Annotated Game #10 from the 1998 New York Open

annotations by NM Steve Mayer

GM Shabalov, Alex (2615) - GM Smirin, Ilya  (2590) [B43]

1998 New York Open (Round 5) (Bd 3),   18.03.1998


What a game you are about to see! Shabalov and Smirin are two of the most impressive forces in U.S. chess today and- together- they showed why tonight. Mere ‘calculating ability’ alone cannot explain the following game, which might be compared (inadequately, I’ll concede) to a collision in mid-field between a Wagnerian opera troupe and a world class rugby team. The greatest part of this game is that it shines such glory on the New York Open, which is such a jewel in- not only- American chess but also on the global tournament circuit.


1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Nc3 b5 6. g3 Bb7 7. Bg2 Nf6 8. O-O b4

Black has lost so many times (in various positions) by provoking the Nd5 sacrifice that lesser players would already have envied Shabalov his position. But do you think Smirin really knows nothing about chess?

9. Nd5

9_1.jpg (30512 bytes)

Forced move. Anything else and Shabalov not only has lost his opening ‘advantage’ but also his reputation as an attacking genius.

10....exd5 10. exd5 Bc5

A nice finesse that presumably can be found in many a database. Even so, the white attack is just beginning and will persist for an extremely long time.

11. Re1+ Kf8 12. Nf5 d6 13. Bf4 Bc8

9_2.jpg (27548 bytes)

Again with the good moves! Smirin gains a tempo on the Nf5 and adds the possible defensive resource of ...Ra7 and ...Re7.

14. Nd4 Qb6 15. Nc6 h6

Do _not_ take the knight if you wish to survive in such positions. Then every piece of Shabalov’s gains in power.

16. Qd2 Bb7 17. a3 a5

Space is frequently an advantage; everyone who has gotten beyond Hypermoderism knows this. The tactics are about to reach a fever pitch...Did Shabalov have a win in what ensues? Run it through a strong pc program but don’t trust your eyes when you read the evaluations.

By the way, Smirin plays what amounts to ‘forced moves’ for quite some time. Never let anyone tell you that he isn’t a defensive genius!

18. axb4 axb4 19. Rxa8 Bxa8 20. Ra1 Nxc6 21. Bxd6+ Bxd6 22. dxc6 Qb8 23. Rxa8 Qxa8 24.Qxd6+  Kg8 25. c7 Qc8 26. Bf1 Ne8 27. Qd8 Qxc7 28. Qxe8+ Kh7

9_3.jpg (28870 bytes)

The hammer blows finally come to an end. Now both players must calm down and see who fliches in the ensuing ‘reduced middlegame.’

29. Qe4+ g6 30. Bc4 Rd8 31. Bb3 Rd1+ 32. Kg2 Rd2 33. Qf3 Kg7 34. h4 Rd6 35. Kh2 Qc5
36. Qe2 Rf6 37. Kg1 Qd4 38. c3 bxc3 39. bxc3 Qxc3 40.Bd5 Rd6

Time control is reached and Shabalov could only have felt physically sick that he will lose this game. Did he ‘beat himself’ by playing the way he did? No and you haven’t understood Shabalov at all (or Shirov or Tal) if you even ask the question.

41. Qa2 Qe5 42. Bf3 Qe1+ 43. Kg2 Rd2 44. Qa7 Qe5 45. Qa6 Qd4 46. Qf1 Ra2 47. Qe1 Kf6 48. Qf1 Qd2 49. Kg1 Ke7 50. Kg2 Kf8 51. Bg4 Rc2 52. Bf3 Kg8 53.Be4 Rc1 54. Qb5 Qe1 55. Qe8+ Kg7 56. Qe5+ Kh7 57. Kf3 Qc3+ 58. Qxc3 Rxc3+ 59.Kf4 Kg7 60. g4 Rh3 0-1

Is White’s move 60 bad and would he have lost the game even if he hadn’t played it? Yes and yes.

So who was the opera troupe, who was the rugby team and who won. Both players thoughout the game were both the troupe and the team, both players won and - most importantly- we all benefitted from and enjoyed the experience greatly. If one truly studies this game and comes to understand it even a little, then we’ll know why we play chess and how to do it so much better tha we already do.