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World Mind Games, Beijing: The unique Basque System in action

Text and photos: IM/ WGM Alina l’Ami

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Who would have ever thought that such a “static” board game like chess, will be in crying need for very “dynamic” players (literally)?! But chess and sport are not poles apart, not when it comes to the Basque system anyway, the third and final competition on the SportAccord World Mind Games’ agenda. After Day1, we have two clear leaders, both with half a point more than the runner-ups: Ian Nepomniachtchi (4.5/6) and Zhao Xue (5.5/6).

This is a unique way of practicing our favourite sport, which eliminates the advantage of the White colour and the “boring” moments when the opponent sinks into deep thought. Play takes place at two boards simultaneously with each player having one White and one Black. The time rate is 20 minutes plus an increment of 10 seconds per move, but the real amount of time is shorter, since one has to permanently “navigate” with his chair (and his mind) from one game to the other. It is important to make the forced moves without hesitating, but how to do that when you are caught up in analyzing a critical situation of the other game? For players – quite a demanding competition, but what an entertaining show for the spectators…

Preparing the top match for "inside the box" thinking (taken only literally!)

Preparing the top match for “inside the box” thinking (taken only literally!)

Basque is not too popular worldwide, so it is still unknown which is the best and most balanced match strategy.
There have been speculations that taller players, with long arms and legs, have an advantage; stretching abilities and a good physical condition are not only recommended but absolutely essential! And those practicing Yoga may also have the upper hand…

High-heels are probably not recommended

High-heels are probably not recommended

True, players have been provided with chairs on wheels, manager-like-chairs, smoothening the permanent physical switching process, and even so, the games are anything but a piece of cake! Overloaded by the effort, the chairs frequently creak, but the players are so emerged into their thinking that they hardly hear these noises.

Strangely enough, they do play against each other!

Strangely enough, they do play against each other!

One important rule is that the same hand has to be used on both boards. It is rather amusing to see the players with a foot firmly planted on the ground ready to catapult the chair to the other game. Many times it happens that players forget about one of the games, focusing on the most tense and complicated one. And in the meantime, the clock is ticking and ticking… Or you can sometimes see each player thinking on different boards as if they were not playing against eachother! It is also curious that there is only one handshake before the match, although there are two different games!

Ranking after R3: Men


Rank SNo.   Name Rtg FED Pts Res. Vict BL RtgØ
1 7 GM Nepomniachtchi Ian 2801 RUS 0 3 3 2771
2 9 GM Harikrishna P. 2701 IND 4 0 2 3 2757
3 2 GM Grischuk Alexander 2828 RUS 0 3 3 2768
4 11 GM Radjabov Teimour 2776 AZE 0 2 3 2807
5 14 GM Dominguez Perez Leinier 2763 CUB 0 2 3 2740
6 4 GM Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 2728 FRA 0 2 3 2734
7 3 GM Leko Peter 2773 HUN 3 0 1 3 2771
8 5 GM Mamedyarov Shakhriyar 2739 AZE 3 0 1 3 2736
9 12 GM Aronian Levon 2813 ARM 3 0 1 3 2733
10 8 GM Gelfand Boris 2719 ISR 3 0 0 3 2781
11 13 GM Wang Yue 2765 CHN 3 0 0 3 2752
12 10 GM Wang Hao 2719 CHN 0 2 3 2755
13 6 GM Wojtaszek Radoslaw 2684 POL 0 1 3 2738
14 16 GM Ivanchuk Vassily 2811 UKR 0 0 3 2756
15 1 GM Ponomariov Ruslan 2738 UKR 2 0 0 3 2736
16 15 GM Bacrot Etienne 2731 FRA 1 0 0 3 2731


Ian Nepomniachtchi – Alexander Grischuk

Without a doubt ‘Nepo’ versus Grischuk was the match of the day. It was Ian who defeated the winner of two gold medals in a thrilling time-trouble duel.


22.Bxg6!? Setting the board on fire!

22…fxg6 22…Rxb2+!? 23.Kxb2 Bxf3 may have been the right way forward.

23.Qxg6 Bxf3 24.gxf3 Kf8 25.Rh5! Bringing in the reserves!

25…Qe6 26.Rf5+ Kg8 27.Rg1!

Even without queens, White’s initiative persists. Note the cruel fate of the knight on b6. Grischuk continued to defend stubbornly but eventually had to succumb to an armada of white pawns:


51.Rxc5! Bxc5+ 52.Kxc5 Kc7 53.Kd5 Nd7 54.b4 With such passed pawns, the rest became easy.

54…Nb6+ 55.Kd4 Nd7 56.Ke4 Kc6 57.c5 Kb5 58.Kd5 Kxb4 59.c6 Nb6+ 60.Kd6 Kb5 61.f6 Nc4+ 62.Ke6

Nepo is back! 4.5/6

Nepo is back! 4.5/6

Leinier Dominguez – Ian Nepomniachtchi

In the 3d round, Ian beat the person he was sharing the lead with: Leinier Dominguez. In the diagrammed position, White is already under considerable pressure but


43.Qf2?? greatly accelarated the end:

43…Rd1+ 44.Ka2 Qd5+! 45.Rb3 or 45.b3 Rd2+!

45…Bc4 pinning and winning!

Levon Aronian – Teimour Radjabov

One of the biggest escapes of the day. In the diagrammed position the most easy solution would be 26…d2+ with the idea of meeting 27.Bxd2 with 27…Nb4 threatening mate on c2. Instead, Radjabov chose:



26…Nb4 which is completely fine but the start of a downward trend as well:

27.Rd1 Nc2+ 28.Kd2 Qf2+? Presumably played under huge time pressure. The king is now being forced to where it wanted to go in the first place!

