In two long matches in the chess24 Banter Series Nihal Sarin and Sam Shankland earned the chance to advance into the finals. We saw beautiful tactics, missed chances and finally two deserved victories. Let’s look back at the Day 2 action.
Replay the games here:
The match started peacefully with a draw, although Pichot could have won with the black pieces. After 41.Rxh7 he had the chance to win an important pawn:
41…Rb1+! 42.Kh2 Nxf2 43.Nc4 (43.g3 Ne4 44.Rh8 Rb2+ 45.Ng2 Nxc5) 43…f4! 44.g4. But in time trouble Pichot played 41…Nxc5. Still good but not enough for a win. ½:½
In the second game, a Najdorf, Shankland managed to go with two connected passed pawns into the endgame — and to convert the advantage. 1½:½
Pichot took revenge also with a Sicilian in the third game, a Sveshnikov, that after the usual carnage in the middlegame went into an endgame in which Pichot had two connected passed pawns. Again a victory for Black. 1½:1½
Would this be a good day for the Sicilian? Shankland at least seemed to think so, because he went for the Najdorf again, but couldn't put enough pressure on Pichot and finally blundered in an equal position: 34…Bf1??
The Rf2+ fork doesn't work yet, but 35.h3! wins at least a piece. 35…Bxh3 36.Rc3 and the bishop has no square, because Rf3+ is coming. Shankland tried 36…Rac8, but had to resign after 37.Nb5 Nxe5 38.Rxh3. 1½:2½
In the fifth game they repeated the opening of the first one, a Ragozin Defense, Alekhine variation, but Pichot was never better, even blundered a rook at the end, and had to resign. 2½:2½
Shankland tried to play the Najdorf again in the sixth game, but Pichot prevented that with 4.Qxd4, the Chekhover Variation. He had a chance after 14…e6?
15.Ba3!, and Black had lost the important d-pawn. 15.Rd2 in the game was still good, but in the endgame Shankland won a pawn, and that was enough. 3½:2½
The seventh game, a Queen's Gambit Declined, Vienna Variation, was equal for a long time, until Shankland blundered material in the endgame and resigned. 3½:3½
Pichot had to win the eighth game. After 55…Kd4?? …
…the simple 56.Nf3+! would have won the rook and with that the game. 56.Nc6+?? however lead to a draw. 4:4
Now they had to play two more blitz games. In case of a tie they would have played an Armageddon game, but it didn't come to that. Shankland won the ninth game, an Open Catalan, without giving his opponent any counterplay. 5:4
Now Pichot had to win. He went for the Scotch Opening, played aggressively with an early h4, but never managed to get an advantage. In the end he blundered a bishop. 6:4 and end of the match.
Donchenko had a very good position in the first game when Sarin played 26…Rde8?!:
27.f4! Bxd4 28.Qxd4 c5 29.bxc5 dxc5 30.Qc3 Nc6 31.e5!, and White would be much better, but 27.Nb3!? allowed Sarin a beautiful combination: 27…Bf2! 28.Rf1 (the engine prefers Re2) 28…Bxg3! 29.Kxg3 Nxc4! White can’t take the knight, because 30…c5+ wins a piece. 30.Kh2 d5+ 31.f4? (Kg1 would still be equal) 31…Nxb2 32.Qxb2 Nxe4 33.Rde1?
33…Ng3! Played after just two seconds! 34.Kxg3 Rxe1 35.Rxe1 Rxe1 36.Qf2?! Qe7, and now Sarin didn’t give his advantage away. 1:0
In the second game Donchenko had a small chance after 31.Qc4?:
31…Qa1+! 32.Bf1 (32.Kf2? loses to 32…Nd6 33.Qb4 Ne4+) Nxe3 33.Qe2 Nf1 34.Qxf1 Qxa4 would have been a good endgame for Donchenko. His 31…Qa3? however lost that advantage, and Sarin managed to queen his b-pawn. 2:0
In the third game Donchenko finally won, but Sarin missed an opportunity after 41.Be4:
41…g6! is the engine’s suggestion. The idea is 42.Nxd6 cxd6 43.Bf3 Rh1 44.Bf2 Qg1 45.Kf3 Rh2 46.Qd4 Qg2, and Black wins a second pawn. The endgame with two pawns up should be winning. This is hard to find in a blitz game, and Sarin played 41.…Rg1+ 42.Kh2, which didn't lead to anything. On move 51 he lost a rook to a pawn fork and shortly after that resigned. 2:1
But in the next game, Sarin showed some nice calculation when he gave his queen after 17…Bf6?:
18.dxc6! In the following exchanges he got excellent compensation for the queen: 18…Rxe2 19.Bxe2 Qc7 20.cxb7 Qxb7 21.Bxf6 gxf6. The white pieces coordinate much better, and Nihal patiently worked his way towards victory. 3:1
He won the next game convincingly, and now Donchenko had to win to stay in the match. He managed to do that in the sixth game, but the seventh ended in a draw, and with that Sarin had won the match.
The winners will fight to get into the Banter Series Finals on September 5. Before that the action switches to the B Qualifier.
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