World Chess’s columnist explains how Gawain Jones won the Challengers section at the elite tournament with some timely victories against top rivals.
Gawain Jones of England punched his ticket to the Masters section of next year’s Tata Steel Chess Tournament with a narrow victory in the Challengers section last Sunday. He edged out Markus Ragger of Austria, the top seed, on tiebreaks as both scored nine points.
Jeffery Xiong of the United States, who led after 11 rounds, but lost in Round 12 to allow Jones and Ragger to leapfrog him, finished in third with 8.5 points.
Jones’s margin over Ragger was partly built on his victory in their face-to-face meeting in Round 6. Had Ragger not lost, it was unlikely that anyone would have caught him. In the game, Jones, who had White, used a subtle idea in the Scotch that gave him good long-term pressure for a pawn. He then went on to win a nice rook-and-minor piece endgame.
Jones, Gawain C B vs. Ragger, Markus
79th Tata Steel GpB |Wijk aan Zee NED |Round 6.2 |20 Jan 2017 |ECO: C45 |1-0
1. e4e52. Nf3Nc63. d4exd44. Nxd4Nf6
( 4... Bc5is the other main branch,
( 4... Bb4+is an interesting third way that's growing in popularity.
The point is to take c3 away from White's knight, as only 5. c3offers White
prospects for an edge. )
5. Nxc6bxc66. e5Qe77. Qe2Nd58. c4Nb6
( 8... Ba6is an equally important variation that has also been played many thousands of
( 9... Qe6is the main move, making room for the bishop's
( 10. Qe4is another option. )
10... O-O-O11. Bb2Re812. f4f613. O-O-Ofxe514. fxe5Qxe515. Qxe5Rxe5There aren't a huge
number of games to reach this position, but many of them have involved
grandmasters, including several featuring super-grandmasters on both sides of
the board. White is down a pawn, but for the moment Black's minor pieces on
the queenside are out of the action. That gives White time to create some
counterplay, and in previous games White has used that time to central and
develop with Bd3, Ne4 and Rhf1. Jones chooses instead a near-novelty, a move
that had been played only once before and not at the GM level. 16. a4
( 16... d5?is the move
Black would like to play, aiming to liberate his minor pieces, but it's a
simple mistake here due to 17. Nxd5 )
17. g3Re8Safeguarding the rook is
desirable, but the loss of time helps White build his initiative.
( 17... Be7was better. 18. Bg2Bg5+19. Kc2Rhe820. Bxc6Nd7White has regained
his pawn, but Black is fully mobilized, or will be after playing ...Bb7 in the
very near future. )
( 18... Kd8also makes sense, aiming to
bring the bishop back into the game with ...Bc8. White keeps an edge with 19. Bg2!Bb720. Ne4Kc8!Sidestepping Nc5, which was the point of White's
starting with 18.Bh3+ rather than the immediate 18.Bg2. 21. a5Nd722. Rhe1c523. Kc2White retains an initiative that more than compensates for the pawn. )
( 19. Kc2Kd8!20. Rhe1Rxe121. Rxe1Bc822. Ne4keeps enough
compensation for the pawn, but Black is holding. )
19... Rxe120. Rxe1Kd821. Ne2!?A nice idea. Instead of heading for e4, as in many of the lines above
(including the games with 16.Bd3), Jones directs the knight to a new set of
squares: d4 or f4, and from there squares like c6, e6, f5, and h5 are all
( 21. Ne4h622. Kc2Bc8is also possible; as usual,
White has enough for the pawn, but at least objectively nothing more. )
21... Ne5Offering to return the pawn to break the bind and finally develop the
( 21... Nc5!22. Kc2Bc823. Bxc8Kxc824. Nf4Kd7keeps Black in
good health. From here Black would like to play ...Rg8 and ...Be7, finishing
his development and breaking the bind while holding on to the extra pawn. )
