Sometimes one small mistake can sink your game. And sometimes you can survive a host of oversights and blunders and still take the point.
Today’s two very different games illustrate the contrast and serve as testimony to the wide variety of delights our game affords.
First up, we have a critical game from the women’s world championship match now underway in Chongqing, China. In a tightly played contest between two well-matched opponents, defending champ GM Ju Wenjun finally broke through with a victory over challenger GM Lei Tingjie in Sunday’s Game 8, knotting the scheduled 12-game match at 4-4. It’s a subtle positional battle from the get-go in this Zukertort Opening, with the champ just able to nurse her small but persistent advantage through to the end.
Facing uncomfortable pressure out of the opening, Black shifts the play with a pawn sacrifice on 21. Nc4 a4!? 22. Qxa4 b5! 23. cxb6 Nxb6 24. Nxb6 Qxb6, getting more freedom for her pieces. Ju misses a shot — 32. Ne1! Bd1 33. Rd3 pressures Black’s clotted piece in lines like 33…Rc1 34. Rd8+ Kf7 35. Nd3 Rb1 36. Kh2, with a clear edge) — and at the Move 40 time control, the opposite-colored bishops greatly complicate Ju’s ability to exploit her extra pawn. Even so, the pressure was clearly all on Lei, who had to sit and suffer as White probed for a win.
Even obtaining a second pawn after 42. h4 Rb3!? (Lei said prolonged defense would have left her pieces too “passive”) 43. Rxe6 doesn’t guarantee White the win, and in fact Black misses one last trick that would have saved the draw: 56. Kf2?? (Rc7 or 56. Ra7 is indicated, as Black now misses a surprising tactic) Rd2+ 57. Ke3 Rd6??, giving back the gift. With 57. Rd3+ 58. Ke2 Rd4!, White either has to allow the draw with 59. Bxd4 Kxe7 or give up the f-pawn and see her advantage all but disappear.
Sidestepping the danger, White slowly pushes her opponent back, clinching the affair with 70. Kg4 Rd1 61. Rxg6! hxg6 72. h7, and the pawn will cost Black her rook; Lei resigned.
They’re playing the same game, but the first-round game between young U.S. stars IM Justin Wang and GM Brandon Jacobson at the current U.S. Junior Championship tournament in St. Louis feels a world away from the Ju-Lei grind.
In a classic Ruy Lopez battle, Jacobson as Black deals with White’s early kingside pressure by sacrificing a pawn — 19. h4 Ng6!? 20. hxg5 hxg5 21. Nxg5 Rh8 — in hopes of launching his own kingside attack along the open file. The general idea works out — Black’s attack will decide the game — but there are many bumps and wrong turns along the way from both players, making for a wild, unbalanced contest.
After 23 Qd2 (better may be 23. Nxf7 Qe7 24. d4 Rf8 25. a4 Rxf7 27. Bxf7 Kxf7 27. axb5, with chances for both sides) Qh8 (already threatening a mate in one) 24. Kf1 d5! (Black must play energetically to justify his sacrifice) 25. exd5 Nxd5 26. f3 Re8; Black’s well-placed pieces and kingside pressure give him ample compensation, but now time pressure affects the play on both sides as the position complicates.
Thus: 28. Ng1 Nf5 29. Bf2 Rh2?! (stronger was 29. Rh1!, with the nasty threat of 30…Nf4 31. Rxe5 Qh2 32. d4 Qxg2+ 33. Ke1 Rxg1+ 34. Bxg1 Qxg1 mate) 30. Qg5!? (and here White can keep the balance with 30. d4 e4 31. d5; e.g. 31…exf3 32. Bd4+ f6 33. Nxf3 Ng3+ 34. Kf2 Ne4+ 35. Rxe4 Rxe4 36. Nxh2 Qxh2 37. Rg1) Bc8 31. d4 f6?! (and, again here, 31…Rh5 32. Qd2 Rh1! puts huge pressure on the defense) 32. Qd2 (see diagram).
Now Black can hold the edge with 32…Rd8 33. Re4 Rh1, but fortune favors the bold (and the attacker) as Jacobson instead offers an iffy sacrifice: 32…Rxg2!? 33. Kxg2 Nf4+ 34. Kf1 Qh2, and now White holds with the computer’s cold-blooded 35. Re2! in lines such as 35…e4 [Qg2+ 36. Ke1 Nxe2 37. Qxe2 Ng3 38. Qe3 Nf5 39. Qe2] 36. Be1 Nxe2 37. Qxe2 Ne3+ 38. Qxe3 Bh3+ 39. Nxh3 Qxh3+ 40. Kg1 [Ke2?? exf3+] exf3 41. Qf2 Qg4+ 42. Kf1 Qh3+, with a perpetual.
Both sides feel the pressure: 35. Re4? Ng3+? (winning was 35…Qg2+! 36. Ke1 Ng3 37. Qe3 [Bxg3?? Qxg1 mate] Qf1+ 38. Kd2 Nxe4+ 39. Qxe4 Qxa1 40. Bc2 f5) 36. Ke1? (Bxg3!, returning material was the way to go: 36…Qxd2 37. Bxf4 Qxb2 38. Rd1 Be6 39. dxe5 Qxc3 40. Rc1, and White has far more than enough for the lost queen) Qg2!, and now, finally, Black’s attack clicks neatly into place.
