On the third day of the chess24 Banter Series we saw blunders and brilliancies, spectacular maneuvers and comebacks, a novelty on move 6 and finally the highlight of the day in the very last game. Let’s take a look back.
Replay all the games here:
Melkumyan, 31 years old and European Blitz Champion in 2011, met just 15-year-old Indian Raunak Sadhwani — and yet this became a very close match. It started with a draw that should have been a win for Melkumyan:
After Raunak’s 35…Ra5? the move 36.Nb2! would have forced the Indian to give up material with 36…Rxb2, in order to prevent 37.Nc4+. 36…Ne5 doesn’t work because of 37.f4. But Melkumyan played 36.Nb4, and with that, the position was equal again. ½:½
Melkumyan won the second game smoothly, lost the third one on time and won the fourth again without giving his opponent any chances. 2½:1½
He had a winning position in the fifth game, but lost a piece in a critical situation after 44…Bg5:
45.Nxf3! would have won the game: 45…Bxe3 46.Nh4+, forking the king and queen, and after 46…Kf6 47.Nxf5 Ba7 48.Nxd6, White is three pawns up. Melkumyan missed that and took with 45.Qxf3. After 45…Bxd2 he resigned. 2½:2½
Sadhwani also won the sixth game with a devastating attack on the kingside, and with that took the lead: 2½:3½. Now Melkumyan had to win. And he did.
Sadhwani gave away the seventh game in a single move: 34…g4??
34...f3 would have held the position together, but here Melkumyan took the opportunity to create two mighty connected passed pawns: 35.gxf4 exf4 36.e5 f3 37.Bf1 Rd8 38.d6 Kf8 39.e6. Now Black had to give up a piece... but that didn't happen: 3½:3½
The eighth and last game finally went into a rook endgame that lasted 71 moves. Again Melkumyan got two connected passed pawns, and with that the match was over.
The first three games ended in a draw, although both sides had chances. An example from the third game after 31...e5??
32.Nf5! is the winning move: 32…gxf5 33.Qg5+ Kf8 34.Qxf6 Ke8 35.exf5. But Jan played 32.Ne2?.
The fourth game ended early after 26…Rad8??
26…Bxg3 was the better move. 27.Qc2 Rf6 28.Rxf6 Kxf6, and now the knight clears the f-file with tempo: 29.Nh4 attacking g6, hence 29…Rg6 30.Qe4!. Jan didn’t wait for Rf1+ and resigned. 2½:1½
In the fifth game Supi blundered a knight and resigned immediately. Now the score was equal again. 2½:2½
The sixth game was also decided early: Jan's 22…Bxa1 looked like it would win material, but…
23.Nxd6+! Kf8 24.Nxc8 (the knight cannot be taken, because Bd6 is in the air) 24…Qf6 25.Nb6 Ra7 26.Qxa1. There was no compensation for White’s material advantage, and ten moves later Jan resigned. 3½:2½
There was a chance to equalize the score again in the seventh game after 30…Qc6?
31.Qxa7 Rd7, and now the pawns on the queenside can start running. But in the game we saw the premature 31.d7 Rc7 32.Rd6, and here Luis decided correctly to give up the queen for two rooks: 32…Rdxd7 33.Rxc6 Rxd1+ 34.Kh2 Rxc6. The engine thought the position was still equal.
In time trouble, Jan later played 45.a7??, and that threw the game away:
45…fxg2+! 46.Kxg2 Ra1 47.Qf4 Ra2 48.Kf1 Rxb3 49.Nd2 Rbb2 50.Ke1 Rxa7, and White had nothing. With that Supi won the game and the match.
Trent is known for his unusual openings, and he didn't disappoint. In the first game he went for a Blumenfeld gambit. After many tactical complications Le Quang Liem had perpetual check… but he didn't go for it. That gave Lawrence the chance to get a second queen which helped him to take the lead! 1:0
But in the next, a single mistake ended the game: 28.fxg6??
