The Match Of The 21st Century
When chess players say "match of the century," usually they refer to the famous match between the USSR and the "rest of the world" that took place in Belgrade in 1970. In reality, many famous chess competitions (mostly world championship matches) throughout the 20th century had this catchy moniker.
Photo by David Llada.
Capablanca-Alekhine, Spassky-Fischer and Karpov-Kasparov (1984/85) all were called "match of the century" at some point! As you can see, it is very subjective and chess players can all have their own candidates for the match of the century.
The new century is still relatively young and I am sure that it will see many exciting chess events, but I already have my own match of the 21st century. You will never guess what match got my vote for this honorable title.
Before I announce it, let me tell you my main and only criteria: the excitement you get from watching it! That's why most of the world championship matches get disqualified: the Berlin variation cannot be played in my match of the century! And while the "toilet scandal" from the match Kramnik-Topalov has generated a lot of interest in the media, this is not the kind of excitement I am expecting.
Now let me introduce the match Tan Zhongyi-Harika Dronavalli as my match of the 21st century.
Surprised? Yes, it was only a semifinal match of the 2017 women's world championship filled with many chess mistakes, but I don't think any action movie has even half of the twists that we saw in this chess match!
I was practically glued to my monitor watching the unforgettable chess spectacle.
Tan Zhongyi. | Photo: David Llada.
The first game of the match didn't promise anything special as White gradually outplayed her opponent and finished the game with a simple but cute tactical shot. I bet you'll find it easily:
The next game already hinted that we were about to witness something unusual. First Harika missed an instant win, but who could blame her for this slip after a long game (and a long, tense tournament!)? Can you find the way White forces the instant resignation of her opponent?
What really amazes me is that Harika almost drew the "embarrassing endgame" with a bishop and a knight vs. a lonely king. Didn't the game by then-world-champion Anna Ushenina teach her anything? Fortunately, Harika managed to deliver the checkmate just four moves before the 50-moves rule would kick in!
The first tiebreak game delivered a heavy blow to the future world champion. Black's king position was annihilated! Can you finish the attack like GM Harika?
After this game I thought the match was over since people usually don't recover after defeats like this. I was proven wrong! Actually watching the match I felt like I was in some sort of a mirror maze where things never turn out the way they look! How could White possibly win the position shown on the diagram below?
The following game is a master class from Tan Zhongyi about pins in chess. We talked about the power of this chess weapon in this article.
Now it was Harika's turn to find herself in a must-win situation and she produced one of the most amazing comebacks I have ever seen! Look at the next diagram.
I think Black has about a 60 percent chance to win while White has a 40 percent chance to draw. If you asked me about White's chances to win, I would have started laughing. Now watch the game:
Now the opponents played two blitz games (five minutes plus three seconds increment). It is not fair to criticize both ladies for the mistakes made in a blitz game after such a dramatic roller coaster. It is just sufficient to say that the next game proved that any mistake can happen in a blitz game!
If we consider that the next blitz game was the seventh game of the day, it is of amazingly high quality!
Finally this unbelievable match had to be decided in an Armageddon game where White had five minutes, and Black had minutes and draw odds (meaning that a draw for Black would be as good as a win).
On move 31 Tan Zhongyi blundered a very important central pawn on e5 and her position instantly became lost. Nevertheless, she defended very well and after a series of inaccurate moves by her opponent, Black had a very simple and straightforward way to draw the game. Can you find it?
Then it was Harika's turn to miss a forced win. Before you rush to blame her for this mistake, try to find it yourself and then tell me if it is humanly possible to find this relatively simple variation after playing seven tough games and having about one minute on your clock!
Harika missed the same idea again on move 69. After that, the final part of the game has almost nothing to do with chess. Unfortunately, this is what usually happens when a draw or loss is exactly the same for you...
Harika Dronavalli. | Photo: David Llada.
While I thoroughly enjoyed this slug-fest, I felt very sorry for both ladies since one of them was going to be eliminated and they both deserved to win! Both of them have superhuman willpower, but Tan Zhongyi is slightly stronger in simple technical positions. This factor probably decided the outcome of this dramatic match.