28.Qxg6 Re7 (28…Bxc4?? 29.Qxb6) 29.Bxe6 Qxe6 30.Qxe6 Rxe6 31.Nxc5 Rc6 32.b4 the ending is hopeless.

Still groggy from the massacre he just suffered, Short lost again in the 4th game and it was all over.

Semifinal matches:

Timman, J vs. Speelman, J 4.5-3.5

Karpov, A vs. Yusupov, A 4.5-3.5

Final match:

Karpov, A vs. Timman,J 6.5-2.5

And Karpov went on to challenge Garry Kasparov for the world title.


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.