Three-way tie at Hastings, Williams GM

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Ten rounds in Hastings were not enough to point out a clear winner: the Chess Congress' 83rd edition was won by Mamedov, Malakhatko and Neverov. A disappointing final phase was marked by several very short draws in the last few rounds. A better memory will be the fact that Simon Williams managed to take his rating over 2500 and in possession of enough GM norms (his third was scored two years ago in Hastings!), he earned the title. Steve Giddins reports on the ups and downs.


Round 7 report: A prophet is not without honor

Three wins on the top four boards saw Messrs Williams, Malakhato and Mamedov assume the lead after round 7 of the Hastings Masters. Williams moved a step closer to his GM title, by winning a long game against Neverov. An unusual opening (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.b3 b6 4.c4) saw Black achieve a promising early middlegame, but he then weakened and found himself defending a queen and bishop ending.

In the diagram, Neverov should be drawing with a move such as 49...Qf1+ or 49...d6. Instead, he made a fatally optimistic bid for counterplay with 48...a5? and lost after 49.bxa5 Qc4 50.a6 b4 51.Qa5 b3 52.Qb6 Qb5 53.Qd8 Qxc5 54.a7 Qd6 55.Qb8 Qe6+ 56.Kh4 Qg8 57.Qb4 Qe6 58.Bf5 Qg8 59.Bxd7! Bxd7 60.Qe7+ Kh8 61.Qxf6+ 1?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú0

Mamedov beat Greet in another long game, where Black seemed to stand well for much of the time. The crucial moment came at move 37:

Black's central pawn mass is under pressure, but 37...Rf3! would keep him fully in the game, the point being that 38.Nxe5? fails to 38...Qa7+ 39.Kh1 Nxe5 40.Rxe5 Rf2 41 Qg1 Qb7, when Black wins. Instead, Greet chose the weaker 37...Rf5? and after 38.Kh2 Qe6 39.Bxc6 Qxc6 40.Rxe5 White had won a pawn, which he eventually converted some 25 moves later.

Round 8 report: Arise, Sir Simon!

As regular readers of these reports will know, short draws on the top four live boards are not all that popular with anyone, least of all certain boroughs of West London. But yesterday, a 12-move draw on board one proved to be one of the most well-received results of this year's tournament. The brief encounter between Williams and Malakhatko brought Simon the precious couple of rating points that he needed to take his rating over 2500, and thus earn him his Grandmaster title. There were fears that he might decide to pursue his usual maximalist approach, and go all out for the win, but instead, more rational counsel prevailed, and at move 12, he muttered the word "draw", one not often heard from his lips. Malakhatko was not in the mood to disappoint him, and the resultant handshake meant that England now has another Grandmaster.

Whilst this was happening, it was the foreign players who were taking pole position in the Masters. Mamedov survived an inferior position to beat Hebden with Black, whilst Chatalbashev was again making use of his expertise in the Modern Benoni. In round five, he had given a fine demonstration of the merits of Black's position, but yesterday he showed the other side of the coin, in equally impressive style.

Chatalbashev,Boris (2581) - Satyapragyan,Swayangsu (2404) [A70] Hastings Masters (8.3), 04.01.2008 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nc3 g6 7.h3 Bg7 8.e4 0?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú0 9.Bd3 Bd7 10.0?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú0 10.a4 looks a more natural reaction to Black's last, but Chatalbashev is pursuing a central strategy. 10...b5 11.Re1 c4 12.Bc2 Re8 13.a3 Na6 14.Bf4 Qb6

This appears to be a new move, as far as I can tell, but it is very logical. Just as Black has a queenside pawn majority in this opening, so White has a majority in the centre, and Chatalbashev quickly establishes a passed d-pawn. His plan now is simply to push the pawn through the middle of Black's position. 15...dxe5 16.Nxe5 Nc5 17.Qf3 a5 18.d6! Energetically pursuing his basic plan. Now 18...Qxd6 19 Nxg6 would result in the destruction of Black's kingside. 18...Be6 19.Rad1 b4 20.Na4 Qb5 21.Nxc5 Qxc5 22.Ba4! All very logical. White directs his pieces at the d7-square, which is the next stepping stone for his d-pawn. Nimzowitsch wrote that an enemy passed pawn is a dangerous criminal, who should be kept under lock and key. Black seems to have forgotten to bolt the cell door. 22...Rf8 23.Bg5 Ng4 An ingenious attempt to solve his problems tactically, but it fails to do so. 24.hxg4 Bxe5 25.Bc6 Ra6

The final blow. Now the mating threats against the king will cost Black his queen. 26...Qxe5 27.Bf6 Qxf6 27...Qc5 28.Qf4 leads to mate. 28.Qxf6 Rxc6 29.axb4 axb4 30.Qe7 Rcc8 31.d7 Rcd8 32.Qxb4 Bxg4 33.Rd4 Bxd7 34.Qd2 1?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú0

Round 9 report: Traditions upheld at Hastings - What a shame!

Hastings is a tournament where tradition has always been important, but some traditions are better than others. Yesterday was a day when it was some of the less fortunate traditions of grandmaster chess than were on display.

