By Jonathan Speelman




The Observer

Diagram 1 Black tried 26 ... Qxh2, to which White replied 27 Qd6!. Can you see how he won after 27 ... Qg1+. In diagram 1 can you find Black’s only good move? See the first game. Playing under the neutral Fide flag, Alexey Sarana from Russia is the new European champion, after a fierce battle in Vrnjačka Banja in Serbia. This championship is always strong and this year’s had nearly 500 players in a huge single section, including about 130 grandmasters and 100 international masters. In such a bun fight,a high score is required for success, but there will also be many draws among the heavyweights and after five of the 11 rounds, just a single player, Anton Korobov from Ukraine, had a perfect 5/5. Korobov had his first draw in round six, but continued to dominate until round nine, when Sarana defeated him. With a round to go, Sarana was first equal with another Ukrainian, Kirill Shevchenko, ahead of a chasing group of 12. The top two opted for safety with a very quick draw, and the only decisive result among the chasers was defeat for Korobov who overpressed against Daniel Dardha, a teenage Belgium star with an Albanian father. Sarana, Shevchenko and Dardha were first equal on 8.5/11, finishing in that order on tie-break. Three of the English players, Brandon Clarke, Daniel Fernandez and Jonah Willow, made 7/11, Shreyas Royal got 6.5 and Matthew Wadsworth 5.5. Anton Korobov v Ruslan Ponomariov Vrnjačka Banja 2023 (round five) Queen’s Gambit Declined Ragozin 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 d5 4 Nc3 Bb4 5 Qa4+ This forces Nc6, blocking ... c5 for the moment. 6 ... Nc6 6 e3 0-0 7 Bd2 Bd6!? Black normally plays 7 ... dxc4 8 Bxc4 Bd6. Instead 7 ... Bd6 contends that c5 isn’t too dangerous, and otherwise 8 Be2?! dxd4 would lose a tempo. Accepting the challenge. 8 c5 8 ... Be7 9 b4 Ne4 10 b5 Nxd2 11 Kxd2 With the centre closed, the king is OK on d2 and the knight retains good control of e5. 11 ... Nb8 12 Bd3 c6 13 Rab1 cxb5 14 Bxb5 Qc7 15 Rhc1 f6?! Rather weakening. 15 ... Nc6 was possible because the obvious 16 Bxc6 bxc6 17 Ne5 can be met by 17 ... Bf6! 18 Qxc6 (not 18 Nxc6? Bd7) 18 ... Bxe5 19 Qxa8 Ba6 20 Qxf8+ Kxf8 21 dxe5 when Black has decent play. A further weakening, but neither 17 ... h6 weakening the white squares, nor 17 ... g6 when 18 Bxg6 is very dangerous, were appealing. 16 Bd3 Nc6 17 Qc2 f5 18 Nb5 Qb8 19 Qc3 a6 20 Nd6! Sacrificing a pawn for the dark squares. 20 ... Bxd6 21 cxd6 Qxd6 22 Rb6 Qd8 23 Qc5 Rf7 Diagram 2 24 Bxa6 This looks good but the quiet g3 was even better. 24 ... Rc7 24 ... Bd7 25 Bxb7 (25 Bb5 is playable) Rxa2+ 26 Ke1 Ra5! forces White to jettison the queen. 27 Rxc6 Rxc5 28 R6xc5 and White has enough but after 28 ... Rf8 Black is OK. 25 Ne5 Qh4 26 Ke1 This turns out to be incorrect. Instead 26 g3 Qxh2 27 Nd3! keeps control. See diagram 1 26 ... Qxh2 This looks completely natural, but loses by force. Instead there was a single saving move, 26 ... f4!! when 27 Nf3 Qd6 continues the battle. Otherwise Black gets an attack, for instance if 27 exf4? Qxf4 28 g3? Qe4+ 29 Kd2 Rxa6! 30 Rxa6 Nxe5! 31 Qxc7 Qd3+ 32 Ke1 Nf3 mate! 27 Qd6! Qg1+ 28 Ke2 Qxc1 29 Rxc6! But not 29 Qxc7?? Nxd4+! 29 ... Qb2+ Of course if 29 ... Rxc6 or indeed Qxc6 30 Qd8. 30 Kf3 Rf7 31 Rc7! Rxa6 Or 31 ... Rxc7 32 Qd8 mate. 32 Rxc8+ And Black resigned. Diagram 3 In this game from an early round, the new champion finished powerfully: 33 Rxd7+! Kxd7 34 Ba4+ Kd8 35 Qf7! Re7 Or 35 ... Qe7 36 Bxe8 Qxe8 37 Qxa7. 36 Qf8+ Kc7 37 Qa8 Rxg2+ Deflecting the rook from the f-file, but it doesn’t help. 38 Rxg2 Qxe4 39 Qxa7+ Black resigned since 39 ... Kc8 40 Qa8 + Kc7 41 Qc6+ leads to slaughter. With the world championship less than a month away, Magnus Carlsen has played his final games as champion. These were in the Norwegian League in Oslo, which his club Offerspill won. Carlsen played three games, winning the first two and then drawing with David Howell after a tough battle. 1 Anton Korobov v Ruslan Ponomariov (to play) 2 Anton Korobov (to play) v Ruslan Ponomariov 3 Alexey Sarana (to play) v Muhammad Muradli