28…Rxg6!, and no matter where the king goes, Black can follow up with checks. 1:1
In the third game Lawrence went for the Modern Defense, 1.e4 g6. Slowly Le Quang Liem developed an advantage until Trent, with just one second on the clock, blundered his knight. 2:1
The fourth game, a Caro-Kann, Two Knights Attack, was very wild. Black had a winning position, let it slip away… and the last critical moment was after 37.Rd2:
37…Ke7? f6 was mandatory here to prevent the following. For example: 37…f6 38.Bd7 Rc7 39.e6 and only now 39…Ke7. But in the game it was White who could play 38.f6 Kd8 39.Rg2 Kc7 40.Rg7 Kb6 41.Rxf7, and the pawns were unstoppable. 2:2
An equal score after four games against the 2013 World Blitz Champion and the current Asian Champion — that is already remarkable. But now Le Quang Liem started pushing.
In the fifth game Trent had to resign after 15 moves after a mistake in the opening, while in the sixth he almost got mated, and in the seventh he blundered a bishop. That was enough.
We've saved the best for last. In the beginning, Niemann had trouble getting used to the new playzone where the matches took place. 12…Bf5? in the first game was a move he actually didn't want to play.
After 13.Bxf5 Qxf5 his queen was aligned with White’s rook, and 14.Qb3+ Kh8 won White the pawn on b7. When he lost a second pawn a few moves later, he resigned. 0:1
In the second game Niemann blundered a piece on move 25 — 0:2
In the third game Xiong gave a piece for three pawns, and although Niemann was slightly better for a long time, it wasn’t enough for a win. ½:2½
We saw an endgame with king + rook versus king + knight in the fourth game. Xiong actually had a few chances to win, but in time trouble neither player found the best moves and this game also ended in a draw. 1:3
The fifth saw Niemann finally win. With some inaccuracies, Xiong lost three pawns, and that was already too much. 2:3
The sixth game was similar. Niemann was already better when, in time trouble, Xiong made the fatal blunder: 33…h5??
34.Nf6+! Nxf6 35.Qd8+! The point is that after 35…Qxd8 36.Rxd8+ the bishop on a8 is falling. 3:3
The seventh game went into an endgame with with two bishops on Niemann’s side versus knight and bishop for Xiong. In such a constellation the owner of the bishop pair wants to have passed pawns on the sides of the board, because they can be protected from the center with the long-range pieces. Niemann had exactly that. Despite Xiong’s tough resistance, he won the game. 4:3
And now we reach the highlight of the day, the last game. Niemann needed just a draw, and that was what he was playing for: “I’m going for the most drawish position there is!”, he said in his stream. The Symmetrical English is indeed a good choice for that. Xiong didn't have that option, so he decided to make the game “interesting” with 6…Bxc3!?
Our database has not a single game with that position. A novelty on move 6? After 7.bxc3 f5 8.d3 Nf6 9.O-O the position was reminiscent of a Dzindzi-Indian, in which now 9…Qa5 would be thematic, putting pressure on the doubled pawns and preparing O-O-O. That is also the move the engine suggested. Xiong however played 9…e5, which is also reasonable.
The position stayed equal for a while, but there was a lot of tension in the center that led to the following tactical maneuver:
19.exf5 Qxd3, and after more than one minute thinking: 20.fxe5 Qxd2 21.e6 Be8? — Black should have given back the piece here with 21…Qxe2 22.Rxe2 gxf5 23.exf7+ Rxf7 — 22.Bxc6 Bxc6 23.e7:
This was the last chance for Xiong to stay in the game, with Qxe2. For example: 23…Qxe2 24.Rxe2 Bb5 25.fxg6 hxg6 26.exf8=Q Rxf8 27.Rxf8 Kxf8 28.Rf2+. That does still look better for White, but in time trouble you might work a miracle. Xiong played 23…Bb5? 24.c4? (much better: 24.exf8=Q Kxf8 25.fxg6+ Kg8 26.gxh7+ Kxh7 27.Rf7+ Kg8 28.Qf2 Qxf2 29.Rxf2) 24…Bxc4, and suddenly it didn't look so bad for Black anymore.
After 31.Rxe2 White was slightly better: +1.9. That means easier to play, not a forced win.
But Xiong’s 31...Qd3?? lost everything. 32.Qe6+!, and it was over, because, 33.Be5+ was coming, and then Black can only block with the rook. 31.Qd5 would have prevented that. Xiong resigned, and Niemann advanced to the next round.
He was very excited afterwards: “That game is probably the greatest game I've played in my life!”
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