A swindle that never was

A swindle that never was

GM smurfo

I've started collecting chess swindles for a new book [so if you have any good ones, please send them to me!]. Over the weekend, I visited a great little weekender on the Gold Coast and saw first-hand a fantastic swindle take place - or, rather, nearly take place.

Liu-Wohl was played on board 2 in the penultimate round, an enthralling clash between coach and former pupil. Wohl, an IM and a bit of a chess legend in Australia, was Black and steadily outplayed the young Liu from a worse endgame to take complete control. But as I watched the tables turn from next to the board, I spotted a really cute swindling motif for White. Liu, a pretty good tactician, had his head in his hands, looking dejected in playing every move as his final seconds ticked down, and I briefly thought he was pulling some sort of theatrical bluff on his older opponent. Alas, the gestures were all legitimate. As I was trying to evaluate the (I assumed) inevitable queen endgame to come, Liu let his clock run down to zero on his 38th move and resigned in the same motion.

Immediately after they shook hands, I asked him why he didn't continue playing with 38.h7!. I think it was only here that both players realised the game was far from over, and that White has some serious self-stalemate chances: 38...b3?? 39.Rxc3! bxc3 40.g6! is immediately a draw, for example.

Another pretty line is 38...Rb5? 39.Rxc3 (anyway!) 39...bxc3 40.g6! c2 41.gxf7 and there is still no way to avoid the draw.

Wohl suggested (correctly) 38...Rc8!, which is the only try for Black to keep winning chances. I pointed out that White can still continue with 39.g6!

39...Ke7+ (or 39...fxg6 40.Rxc3 Ra8 41.Rc8+ with stalemate to follow) 40.Kg7 fxg6 (else Black even loses) 41.Re2+!

41...Kd6 42.Rf2 Ke6 43.Rf6+ Kd5 44.Rf8!,

forcing a queen endgame. Black has no better than 44...Rxf8 45.Kxf8 c2 46.h8=Q c1=Q,

but White can pick up one of the pawns with 47.Qg8+, leading to a difficult queen endgame that I'm sure Liu would have been very happy to escape to. Even more painfully, tablebases confirm that it's a theoretical draw.

EDIT:  There was some really nice analysis done by user 'brabo' on my main blog, which showed that Black can actually force a tablebase-win with 42...g5!. But White still has a route to the draw by switching move-orders with 39.Rf2! b3 40.g6, excluding the ...g5 possibility. Cool.

It was a shame that Liu didn't find this sequence over the board, although it would have been difficult anyway to hold the queen endgame given the time situation. And (like all swindles?) Wohl probably deserved to win. Still, it will make a nice addition to the book...

(You can replay the variations using the board above.)