Pursuits: Chess

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The Independent Culture
THE LINE-UP has been announced for the annual Hastings Tournament, over the New Year. The Premier (top section) consists of last year's winner Matthew Sadler, Miles, Emms, Plaskett and myself from England, Ivan Sokolov (Bosnia - though he now lives in Holland), Shipov (Russia), Saltaev (Uzbekistan), Fressinet (France) and Ponomariov (Ukraine).

Of these the most interesting is Ruslan Ponomariov, whom I first met two years ago in the Pamplona New Year Tournament from 1996-7. Just 13 then - he was born on 11 October 1983 - Ponomariov, who lives in a heavily industrialised (and hence polluted) part of the Ukraine, was extremely small for his age; and so slight that you might fear to throw him into such a bear pit.

For all that, he was clear leader with 3.5/5 before the heavy guns in the shape of Azmaiparashvili, Almasi and Gulko pounded him 3 - 0. I faced him as Black in the last round; and, initially apprehensive despite his unfortunate run, was in the end very thankful to scramble a perpetual check.

I remember that in an interview in the Pamplona bulletin, Ponomariov spoke of spending up to six (or was it even eight?) hours a day studying chess. He has certainly improved at dizzying speed: the youngest ever to qualify for the grandmaster title, at 14 years and 17 days, and still rising fast.

He did excellently in the recent Olympiad, scoring an unbeaten 7/9 to take the Silver Medal on board 6. And three weeks later, Ponomariov had an arguably even finer result, scoring 7.5/11 to take outright first place in the Ukraine Zonal tournament in Donetsk, ahead of 19 other grandmasters including Alexander Onischuk, Oleg Romanishin, Vladimir Tukmakov, Konstantin Lerner and Igor Novikov. Only Vassily Ivanchuk, who is already seeded into the Fide world championships on rating, was missing.

Ponomariov's style is generally highly technical; for instance he ground down Novikov in 94 moves, the last 41 in a queen ending. But rather than burden you with such virtue, here is his sparkling win against Vladimir Tukmakov.

In a currently trendy line of the Caro Kann, Tukmakov seemed to be doing well after 16... Ng4 - if 16... exd5 17 Nf5 is most unpleasant - but the inspired 17 Bxg7! followed by 18 Qe2! detonated the black position. If 18... Nf6 19 dxe6 Qe8 20 Nf5+ Kh7 21 exf7 Rxf7 22 Rhe1 is murder. 23... Qxe6 looks slightly panicky - he could try 23... Bf6.

After 24... Rxf5 the white rooks were much too strong.

White: Ruslan Ponomariov

Black: Vladimir Tukmakov

Donetsk Zonal 1998

Caro Kann Defence

1 e4 c6

2 d4 d5

3 Nc3 dxe4

4 Nxe4 Bf5

5 Ng3 Bg6

6 h4 h6

7 Nf3 Nf6

8 Ne5 Bh7

9 Bd3 Bxd3

10 Qxd3 e6

11 Bf4 Nbd7

12 0-0-0 Be7

13 Kb1 0-0

14 c4 c5

15 d5 Nxe5

16 Bxe5 Ng4

17 Bxg7! Kxg7

18 Qe2! f5

19 f3 Nf6

20 Qxe6 Ng8

21 Nxf5+ Kh7

22 g4 Qb6

23 Rhe1 Qxe6

24 dxe6 Rxf5!?

25 gxf5 Bxh4

26 Rd7+ Ne7

27 Rh1 Bf6

28 Rxb7 Rg8

29 Rxa7 Rg5

30 f4 Rxf5

31 Rf1 Kg6

32 a4 Rh5 1-0