Wednesday 3 September 2008

Armageddon in Nalchik

I've just been watching edited highlights of the Armageddon game between Monika Socko and Sabine Foisor in round one of the Women's World Championship in Nalchik.

Monika Socko of Poland had White and six minutes to win, playing against Sabina Foisor of Romania who had Black and five minutes to get a draw. It came down to a clock-thumping finale which was caught on film by a bystander. The final minute or so can be seen as part of this report on ChessBase.

The moves were being blitzed out as a tremendous rate with pieces being knocked over right left and centre. It came down to king and knight versus king and knight and a few seconds later Foisor's time ran out ("flag fall" in old terminology, though there is no flag on digital clocks).

The arbiters on the spot ruled that the game was drawn on the grounds that White could not force a win, though it is possible for Black to allow herself to be mated (e.g. wKc7, wNb6, bKa8, bNa7 - later note: credit to Sean Hewitt for noticing that the original position I gave here was not checkmate! I have moved the black knight from b8 to a7...). However, this is not the most logical interpretation of article 9.6 of the laws of chess ("the game is drawn when a position is reached from which a checkmate cannot occur by any possible series of legal moves, even with the most unskilled play...") and the appeal committee overruled the arbiters and awarded White a win.

However, one thing that nobody else seems to have noticed so far is that Foisor could have forced a draw in the final sequence. I reconstructed the game from the video and the diagram on the left above shows a position which arose just before the end. The game proceeded: 1...Ke6 2 Nc5+ Kf5 3 Nd3 Ke4 4 Nb4?? and now we reach the position on the right, above. Amazingly, Black didn't snap off White's knight with 4...Nxb4 which would have given her the draw she needed to qualify, but played 4...Kd4?? 5 Nc6+ Kc5 6 Ne5 Kd6 7 Nd3 Nf6 8 Nf4 Nd5 at which point Black lost on time. In truth, it is very hard to see the actual moves played but I'm pretty sure they were as above. I do hope poor Sabina Foisor doesn't watch the video as she will be kicking herself for missing a 'draw in one'.