In chess what is the matador defense

Candidates tournament: romantic attack chess and the fine blade

Yekaterinburg - Fabiano Caruana doesn't do things by halves. What other players mean, thorough game preparation is far from satisfying the demands of number two in the world rankings. The American had 13 months of corona-related interruption to meticulously prepare for the favorite variations of his opponents together with his dreaded boss second Rustam Kasimjanow. And what Caruana presented in round eight against the half-time leader Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is more than impressive.

The French also have their share in the fact that the opponent gets the opportunity to demonstrate the immense depth of his opening theory work on the board: MVL, as Vachier-Lagrave is often called, is the only top player of the present with his variants almost never changes. For years he has relied on the infamous Najdorf variant of the Sicilian against the king's farmer's elevator. It is a line named after the Polish-Argentine grandmaster and bon vivant Miguel Najdorf, which many consider the most principled response to the most popular white opening move.

The stubborn Monsieur Vachier-Lagrave

Why Maxime Vachier-Lagrave did not use the 13 month break to prepare a different defense at least for this one, enormously important black game against theory shark Caruana, can only be answered by the French himself. Especially since the MVL with the Najdorf variant, which recently slipped to 15th place in the world rankings, was cruelly shipwrecked against the same opponent at the traditional tournament in Wijk aan Zee.

So it comes as it has to come. MVL stubbornly plays down his favorite boot and on move seven sends the Queen on a time-consuming tour of the white lady's wing: the razor-sharp farmer robbery variant - also aptly called Poisoned Pawn Variation - and precisely the Najdorf subsystem in which Caruana and his team are themselves should have let off steam for a year scientifically. The one pawn sacrificed by White becomes two, then three, and MVL must take them. While the black lady is scanning everything, Caruana uses the time to gather his figures in the center for a quick assassination attempt on the black monarch.

All of this has already been seen in other grandmaster games. But when the US-American throws a whole runner up to the black lady on move 18, the well-trodden paths are deserted and MVL sinks into deep thought.

At this moment the French know: There is a way out of the labyrinth into which Caruana has lured him, there has to be one. Because the farmer robbery variant has been tried and tested for decades, checked a thousand times with the best computer programs and is considered fireproof. But this knowledge alone is of little use if there is an unknown position on the board, every misstep can be fatal and the other person shoots his moves as if from a pistol.

Between Scylla and Charybdis

MVL, however, is a Najdorf player with heart and soul: Although the specific position is new to him, he knows the tactical motives inside and out. He skilfully navigates between Scylla and Charybdis, does not cling to the material, but first gives the figure, then a pawn. So the youngster saves himself by exchanging queens in a complicated endgame, in which it is not clear whether Caruana's ongoing initiative only outweighs the two negative pawns or at least outweighs them.

Fabiano Caruana knows at this moment that his opponent has avoided the worst dangers through an excellent game. So were 13 months of preparation a waste of time? Not at all: Not only has the American not used any time to think about it, while his counterpart is already running out of time. The tireless chess worker in the local theory poison kitchen must have already had the resulting endgame ahead of him. So he continues to ask annoying questions, keeps the game going and thus offers MVL the opportunity to afford one or the other inaccuracy.

In an effort to finally nip the long-term white initiative in the bud, Schwarz now sacrifices material for his part, but swaps almost all of the farmers for it. And so at the end there is a position on the board in which Caruana has a higher quality (rook versus knight). But since black and white only have one pawn left on adjacent lines, a peace treaty appears to be the most likely result for the lapwing grandmasters.

Look at Juri Awerbach: The Soviet father of endgame theory and the oldest living chess grandmaster (* 1922) also analyzed final games with this material ratio many decades ago, but did not make a general judgment about when they were won and when they were drawn. Yes, even with only six pieces left on the board, chess is a (too) difficult game for humans. Despite all the preparation, it can only be mastered practically - and on this day Caruana does it a shade better than his opponent. When MVL's Springer briefly missed the optimal route, the Yankee King penetrated the black fortress victoriously and scored the full point for his puller.

Dutch matador

In lap nine, it's Anish Giri who steals the show from everyone else. While Caruana tried against Alexejenko and Ding against the wobbling Vachier-Lagrave ultimately unsuccessfully for a whole point, the Dutchman, often decried as a chance death, unpacks the very fine blade against China's Wang Hao. In a part of the Catalan textbook, Giri optimizes the position of his characters step by step, step by step, without ever making any concrete threats. At the latest when Wang Hao's black queen finds herself in a pout on a8, the triumph of White's strategy becomes apparent.

Like a bullfighter, Giri then simply steps aside calmly and elegantly when his opponent wants to attack something or initiate a relieving exchange. In the end, the young man presses with all of his remaining force on the black weak point f7, which is clearly causing the Chinese pain. Wang Hao can only shake his head towards defeat and after 39 moves he holds out his weapons.

Four candidates

After a black draw against Sascha Grishchuk, the leader, Jan Nepomnjaschtschi, sees himself chased by three main pursuers: Caruana, Vachier-Lagrave and Giri are only half a point behind the Russian with 5.5 points with 5 out of 9. While the chances of these four are still intact, the four players in the lower half of the table have to say goodbye to the thought of a World Cup match against Magnus Carlsen.

The tenth of 14 rounds to be played starts Wednesday at 1 p.m. Central European time. (Anatol Vitouch, April 22nd, 2021)

Continue reading

Chess Forum +: The Candidates Tournament!

Intermediate result

Jan Nepomnyashchi (RUS) 5.5
Fabiano Caruana (USA) 5.0
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA) 5.0
Anish Giri (NED) 5.0
Kirill Alexejenko (RUS) 4.0
Alexander Grishchuk (RUS) 4.0
Wang Hao (CHN) 4.0
Ding Liren (CHN) 3.5