Pursuits: Chess

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CONGRATULATIONS TO Ivan Sokolov, who has won the Hastings

Premier with a round to spare. A draw on Wednesday against Laurent Fressinet took him to 6/8.

Meanwhile Jim Plaskett showed tremendous strength of character to recover from the painful loss I gave yesterday, and defeat Sergei Shipov. I squeezed a win against a disheartened Mihail Saltaev in the endgame below - the poor man's fourth loss in succession - and the other two games, Emms vs Miles and Ponomariov vs Sadler, were drawn. This left a huge pile-up on 4.5: Shipov, Sadler, Ponomariov and myself. The other scores before yesterday's last round were Emms 4, Miles, Plaskett and Fressinet 3.5 and Saltaev just 2.

Mihail Saltaev (Black to play)

Jon Speelman (White)

Chess is a cruel and tense game, never more so than in the apparent simplicity of king and pawn endgames, when a single slip can be fatal. This position arose after 27 fairly undistinguished moves. Saltaev, could, if he wished, retreat with 27... Nb8!? en route to d7. Instead, he simplified - a perfectly reasonable decision, since the ending is drawn.

If 30... a5 then 31 b3 is absolutely forced - else 31... a4 - but I then have time to evict him with Kc3 followed by b4+. Instead, Saltaev avoided all weakness. But he encouraged me with 32... Kd6? 32... b6 was correct when he was worried about 33 b5+ Kd6 34 a4 e5+ 35 fxe5+ fxe5+ 36 Ke4 - but now Black shouldn't start a race with 36... Kc5? but can simply hold the position with something like h5 37 h4 Ke6 38 Ke3 Kd6 39 Ke4 Ke6, and an immediate draw.

Once I got in c5 and b5, I had a serious space advantage but the problem was how to break through - since he can always meet g4 with ...g5! and h4 with ...h5!.

The crisis came when Saltaev played 38... axb5?? opening up a route for my king - 38... a5 was still a draw. If 41... Kd7 42 g4 followed by 43 g5 I eventually get my king to e5. Not 49 Ka7?? Kc7! 50 c6 b6 and Black wins!

But he resigned, in view of 49 ... Kd7 50 Kb4 e4 51 Kc4 Ke6 52 Kd4 e3 53 Kxe3 Kd5 54 c6 bxc6 55 bxc6 Kxc6 56 Kf4 Kd6 57 Kg5 etc.

The game continues: 27... Kd6 28 Nxc6 Kxc6 29 c4 Kc5 30 Kd3 h6 31 b4+ Kc6 32 Kd4 Kd6? 33 c5+ Kc6 34 a4 Kc7 35 b5 Kd7 36 Ke4 Kc7 37 Kf3 a6 38 Ke4 axb5?? 39 axb5 Kd7 40 Kf3 Ke7 41 h4 h5 42 Ke4 Kd7 43 Kd4 Kc7 44 Kc4 Kd7 45 Kb4 Kc7 46 Ka5 Kc8 47 Kb6 e5 48 fxe5 fxe5 49 Ka5 1-0.