A chess battle of the sexes and a history of the World (Open)

A chess battle of the sexes and a history of the World (Open)

It’s Gibraltar, so they clearly know how to rock on.

The hugely popular annual chess festival on the little spot of Britain at the mouth of the Mediterranean was called off last year because of COVID-19, and tournament sponsors had to scramble again this year because the Caleta Hotel, the longtime venue for the event, has just closed for a three-year renovation.

But give the organizers credit: They shifted gears smoothly and staged instead a 10-round “Battle of the Sexes” at the elegant Garrison Library, pitting two teams of equally rated male and female grandmasters and masters in an all-play-all Scheveningen format. Team Pia, named for veteran Swedish GM Pia Cramling, took an early lead in the contest, but Italian GM Sabino Brunello’s Team Sabino dominated the middle rounds to give the men a close 53-47 overall victory last week.

Even with two losses in the event, Algerian GM Bilel Bellahcene was one of the top male scorers in the event with a 7-3 result, including a nice Round 6 mating combination that brought down English IM Jovi Houska.

Black gets a playable position out of this QGD Semi-Slav, though 12. Bb2 g6?! opens up a small spot in the Black kingside pawns that will prove costly down the line. Houska’s queenside pawns get separated and Black runs into trouble trying to generate counterplay.

Black’s weaknesses only multiply on 27. Nd2 Be5!? (challenging on the long diagonal but not solving her deeper positional problems) 28. Ba3 (also strong was 28. Bxe5 Qxe5 29. Nc4 Ba6 30. Nxe5 Bxe2 31. Nxf7 Rxf7 32. Rxe5, winning a pawn) Qf6 28. Nc4! (premature was 29. Rxc5!? Rxc5 30. Rxc5 Ba6 31. Nc4 Bc3 with counterplay) Bc8? (eyeing the kingside but going the wrong way; tougher was 29…Ba6! 30. Qe1 Bxc4 31. Rxc4 Rd7 32. Bxc5 Qf3) 30. Nxe5 Qxe5 31. Bb2 Qd5 32. Qb5!, hitting the rook and multiple weak points on the queenside and preparing a kingside shot that Black fails to see.

That compromised kingside comes back to haunt Black in the final play: 32…Rd8 33. Bd4 (the premature 33. Rxc5? Rxc5 34. Qxc5 Qxc5 35. Rxc5 Rd1+ 36. Kg2 Bg4 37. Rc7 Bf3 throws White’s advantage away) Bh3 (Houska threatens 36…Qg4, with a winning invasion on the light squares, but, sadly, it’s not her turn) 36. Rxh5+!! gxh5 37. Qxh5+ Qh6 (Kg8 38. Qh8 mate) 38. Qxf7+, and Black resigned not needing to see 38…Qg7 39. Qxg7 mate.


Like baseball’s World Series, the chess World Open may not quite be the global event its name implies. But the brainchild of tournament organizer Bill Goichberg — set to celebrate 50 remarkable years in 2022 — has blossomed into one of the premier Swiss events on the international calendar.

Virtually every American player of note over the past half-century has played the marquee Philadelphia Fourth of July weekend event, along with an impressive cast of international stars over the years, including Bent Larsen, Evgeny Bareev, Loek van Wely and even a very young Viswanathan Anand.

And now, to mark its golden anniversary, six-time World Open champ GM Joel Benjamin and New York FIDE instructor Harold Scott have put together a marvelous, comprehensive history of the event, its great champions, and hundreds of games and game fragments from every year the event has been held (including the three-year stretch starting in 2013 when the tournament relocated to Arlington, Virginia.).

“Winning the World Open: Strategies for Success at America’s Most Prestigious Open Chess Tournament” (NewInChess, 344 pp. $29.95) is the first great book about a populist, Swiss tournament open to all that can stand comparison with classics such as Alekhine’s account of New York 1924 and Bronstein’s immortal account of the 1953 Zurich candidates’ tournament.