For all the previous messiness, Jacobson’s king hunt is a thing of beauty, finishing the game with 37. Kd1 Nxe4 38. fxe4 Bg4+ 39. Kc1 (Kc2 Qxe4+ 40. Kc1 Nd3+ 41. Kb1 Nxf2+ wins) Qf1+ 40. Be1 exd4 41. Bd1 (Bd5 Rh8!) Nd3+ 42. Kb1 (White’s pieces huddled along the back row make for a sad tableau) Rxe4, and it’s over on 43. Bxg4 Rxe1+ 44. Kc2 Nb4+! 45. Kb3 (cxb4 Qc4+ 46. Qc3 dxc3 47. Rxe1 cxb2+ 48. Kxb2 Qxb4+ 49. Kc2 Qxe1 and wins) Qc4+ 46. Ka3 Rxa1 47. b3 Qxc3, and Liang calls it quits due to 48. Qxc3 dxc3 49. Kxb4 Rxg1 50. Bf5 Rg3, with a won ending.
Not perfect, but a lot to enjoy here, and the fighting spirit of the two players is admirable.
The U.S. Junior, U.S. Junior Girls and U.S. Senior Championships all got underway over the weekend at the Chess Club of St. Louis. We’ll have a recap of the action in the coming columns.
(Click on the image above for a larger view of the chessboard.)
Ju-Lei, FIDE Women’s World Championship Match, Game 8, Chongqing, China, July 2023
1. Nf3 d5 2. e3 c5 3. b3 Nc6 4. Bb2 a6 5. g3 Qc7 6. d4 cxd4 7. exd4 Bg4 8. Bg2 e6 9. O-O Nf6 10. Nbd2 Bd6 11. c4 O-O 12. a3 a5 13. h3 Bh5 14. Qe2 Rfd8 15. Rac1 dxc4 16. bxc4 Be7 17. Qe3 Rac8 18. Rfe1 Bg6 19. Qb3 Qb8 20. c5 Nd5 21. Nc4 a4 22. Qxa4 b5 23. cxb6 Nxb6 24. Nxb6 Qxb6 25. Ba1 Qa5 26. Qxa5 Nxa5 27. Rxc8 Rxc8 28. d5 Nb3 29. dxe6 fxe6 30. Be5 Bxa3 31. Re3 Bc2 32. Nd4 Nxd4 33. Rxa3 Nc6 34. Bxc6 Rxc6 35. Ra8+ Kf7 36. Ra7+ Ke8 37. Rxg7 Kf8 38. g4 Rc5 39. Bf6 Be4 40. Kh2 Rb5 41. Re7 Rb6 42. h4 Rb3 43. Rxe6 Bf3 44. g5 Bg4 45. Re7 Bf5 46. Kg2 Bh3+ 47. Kg1 Bf5 48. h5 Rh3 49. h6 Rd3 50. Kh2 Rh3+ 51. Kg2 Rd3 52. f3 Rd7 53. Re5 Bc2 54. f4 Rd5 55. Re7 Bf5 56. Kf2 Rd2+ 57. Ke3 Rd6 58. Rc7 Rd3+ 59. Ke2 Rd5 60. Bc3 Ke8 61. Kf2 Kf8 62. Bb4+ Ke8 63. Re7+ Kd8 64. Rf7 Ke8 65. Rf8+ Kd7 66. Bc3 Bg6 67. Rg8 Rd6 68. Be5 Rd2+ 69. Kf3 Rd3+ 70. Kg4 Rd1 71. Rxg6 hxg6 72. h7 Black resigns.
Liang-Jacobson, 2023 U.S. Junior Championship, St. Louis, July 2023
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. d3 d6 7. c3 O-O 8. Re1 Re8 9. h3 Bf8 10. Bg5 h6 11. Bh4 g5 12. Bg3 Bg7 13. Nbd2 b5 14. Bc2 Bb7 15. Nf1 Ne7 16. Ne3 Ng6 17. Nf5 Ne7 18. Nxg7 Kxg7 19. h4 Ng6 20. hxg5 hxg5 21. Nxg5 Rh8 22. Bb3 Rh5 23. Qd2 Qh8 24. Kf1 d5 25. exd5 Nxd5 26. f3 Re8 27. Nh3 Nde7 28. Ng1 Nf5 29. Bf2 Rh2 30. Qg5 Bc8 31. d4 f6 32. Qd2 Rxg2 33. Kxg2 Nf4+ 34. Kf1 Qh2 35. Re4 Ng3+ 36. Ke1 Qg2 37. Kd1 Nxe4 38. fxe4 Bg4+ 39. Kc1 Qf1+ 40. Be1 exd4 41. Bd1 Nd3+ 42. Kb1 Rxe4 43. Bxg4 Rxe1+ 44. Kc2 Nb4+ 45. Kb3 Qc4+ 46. Ka3 Rxa1 47. b3 Qxc3 White resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.