2019 has ended and a lot of people are coming up with their “Best of 2019” lists. Best player, best game, best combination, best endgame, etcetera, etcetera.
One thing interesting to me is that two of the top chess websites in the world, Chessbase (chessbase.com) and chesscom (chesscom.com) have their own best game lists with different judges and criteria, but their no. 1 game is one and the same, so I think for once we can say that this is indisputably the best game for 2019. I had commented on this previously so today we will stick with the highlights.
The winner of the following game is the Indian GM Murali Karthikeyan, born Jan. 5, 1999. He is a Tamil — I point this out because Tamils (similar to Viswanathan Anand, Chithambaram Aravindh, Baskaran Adhiban, S.P. Sethuraman, or the young chess sensation Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, etc.) have no concept of a surname. “Murali” is a patronymic (his father’s name), not a family name, and he should be referred to by the given name, Karthikeyan.
Karthikeyan is a two-time national champion (2015, 2016) of India. Together with Adhiban and Sethuraman, he is considered among the most aggressive chess grandmasters from India.
Firouzja, Alireza (2682) — Karthikeyan, Murali (2593) [E90]
Asian Continental Ch Xingtai, 2019
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.h3 0–0 6.Be3 c5 7.Nf3
Why can’t White win a pawn with 7.dxc5 ? Well, this is a well-known tactical device. Black plays 7…Qa5 and after 8.Bd3 (8.cxd6? Nxe4 9.dxe7 and now, depending on Black’s mood he can play 9…Re8 or 9…Bxc3+ both of which are dangerous for White) 8…dxc5 9.e5 Nfd7 10.f4 Rd8 there is nothing wrong with the White position here, but pawns are now equal and White’s position is a bit loose. Romero Holmes, A. (2514)-Guseinov, G. (2552) Mallorca 2004 0–1 84.
Firouzja tries something new. The main lines are 8.Bd3 and 8.Qd2.
8…cxd4 9.Nb3 <D>
POSITION AFTER 9.NB3
In this unfamiliar position Karthikeyan takes 21 minutes of thought and decides to sacrifice his queen. It looks like this is over-the-board inspiration.
9…Qxc3+!! 10.bxc3 dxe3 11.f3 Nh5! 12.Qc1 Bh6 13.g4 Nf4 14.Kd1 Ne6
Take note that Black can win back the queen with 14…Nd3! 15.Bxd3 (15.Qc2 Nf2+ gets an additional rook) 15…e2+ 16.Kxe2 Bxc1 17.Rhxc1 Na6 with a slight edge, but Karthikeyan did not sacrifice his queen in order to win it back a few moves later with a “slight edge.”
15.Kc2 Nc6 16.h4 Bf4 17.Qd1 Ne5 18.Nc1 Bd7 19.a4 Rac8 20.Ne2 Bh6 21.g5 Bg7 22.Bh3 Nxf3 23.Qd3 Ne5 24.Qxe3 Nxc4 25.Qf2 Rc5 26.Rhb1 Bc6 27.Bg2 f5!
In the past few moves we have been watching Black improve his position move by move. Now he activates his last remaining piece, the rook on f8, and White cannot survive this.
28.gxf6 Bxf6 29.Rf1 Bxc3! 30.Qxc5
Firouzja decides to give up his queen to try to survive into the endgame.
30…Nxc5 31.Rxf8+ Kxf8 32.Kxc3
[32.Nxc3 Ne3+ wins the g2–bishop]
32…Ne5 33.a5 Nxe4+ 34.Bxe4 Bxe4 35.Nd4 Bd5 36.Nb5 a6 37.Nc7 Bc6 38.Rf1+ Kg7 39.Ne6+ Kh6 40.Rf8 Kh5 41.Rh8 h6–+ 42.Rh7 Kxh4 43.Rxh6+ Kg4 44.Nd4 Kg5 45.Rh2 Bd5 46.Re2 Kf4 47.Rf2+ Nf3 48.Re2 e5 49.Nc2 Be4 50.Ne3 d5 51.Kb4 Nd4 52.Re1 Kf3 0–1
For second best game Chessbase had Dubov versus Giri (Moscow Grand Prix) while Chesscom’s choice is the same player but different game — Dubov versus Svane from the European Team Championship. Chesscom also recognizes Dubov versus Giri and ranks it as the 9th best game of the year.
I will show you Dubov versus Giri.
Dubov, Daniil (2690) — Giri, Anish (2787) [D44]
Moscow FIDE Grand Prix
Moscow (1.2), 18.05.2019
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Bg5
This is usually meant to avoid the Vienna Variation (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 dxc4) or the Ragozin Variation (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4).
[5.Nc3 c6 6.e4 b5 7.e5 h6 8.Bh4 g5 transposes to the Botvinnik Variation.]
5…b5 6.a4 c6 7.Nc3 b4 8.Nb1 Ba6 9.e5 h6 10.Bxf6
Forced. The usual retreat here 10.Bh4 is met by 10…g5 11.exf6 gxh4 12.Nbd2 c3 White has an inferior form of the Botvinnik.
10…gxf6 11.exf6 c5 12.Nbd2
White has to hurry up and develop his pieces. For example 12.Qc2!? b3 13.Qc3 which Dubov strongly considered is not so good — 13…cxd4 14.Nxd4 Nd7 Black’s two bishops are soon going to lord it over the board.