As we enter the final two rounds of the tournament, most spectators would expect the excitement to increase, as players fight it out for the top prizes. Alas, all too often, the opposite happens, and the leaders content themselves with agreeing short draws amongst themselves, to preserve their position. After the scandal of last year's final round here at Hastings, when three of the top four games were halved out inside 30 minutes' play, we had hoped that this year would be different. But already, we have the first signs that our hopes may be disappointed. On top board in round 9, Azerbaijan's Nidjat Mamedov had what appeared to be the ideal situation. Half a point ahead of the field, and with the white pieces. Surely the perfect platform to launch a serious bid to win the tournament? A win will leave him with one hand already on the trophy, going into the final round. But what happens? The "Wary Azeri" makes 7 quiet developing moves, and then offers his opponent a draw, which, needless to say, is accepted with alacrity!

Pathetic, really. I know of no more cynical branch of sport than that of boxing, but even in that world, it has for decades been accepted practice that fighters who fail to give of their best in the ring can have part or all of their purse withheld. It is surely time we introduced a similar system for grandmasters, who receive "appearance fees" and then fail to put in much of an appearance when it matters. Of course, Hastings could also introduce its own version of the so-called Sofia Rules, banning draw offers before move 50 - except that our version, for obvious reasons, would be called Battle Rules!

Fortunately, the other three show boards all produced fighting chess. Malakhatko moved into a share of the lead, by beating Pavlovic. It was the day of the latter's 44th birthday, and it is a long-standing tradition in chess, that people always play badly on their birthday. Back in the 1970s, Bill Hartston was one who used to suffer from this, since his birthday always fell in the middle of the British Championship. After losing several key games on the fateful day, he finally hit upon the idea of emulating royalty, by celebrating an "official birthday" on the rest day in the middle of the event, and ignoring the real thing when it came along. Once he started doing this, he won three birthday games in a row!

Pavlovic adopted a slightly different approach. Rather than expecting any presents from the top seed, Pavlovic himself was the first to offer a gift, in the form of the Benko Gambit pawn. However, Black ran into trouble in the early middlegame, and a sacrifice of two pieces for a rook proved unavailing. Meanwhile, Simon Williams was facing another unfortunate tradition, which is that one always loses one's first game after securing the Grandmaster title. He too was unable to break with the tradition, being thrashed in decisive fashion by Nick Pert:

Pert,Nicholas (2539) - Williams,Simon Kim (2475) [A43] Hastings Masters  (9.3), 05.01.2008 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 c5 3.d5 b5 4.Bg5 This is a favourite anti-Benko system of several English players, notably Hebden and Arkell.  4...Qb6 5.a4! Hebden usually prefers 5.Bxf6 here, but the text may well be stronger. Now 5...b4 is unattractive, since a subsequent Nbd2-c4 will come with tempo, but Simon's reply is also not very alluring. 5...bxa4 6.Nc3 Qxb2 7.Bd2

One is more used to seeing Simon on the white side of such positions. The immediate threat is 8.Rb1 Qa3 9.Nb5, so Black is forced to lose more time with his queen. 7...Qb6 8.e4 d6 9.e5 Continuing in energetic fashion. Black will soon come under pressure along the f3-a8 and a4-e8 diagonals. 9...dxe5 10.Nxe5 e6?! 10...a6 11.Qf3 Nbd7 looks compulsory, but Black's position is already very poor. After the text move, he is virtually lost. 11.Qf3 Qc7 12.Bb5+ Kd8 12...Nbd7 13.d6 Qb8 14.Rb1 is decisive. 13.Nc4 Bd6 14.Bg5 14.Nxd6 is also winning, but Pert prefers to pile on the pressure. 14...Rf8 15.0?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú0?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú0 Bb7 16.Ne4 Bxd5 17.Ncxd6 Qxd6

18.Rxd5! Qxd5 19.Rd1 Kc7 20.Rxd5 Nxd5 21.Qg3+ Kb7 22.Qd6 1?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú0

Round 10 report: Shameless

Sometimes it is depressing to be proved right:

Mamedov,Nidjat (2565) - Malakhatko,Vadim (2596) [A00] Hastings Masters (10.1), 06.01.2008 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3 Be7 7.Bf4 Nc6 8.Qd2 Be6 9.0?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú0?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú0 Qd7 10.Ng5 Bxg5 11.Bxg5 f6 12.Be3 0?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú0?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú0 13.Be2 Rhe8 14.Rhe1 a6 ?Ǭ??¢‚Ǩ‚Äú?Ǭ?

Mind you, this masterpiece was dragged out to almost 25 minutes' playing time, making it a veritable marathon alongside Mamedov's 9-minute effort the day before. Equally disappointing was the 15-move draw between Lalic and Flear on board four. A win for either would have brought a share of first place, rather than a share of 3rd-Umpteenth. But the Carpathian Warrior was White, and Flear evidently did not think much of his chances of winning with Black, so that too, ended after half an hour's play.

