16 September 2019

Five Knights Game

Maxim Notkin reviews Round 2 games of the FIDE World Cup.

Many favorites secured their Third Round promotion within just two playing days. Positional skill of the winners in Artemiev-Cheparinov, Vachier-Lagrave-Kovalenko, and especially in Karjakin-Sevian leaves a very strong impression. However, as long as we have the luxury of choice, we will pay our attention to less rigorous examples.


Let us first enjoy tactical fireworks initiated by Mamedyarov.




The black king, deprived of the joys of castling, has just reached a seemingly safe location, but is immediately asked out.

23.Bxf7! Black's life would be much easier after23.Ne6+ fxe6 24.Rd7+ Kh6 25.Rxb7 Rab8.

23...Kxf7 24.Ne2 Qf5. The queen must stay closer to the knight and the king. 24...Qc7 is met by25.Ng5+ Ke7 26.Nf4!, and White wins in a crushing style, for example, 26...Qxf4 27.Re1+ Be4 28.Rxe4+! Nxe4 29.Qg7+ Ke8 30.Qd7+ Kf8 31.Ne6+ Kg8 32.Qg7#. Neither24...Qh6 25.Ne5+ followed by26.Re1 can save Black. 

25.Ng3 Qf4 26.Ne5+


26...Ke6?! Although white queen's X-ray vision is disturbing, g7 is the right square to retreat. Direct devastating blows do not work:26...Kg7 27.Nh5+ gxh5 28.Rg3+ Kf8 29.Nd7+ Nxd7 30.Qxh8+ Ke7 31.Qxh7+ Kd8, and the king finds a shelter on the queenside.

Less ambitious play promises White strong initiative, but Black's defensive resources are far from being depleted.

After27.Nd7 Be7 28.Rd4 can be met by a queen sacrifice:28...Qxd4 29.Qxd4 Rhd8. White may end up with an extra pawn– 30.Re1 Rxd7 31.Qxd7 Nxd7 32.Rxe7+ Kg8 33.Rxd7 Bc6, however, his winning chances in such ending are slim.

Stronger is28.Re1 Rhe8 29.Rd4 Qc7 30.Rc1, and after30...Qd8 31.Nxf6 Bxf6 32.Rxd8 Bxa1 33.Rd7+ Kg8 34.Rxa1 Bc6 the sides have more rooks in a similar ending, which is an achievement for White.

30...Bc6 can lead to the same material composition: 31.Ne4 Nxe4 (after31...Qxd7 32.Rxd7 Bxd7 33.g4 white pieces are few in numbers, but work together very well) 32.Rxe4+ Kg8, and now White grabs the bishop with a lovely ladder: 33.Qa2+ Kh8 34.Qb2+ Kg8 35.Qb3+ Kh8 36.Qc3+ Kg8 37.Qxc6 Qxc6 38.Rxc6. 

27.Qa2+! Bd5? Accepting the second sacrifice is a losing play:too many black pieces are attacked after 27...Kxe5 28.Re1+ Ne4 29.Qb2+ Ke6 30.Rf3. However, one must interpose with the knight, not the bishop. After 27...Nd5 the computer shows an unpleasant reply 28.Nf3, intendingNe2-c3,but at least there is no forced win, and White's attack slows down considerably.


The rook gives its life and is replaced by the knight.

28.Rxd5! Nxd5 29.Nd3 Qd4. If 29...Qc7, then 30.Re1+ Kf6 31.Ne4+ Kg7 32.Nexc5, and Black loses material.

30.Ne2! Forking and pinning. 30...Qxd3 is not good in view of 31.Nf4+.

30...Qg4 31.Nef4+ Kf6 32.Nxd5+. Black resigns.


In the return game Rustam was attacking relentlessly, but Shakhriyar somehow avoided being checkmated and eventually held a draw in an endgame.


By no means less entertaining were the events in Dubov-Firouzja. Both games turned out extremely original from a strategic prospective and had many twists and turns. The first one ended peacefully, the second one started with a fierce middlegame battle and transposed to an ending with an extra pawn to the Iranian.





30...Bd7!? Black is not satisfied with a passive role and lays a trap for the a6-knight.