The tournament’s great champions — Alexander Goldin, Alex Shabalov, Gregory Kaidanov and Alex Yermolinksy, to name just a few — get their own chapters, but the book also highlights stories and achievements away from the top boards. Take, for instance, legendary New York IM Jay Bonin, one of the country’s most active players and a fixture at the World Open for decades. Benjamin and Scott offer a marvelous near-miniature win by the New Yorker over Serbian GM Stefan Djuric from the 1986 Open.

It’s another QGD “Semi,” this time a Semi-Tarrasch line, but the result is another loss for Black. By 9. Bd2 Bxd2+ 10. Qxd2 0-0, a goodly number of pieces are off the board, but Black lags in development and his problem queen’s bishop still must find a home.

Against a very good opponent, Bonin conducts a master class in the power of the isolated d-pawn for White in so many Queens’ Gambit lines, both for its ability to cramp Black’s play and for its ever-growing power as it makes its way down the board. Already after 15. d5! exd5 16. exd5 Ne7 17. Ng5, White threatens not only the blockade-busting 18. Ne4 but also an attacking idea that the grandmaster completely misses.

Thus: 17…Bg4? (see diagram; White is better after 17…Nf5 18. Ne4 Qg6 19. d6, but Black can still hold out hopes of defending) 18. Nxf7!! (an offer that cannot be refused, but also one where White had to see pretty far down the road to justify) Kxf7 19. Qg5! (the mandatory follow-up, hitting g4 and e7) Ng8 (Bxd1? 20. Rxe7+! Qxe7 21. d6+ Qe6 22. Qe7+! Kg8 23. Bxf6+ and wins) 20. Qxg4 Nf6.

Black hopes to limit the damage to a lost pawn, but White is not through with the sacrifices: 21. Rxe7+!! Qxe7 (Kf8 22. Qxg7 mate) 22. d6+ Ke8 23. Bb5+! (and not 23. dxe7?? Nxg4 23. exd8=Q+ Rxd8 25. Re1+ Kf8 and Black escapes), and Djuric resigned. One winning path is simply 23…Rd7 24. dxe7 Nxg4 (Kf7 25. e8=Q+ Kxe8 26. Qxg7) 25. Rxd7 a6 26. Rd8+ Kxe7 27. Rxa8 axb5 28. Ra7 Kd6 29. Rxb7, and an elementary endgame win.

Bellahcene-Houska, GibChess Battle of the Sexes, Gibraltar, England, January 2022

1. 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. Nf3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 b6 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Bd3 Bb7 9. O-O Be7 10. a4 O-O 11. b3 Rc8 12. Bb2 g6 13. Rfd1 a5 14. Rac1 Bd6 15. Ne2 Re8 16. Ng3 Qe7 17. Qe2 Rc7 18. Rc2 h5 19. Rdc1 Ne4 20. Nf1 Kh7 21. g3 Ndf6 22. N1d2 Nxd2 23. Nxd2 c5 24. Nf3 Ne4 25. dxc5 bxc5 26. Bxe4 dxe4 27. Nd2 Be5 28. Ba3 Qf6 29. Nc4 Bc8 30. Nxe5 Qxe5 31. Bb2 Qd5 32. Qb5 Rd8 33. Bd4 Bh3 34. Rxc5 Rxc5 35. Rxc5 Qe6 36. Rxh5+ gxh5 37. Qxh5+ Qh6 38. Qxf7+ Black resigns.

Bonin-Djuric, 14th World Open, Philadelphia, July 1986

1. 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 Nxc3 7. bxc3 cxd4 8. cxd4 Bb4+ 9. Bd2 Bxd2+ 10. Qxd2 O-O 11. Bc4 Nc6 12. O-O Qd6 13. Rad1 Rd8 14. Rfe1 Bd7 15. d5 exd5 16. exd5 Ne7 17. Ng5 Bg4 18. Nxf7 Kxf7 19. Qg5 Ng8 20. Qxg4 Nf6 21. Re7+ Qxe7 22. d6+ Ke8 23. Bb5+ Black resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.