Malcolm Pein on…Drawing the Poison


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Malcolm Pein returns to his coverage of the Tata Steel Masters for today’s Daily Telegraph chess column, with a lesson on drawing the poison from one of the sharpest of all Sicilian lines.

Malcolm Pein on…Drawing the Poison

Nils Grandelius regained the lead of the Tata Steel Masters by demolishing Candidate and world number five Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Sweden’s number one boldly took on the Poisoned Pawn variation of the Sicilian Najdorf. Grandelius is the only player on 3.5/5, with four players on 3/5, but there is along way to go in the 14-player all-play-all.

The other six games were drawn, with Magnus Carlsen held by Alexander Donchenko, who was a last-minute replacement for Daniil Dubov. The German GM navigated a complicated struggle with what commentator Peter Leko on Chess24 described as ‘perfect play’.

Grandelius’s 15.Bb3 was a novelty. Caruana defeated MVL with 15.Bc4 at Norway Chess
in 2019, but defences were subsequently found. The main line is 10…Nc6 11.fxe6 fxe6 12.Nxc6 bxc6 13.Be2 Be7, when 14.0–0 0–0 15.Rb3 Qc5+ 16.Be3 Qe5 17.Bd4 Qa5 18.Bb6 is a draw, or 14.e5 dxe5 15.Bxf6 Bxf6 16.Bh5+ g6 17.Ne4, as most recently seen in Karjakin-Duda, chess24, 2020. MVL tried to hard to win. After 19…Nh5! 20.Rf5 Nf6 White has nothing better than a repetition of moves.

Accepting the Poisoned Pawn

N. Grandelius – M. Vachier Lagrave
Tata Steel Masters

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 8.Qd2 Qxb2 9.Rb1 Qa3 10.f5 Be7 11.fxe6 Bxe6 12.Nxe6 fxe6 13.Bc4 Nbd7 14.Bxe6 Nc5 15.Bb3 Rc8 16.0–0 Nxb3 17.Rxb3 Qc5+ 18.Be3 Qc4 19.Rf4 Qe6? (A strange move. White just takes a free pawn and invades with his rook) 20.Rxb7 0–0 21.h3 Rb8 22.Ra7 Ra8 23.Rxa8 Rxa8 24.Nd5 Rb8 25.c4 Bd8? (25…Nxd5 26.exd5 Qg6 was a better try) 26.Qf2 Nd7 (26…Rc8 27.Bd4 Rxc4 28.Bxf6 Bxf6 29.Nxf6+ gxf6 30.Rxf6 Rc1+ 31.Kh2 Qe5+ was the last chance to resist. MVL was having a bad day at the office and misplaces his bishop) 27.Bd4 Bg5? 28.Rf5 Bh6 29.Kh2 Rc8 30.Qg3 g6 31.Qh4!

Drawing the Poison

31…Bf8 (31…gxf5 32.exf5 Qxf5 33.Ne7+ wins and if 31…gxf5 32.exf5 Qe8 33.Ne7+ Kf7 34.Nxc8 Qxc8 35.Qxh6) 32.Rf6! Qe8 (32…Nxf6 33.Nxf6+ Kf7 34.Qxh7+ Bg7 35.Ng4 Rg8 36.Nh6+ wins)

Test Your Strength

N. Grandelius – M. Vachier Lagrave

White to play and win

Highlight the text below this line to reveal the answer.

33.Rxf8+! Qxf8 34.Ne7+ Kf7 35.Nxc8 1-0 If 35…Qxc8 36.Qxh7+ Ke6 37.Qxg6+ is hopeless.

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