Fortunately, the white players on the other two show boards were endowed with rather more intestinal fortitude. Jones launched himself at Nick Pert's French Defence, in highly imaginative fashion:

White has already sacrificed a pawn, and now continued in va banque style: 14.Nh7!? Qh4 15.Bf4 Bf8 16.Bg3 Qe7 17.Qg4 Nb4 18.Bb5+ Bd7 

19.Nf6+?! Once again imaginative, but possibly not sound.  19...gxf6 20.exf6 Qxf6? White's main point is that 20...Qd8? loses to 21.Rxe6+, but instead, the computer's recommendation of 20...h5! looks to give Black the advantage. This carries the tactical point that after 21.Qh3, Black can continue as in the game with 21...Qxf6 22.Be5 and now 22...Qh6, defending the rook on h8, whilst after the alternative 21.fxe7 hxg4 22.exf8Q+ Rxf8, Black retains his extra pawn. 21.Be5 Qg5 22.Bxd7+ Kxd7 23.Qxg5 hxg5 24.Bxh8 The upshot of the complications is that White has an extra exchange for a pawn, but the powerful central pawn mass allows Black to hold the balance. The game was drawn after 24...Rc8 25.c3 dxc3 26.Bxc3 Nc6 27.Rd1 Bc5 28.g3 b5 29.Kg2 d4 30.f4 gxf4 31.gxf4 f6 32.Be1 Kd6 33.Bh4 Rf8 34.Rde1 Nd8 35.Bg3 Kd5 36.h4 Bd6 37.h5 Rh8 38.Bh4 Be7 39.Rh1 Rxh5 ?Ǭ??¢‚Ǩ‚Äú?Ǭ?

In the other top game, Chatalbashev outplayed Neverov from the opening, and soon had an ending with a healthy extra pawn. Then it all went wrong:

Although the extra passed pawn is currently blockaded, White must have excellent winning chances here. Play continued 27.Rbb7 g5 28.Bg3 Nd8 29.Rb5 f6 30.Nd2 Ra2 31.f4? White hopes to gets his bishop into play, but this move leads to pawn exchanges, which do not help his winning chances. exf4 32.exf4 Ne6 33.fxg5 Nxc5 Now the best White can hope for is a 2 v 1 ending on the same side, which he would be very unlikely to win. But it gets worse... 34.Rc7 Re8+ 35.Kd1? 35.Kf3 is better. Rd8 36.Rbxc5 Rdxd2+ 37.Ke1 hxg5 38.Rb5 Rxg2 Suddenly, White has gone from being a pawn up, to a pawn down. Even now, the paucity of pawns should enable him to draw, but doubtless shocked at the turn of events, the Bulgarian eventually lost his remaining pawn, and was ground down. 39.Kf1 Rgc2 40.Rxc2 Rxc2 41.h4 g4 42.Rf5 Rc4 43.h5 Kf7 44.Ra5 Bh6 45.Bh4 Rc6 46.Ra7+ Ke6 47.Rh7 Bf4 48.Rg7 Kf5 49.Ra7 Rc1+ 50.Kg2 Rc2+ 51.Kf1 Rh2 52.Ra5+ Be5 53.Bg3 Rxh5 54.Bxe5 fxe5 55.Kg2 Kf4 56.Ra1 Rh3 57.Ra8 Rg3+ 58.Kf2 Rf3+ 59.Kg2 e4 60.Rf8+ Ke3 61.Rg8 g3 62.Ra8 Kd4 63.Rd8+ Kc4 64.Rc8+ Kd4 65.Rd8+ Kc3 66.Re8 Re3 67.Re7 Kd2 68.Re8 Re1 69.Kxg3 e3 70.Rd8+ Ke2 71.Kg2 Ra1 72.Rb8 Ke1 73.Rh8 Ra7 0?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú1

A tragedy for Chatalbashev, but one must admire Neverov's tenacity. It is the third year in a row that he has finished outright or shared first at Hastings, and in each of the last two years, he has done so by winning in the last round, whilst his rivals were busy halving out. Perhaps there is some justice in the world after all?

So, another Hastings ends. As always, it was a great 10 days, enjoyed immensely by all those involved. It is just a shame that, for the second year in a row, the lion's share of the prize money has been scooped by cynical ex-Soviet GMs, who profit from what in many other sports would be regarded as little more than match-fixing. Chess in general, and Hastings in particular, will never attract serious commercial sponsorship until this scourge of non-games is removed. For now, though, I bid you farewell for another twelve months, and hope that you have enjoyed the past 10 days' coverage of the Celebration 83rd Hastings International Chess Congress.

Steve Giddins

PS. One final point that I almost forgot. One of the evening entertainment events here at Hastings has been a series of "Master Classes", in which one of the GMs will spend an hour or so at the demo board, going over games played by the amateur players. I hear on the grapevine that our Azeri hero, Mr Mamedov, was asked to do such a Master Class on the night before the final round. He declined, on the grounds that "I have an important game tomorrow"!! Don't ya love him?


Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

Between 2007 and 2013 Peter was running ChessVibes, a major source for chess news and videos acquired by in October 2013.

As our Director News & Events, Peter writes many of our news reports. In the summer of 2022, The Guardian’s Leonard Barden described him as “widely regarded as the world’s best chess journalist.”

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