31.Nxa6 Rb7 32.c4. 32.e5 is toothless: 32...Bb5 33.Rf6 Bxa6 34.Rxd6 Ra7.

32...Be8. Taking the necessary preparatory steps. The immediate 32...Ra7 is no good: 33.Nb8 Be8 34.a6.

33.e5. The only chance to play for a win.

33...Ra7 34.Nb8 Rb7 35.Na6 Ra7 36.Nb8 Rb7


Firouzja correctly assesses the situation, rejects the silent draw offer and sacrifices a piece.

37.exd6! Rxb8 38.Re1 Kf8. Even if this does not lose, 38...Kf6 seems more beneficial. After39.Re7 Black cannot go for thed6-pawn directly (39...Rd8 40.a6 Bc6 41.a7 Rxd6? 42.Rc7 Ba8 43.Rc8 Bb7 44.Rb8 Bc6 45.Rb6 – there is no place for the bishop even on the long diagonal), but after39...Bc6 his king is close, the bishop controls the promotion square, and the rook if free to travel around.

39.Re7 Rd8. Black cannot take care of the a-pawn without giving up his bishop– 39...Ra8 40.Rc7 Rxa5 (40...Ba4 41.Rxh7 Rxa5? 42.d7) 41.d7.

40.a6 Rxd6 41.a7 Rd8. After41...Ra6 42.Rc7 Ra2 43.Kh2 Black's king and bishop are chained to a back rank, and after the white king centralizes, White's activity will likely decide the game.


42.Rb7.One should note that42.Rxh7? Bf7 in this and similar positions is useless. The rook loses contact with the pawn, the pawn falls. However, bearing in mind the computer plan provided in the next annotation, 42.Rc7should be considered more accurate.

42...Bc6? The engines suggest the following defensive mechanism: defend against Rb8 by42...Ra8,then move the h-pawn away from attack (in order to have an option of trading the rooks), play...Bc6, react to Rc7 by ...Ba4, bring the king on the queenside, push the white rook away on the kingside, and finally interpose by the bishop on d7. All of it has to be done quickly, while the white king stays on its half of the board.

The text-move allows Black to capture another d-pawn, but it does not give him happiness.

43.Rc7 Be8 44.Kf2 g5 45.Ke3 h6 46.g3. One can already leave the 7th rank and grab the pawn. After 46.Rxc5 Ke7 the intermediate 47.Re5+ prevents the black king from coming on the queenside, and 47...Kf6 is met by 48.Rb5!



47.Rb7! Rxd3+ 48.Kf2 Ra3 49.Rb8+ Kg7 50.a8Q Rxa8 51.Rxa8 Bd3 52.Ra4, and White wins the game and the match.


In the next two episodes, the experienced players gave their young opponents tactical lessons.




The Junior World Champion cracks under Aronian's strong pressure just before the control move.

39.Qxd6? A decisive mistake. White needed to trade the rook39.Rxf2 Qxf2 and bring the queen back to defense – 40.Qf3.

39...Bxe3 40.Qa6. Now after 40.Rxf2 Qxf2 White needs to part with an exchange, or else he gets checkmated. 

40...Re6! Not 40...Bf4 yet in view of 41.Rh3.

41.Qc8+. If 41.Qb5, then 41...Ref6. The consequences of 42.Rxf2 Qxf2 are already clear for us, andafter 42.Re1 the easiest way to a victory is 42...Rxg2. How about 42.Rg1? Let's take a look.

41...Kg7 42.Rg1 Bf4. White resigns because of43.Rh3 Qxh3 44.gxh3 Rxh2#.





A couple of moves back Black voluntarily boxed in his rook on g5. Harikrishna finds an elegant idea that begins with a decoy sacrifice. 

32.e6!? fxe6 (other options are not better) 33.Ra3 a6 34.Nxa6! Nc4 35.Qxd8+ Rxd8 36.Nc7+. A double check – this is important!

36...Kb8 37.Nxe6 Nxa3+ 38.bxa3. For a moment White is an exchange down, but Black's forked rooks are quickly losing value. White converted the material without much trouble.

However, the diagrammed position has a more brutal solution, suggested by the computer. 

After32.Rdd3! White meets32...Kb8 with 33.Rb4 followed by Ra3, and on 32...Re7 breaks through by 33.Ra3 a6 34.Rdb3. 32...Nc4 33.Qxd8+ Rxd8 34.Rxb7 is totally hopeless for Black as well.

