Luke McShane

Beasts of the board

Beasts of the board
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The Dutch artist Theo Jansen has a unique speciality. His ‘Strandbeest’ (beach animals) are kinetic sculptures, which he likes to set free upon a windswept beach. Fashioned from plastic tubes, bottles and the like, these imposing skeletons appear to ‘walk’ along the seafront with a gait at once laboured and graceful: a compelling synthesis of engineering and art. 

When I first watched this magnificent spectacle on YouTube, I was immediately reminded of the cold, gusty walks along the beach at Wijk aan Zee, the town in Holland where the annual Tata Steel tournament is held. (Curiously, Jansen hails from Scheveningen, a seaside resort which lends its name to a variation of the Sicilian defence and to a format of team chess). In Wijk aan Zee, this year’s Masters tournament was won by Fabiano Caruana, and there was something of the ‘Strandbeest’ about his performance. It all looked a bit unlikely at the start, as the American scored just one win from his first six games. But the winds changed in the latter part of the tournament, where we saw Fabiano the Unstoppable Juggernaut romp to clear first with 10/13, an exceptional score against such a strong field. 

Caruana’s own amalgam of effort and elegance was most conspicuous in the final round. Already assured of first place, he pushed steadily for a win with Black against Artemiev. The game had an air of the inevitable, though a tricky moment arose in the diagram position, where despite Black’s extra bishop, it is far from obvious how to escape the checks from White’s queen. Caruana devised a clever solution. By trundling his king all the way up the board to b2, he prepared to meet White’s queen check with a decisive counter-check of his own! 

Vladislav Artemiev–Fabiano Caruana

Tata Steel Masters, January 2020 

1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nd7 3 c4 dxc4 4 Qa4 a6 5 Qxc4 b5 6 Qc2 Bb7 7 Bg2 Ngf6 8 O-O e6 9 d3 Be7 10 a4 c5 11 Nc3 Qb6 12 axb5 axb5 13 Rxa8+ Bxa8 14 Bg5 O-O 15 Ra1 h6 16 Bxf6 Bxf6 17 Nd2 Bxg2 18 Kxg2 Rc8 19 Qb3 Rb8 20 Nce4 Be7 21 Kg1 f5 22 Nc3 Ne5 23 h3 h5 24 Nf3 Nxf3+ 25 exf3 Bf6 26 Re1 Kf7 27 Ne2 g5 28 g4 hxg4 29 hxg4 fxg4 30 fxg4 Qd6 31 Ng3 Qd5 32 Qc2 Bd4 33 Qe2 Rh8 34 Ne4 Qe5 35 Qf3+ Kg7 36 b3 Rf8 37 Qe2 Qd5 38 Rf1 Kg6 39 Qd1 c4 40 bxc4 bxc4 41 Kg2 Ba7 42 f3 cxd3 43 Qa1 The desire to activate the queen is understandable, but in fact 43 Qd2 was the way to hold White’s position together. 43… Be3 44 Rd1 Qc4 45 Qc3 Qa2+ 46 Nd2 Qc2 47 Qe5 Bxd2! The right capture. Not 47…Qxd1? 48 Qxe6+ Kg7 49 Qxe3 Qe2+ 50 Qxe2 dxe2 51 Kf2 Re8 52 Ne4 and White draws comfortably 48 Qxe6+ (see diagram) Kg7 49 Qe7+ Rf7 50 Qe5+ Kf8 White has a choice of checks, but none will prevent the king’s procession. 51 Qb8+ Ke7 52 Qe5+ Kd8 53 Qb8+ Kd7 54 Qb7+ Kd6 55 Qb6+ 55 Qxf7 Bf4+ wins quickly. 55… Ke5 56 Qb5+ Kd4 57 Qb6+ Kc4 58 Qe6+ Kc3 59 Qe5+ Kb3 60 Qd5+ Kb2 61 Qb5+ Bb4+ And that’s the point! White has no time to capture the bishop. 62 Kg3 Qxd1 63 Qxb4+ Qb3 64 Qd2+ Kb1 65 Qe1+ Kc2 66 Qf2+ d2 White resigns