Reports Dec 17, 2014 | 4:48 PMby Colin McGourty

Hou Yifan and Nepomniachtchi Basque in glory

Hou Yifan added gold to her gold and silver so far, while Nepomniachtchi claimed his first medal of the event!

Ian Nepomniachtchi and Hou Yifan have won gold medals in Basque chess, the third and final chess event of the 2014 SportAccord World Mind Games tournament in Beijing. Both players cruised home 1.5 points clear of their nearest rival, with Teimour Radjabov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave taking silver and bronze in the men’s event, while Alexandra Kosteniuk and Zhao Xue took those laurels among the women.

Basque chess?

Harika Dronavalli and Anna Muzychuk are actually playing each other! | photo: Alina l'Ami, FIDE

The third event in China after the familiar rapid and blitz was Basque chess, a term christened when the game was used for a chess tournament in Donostia (San Sebastián) in the Basque area of Spain. Based on an idea advocated by David Bronstein, two players compete against each other on two boards simultaneously, playing White on one and Black on the other. The idea is to eliminate the advantage of giving one side the white pieces in a game, or even to eliminate the advantage of one side having White first in a two-game match. In Beijing the players were using the rapid time control of 20 minutes plus a 10 second increment each move, with a separate clock for each board.

Mariya Muzychuk may have regretted her footware choice as she tried to switch between the two games | photo: Alina l'Ami, FIDE

Although a simple change to understand, playing on multiple boards of course introduces all kinds of new strategies. How much time do you devote to each game? Should you resign a lost position or try to keep it going to distract your opponent? Or will that distract you more? The obvious solution, you might think, would be to rapidly agree a draw on one of the boards and end the madness  But judging from the games in Beijing, Sofia rules hindered that particular approach.

Apart from strategy there are also pure physical challenges, such as keeping an eye on pieces and clocks on two boards at the same time, or moving your chair between the boards (the swivel chairs apparently squeaked too much on the first day!). The challenge is perhaps even greater for the spectators. Although you could follow some games on an excellent video broadcast with Erwin and Alina l’Ami commentating, the chess world isn’t currently set up to handle two games that need to be watched simultaneously. Ideally you’d not only be able to watch them side-by-side live but would also be able to replay the game afterwards so you had an idea what the position was on both boards at any particular moment in time.

But enough preamble - let’s get to the chess!

Nepomniachtchi finally ousts Grischuk

Third time lucky for Ian Nepomniachtchi | photo: Alina l'Ami, FIDE

Ian Nepomniachtchi had been building towards this. He scored as many wins as anyone in rapid (3) and scored more than all his rivals in blitz (15), including a 2:0 whitewash of winner Alexander Grischuk. The fact Nepomniachtchi failed to gain a medal of course meant he was losing too many games as well, but it seems he found the perfect balance in Basque – 5 wins (Radjabov came closest with 4), 5 draws, 0 losses.

The big match-up on the first day was between Grischuk and Nepomniachtchi, and it was predictably close. Grischuk looked favourite to win his game with White after he broke correctly with e5:

He couldn’t press home the advantage, though, and instead Nepomniachtchi broke through on the other board with a spectacular attack and nice conversion, even if objectively it seems Grischuk could have held the balance:

22. ♗xg6 fxg6 23. ♕xg6 ♗xf3 24. gxf3 ♔f8 25. ♖h5 ♕e6 26. ♖f5+ ♔g8 27. ♖g1 ♕xg6 28. ♖xg6 ♖xb2+ 29. ♔xb2 ♖f8 30. ♖xf8+ ♔xf8 31. f4 d6 32. ♔c2 dxe5 33. f5 ♘d7 34. ♖c6 e4 35. ♖xc7 ♔e7 36. ♖c6 ♗d4 37. ♖e6+ ♔d8 38. ♖xe4 ♗xf2 39. ♔d3 ♗g3 40. ♖e6 ♗e5 41. ♔e4 ♗f6 42. ♔d5 ♗e7 43. ♖a6 ♔e8 44. ♖a7 ♗h4 45. ♔e6 ♘f8+ 46. ♔d6 ♗g3+ 47. ♔c6 ♗f2 48. ♖b7 ♗g1 49. ♔d6 ♗d4 50. ♖c7 ♔d8 51. ♖xc5 ♗xc5+ 52. ♔xc5 ♔c7 53. ♔d5 ♘d7 54. b4 ♘b6+ 55. ♔d4 ♘d7 56. ♔e4 ♔c6 57. c5 ♔b5 58. ♔d5 ♔xb4 59. c6 ♘b6+ 60. ♔d6 ♔b5 61. f6 ♘c4+ 62. ♔e6


Nepomniachtchi led with 4.5/6 after the first day, but Harikrishna was hot on his heels with 4/6. The Indian grandmaster beat Levon Aronian with Black in his final match of the day. 

What a difference a day makes - Harikrishna fell from 2nd to 13th, although there were only two rounds on the final day | photo: Gu Xiaobing, FIDE

Aronian was already under pressure when he went for a dubious exchange sacrifice with 29.Rd5:

It might have given him chances of holding on if he could get his bishop to c4, but after 29...Bxd5 30.cxd5 Harikrishna played the killer 30...c4! and all White's plans lay in ruins.

