The fall chess season is in full swing, with strong national and local events on tap in the coming days and a world title match to look forward to in November.
The U.S. Championship and the U.S. Women’s Championship kick off this week at St. Louis Chess Club, with reigning U.S. titleholder GM Wesley So and eight-time women’s champ GM Irina Krush looking to defend their titles for another year. Both 12-player events, thankfully, will be played over the board after migrating to the internet last year in the depths of the COVID-19 shutdown.
So, who just lost out to world champion Magnus Carlsen last week in the season-long Meltwater Champions Chess Tour rapid finale, will face a formidable lineup of challengers, including world No. 2 GM Fabiano Caruana, 2019 U.S. champ GM Sam Shankland and red-hot GM Leinier Dominguez Perez.
On the women’s side, local hero IM Jennifer Yu of Ashburn, the 2019 women’s champion, will not be in the field this year. But three former U.S. women’s champions — IM Anna Zatonskih, IM Nazi Paikidze and WGM Sabina Foisor — will be competing, as will three-time U.S. Junior Girls champ IM Carissa Yip, who many are predicting will take home several U.S. crowns before her career is over.
Both events kick off Wednesday and will run through Oct. 19. The tournament also dangles perhaps the hardest bonus prize in the game: Any competitor who can match Bobby Fischer’s fabled 11-0 unbeaten streak in the 1963-1964 U.S. Championship takes home an additional $64,000, put up by Saint Louis Chess Club benefactors Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield.
Closer to home, the 12th annual Washington Chess Congress has been relocated but is still a go starting Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City. Flooding forced the four-day Swiss event, one of the highlights of the local chess calendar, to move from its original host, the Sheraton Reston.
Masks will be required for all players. Spectating is free, and there will be books, boards and other paraphernalia for sale. Check out www.chesstour.com/wacc21.htm for more details.
We’ll have action and some color from all three events in the coming days, as well as a walk-up to the 12-game world title match between Carlsen and Russian challenger GM Ian Nepomniachtchi set to begin Nov. 24 in Dubai.
Winning a world title — so I’m told — is nice, a quick guarantee of chess immortality.
But it takes greatness just to knock on the door, even if you don’t get in. English GM Nigel Short lost a one-sided title match to an in-his-prime Garry Kasparov back in 1993, but he continues to be an active and dangerous presence on the international stage nearly three decades later.
At the recent 26th running of the annual Sigeman & Co. Chess Tournament in Malmo, Sweden, Short turned in a solid 4-3, good for a three-way tie for second. His only loss was to tournament winner GM Jorden van Foreest of the Netherlands. Short’s best game in the event was against veteran French GM Etienne Bacrot from the White side of a tense, double-edged Sicilian.
With 16. Nd2 Qc6 17. b3, Short shores up his queenside, but Black’s developmental lead and piece activity give him a very playable position out of the opening. Bacrot’s promising positional pawn sac with 22. Re2 b5! 23. axb5 Bc3+ gives him attacking lines deep into the White position and threatens to turn Short’s queenside flank with the White king still trapped in the center of the board.
White hits back just in time with 27. g4! Nxb3! 28. Kg2! (Qxb3?! Qd3! 29. Qc2 Rxb1+ 30. Kg2 Qxc2 31. Rxc2 Rxh1 32. Rxh1 Bd4 looks clearly more pleasant for Black), winning the exchange for two pawns after 28…Nc5 29. Nd5 Qxc4 30. Ne7+ Kf8 31. Nxc8 Bxc8 32. Ba2 Qxb5 33. Rxa1 Bxa1, and suddenly it’s White with the initiative and the forces to exploit the open a-file.
A nice tactical one-two breaks the game open: 35. Bxc5! (an unexpected exchange, but Black’s recapture is forced as 35…Qxc5 36. Qa2 Bd4 37. Bxf7 wins a pawn) dxc5 36. Qa2 Bd4 37. Qa8 Qb7 38. Ra2! Ke8 (see diagram) 39. Bxf7+! Kxf7 (Qxf7 40. Qxc8+ Ke7 41. Ra7+ Kd6 42. Qa6 mate) 40. Ra7, pinning and winning the queen.
Black’s bishop pair and passed queenside pawns make the win more difficult, but Short navigates the tactical shoals to bring home the point while keeping the Black b-pawn from queening. After 50. g6 Bd3 51. g7!, 51…Bxg7 loses to 52. Qd5+ Ke7 53. Qxd3.
White’s mobile queen and advancing h-pawn prove too much in the end, even with Bacrot’s passed pawn just one square from glory: 56. Qd6+ Kc8 (Ke8 57. e6 Bb5 58. Qb8+ Ke7 59. Qxb5 and wins) 57. Qxc5+ Kb7 58. Qb4+ Ka7 59. h4 Be6 60. h5 Ka6 61. h6 Bf5 62. h7! forces resignation as 62…Bxh7 63. Qd6+ Ka5 64. Qc7+ Kb4 65. Qxh7 picks off the piece while retaining control of the b1 queening square.
Short-Bacrot, 26th Sigeman & Co. Tournament, Malmo, Sweden, September 2021
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. f3 e5 7. Nb3 Be6 8. Nd5 Be7 9. Be3 O-O 10. c4 a5 11. Bb6 Qd7 12. a4 Rfc8 13. Be2 Bd8 14. Bf2 Nb4 15. Nxb4 axb4 16. Nd2 Qc6 17. b3 Bb6 18. Nf1 Nd7 19. Bd3 Bc5 20. Ne3 Bd4 21. Ra2 Qc5 22. Re2 b5 23. axb5 Bc3+ 24. Kf1 Ra1 25. Bb1 Qd4 26. Qc2 Nc5 27. g4 Nxb3 28. Kg2 Nc5 29. Nd5 Qxc4 30. Ne7+ Kf8 31. Nxc8 Bxc8 32. Ba2 Qxb5 33. Rxa1 Bxa1 34. Bc4 Qb6 35. Bxc5 dxc5 36. Qa2 Bd4 37. Qa8 Qb7 38. Ra2 Ke8 39. Bxf7+ Kxf7 40. Ra7 Qd7 41. Qd5+ Ke7 42. Rxd7+ Bxd7 43. Qg8 Kd6 44. g5 Be6 45. Qxg7 b3 46. Qxh7 b2 47. Qb7 Bf7 48. f4 exf4 49. Kf3 Bc4 50. g6 Bd3 51. g7 Bc4 52. Qb6+ Kd7 53. Kxf4 Bxg7 54. e5 Bh6+ 55. Kg3 Bc1 56. Qd6+ Kc8 57. Qxc5+ Kb7 58. Qb4+ Ka7 59. h4 Be6 60. h5 Ka6 61. h6 Bf5 62. h7 Black resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.