22. Nf4Bc823. Bxc8Kxc824. Bxe5dxe525. Nd3!
( 25. Rxe5g6and next ...Bd6
gives Black equality, despite the ugly-looking queenside pawns. )
( 25... g6!26. Nxe5Bb427. Re2Alternatively, ...Re828. Kd1Rd8+29. Kc2Re830. Kd3Rd8+31. Ke4Kb7The point of Black's
checks is that his rook may soon invade. )
26. b4!A very good and very
instructive move. White is not anxious to regain his pawn; it is more
important for him to maintain as much of a grip on the position as he can. 26... Rf8
( 26... Re8!27. c5Ironically, Black's best is 27... Be7!, leaving the pawn
completely unprotected and allowing White to pin the bishop. All the same:
after 28. Rxe5a629. Kc2Kd7Black plays ...Bf6 next and is completely
27. Kc2a628. Re2Rf1?!Oddly, activating the rook is inaccurate,
while putting it on the passive e8 square was best. Rules of thumb have
exceptions, and in this case it's due to a critical tactical point.
( 28... Re8! )
29. c5Be730. Nxe5Bf6Black's misfortune is that
( 30... Kb7?walks into 31. Nc4!, threatening not only the obvious 32.Rxe7 but 32.Na5+
followed by Nxc6. In conjunction with White's rook going to the 8th rank, if
possible, Black's king may end up in a mating net. The following (slightly
cooperative) line is illustrative: 31... Bf632. Re8!Ra133. Na5+Ka734. Nxc6+Kb735. b5axb536. axb5Ra8Else Rb8#, but 37. Rxa8Kxa838. Kd3is completely winning for White. )
( 31... Rf3was better,
keeping White's cut off. )
( 32... Rd133. Ne5?!Rd5! )
33. Kc4Ra1Here further checks help White:
( 33... Rc1+34. Kd5Rd1+35. Ke6 )
( 33... Rd1doesn't help either - compare this to 32...Rd1. 34. Ne5 )
( 34. Kd5!Rxa435. Re8+Kd736. Ra8!followed by Nb8+ and Nxa6, winning. )
34... Rxa435. g4?A big mistake
that could have resulted in Ragger's qualifying for next year's Masters Group
( 35. c6!was correct, threatening Re8+ followed by Nb7. After 35... Kb836. Re8+Ka737. Rc8Be538. Kd5Bd639. Nc4Rxb440. Nxd6cxd641. c7wins right away. )
( 35... Ra1!36. Kd5Rg137. h3Bc3!38. Kc4Re1is equal, though
Black may still have a modicum of suffering yet to endure. )
( 36. Re6 )
36... Kd7??Time trouble has probably been rearing its ugly head,
and after a couple of errors back and forth White gets back on track.
( 36... Ra3! )
37. c6+!Very nice. White achieves the setup he could have had
on move 35, and once he reaches move 40 working out the last details will be a
snap. 37... Kc8
( 37... Kxc638. Re6+Kd739. Nc5+is the simplest line, winning
the rook outright. )
( 37... Kd638. Nc5also wins on the spot, threatening
both Nxa4 and Re6#. )
( 37... Kd8doesn't help either: 38. Nc5, and if
Black preserves the rook it's mate in three. 38... Ra3Threatening mate, but White
comes first. 39. Nb7+Kc840. Re8+Bd841. Rxd8# )
( 38. Re8+Bd839. Na5was the most precise way, but Jones's method is good enough. )
38... Ra139. Re8+Bd840. Ne6Rd141. h4Pushing the pawns as far as they can safely
go, in anticipation of the coming pure rook ending. 41... g642. Kb3Rd243. Rg8h544. g5Rd6Time to cash in. 45. Nxd8Rxd846. Rxg6Some rook endings are
drawn, but not this one. Black's king is hopelessly passive, and eliminating
its back rank vulnerability costs time while making it even more passive. 46... Kb847. Rh6Ka748. Rxh5Rd3+49. Kc4Rg350. Kc5
Another key victory for Jones was against Vladimir Dobrov of Russia in the penultimate round. As in the previous game, Jones found an interesting and unobvious new idea in the opening – this time a 2.c3 Sicilian – and was rewarded with an overwhelming advantage in the middlegame. An error by Jones gave Dobrov a chance to survive, but Dobrov was outcalculated in the complications, allowing Jones to win in style.