As the tournament only consisted of five rounds the first round of the final day was to prove absolutely crucial. Harikrishna and Nepomniachtchi matched off against each other, in an encounter you can watch in the video below (see 3:49:25 onwards):

On the board where Ian had White the play remained symmetrical for a long time, but once the symmetry was broken he was soon on top. Nepomniachtchi gradually upped the pressure until he won a pawn, and another c-pawn break this time immediately clarified the situation by breaking up Black's queenside pawns:

Ian’s conversion came in for some criticism in the live commentary, but actually this move and what followed was almost flawless. Harikrishna kept the game going before eventually resigning with seconds remaining.

On the other board, though, it was all much more interesting. Harikrishna was ahead on the clock and had chances to break through to the black king with his queen and rook. It was very hard to balance attack against defence, though, and the Indian grandmaster’s reluctance to accept a draw by perpetual check led him to take a fatal step too far with 50.Kg3-h3?:

After 50…g5! there was no way for White to parry both the mating threats and Black pushing his passed pawns.

That 2:0 victory meant Nepomniachtchi only had to avoid a 2:0 defeat in the final round to take gold, and he safely negotiated two draws against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who finished with a bronze medal to add to his silver in rapid and blitz. Harikrishna, meanwhile, continued his tailspin against Teimour Radjabov, losing both games. The win with Black was particularly crushing – 23...Nxh3!:

It worked like clockwork after that, with the black rooks using the 6th rank to pile up against the white king: 24.gxh3 Qxh3 25.Nf5 Rg6+ 26.Ng3 Rxg3+! 27.fxg3 Qxg3+ 28.Kh1 Qh3+ 29.Kg1 Re6 resigns

That match saw Teimour take silver while Harikrishna ended a day he started in second place in 13th. Sometimes chess is cruel.

Mamedyarov and Grischuk ended their trip to China with some real fire on board(s) | photo: Gu Xiaobing, FIDE

For once Grischuk ended outside the medals, but you can’t accuse him of not trying. Both games against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov were drawn, but only after some wild action. Here's one game after Mamedyarov played 12.b4:

Queens en prise, discovered attacks, threats galore! Grischuk played the only move 12...Qxd5, had a better position, then ended the game defending Rook vs. Rook + Bishop!

In the other game Grischuk went for a correct knight sacrifice on h6, with a draw by perpetual check or repetition perhaps the most likely outcome at that moment. Well, we did eventually get that, but Mamedyarov’s king had a long journey ahead of it first! This is the final position, with the king march shown:

So the final standings were:

17Nepomniachtchi Ian28010552747
211Radjabov Teimour277660452770
34Vachier-Lagrave Maxime272860352761
45Mamedyarov Shakhriyar273960352747
514Dominguez Perez Leinier27632352767
62Grischuk Alexander28280452760
73Leko Peter27730252767
810Wang Hao271951452783
912Aronian Levon281351252720
106Wojtaszek Radoslaw26840152747
111Ponomariov Ruslan27380152742
1213Wang Yue27650052754
139Harikrishna P.270140252773
148Gelfand Boris271940052756
1516Ivanchuk Vassily28110052740
1615Bacrot Etienne273130152751

Hou Yifan keeps the home flag flying

After suffering the ignominy of only finishing second in the rapid tournament, Hou Yifan claimed gold in both the blitz and the Basque, finishing with a supreme 8.5/10 (7 wins, 3 draws) in the last event. The crucial match was again the first of the final day, since Hou Yifan’s compatriot Zhao Xue actually led with 5.5/6 after Day 1. Both of their games in Round 4 started well for Zhao Xue. With White she was able to correctly play the beautiful 17.Ne6!

There followed 17...Qd6 18.Qxf8+ Qxf8 19.Nxf8 Kxf8 and Zhao Xue had won an exchange, but she was unable to convert her advantage.

In the other game Black seemed to have more than enough compensation for a pawn after 17.Kf1:

But after 17…Qh4?! 18.Qh3 the queens came off and Hou Yifan yet again outplayed her opponent in the endgame, converting her extra pawn into a full point.

Valentina Gunina failed, for once, to make the medals - losing 1.5:0.5 to bronze medallist Zhao Xue | photo: Alina l'Ami, FIDE

Zhao Xue went on to suffer like Harikrishna as she lost 2:0 to Alexandra Kosteniuk in the final match, but although that gave Kosteniuk silver Zhao Xue did at least hold on for bronze:

11GMHou Yifan26000752544
216GMKosteniuk Alexandra257770652491
313GMZhao Xue248560552550
42GMStefanova Antoaneta257860552526
511GMKoneru Humpy26110552539
612GMJu Wenjun25550552490
76GMDzagnidze Nana25470452525
89GMMuzychuk Anna25460452522
94GMGunina Valentina255250452515
1010GMUshenina Anna248950452511
1115GMHarika Dronavalli24210252524
123GMKosintseva Tatiana25050352562
137GMCramling Pia24430352498
145IMMuzychuk Mariya244532352499
8GMKhotenashvili Bela240732352499
1614IMPaehtz Elisabeth248532352464

Alexandra Kosteniuk (Russia, silver), Hou Yifan (China, gold) and Zhao Xue (China, bronze) | photo: Vianney Thibaut, FIDE

You can download the PGN file (via FIDE) of all the 80 games in the Basque event below:

So the 2014 World Mind Games are over. The speed chess focus will now switch to this weekend’s European Rapid and Blitz Championships in Wroclaw, Poland. The blitz event is due to start at 11:00 CET on Friday 19th December.

See also:

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