Luke McShane

The Saric Supremacy

Text settings

There is a gritty fight scene in The Bourne Supremacy, in which Jason Bourne (played by Matt Damon) faces down his adversary Jarda at an apartment in Munich. Both men are skilled assassins, but they aren’t wielding their weapons of choice. The villain’s hands are tied, but he lands the first blow with his elbows. He somehow turns up a kitchen knife, and frees his wrists on some shattered glass furniture. Bourne rolls up a magazine and you know he could kill with it. You wish someone would answer the shrieking telephone. They’re soon back to bare knuckles and slamming into the tables. At last, Bourne throttles him with an electric power cord, and the audience breathes a sigh of relief. Bourne doesn’t — it’s time to shove the magazine in the toaster and blow up the building.

That’s what I thought of while watching this dirty but dextrous game from the European Club Cup, recently concluded in Montenegro. Saric is an experienced and fearless Croatian Grandmaster. Suleymanli is the reigning World U14 Champion from Azerbaijan. It’s all suits and ties until Suleymanli strikes with 27… g5. Saric dumps rook for knight in the scuffle, and soon cripples his own pawn structure to quell Black’s active pieces. A few moves later, they’re both snatching whatever comes to hand. Saric lobs a pawn to h7. Suleymanli lobs a pawn to b2. Saric drops a rook on it. Another rook on h8 is buried alive. Meanwhile those scraggedy pawns have amassed into a rockslide. Suleymanli’s king dashes back, as if to prop up the ceiling with bare hands. By the final moves, it’s scorched earth. Saric will stagger to victory with his one remaining pawn, so Suleymanli resigns, after giving it his all.

It’s not beautiful, but you can’t take your eyes off it. I admire both players tremendously, and I hope they make a sequel.

Ivan Saric—Aydin Suleymanli

European Club Cup, Montenegro 2019

1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Qa5 7 Bd2 Qa4 8 Qg4 Kf8 9 Qd1 Ne7 10 Qb1 c4 11 Ne2 Nbc6 12 Nf4 b6 13 Nh5 Bd7 14 Qc1 Rg8 15 h4 Ke8 16 Rh3 Kd8 17 Rf3 Kc7 18 g3 Raf8 19 Bh3 Be8 20 Nf4 Bd7 21 Kf1 Kb7

22 Kg1 Nf5 23 Rb1 Nce7 24 Rb4 Qc6 25 Ng2 h5 26 Nf4 f6 27 Qe1 g5 28 Nxh5 28 exf6 Nxh4! had to be avoided. 28… g4 29 Rxf5 Nxf5 30 Bg2 fxe5 31 dxe5 a5 32 Rb1 Qc5 33 Nf6 Rg7 34 Be3 Nxe3 35 Qxe3 Qxe3 36 fxe3 A remarkable dynamic balance. White’s knight and passed h-pawn compensate for the missing rook. 36… Ba4 37 Rc1 b5 38 e4 d4! A spirited reaction. 39 cxd4 b4 40 axb4 axb4 41 Bf1 Rc8 42 Rb1 b3 43 c3 Kb6 44 h5 Bb5 45 h6 Ra7 46 h7 Rh8 47 Be2 Ra2!? This wins a rook, but 47… Raxh7 was more guarded. 48 Bxg4 Rc2 49 Bxe6 b2 50 Rxb2 Rxb2 51 Bg8 Rc2 52 Nd5+ Ka5 53 e6 Bc6? This loses crucial time. Instead, 53… Ka4 54 g4 Kb3 55 g5 Be8 leaves all to play for. 54 e7 Ka4 55 Nb6+ Kb3 56 d5 Bb5 57 d6 Rd2 58 Nxc4 Rd1+ 59 Kf2 Kxc3 60 Na3 Be8 61 e5 Kd4 62 e6 Ke5 63 Nc4+? 63 d7! was better played immediately, when Black cannot capture on e7 with his king. 63… Kf6 64 g4 Rd5 65 d7 (see diagram) 65...Rxd7? 65... Kxe7! 66 dxe8=Q+ Kxe8 will be drawn, if Black follows up with Rd5-g5xg8 66 exd7 Bxd7 67 Nb6! Decisive. 67… Kxe7 68 Nxd7 Kxd7 69 Kg3 Ke7 70 Kh4 Kf6 71 Kh5 Black resigns After 71... Kg7, not 72 g5?, since the pawn endgame after 72... Rxh7+ 73 Bxh7 Kxh7 is drawn. Instead, 72 Kg5! and the pawn endgame is won.