Saturday, October 1, 2022

A timely tribute to the glories of Ukrainian chess

If his loss to world champion Magnus Carlsen in their lopsided title match last year is having any hangover effects, GM Ian Nepomniachtchi is hiding them well.

The Russian star racked up a stunning four wins in the first half of the eight-grandmaster, 14-round FIDE Candidates tournament now underway in Madrid to pick Carlsen’s next challenger, and remains in the driver’s seat after holding American pursuer GM Fabiano Caruana to a draw with Black in Monday’s Round 9. The draw preserves Nepo’s full-point lead over Caruana with just five games to go.

Caruana was set back by a loss to fellow American GM Hikaru Nakamura in Round 8 over the weekend, and pre-tournament favorites GM Ding Liren of China and Iranian-born Alireza Firouzja of France are treading water with below-50% scores.

Tuesday is a rest day and play continues through July 4, with a playoff on July 5 if necessary. We’ll have the concluding action and a preview of the title match in upcoming columns.


Chess is no stranger to quickie books. Several came out in the weeks after the end of the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match, and more hit the shelves in the wake of the world championship matches that followed.

Most are assembled and published with the harmless motivation of making a fast buck on a hot topic. “From Ukraine with Love for Chess,” a new compilation of games by some of the country’s very best players, is a very different animal.

Former FIDE world champ Ruslan Ponomariov started work on the anthology barely two weeks after Feb. 24 — the day Russian forces invaded his country. Contributors include the great Lviv-based GM Vasyl Ivanchuk, GM Anton Korobov, the star chess-playing sisters Anna and Mariya Muzychuk and Ponomariov himself.

Longtime Ukrainian star GM Oleg Romanishin offers a fascinating chapter on his secret training matches with the great Soviet world champ Mikhail Tal in the 1970s, and Dutch GM Jan Timman surveys his favorite Ukrainian problem composers. Publisher NewInChess ( and the authors are donating all proceeds from the sale of the book to Ukrainian charities dealing with the fallout from the war.

Odesa native GM Mikhail Golubev, the 1996 Ukrainian national champion, is perhaps better known today as a writer and editor of Ukrainian Chess Online, but he can still orchestrate an attack when he enters the lists. Watch him dismantle Romanian FM Stefan Tomici’s Winawer French set-up from a 2019 game included in the book, with notes by the winner.

I actually have always liked Black’s 4 … b6 idea, addressing directly the “problem bishop” in this line, but Tomici’s light-squared bishop never plays a part in the ensuing play. White 7. Bb5+ c6?! (Bd7 may be better here) 8. Ba4!, neatly avoids a trade of bishops and Golubev soon answers a mistimed queenside push from his opponent with a classic central strike.

Thus: 12. Re1 b5? (Qc7 is tougher, but White already has much the better play) 13. Bc2 Nc6 14. Nf4 cxd4 15. Nxe6! fxe6 16. Nxd4!, and now Golubev notes that 16 … Nxd4? loses at once to 17. Qh5+ Ke7 18. Bg5+ Nf6 19. exd4, while 16 … Ndxe5 17. Nxc6 Nxc6 18. Rxe6+ Ne7 runs into 19. Qh5+ Kd7 20. Qh3! Ke8 21. Bf4 Kf7 22. Rae1, and White will soon crash through.

White ups the sacrificial ante with 16 … Ncxe5 17. Nxe6 Qb6 18. Rxe5!? (18. Bf5 was also good, but the full rook sacrifice puts a huge defensive strain on the second player) Nxe5 19. Qxd5. With a rook and a knight hanging, Black misses the computer-like 19 … Bc8! 20. Nxf8 Rxf8 21. Qxe5+ Qe6 22. Qxb5+ Bd7 23. Qf1, with some survival chances, instead going down quickly on 19 … Nc6?! 20. Be3 Qb7 21. Qh5+ g6 22. Bxg6+! hxg6 23. Qxg6+ Kd7 (Qf7 24. Nc7+ Ke7 25. Bc5+ wins the queen) 24. Rd1+ Be6 (Kc8 25. Qe8+) 25. Nc5+ Kc8 26. Rxd6, and Black resigns. One fun winning line would be 26 … Ne7 27. Qe6+ Kb8 28. Bf4 Rh4 29. Rd7+! Rxf4 30. Qd6+ Ka7 31. Qxa6+ Kb8 32. Qxb7 mate.


Timman has high praise for the work of a number of Ukrainian composers, including the sparkling pawn ending studies by Mikhail Zinar, who died last year at the age of 60. Today’s diagram offers one of Zinar’s best, with the key to White’s drawing hopes the fact that a king guarding a lone c-pawn on the seventh rank against a queen always has the option to run to the corner, as then … Qxc7 is a stalemate.

Armed with the knowledge, White can just barely hold what looks like a dead-lost position with 1. Kb7! (only this, as 1. Kc7 gets in the way of White’s own coming passed pawn, and on 1. Kd7? c5 2. d3 c4! 3. cxd4 d3, the Black pawn queens with check) c5 2. d3 Kg6! (again remember: 2 … c4? 3. dxc4 d3 4. g6! Kxg6 5. c5 d2 6. c6 d1=Q 7. c7 is a book draw after lines such as 7 … Qd7 8. Kb8 Qb5+ 9. Ka8 Qc6+ 10. Kb8 Qb6+ 11. Ka8! Qxc7 stalemate; Black keeps the g-pawn on the board to frustrate White’s stalemate hopes) 3. Ka7! (staying close; losing is 3. Kb6? c4 4. dxc4 d3 5. c5 d2 6. c6 d1=Q 7. c7 Qd7 8. Kb7 Kf5! and the stalemate trick is sidestepped) Kf7 6. g6+! Kg8 7. g7! Kxg7 (with Black finally forced to take the pawn, White returns to the original plan) 6. Kb6!, and it’s the familiar c7-pawn draw after 6 … c4 7. dxc4 d3 8. c5 d2 9. c6 d1=Q 10. c7 Qd7 11. Kb7 Kf6 12. Kb8.
Zinar packed a lot of nice ideas into a position with just two kings and four pawns.

Golubev-Tomici, Lviv, Ukraine, 2019

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 b6 5. a3 Bf8 6. Nf3 Ne7 7. Bb5+ c6 8. Ba4 a5 9. Ne2 Ba6 10. c3 Nd7 11. O-O c5 12. Re1 b5 13. Bc2 Nc6 14. Nf4 cxd4 15. Nxe6 fxe6 16. Nxd4 Ncxe5 17. Nxe6 Qb6 18. Rxe5 Nxe5 19. Qxd5 Nc6 20. Be3 Qb7 21. Qh5+ g6 22. Bxg6+ hxg6 23. Qxg6+ Kd7 24. Rd1+ Bd6 25. Nc5+ Kc8 26. Rxd6 Black resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]

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