In the landscape of chess geopolitics, the tectonic plates are shifting.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine created new divisions in the game, with many Russian players blocked from competing in the West and at official events under their national flag. To get around the blockade, the Russian Chess Federation has successfully appealed to FIDE, the international chess governing body, to drop its membership in the European Chess Union and join the Asian Chess Federation. One upshot: Three of the world’s great chess powers — Russia, China and India — are now in the same regional bloc and their stars will be competing with each other for slots in the world championship qualification cycle and events such as the World Cup.
Many Russian and Belarusian players — at great personal and professional risk — have condemned the Ukraine war. As part of the shift, FIDE announced that those players can transfer without cost to another European chess federation.
One of the first to do so is one of Russia’s premier female stars for the past two decades — GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, two-time Russian women’s national champion and the women’s world champ from 2008 to 2010. Kosteniuk, who joined more than three dozen top Russian players in an open letter last year to President Vladimir Putin protesting the war, will now compete for the Swiss Chess Federation.
Among her many titles was the 2004 European women’s individual championship, and Kosteniuk herself rates her win over French GM Marie Sebag at the event as one of her best efforts at the board. White’s aggressive play against Kosteniuk’s Modern Defense is neatly turned back after 14. Ng5?! cxd4 15. e6 f5! 16. Qxb4 (White’s pieces run out of room on 16. exd7+? Qxd7 17. Bf4 e5, leaving Black with a dominant pawn center) Ne5 17. Bf4?! (and here better was 17. Bxd4 Nc6 18. Qxb7 Nxd4 19. 0-0 Rb8 20. Qxa6 0-0, limiting Black’s edge) Qd5!, and Sebag’s pieces are under heavy pressure.
Kosteniuk in turn misses a clear shot after 19. Nf7 Bxg3 20. fxg3, when 20…Rc8! 21. Qb3 (Nxh8 e3 22. 0-0-0 d3 23. Qa3 d2+ 24. Kb1 Qxe6 25. c3 e2 is crushing) 0-0 22. Qxd5 Bxd5 dooms White’s e-pawn and his game. Instead, Black uses an exchange sacrifice to relieve the pressure and jump-start a powerful counterattack on the White king.
Things come to a head on 28. Rdxd3 Qa2+ 29. Kc1 Qc4+ 30. Rc3? (an understandable heat-of-battle oversight; White can hold on 30. Kd2! Be4 31. Rc3 Rb4 32. Rxc4 Rxb6 33. b4) Qf1+ 31. Kc2 Be4+, when 32. Kd2? loses at once to 32…Qf2+ 33. Re2 [Kd1 Ra1+ 34. Rc1 Bc2 mate] Qxb6.
After the game’s Rxe4 Qxg2+ 33. Kb3 Qxe4, Black emerges two pawns ahead, though the win is still tricky with the queens on the board. Kosteniuk takes care of that with 34. Rc7 a5 35. Rxe7+ Kxe7 37. Qc7+ Kf8 37. Qd8+ Qe8! (stopping all perpetual check nonsense) 38. Qxe8+ Kxe8 39. Kxa4 g5 40. b4 f4!, not getting distracted by White’s queenside push.
In the end, White’s passed pawn is too slow and Black’s passed pawn is too far: 42. bxa5 Kd7 43. a6 Kc6, and Sebag resigned as her pawn is stopped and her king is too far away to catch the soon-to-queen Black f-pawn.
The 23rd edition of the European Individual Championships was just concluded in Serbia, with Russian GM Alexey Sarana (playing under the FIDE flag) winning on tiebreaks after a 12-move draw in the final round to clinch his title.
Since the action was so feeble on the top boards at the end, we thought we’d offer a more exciting game from the beginning — Montenegrin GM Nikola Djukic’s Round 1 victory over Romanian master Henry Edward Tudor, a Kan Sicilian that once again demonstrates the peril of greedy materialism in chess.
It’s a good rule of thumb that when a grandmaster gifts you a pawn for free in the opening, the too-good-to-be-true offer is too good to be true. Tudor ventures on to thin ice after 8. 0-0 b4 9. Na4 Bxe4?! (not losing, but Black will soon fall perilously far behind in development after his pawn grub) 10. Bxe4 Nxe4 11. Re1 d5 12. c3 bxc3 13. Nxc3, and now Black would have been well advised to return his booty with 13…Nd7 14. Nxe4 dxe4 15. Rxe4 Nf6 16. Bg5 Be7, with a playable game.
