Raymond Keene

Mental sport

Mental sport
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Sporting commentators frequently resort to chess metaphors to convey the flavour of a particular contest. In the case of football, chess tends to be wheeled out as a comparison when nothing much is happening. Tennis commentators, in contrast, and somewhat more perceptively, deploy the chess metaphor to convey mental toughness.

I have for some time regarded Judit Polgar as the Serena Williams of the chessboard. A major difference, though, is that on the physical battlefield Serena would stand no chance against Djokovic, Federer or Nadal. On the mental plane, however, Judit has defeated, among others, Carlsen, Kasparov, Anand, Korchnoi and Short.

A new book, Strike Like Judit!, by Charles Hertan (New in Chess) recounts her many exploits.

Polgar-Kasparov: Russia versus the world, Moscow 2002; Ruy Lopez

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 Nf6 4 0-0 Nxe4 5 d4 Nd6 6 Bxc6 dxc6 7 dxe5 Nf5 8 Qxd8+ Kxd8 9 Nc3 h6 10 Rd1+ Ke8 11 h3 Be7 11 ... Ne7, planning to regroup with ... Ng6, is more popular. A typical line is 12 Nd4 Ng6 13 f4 Bc5 14 Be3 h5 and Black has, for the moment at least, prevented White from activating the kingside majority. 12 Ne2 Nh4 This is rather too compliant. 12 ... Bd7 planning ... Rd8 is better, or even 12 ... a5. 13 Nxh4 Bxh4 14 Be3 Bf5 15 Nd4 Bh7 16 g4 Be7 17 Kg2 17 Nf5 first is more accurate as now Black has the chance for 17 ... Bc5 with good chances to draw. 17 ... h5 18 Nf5 (see diagram 1) Now 18 ... hxg4 19 hxg4 Bxf5 20 gxf5 Rh5 fails to 21 Rh1 as if 21 ... Rxf5 then 22 Rh8+ Bf8 23 Bc5 wins. Kasparov is therefore reduced to shuffling around. 18 ... Bf8 19 Kf3 Bg6 20 Rd2 hxg4+ 21 hxg4 Rh3+ 22 Kg2 Rh7 23 Kg3 f6 If 23 ... Rd8 then 24 Rxd8+ Kxd8 25 Rd1+ Kc8 (25 ... Ke8 26 Bxa7) 26 Bg5 wins. Kasparov is not used to struggling in lifeless positions with no play but the best try here was 23 ... Bxf5 24 gxf5 Be7. It is possible White should have avoided this line with 23 Ng3. 24 Bf4 Bxf5 25 gxf5 fxe5 26 Re1 Bd6 27 Bxe5 Kd7 28 c4! (see diagram 2) An excellent move that forces the win. 28 ... c5 28 ... b6 would not change anything after 29 b4 c5 and White continues as in the game with 30 Bxd6 cxd6 31 Re6. 29 Bxd6 cxd6 30 Re6 Rah8 31 Rexd6+ Kc8 32 R2d5 White is a pawn ahead and her rooks are tremendously active. 32 ... Rh3+ 33 Kg2 Rh2+ 34 Kf3 R2h3+ 35 Ke4 b6 36 Rc6+ Kb8 If 36 ... Kb7 then 37 Rg6 wins. 37 Rd7 Rh2 38 Ke3 Rf8 39 Rcc7 Rxf5 40 Rb7+ Kc8 41 Rdc7+ Kd8 42 Rxg7 Kc8 Black resigns