And the charming point of the combination reveals itself after, say, 32...h5:33.Rxb6! Qxb6 34.Qxb6 axb6 35.Nd7!, and 36.Ra3# is looming.


The five knights diagram has traveled across the globe by now, but I will show it anyway and with a bonus line, which could occur if Black had taken the promotion square under control.


Korobov-Le Quang Liem


59...Ne6+ 60.Kf7 Nd8+ 61.Ke8 (61.Ke7 Nc6+) 61...Nb7 gives Black good winning chances. In order to assess the situation more accurately, we should check whether White can sacrifice two knights for two pawns and take the third one with the king. If he decides to rely on the passed pawn instead – 62.Na5, then after62...Ned6+ (the only reply, everything else loses) 63.Kf8 (63.Ke7? Nxa5) 63...Kb4 64.Nf5 (all knights are attacked!) 64...a3 65.Nxd6 Nc5! the newborn queen will be taken, and an underpromotion is useless, as there is no stopping to the a-pawn.


The game continued 59...Kc6 60.d8N+! Kc5 61.Nb7+ Kb4 62.Nba5



A unique situation – three white knights are firmly holding each other! Black cannot win. On62...a3 White can draw easily by sacrificing a knight for the pawn, as other pawns are also easy to kill, but 63.Nc2+ and64.N2xa3 is truer to the spirit of the game, just rearranging the cavalry.


Hikaru Nakamura's loss was the biggest sensation of the Second Round.




It is curious to note that both players had played this line of the Catalan Opening with the colors reversed. The diagrammed position saw 12.Qc2 twice. The original game Efimenko-Kravtsiv, Lvov 2015, continued 12...Nd5 13.Qxc4 c6 14.Nd6 Qxc4 15.Nxc4 b6 16.Bd2 Ba6 17.Rfc1,and the players agreed to a draw. 

12.exf6!? This queen sacrifice is one of the main lines suggested by the engines and could not possibly be missed during the preparation. Alas for Hikaru, his memory malfunctioned.

12...Rxd1 13.Rxd1 Bd6 14.Bf4 e5? 14...Qa5 would protect against the fork on c7. After this move the computer suggests the endless 15.Bd2 Qb6 16.Be3 Qa6 17.Bf4 Qa5, etc.

15.Nxd6. Black's error is even more absurd as after 15.Bxe5 he faces the very same problems, just being a pawn short. However, Liviu-Dieter's move is also a decent choice.


15...cxd6. In the case of15...exf4 16.Ne8 Qa5 17.Rd8 gxf6 18.Rad1 (18.Nxc7+? Kg7) 18...Rb8 19.Bf3 Black is also on the ropes and can only be saved by a miracle or the opponent's carelessness.

16.Bxe5 Qa5 17.Rxd6 Bg4 18.Bc3 Qc7 19.Rad1 g6 20.Bxb7! Black was unable to resolve his back rank problems until the bitter end.


Jeffrey Xiong tried too hard to complicate things in the first game, went little bit too far, but survived with a clever trick.




After 32...Qc7+ White would have to trade queens, as abandoning the f2-pawn by moving the king forward is just nuts. However, Tabatabaei tries to avoid the technical stage completely.

32...e5? 33.Qg6 Rf8 34.Rd7 Rxf3+. Hoping for 35.gxf3 Qxf2+ 36.Kg4 Rc4+ 37.Kf5 Qc2+.

35.Kh2! A refreshingly cold shower! White boldly threatens mate. In addition, another small detail in the position is very unfavorable to Black.

35...Qf8. If Black's rook was not on с2, but on b2, gxf3 would give him two pawns and excellent winning chances. 

36.Qxc2! Rxf2 37.Qd3. Now it is dead even.


We will conclude the review with the most horrific blunder of the round.




Having won the first game with excellent play, the Indian teenager has been on the right track in the second one. Either 32...Raf8 or 32...Qe2 would make him one step closer to the next round. 

All of a sudden, he went 32...Rg6?? After 33.Rxf2 Black made a few more pointless moves and resigned. On the next day, Nihal lost on tie-break and was eliminated from his first World Cup.