Instead, Black trades off his one developed piece and runs into 13…Nxc3? 14. Qh5!, not bothering to recapture and setting up the threat of 15. Nxe6 Qa5 16. Nxg7+ Kd8 17. Re8+ Kc7 18. Qxf7+ and wins. On the game’s 14…Ne4 15. Nxe6 Qb6 (see diagram; White has just one winning move and Djukic finds it) 16. Nc7+! (Qxd5?? Qxf2+) Qxc7 (or 16…Kd7 17. Qxd5+ Kxc7 18. Rxe4 Nc6 19. Bf4+ Kb7 20. Qd7+ Qc7 21. Qxc7 mate) 17. Qxd5, attacking both the Black knight and rook while taking dead aim at Tudor’s king.
White takes the direct route to mate: 19. Rxe7+! (again by far the cleanest win; on 19. Qe5 0-0 20. Qxe7 Nd7, Black can cherish hopes of salvaging a draw) Kxe7 20. Bg5+ f6 21. Re1+, and all of White’s pieces are in the action while three of Black’s four pieces are still on their home squares.
The finale presents a remarkable range of checkmates for the hapless Black king: 24. Qxh8 h5 (fxg5 25. g4! Qf6 26. Qe8+ Qf7 [Kh6 27. Qh5 mate] 27. Re6 mate; or 24…Kxg5 25. Qxg7+ Kf5 26. Qxh7+ Kg4 27. h3+ Kf3 [Kg5 28. f4 mate] 28. Re3 mate) 25. Qxg7+ Kf5 26. Qh7+ Kg4 (Kxg5 27. Rg7 mate) 27. h3+, and Black ends his misery rather than sample the mating smorgasbord of 27…Kxh3 (Kf3 28. Re3 mate — or 28. Qxh5 mate — or 28. Qf5 mate) 28. Qxh5 mate or 28. Qf5 mate.
(Click on the image above for a larger view of the chessboard.)
Sebag-Kosteniuk, 5th European Women’s Championship, Dresden, Germany, March 2004
1. e4 d6 2. d4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. Be3 a6 5. Nf3 b5 6. a4 b4 7. Ne2 Bb7 8. Ng3 Nd7 9. Qd2 c5 10. Bd3 Ngf6 11. h3 d5 12. e5 Ne4 13. Bxe4 dxe4 14. Ng5 cxd4 15. e6 f5 16. Qxb4 Ne5 17. Bf4 Qd5 18. Bxe5 Bxe5 19. Nf7 Bxg3 20. fxg3 Rf8 21. O-O-O d3 22. cxd3 exd3 23. Rhe1 Rc8+ 24. Kb1 Rc4 25. Qb6 Rxf7 26. exf7+ Kxf7 27. Re3 Rxa4 28. Rdxd3 Qa2+ 29. Kc1 Qc4+ 30. Rc3 Qf1+ 31. Kc2 Be4+ 32. Rxe4 Qxg2+ 33. Kb3 Qxe4 34. Rc7 a5 35. Rxe7+ Kxe7 36. Qc7+ Kf8 37. Qd8+ Qe8 38. Qxe8+ Kxe8 39. Kxa4 g5 40. b4 f4 41. gxf4 gxf4 42. bxa5 Kd7 43. a6 Kc6 White resigns.
Djukic-Tudor, 23rd European Individual Championship, Vrnjacka Banja, Serbia, March 2023
1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nge2 a6 4. g3 b5 5. Bg2 Bb7 6. d4 cxd4 7. Nxd4 Nf6 8. O-O b4 9. Na4 Bxe4 10. Bxe4 Nxe4 11. Re1 d5 12. c4 bxc3 13. Nxc3 Nxc3 14. Qh5 Ne4 15. Nxe6 Qb6 16. Nc7+ Qxc7 17. Qxd5 Qc6 18. Rxe4+ Be7 19. Rxe7+ Kxe7 20. Bg5+ f6 21. Re1+ Kf8 22. Qd8+ Kf7 23. Re7+ Kg6 24. Qxh8 h5 25. Qxg7+ Kf5 26. Qh7+ Kg4 27. h3+ Black resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.