Saturday, 1 December 2018

Soviet School of Sadism

As we all know, chess has a strong element of sado-masochism about it. Have you ever noticed how a crowd gathers round a board when some gruesomely obvious winning line or checkmate is about to happen? Hands up anyone who claims not to have done this? You are either a saint or, more likely, a liar. I do it myself, though it makes me feel like one of those awful rubberneckers who peers across at road accidents on motorways or even one of those people who once attended public executions. Even more despicably, I have been known to take photos...

... but enough of the self-loathing, let's cut to the chase. The following has a certain flavour of sadism. It comes from the live broadcast of the Carlsen-Caruana tie-breaks after Fabi had resigned the first game. Peter Svidler and Anish Giri were providing viewers with a thumbnail of how to win in the following sort of position which incidentally didn't happen in the game but might have done had Black carried on playing rather longer than was sensible. Of course, Fabi knew better than to do that.

The position shown above is a reasonably easy win for White though there are a few pitfalls for the unwary along the way if you are careless. The quickest way starts 1.h7+ and is actually forced mate in five but Alexander Grischuk mentioned another way which, though considerably slower, is much wittier and arguably more sadistic, offering Black the briefest glimpse of salvation before having it cruelly snatched away.

Grischuk's way begins 1.g7 and Black has nothing better than to move his rook along the back rank, say, 1...Ra8 (after 1...Kh7 White simply plays 2.Rf8 and Black can't stop the g-pawn promoting or Rh8+ followed by same; the black rook can give a few checks but the white king strolls over to the queenside to close the game out). 

Now comes the fun part: 2.Rf8+: it's easy to imagine a Black player suddenly getting his hopes up. He sees 2...Rxf8 3.gxf8+ Kxf8 and for one ecstatic moment envisages a draw. But it's a mirage. 2...Rxf8 ("Just when I think I'm out...") 3.Kg6! ("... they pull me back in!")

Giri and Svidler snickered on being shown this. Giri (to Svidler): "Have you seen this before?" Svidler: "No." Giri: "Quite embarrassingly, me neither." To which the laconic Grischuk responded: "Soviet school!"