Independent Pursuits: Chess

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The Independent Culture
LIKE NEW College Oxford - if still the best part of a millennium less venerable - Modern Chess Openings (MCO) could bring a tear to the eye of a trading standard's officer.

First published in 1911, MCO was already in its 10th edition by the time I first came across it in the late Sixties. The bible for openings in English at that time, it has since been supplanted to a great extent by myriad specialist opening books, and in this country Batsford Chess Openings, not to mention the five chunky volumes of Chess Informant of Belgrade's Openings Encyclopaedia. But there's life in the old dog yet, with a new 14th edition planned fairly soon under the editorship of the American grandmaster, Nick De Firmian.

In late July, I played with De Firmian in an open tournament in Roskilde near Copenhagen - where he now lives with his Danish wife and young son. Mired in the proof reading of the section on "Semi Open Games" - things such as the French and the Caro Kann - De Firmian fared abysmally.

Since then, MCO must have finally been dispatched or shelved, however, since De Firmian has just scored a splendid result to win the US Championships. Held in Denver, Colorado, the women's event was won convincingly by 14- year-old Irina Krush with a splendid 8.5/9. The men's, which ran all the way from 31 October to 18 November, consisted of two all-play-all preliminary groups of eight, from which the two pairs of winners progressed to a knock- out stage.

In the semi-finals, De Firmian beat Tal Shaked 2.5-1.5, winning the third game with Black, while Joel Benjamin defeated Dimitri Gurevich 2.5- 0.5. These four, together with Sergei Kudrin and Boris Gulko, also qualified for the Fide world championship, which according to the latest rumours, is being held in Las Vegas in June (but don't hold your breath).

The final, too, saw De Firmian win with Black in the first game (below); and with the other three drawn he took the title and the first prize of $12,000.

In the first game Benjamin avoided a theoretical confrontation with the unusual 3.Bc4 - in the third game he took on De Firmian's favourite Najdorf variation but to little effect. In the middlegame the d3 pawn became weak, but things only went out of control after 28.c4? conceding the vital d4 square for the knight. If 31.Re4 Nc2 32.Rf1 Rd1! would also have won material.

White: Joel Benjamin

Black; Nick De Firmian

Denver 1998 - 1st game

Sicilian Defence

1.e4 c5

2.Nf3 d6

3.Bc4 Nf6

4.d3 Nc6

5.c3 g6

6.0-0 Bg7

7.Nbd2 0-0

8.Re1 e5

9.Bb3 h6

10.Nc4 Be6

11.h3 Kh7

12.Ne3 d5

13.Ng4 Nxg4

14.hxg4 Qd7

15.g5 h5

16.exd5 Bxd5

17.Be3 b6

18.Bxd5 Qxd5

19.Qa4 Rfd8

20.Rad1 Rac8

21.Bc1 Kg8

22.Rd2 Qe6

23.Qc4 Rd5

24.Rde2 Rcd8

25.Re3 Qd7

26.Qe4 Ne7

27.R3e2 Nf5

28.c4? Rxd3

29.Nxe5 Bxe5

30.Qxe5 Nd4

31.Re3 Nc2

32.Rxd3 Qxd3

33.Rf1 Qxf1+

34.Kxf1 Rd1+

35.Ke2 Re1+

36.Kd2 Rxe5

37.Kxc2 Re2+

White resigns

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