Jones, Gawain C B vs. Dobrov, Vladimir
79th Tata Steel GpB |Wijk aan Zee NED |Round 12.1 |28 Jan 2017 |ECO: B40 |1-0
14. Qa4!A nice zwischenzug Dobrov may have overlooked. 14... Bd7
( 14... exd4??15. Qxc6+ )
15. Ne4!A second zwischenzug, fighting for the c5 square. 15... Qb8
( 15... Qe716. Be3Nxe317. fxe3Bc5looks like Black's best choice. White
should simply ignore the threat to the e-pawn and put the initiative first: 18. Rd1!Bxe319. Nd6+Kf820. Nf7!Rg821. Bb3!White threatens Qe4,
forking e3 and h7, and Qc4 should likewise be taken seriously, threatening
various discovered attacks on the rook on g8. )
( 16. Bc5!is also strong: 16... Bxc517. Nxc5Qxb218. O-ONb619. Qd1Rd820. Qh5+!g621. Qh4Nxc422. Nxd7Kxd723. Qxc4Ke724. Qc5+Black's extra pawn matters less than his precarious king. )
18. O-O-OThis sort of position was more likely to occur in games between strong 19th century players than in those of our day. White is almost completely mobilized while Black's king is
caught in the center, his rooks are both out of play, and the remaining three
pieces aren't doing their jobs very well either. White's immediate threat is
Bf7+, and queen moves to c8 or b7 allow Nd6+. Black can't move the Bd7 because
of Qxc6+, and if 18...Qc7 then 19.Qb3 is strong. Black decides therefore to
allow Bf7+ under the best possible circumstances. 18... Qb619. Bf7+Kxf720. Rxd7Rhb8Now Black is almost "castled", he has exchanged off one of his less
active pieces for White's beautiful bishop, and threatens to grab not
primarily the e-pawn but the b-pawn, which would do serious damage to White's
cause. Only one move lets White keep a serious advantage here, and Jones finds
( 20... Qxe3+?21. Kb1Rhd822. Nd6+Kf823. Qc4!is a nasty shot
Black cannot allow. )
21. Qc4+!Kf822. b4?It was better to play
( 22. b3, even though it allows the possibility of .
..Ba3. 22... Qxe3+23. Kd1!White threatens Nd6 again, and if Black's queen
gives up the defense of the c5 square, White can move the knight there with
great effect. For example: 23... Qh6To meet 24.Nd6 with 24...Qg6. 24. Nc5!Qh5+25. g4Qf726. Ne6+Kg827. Kc2With a lethal bind,
not to mention the threat of Nc7. )
22... Qxe3+23. Kb1The threat is Nd6,
but Black has two very decent defenses to this.
( 23. Kd1Qh624. Nc5Qh5+25. g4Qf726. Ne6+Kg827. Qxc6The difference between 22.b3 and 22.b4 can
be seen here. After ...Rc828. Qd5Rab829. Kc2 )
23... Rb5?This loses outright. Black
has seen White's first threat...
( 23... Qf4isn't as good as 23...Qh6, but it's keeps the game going. 24. Qxc6Qf525. Ka1Rd826. Nc5Kf727. g4!Qxg428. Qd5+Kg629. Ne6Rxd730. Qxd7Qg231. Rc1 )
24. Nd6Rd5- but he has missed a second threat. Were it not
for this second threat, White would be just about lost. 25. Rxe7!Rd8!?A nice try, again forcing White to find a little trick to keep his advantage.
( 25... Kxe7?26. Nf5+is one cruel point, and )
( 25... Rxd6?26. Qf7#is another. )
26. Rf7+!Kg827. Rxg7+!As on e7, so too on g7: the rook is immune from capture due to Nf5+ winning the queen. 27... Kh8
( 27... Kf828. Rf7+Kg829. Rxf6 )
28. Rg3!A final critical resource, after which all doubts are gone. White is up a piece, and any move that saves Black's queen
will allow Nf7, mating. (Even if it weren't mate, it would leave White a full
rook after Nxd8, which is itself easily sufficient for the win.)
Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.
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