For the holidays, chess stars rise in the East

It is that time of year again when we start looking for that star out of the East. Right now, we have a whole constellation full of them.

The year 2022 may be remembered when the chess world’s longtime center of gravity in Russia and the West moved decisively to the east.

Consider: Chinese GM Ding Liren has a chance to become the first official world champion from China when he squares off against Russia’s GM Ian Nepomniachtchi this coming spring for the throne vacated by longtime champ Magnus Carlsen of Norway. The next women’s world champ will also be Chinese, as WGM Lei Tingjie defeated Ukrainian star GM Anna Muzychuk for the right to take on reigning Chinese women’s champ GM Ju Wenjun.

And it’s by no means just China. India has a passel of rising young superstars ready to inherit the torch from the great former world champ GM Viswanathan Anand.

Kazakhstan’s women took home an unexpected bronze at the Olympiad in Chennai, India, while Mongolia’s women scored one of the biggest upsets of the event by defeating high-powered U.S. women’s team and pretty much ending the U.s. women’s hopes for a medal.

And then there was the stunning first-ever Olympiad open gold medal for Uzbekistan, followed up by a strong second place at the recent FIDE World Team Championships, just behind China. Uzbek GM Nodirbeck Abdusattorov, just 18, is one of the game’s most promising young stars, earning an individual silver medal on Board 1 in Chennai, capturing the 2021 world rapid championship and dominating the strong recent 8th Vugar Gashimov Tournament in Baku, Azerbaijan, clinching first place with five(1) rounds to go in the 18-round rapid/blitz format.

Lei turned in a smooth performance in the one decisive game of her four-game final against the veteran Muzychuk from the White side of a Grunfeld Defense, winning this opening’s always sharp fight for the center on 17. Rae1 cxd5 18. exd5 Bf6 19. Re4 Rfc8?! (Nc8 20. Rc1 Nd6, getting the Black knight to a far better square, was indicated here) 20. Bg4! Rd8?! (digging the hole deeper; intriguing here was the exchange sacrifice 20…Nc4!? 21. Bxc8 Rxc8 — Black will likely pick up another pawn and White’s easy developmental flow is disrupted) 21. c4, and White has a powerful pawn center, an effective bishop pair and a clear initiative.

White cashes in her positional chips on 24. g4 h4 (see diagram) 25. Qe3! g5 (the threat was 26. g5 Bg7 27. Bg4 Nxc4 28. Rxc4 Qxc4 29. Bxd7, winning a piece; but now the pressure costs Muzychuk a critical pawn) 26. Bd3 Na4 27. Bxe7 Rxe7 28. Rxe7 Qxe7 29. Qxe7 Bxe7 30. Rxa7 Nc5 31. Bf5,  when White meets 31…Rd8 with the simple plan 32. Kg2 a6 33. Rc7 b6 34. Rc6 Rb8 35. f4 gxf4 36. Kf3 Kg7 37. Kxf4, and Black is paralyzed.

With 36. d7 Ke7 37. f4!, Lei opens up a second front on the kingside with the Black king tied to the d-pawn. In the final position, after 41. g5 Nb7 42. Ke5, Muzychuk can’t hold back both the d- and g-pawns indefinitely and resigned.


Abdusattorov’s triumph at the Gashimov featured a fascinating game right out of the gate, a Round 1 rapid battle with veteran Azeri GM Rauf Mamedov. In a deeply unbalanced King’s Indian battle, Mamedov as Black sacrifices a piece to get two fearsome connected passed pawns on b3 and c2, forcing White into eternal vigilance as he tries to exploit his own assets. In a wickedly complex position, Black apparently misses a saving trick after 26. Be4 Rbc8 27. Qxe6+, when 27…Qf7! 28. Qxf7+ Kxf7 29. Bd5+Kg7 30. Bxb3 c1=Q 31. Rxc1 Rxc1+ 32. Kg2 Rfc8 was the way to preserve equality).

White’s 28. Rc4! eventually allows Abdusattorov to get both queen and rook on the c-file behind the dangerous pawn, and White picks just the right time to simplify on 35. Qxc8! Rxc8 36. Rxc8+ Kg7 37. Rc7+ Kf6 38. Bc4!, meeting 38…c1=Q?? with 39. Rf7 mate. The computer says White is winning this ending, but it was no doubt a lot trickier over the board at rapid time controls. On 44. Bxh7? (instead of the game’s 44. R6c5), for example, it’s a draw with the tricky 44….Qd5+ 45. Be4 Qxe4+! 46. Rxe4 Kxc6 47. Rb4 c1=Q 48. Rxb3 Qxg5 49. Rf3, and White saves the half-point by setting up an impenetrable fortress.