29.Kc1 Ne3 30.Kb1 Nxd1 31.Rxg4+

Suddenly it is not the white, but the black king that finds himself under heavy attack!

31…Kf7 32.Rg7+ Ke8 32…Kf6 33.Ne4+! is the reason Radjabov had to retreat to e8.

33.Nxc7+ Kd8 34.Ne6+ Ke8 35.Rg8+ Kd7 36.Rg7+ Ke8 37.Rg8+ Kd7 38.Rg7+ Ke8 and the players agreed a draw.

Levon Aronian – Pentala Harikrishna

In the Rapid and Blitz events, Pentala Harikrishna had not been very succesfull but his start in the Basque has been stellar. Defeating Levon Aronian in round 3 (game 5&6) the Indian grandmaster is now trailing the leader, Ian Nepomniachtchi, by half a point.


23.f3 looks logical, in order to release the pressure on e4, but Harikrishna’s reply is instructive:

23…Nh5! 24.Kf2 Rd6! The move f2–f3 has created a different weakness in White’s camp: the g3–pawn. After the further

25.Rad1 Rg6

Aronian saw himself forced to move his g-pawn, which gave Black a fantastic outpost for his knight on f4. Later on, Aronian sacrificed an exchange in order to complicate matters but Harikrishna didn’t get confused and mopped up convincingly.

The 2nd Day of Basque will start with the direct match Harikrishna vs Nepomniachtchi!

The 2nd Day of Basque will start with the direct match Harikrishna vs Nepomniachtchi!


Ranking after R3: Women

Rank SNo.   Name Rtg FED Pts Res. Vict BL RtgØ
1 13 GM Zhao Xue 2485 CHN 0 5 3 2523
2 1 GM Hou Yifan 2600 CHN 5 0 4 3 2544
3 11 GM Koneru Humpy 2611 IND 0 4 3 2501
4 16 GM Kosteniuk Alexandra 2577 RUS 4 0 3 3 2449
5 6 GM Dzagnidze Nana 2547 GEO 0 3 3 2508
6 2 GM Stefanova Antoaneta 2578 BUL 0 3 3 2505
7 9 GM Muzychuk Anna 2546 UKR 0 2 3 2478
8 3 GM Kosintseva Tatiana 2505 RUS 3 0 3 3 2575
9 10 GM Ushenina Anna 2489 UKR 3 0 3 3 2518
10 12 GM Ju Wenjun 2555 CHN 3 0 3 3 2462
11 4 GM Gunina Valentina 2552 RUS 0 2 3 2552
12 15 GM Harika Dronavalli 2421 IND 0 1 3 2528
13 7 GM Cramling Pia 2443 SWE 0 1 3 2547
14 8 GM Khotenashvili Bela 2407 GEO 1 0 1 3 2543
15 5 IM Muzychuk Mariya 2445 UKR 1 0 1 3 2533
16 14 IM Paehtz Elisabeth 2485 GER 1 0 1 3 2483


Tatiana Kosintseva – Hou YifanAfter the first day of Basque, Hou Yifan is in 2nd position with 5/6. In round 3 she won both her games against Tatiana Kosintseva. Her black game was won, using the thematic Sicilian exchange sacrifice.

15…Rxc3! 16.bxc3 Qa3+ 17.Kd2 Be7 Quietly finishing development. Black has fantastic counterplay in the form of good chances against White’s king and the better pawn structure.18.f5 0–0 19.Rb1 Rc8 20.Rb3 Qxa2 21.Rhb1 Qa4 22.Qe2 Bb5! 23.Rxb5 axb5 24.Rb4 Qa1 25.Rb3 Nd7 26.Qxb5 Bg5+ and the white king didn’t surive long.

Zhao Xue in the lead with 5.5/6!

Zhao Xue in the lead with 5.5/6!

And Koneru Humpy is back, after less successful Rapid and Blitz, currently on the 3rd position in the Basque

And Koneru Humpy is back, after less successful Rapid and Blitz,
currently on the 3rd position in the Basque

Zhao Xue – Mariya Muzychuk

It is, however, another Chinese who claims the first spot after day 1. Zhao Xue played some great chess today resulting in 5,5 out of 6! In the following diagram, she built up a winning position but the accuracy by which she finished of characterizes her play of today:


43.Bxd5! exd5 44.Rg5 Having gained acces to the f5–square, White immediately makes use of it.

44…Qd6 45.Qxd6+ Rxd6 46.Bb4! and Mariya resigned.

An important win for Zhao Xue over Valentina Gunina (1.5-0.5)

An important win for Zhao Xue over Valentina Gunina (1.5-0.5)

Nana Dzagnidze – Zhao Xue

No doubt Zhao Xue also has great memories of her match against Nana Dzagnidze. Going into the 3rd round, both players were leading but the Chinese won convincingly with 2–0. The following attack is very instructive:

1622…a4! diverting the queen.

23.Qxb7 Rxf3! 24.gxf3 Bxf3 Hunting season! The king is the pray.

25.Rd3 Qg5+ 26.Kf2 Qg2+ 27.Ke3 Bxe4 28.Rc3 Bg6 29.Qe7 Qxb2 30.Rcc1 Rb8! 31.Kf3 h6 32.Qe5 Rb3+ 33.Kg4 Qg2+ and Nana resigned, mate will follow soon.

The Round four matchups of tomorrow: Hou Yifan – Zhao Xue and Pentala Harikrishna – Ian Nepmniachtchi will be the highlights!

Even though there are only five rounds (meaning ten games for each player) the participants have to stay very focused and give their very best… literally and metaphorically. Tomorrow we have the last two mini-matches for both men and women, followed by the closing ceremony. Yes, the wheel keeps on spinning and so will the chess players’ chairs soon!

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