Beauty in Chess V: Planet Nisipeanu

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NisipeanuIn his fifth column about beauty in chess, Michael Schwerteck was inspired by the attractive style of Romanian GM Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu.

In an interview with the German magazine Schach, the manager of the Bundesliga team Tegernsee, Horst Leckner, recently made an interesting comment about chess media. He regrets that most of the time only approximately the world’s top 20 are in the focus of attention, while many grandmasters below this level do not get the attention and, even more importantly for them, the invitations they deserve. Mr. Leckner observed that it’s always more or less the same people who play each other in the top tournaments, which he doesn’t find particularly interesting.

I had tried to make a similar point in one of my previous columns. If you, as a chess fan, are mainly interested in high quality, even if it consists of bloodless draws by Kramnik in the Petroff or by Wang Yue in the Slav, fine, concentrate on the 2700 guys. If you want to be entertained, however, don’t neglect games played by lesser mortals. Let me quote Mig Greengard’s advice from one of his Amber reports: „Those who think the blindfold games are exciting should watch more games between IMs and the under-2600 crowd in general. They aren't as worried about Elo, are more speculative, and also make more mistakes, therefore leading to more tactical action.“

I do not want to be disrespectful at all towards the world’s best players. Of course, they can play the most wonderful games. I would just like to recall that there are plenty of guys (and girls) out there who play immensely creative and entertaining chess, although they lack the consistency to belong to the elite, and it would be a pity not to take notice of it. Now you might say you just don’t have the time to look at everything – well, in this case, fortunately enough, there is someone who is ready to do some work for you and dig out some really cool games from time to time.

To give you an example, let’s have look at a game I just happened to stumble upon:

There are quite a few players who produce such gems with regularity. That’s why I decided to start a small series of portraits, in which I present some of my favourites. I can promise many entertaining games and hope I can show to my idols that their efforts are really appreciated.

Our first portrayed player is actually quite well-known and not far away from the real elite, but as he rarely participates in the top tournaments, I decided to include him nevertheless. I’m talking about the Romanian GM Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu. Why him of all players? Well, I was hesitating but took the final decision when the esteemed editor-in-chief of this site pointed out a recent game to me which our hero lost. That’s the nice thing about these creative players: even their losses are often spectacular. This one was so amazing that I’ll show it as well, albeit without comments:

Okay, now let’s move on to some of Nisipeanu’s wins. What’s so special about them? Mainly, it has always impressed me how unpredictable his moves usually are. Quite often it seems that he somehow plays his own kind of game, with his own opening theory, his own strategic principles and unexpected tactical ideas – like chess from another planet. I just checked the German Wikipedia article on him, which says that „Nisipeanu plays inventive, creative and entertaining chess which reminds of the former world champion Mikhail Tal.“ Curiously enough, these were exactly my thoughts as well. Already in his youth Nisipeanu managed to outfox even experienced GMs with his unusual ideas. Here’s an example:

Fans of the Benko Gambit might also enjoy the following game. Black normally doesn’t win with a quick kingside attack in this opening, but what is normal for our Romanian hero?

Nisipeanu’s progress wasn’t quite as comet-like as Tal’s, but he made steady progress and was soon able to successfully compete with very strong grandmasters. Of course, he became a member of the Romanian national team. When they faced Russia at the olympiad in Elista 1998, Nisipeanu played the following pittoresque game against Evgeny Bareev:

Nisipeanu still wasn’t that well-known then, but he really got into the limelight when he reached the semifinals of the knockout World Championship on Las Vegas 1999. He eliminated Ivanchuk and Shirov, amongst others! His most spectacular game (also thanks to his opponent’s efforts) was the one with Black agaist the latter. It’s really well-known and has been extensively analyzed by competent people, so I’ll give it without comments here:

For those who start wondering: yes, sometimes Nisipeanu won good games with White as well. Here’s proof:

Nisipeanu continued to improve his rating up to about 2700, although he played mostly in team events and open tournaments. One has to wonder what would have become of him, if he had got a few invitiations to the likes of Linares and Wijk aan Zee. It’s hard to understand why the organizers weren’t interested in him at all, for he continued to play in his accustomed original style. One of its trademarks is the extremely broad opening repertoire, full of rare, allegedly dubious lines. Do you know any other super-GM who likes to play the Blumenfeld Gambit? Nisipeanu has been playing it even against the strongest opposition (drawing against Mamedyarov and Gelfand, for instance). His win against Gabriel Sargissian (Bundesliga 2006) was convincing, but I chose an even more spectacular one:

Nisipeanu at least got a little bit more attention when he won the European Championship in Warsaw 2005. In 2007 he was finally invited to one of the really big events, the MTel tournament in Sofia. He started extremely well by beating Topalov on the black side of a Scandinavian Defense and in the end made a respectable 50 percent score.

One final thing I would like to mention is the headaches Nisipeanu has been causing to Najdorf players. One of the systems he devised is 6.Be3 e5 7.Nde2!?. You might want to have a look at his 25-move-win against Bologan (France 2006). Nowadays, however, the Romanian seems to favour the 6.Bc4 system which (supplemented with many new ideas, of course) has brought him a lot of nice wins. It was really hard to make a choice, but I went for the following one:

Last but not least, a very recent game in typical brutal Tal style. Don’t care about material, just open some lines and play for mate!

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