With 47. Bxc2 Qf1+ 48. Ke3 Qg1+ 49. Kd2 bxc2 50. Kxc2 Qxh2 51. Re5, the terrifying pawns are no more, though White still must be extra careful to shield himself from queen checks and perpetual threats as he nurses a key pawn down the board. It takes a while (and a ton of technique). but it’s mission accomplished after 75. Kg8 Qa2+ 78. R8e6!, and Black resigns facing lines such as 76…Qa8+ (Qf2 77. g7 Qf4 78. Kh7 Qh2+ 79. Kg6 Qg1+ 80. Kf7 Qf1+ 81. Rf5) 77. Kf7 Qh8 78. g7 Qh7 79. Ra6 Kc7 80. Re7+ Kb8 81. Rh6! and wins.

Thanks to all my readers, and here’s to good times and good results in 2023!

(Click on the image above for a larger view of the chessboard.)

Lei-Muzychuk, Women’s Candidates Final, Game 4, Khiva, Uzbekistan, December 2022

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Qa4+ Nd7 8. Nf3 O-O 9. Be2 Nb6 10. Qb4 Qd6 11. O-O Bg4 12. Qb3 Be6 13. d5 Bg4 14. h3 Bxf3 15. Bxf3 c6 16. Ba3 Qc7 17. Rae1 cxd5 18. exd5 Bf6 19. Re4 Rfc8 20. Bg4 Rd8 21. c4 h5 22. Be2 Rac8 23. Re1 Rd7 24. g4 h4 25. Qe3 g5 26. Bd3 Na4 27. Bxe7 Rxe7 28. Rxe7 Qxe7 29. Qxe7 Bxe7 30. Rxe7 Nc5 31. Bf5 Kf8 32. Rxf7+ Kxf7 33. Bxc8 b6 34. Bf5 Kf6 35. d6 Nb7 36. d7 Ke7 37. f4 gxf4 38. Kf2 Nd6 39. Kf3 Nxc4 40. Kxf4 Nd6 41. g5 Nb7 42. Ke5 Black resigns.

Abdusattorov-Mamedov, 8th Vugar Gashimov Memorial Rapid, Baku, Azerbaijan, December 2002

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 O-O 5. Nc3 d6 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. d5 Na5 8. b3 c5 9. Bb2 a6 10. O-O Rb8 11. a4 e6 12. dxe6 Bxe6 13. Ra2 b5 14. axb5 axb5 15. Nd5 bxc4 16. Bxf6 Bxf6 17. Nxf6+ Qxf6 18. Rxa5 cxb3 19. Nd2 Qc3 20. Ra4 c4 21. Ne4 Qe5 22. f4 Qg7 23. Ng5 c3 24. Nxe6 fxe6 25. Qxd6 c2 26. Be4 Rbc8 27. Qxe6+ Kh8 28. Rc4 Rce8 29. Qc6 Qa7+ 30. Kg2 Rc8 31. Qd5 Qg7 32. Qe6 Rce8 33. Qc6 Qb2 34. Bd3 Rc8 35. Qxc8 Rxc8 36. Rxc8+ Kg7 37. Rc7+ Kf6 38. Bc4 g5 39. fxg5+ Ke5 40. Bd3 Kd6 41. Rc4 Qe5 42. Rf6+ Ke7 43. Rfc6 Kd7 44. R6c5 Qe3 45. Rc3 Qd2 46. Kf3 Qe1 47. Bxc2 Qf1+ 48. Ke3 Qg1+ 49. Kd2 bxc2 50. Kxc2 Qxh2 51. Re5 Qh1 52. Rd3+ Kc6 53. Kd2 Qa1 54. Re6+ Kc5 55. Ke3 Qc1+ 56. Ke4 Qf1 57. Re5+ Kc6 58. Ke3 Kb6 59. Rd6+ Kc7 60. Rf6 Qg1+ 61. Kf3 Kd7 62. Rh6 Qb1 63. Kg4 Qb4+ 64. e4 Qe1 65.Rxh7+ Kd6 66. Rd5+ Ke6 67. Rh6+ Ke7 68. Re5+ Kd7 69. Kf5 Qxg3 70. Rhe6 Qh4 71. Qh8 72. Re8 Qh2 73. Kg7 Qb2 74. g6 Qh2 75. Kg8 Qa2+ 76. R8e6 Black resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.


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