Text and photos: IM/ WGM Alina l’Ami
From head to toe, from left to right, up and down and back again…the body, mind and soul of the 32 chess players have been worked out beyond their comfort zone in these hectic seven days spent in Beijing. As the plot thickened, after the Rapid and Blitz, the Basque event brought new and newer challenges, but once again, China and Russia came up roses! Congratulations to Hou Yifan and Ian Nepomniachtchi for their remarkable mental and physical efforts!
To top it all, the techniques and strategies learned the hard way over the years went up in the air in the Basque race, leaving the Grandmasters with serious questions on both: the boards and the ticking clocks. So far no other chess tournaments had been able to avoid wear and tear like the “double simul” event just did, a competition where one could give eyeteeth to at least remember the last move of his opponent! If you believe this should be a piece of cake for these genius minds, we would agree with you, to some extent.
But when the head has to be split in two, dividing the attention on two clocks and two boards and two different colour of pieces, when the seconds are vanishing in thin air, when the chairs cannot physically keep up with the speed of your thoughts, when the hand simply hesitates to make a move and when you do it all for the medals at stake…all of this could drive one out of his mind. Just that chess players are a different species, proving it is humanly possible to juggle with all of it!
Final ranking: Men
|5||14||GM||Dominguez Perez Leinier||2763||CUB||5½||2||3||5||2767|
Ian Nepomniachtchi – Pentala Harikrishna
The Basque-event was essentially a one-man show. Ian Nepomniachtchi was leading from start to finish and never let anyone come close. In his 4th round match against Pentala Harikrishna he won a model game with the white pieces. In the diagrammed position White has a decisive positional advantage already but the way Ian fnished off is instructive:
22.Qa4 Nf6 23.Qb5! and that’s it. One of black’s queenside pawns will now fall and the rest, as they say, is ‘ technique’.
Harikrishna overpressed in the 2nd game, got his king rounded up in a mating web which resulted in a 2–0 win for Nepomiachtchi.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – Ian Nepomniachtchi
His 2–0 victory in round 4 ensured Ian a 1,5 lead over number 2: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. A draw would therefore suffice for the Russian to secure the gold. The match was rather even and eventually ended peacefully – the only match that Nepomniachtchi did not win. Your commentators where impressed with:
29…Bxd4!? 30.exd4 Kg7 31.Qe3 Qd6 32.a4 b5! as after the further
33.axb5 axb5 34.Be2 Rxc3 35.Rxc3 Rxc3 36.Qxc3 Qxd5 there is clear equality on the board.
Pentala Harikrishna – Teimour Radjabov
The day got even worse for Harikrishna when he also lost 2–0 against Radjabov in round 5. That suddenly propelled the Azeri grandmaster to the 2nd place, right in the moment we were ready to call MVL “Mr. Silver”! The following finish can go straight into the textbooks:
23…Nxh3+! paving the way to the white king.
24.gxh3 Qxh3 25.Nf5 Rg6+ 26.Ng3 Rxg3+ 27.fxg3 Qxg3+ 28.Kh1 Qh3+ 29.Kg1 Re6! White resigned, there is no stopping the combined power of Black’s queen and rook.
Final ranking: Women
Hou Yifan – Koneru Humpy
The matchup between the former and current women world champion was a final the spectators could only dream of! And a thrilling final it was indeed! In game 1 Hou Yifan was better throughout but Humpy Koneru was defending stubbornly. Eventually the Indian grandmaster succumbed under the pressure:
41.Nf5 Qd7 42.Nxh6! Over. Koneru still tried
42…Qh3 but after
43.Nxf7+ Kg7 44.Nxg5 the three pawns proved more than enough.
Koneru Humpy – Hou Yifan
However, on the other board it was Humpy calling the shots. In the diagrammed position she has just given up her extra pawn in order to set her b-pawn in motion:
35.b6? Too fast! Instead 35.Ke4! Rb3 36.Nd6 followed by Ra8 or, if allowed, b6–b7, would have placed Black in a very difficult situation.
35…Rb3 36.Nd6 Ne5+ 37.Ke4 Nd7! Suddenly winning the b-pawn, and with it, the gold!
38.Ra8 Nxb6 39.Ra7 a3 40.Nf5 Rb4+ 41.Ke5 Ra4!and the a-pawn decided the outcome of the match 2–0 in Hou Yifan’s favour.
Regretfully, but quite in time for the overstretched body and minds of the chess players, the SportAccord World Mind Games came to an end, not without bringing a lot to chess and its players. For one week, the Olympic stadium looked over the shoulder on our boards, making with its near location and together with the prestige of the Mind Games, all of us feel as true Olympians! Playing in the summer season or in winter time…we don’t mind either; but we do know that chess has proved to be suitable for – TV!