Independent Pursuits: Chess

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THE MERCURIAL Alexei Shirov underlined his return to full battle fitness last week with an emphatic 5-1 victory against the strong Czech grandmaster, Zbynek Hracek, in the latter's home town of Ostrava.

Shirov had been having mixed results since the magnificent 5.5-3.5 match victory against Vladimir Kramnik at Cazorla in Spain in June, which supposedly earned him a World Chess Council world championship match against Gary Kasparov.

A few weeks after the match, clearly still exhausted, he scored just 2.5/9 in Dortmund. Next was the Rubinstein Memorial tournament in Polonica Zdroj, Poland, in August, where Shirov started with just 1.4/4 but recovered to take second on 5.5/9, a point behind Boris Geland.

Meanwhile, rumours were circulating of problems associated with the Kasparov match - rumours that unfortunately proved to be true, leaving Shirov high and dry: so it's hardly surprising at the very height of this political imbroglio Shirov had a dreadful result at the Spanish team championshiop with just 4/7.

He beat two very strong players, though - Ftachnik and Almasi - in European Club Championship matches near the end of September; and at the Olympiad which started the next week made an unbeaten 7.5/10.

The six games against Hracek from 14-19 November were even more impressive. Shirov ripped this strong and solid player's head off, putting him under such intense pressure that Hracek lost the first four games - the first with a grotesque blunder - recovered to win the fifth but then blundered in a fairly equal position to lose the sixth as well.

The blunders were no accident, for facing Shirov at his best is like juggling a fire cracker. Witness this, the second game. The point of 4...Qb6 is to avoid the manic lines after 4...e6 5.g4 Bg6 6.Nge2 - but it's a little slow. In the fourth game Hracek tried the more restrained 8...a6 but also lost, albeit much more slowly.

If 14...b5 15.Nxb5! is very strong. The splendid 16.fxe6! is obviously intuitively correct. Instead if 16.fxg6 Nxg6 17.Bxg4 Qh4 is excellent for Black and easy to play eg: 18.Qe2 Ng3 19.hxg3 Qxg3+ 20.Qg2 Qxe3+ 21.Qf2 Qxf2+ 22.Rxf2 Nxe5 with three pawns for the piece, dangerous black square pressure and an absolutely safe king.

The game would take days to analyse properly but one nice line is 18...Rxh3 19.Bg4 g2 20.Rxf7 Rh1+ 21.Kxg2 Rxd1 22.Ne6 Kxf7 23.Nxd8+ Rxd8 24.Rxd1 when White has a big advantage. At the end, Black at least loses the knight due to the threat of 25.Qg6+

White: Alexei Shirov

Black: Zbynek Hracek

Ostrava 1998

Caro Kann Defence

1.e4 c6

2.d4 d5

3.e5 Bf5

4.Nc3 Qb6

5.Nf3 e6

6.Be2 Nd7

7.0-0 Ne7

8.b3 c5

9.dxc5 Nxc5

10.Nd4 a6

11.Be3 Qd8

12.g4 Bg6

13.f4 Ne4

14.Na4 h5

15.f5 hxg4

16.fxe6! g3


18.h3 g2

19.Rxf7! Kxf7

20.Bg4 Qc7

21.Qf3+ Ke8

22.Be6 Nc6

23.Bxd5 Nxd4


Black resigns