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The Independent Culture
WHILE WE in Hastings were just getting started, an event of even greater strength was finishing in Groningen in Holland. The top two groups were six player double rounders - one for men and one for women. This can lead either to a blood bath or a macho, if apparently peaceful, stand- off: depending on the temperaments and strengths of the contestants.

In the case of the the women, there was gore aplenty with 17 decisive games out of the 30 in the category 9 event (average 2459) as Natalia Zhukova from the Ukraine powered her way to 7/10 ahead of Antoaneta Stefanova (Bulgaria) 6.5, Peng Zhaoqin (Holland) 6, Zhu Chen (China) and Monica Miroslawska (Poland) 4 and Diana Darchia (Georgia) just 1.5.

The very strong men's tournament averaged 2629, which is category 16. Here discretion took a far greater part with just six decisive games out of the thirty! Both winners, Sergei Tiviakov (Russia) and Vadim Milov (Switzerland) were unbeaten on 6/10. They were followed by Zoltan Almasi (Hungary) on 5.5 - beating both bottom markers but losing to Tiviakov, Jeroen Piket (Holland) who made 4.5 drawing 9 but losing to Milov and finally Alex Yermolinsky (USA) and Karen Asrian (Armenia) on 4, who lost two each without a win.

How tedious you might think - and it's hard to rebut this totally. But stick any markedly weaker player into such a pool of piranhas and there would be gore aplenty! I repeat: the reason for so many draws is not excessive peacefulness over the holiday period but a macho balance of terror.

Like the Hastings Challengers, there was also a strong Grandmaster Open in Groningen, no fewer than 151 taking part. It was won by Vladimir Baklan (Ukraine), Sergei Movsesian (Czech Republic) and Karpov's frequent second Vladimir Epishin (Russia) on 8.5/11. Evgeny Najer from Russia got a GM norm.

White got a space advantage out of the opening but in return for a lot of air around his king. The attempted breakthrough with 23.f5 was either somewhat desperate because he thought his queenside was going to collapse, or over-optimistic - it's hard to know which without asking him.

If 25.Nf6+ Nxf6 26.exf6 g6 27.Qe5 Qd7 is powerful. Unfortunately 27.Nf6+ loses to Qxf6 pinning. Once Black sacrificed, he had excellent practical chances. At the end 36.Qxh3 Qf2 is mate.

White: Karen Asrian

Black: Vadim Milov

Groningen 1998 (5th round)

Sicilian Taimanov

1 e4 c5

2 Nf3 e6

3 d4 cxd4

4 Nxd4 a6

5 Nc3 Qc7

6 Be2 b5

7 0-0 Bb7

8 Re1 Nc6

9 Nxc6 dxc6

10 a4 Bd6

11 g3 Be5

12 Bd3 Nf6

13 Be3 0-0

14 Bc5 Rfd8

15 f4 Bd4+

16 Bxd4 Rxd4 17 e5 Qb6

18 Kf1 Nd5

19 a5 Qa7

20 Ne4 Rd8

21 Qh5 h6

22 Rad1 Ba8

23 f5 exf5

24 Qxf5 c5

25 e6 Rf8

26 e7 Qxe7

27 c3 c4

28 cxd4 cxd3

29 Rxd3 Qb4

30 Qf2 f5

31 Nc5 f4

32 Kg1 fxg3

33 Qxg3 Nf4

34 Rdd1 Qxb2 35 Ne6 Nh3+ 0-1