12…c3 13.bxc3 bxc3 14.Ne4 cxd4 15.Bb5+! Bxb5 16.axb5 Qd5 17.Qxd4 Qxb5 18.Nxc3 Bb4 19.0–0–0!? Qa5?! 20.Nb5! Na6
This is the sort of position where you know that someone will soon be mated, but not sure which side.
22.Kb1! Ba3 23.Rd3! Qb4+ 24.Kc2 Qa4+ 25.Kd2 Bb4+ 26.Ke2 Kg8 27.Ne5 Qc2+ 28.Kf3 Rf8
Would 28…Rh7 have been better? Let’s see … 29.Rhd1 (threatening 30.Qd8+ Rxd8 31.Rxd8+ Bf8 32.Rxf8+ Kxf8 33.Rd8 mate) 29…Rf8 30.Nd4 Qb2 31.Ndc6 threatening Ne7+ followed by Qd8.
With the deadly threat of 30…Rh6 which turns the tables on White.
Now 30…Rh6 is met by 31.Qf4 saving the crucial f6–pawn.
31.Qf4 Bc5 32.Nd4 Qa2 33.R1d2 Qd5+ 34.Ke2 Bb4 35.Ndc6! Qc5
[35…Bxd2 36.Qxd2 Qe4+ 37.Re3 Black has no more checks and the threatened Ne7+ is devastating]
36.Ne7+ Kh8 1–0
Giri resigns before Dubov can demonstrate the mate after 36…Kh8 and resigns because of 37.Nxf7+! Rhxf7 (37…Rfxf7 38.Rd8+) 38.Qh6+ Rh7 39.Qxf8#
Here is Dubov versus Svane:
Dubov, Daniil (2699) — Svane, Rasmus (2592) [D37]
22nd EU-chT Open 2019 Batumi (7.4), 31.10.2019
1.c4 e6 2.Nc3 d5 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nf3 Be7 5.Bf4 0–0 6.e3 b6 7.Qc2 Ba6 8.0–0–0!? dxc4 9.Ng5
The idea is to play d4–d5 since the black knight on f6 cannot move because of mate on h7.
9…Nc6 10.a3! g6! 11.h4 Bd6 12.g3! Qe7 13.h5! e5 14.hxg6 hxg6 15.Bg2 exf4 16.Bxc6 fxg3 17.Kb1!
White needs his white-squared bishop for the attack.
17…Rad8 18.f4 Bc8!
An excellent defensive move, planning to re-deploy on f5.
19.Rde1 Kg7 20.Nd5 Nxd5 21.Rh7+! Kg8 22.Rxf7! Rxf7 23.Qxg6+ Kf8! 24.Qh6+ Rg7! 25.Bxd5 Ke8 26.Qh5+ Kd7 27.Qh3+ Ke8 28.Qh5+ Kd7
Dubov had four minutes left on his clock so some onlookers thought that he would go for the draw by perpetual check, but no.
It was either give up his queen or take his chances with the king out in the open. However, there is now a forced mate in 14. Hard to see, but it is there.
30.Qf3+ Kb5 31.Bxc4+! Ka5 32.Qd5+ Bc5
[32…c5 33.b4+ Ka4 34.Kb2 (idea is Qc6+ followed by mate 34…Bb7 35.Bb3+ Kb5 36.a4+ Kxb4 37.Qc4+ Ka5 38.Qb5#]
33.b4+ Ka4 34.Qg2! Bxb4
[34…Kxa3 35.Qb2+ Ka4 36.Qb3#]
35.Qc6+ Kxa3 36.Bb3!
An only move, everything else loses. Dubov found this with 10 seconds left on his clock. 36.Qg2? Bd2! 37.Qxd2 Qb4+ it is Black who wins.
36…Kxb3 37.Qc2+ Ka3 38.Qa2#; 36…Bf5+ 37.e4.
37.Qc1+ Kxb3 38.Qc2+ Ka3 39.Qa2# 1–0
GM Grigory Serper (Filipino fans know him — the upstart Uzbekistan team shocked the chess world by coming 2nd in the 1992 Manila Olympiad behind the point production of 3 IMs – Serper, Nenashev and Zagrebelny) also wrote a 10 Best of 2019 list and included Dubov versus Svane, Dubov against Giri but in addition to that also Dubov versus Jonas Buhl Bjerre.
Bjerre, Jonas Buhl (2506) — Dubov, Daniil (2699) [C88]
22nd European Teams Batumi GEO (1.1), 24.10.2019
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0–0 8.a4 d5 9.exd5 Na5 10.Nxe5 Nxb3 11.cxb3 Bb7 12.Nc6 Bxc6 13.dxc6 Bc5 14.d3 Bxf2+ 15.Kxf2 Qd4+ 16.Be3 Ng4+ 17.Kf3 Nxe3 18.Rxe3 Rae8 19.Re2 Qf6+ 20.Kg3 g5 21.Rf2 Qd6+ 22.Kh3 Qh6+ 23.Kg4 Qh4+ 0–1
According to Serper: “Some readers might complain that I included three games by the same player (Dubov). I absolutely agree; it is unfair. But I thought that it would be even more unfair if all 10 games on the list were played by Dubov, so I had to eliminate some of his games.”
Which gives me an idea. Henceforth, every year I will declare who to me is the “Most Exciting Player.” In a previous year the award would have gone to Baskaran Adhiban for his gestapo-style blitzkrieg attacks, for the 2019 the title undoubtedly should go to GM Daniil Dubov.
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.