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US Championship Rd. 7 – What the…?

I was sitting here this morning taking a look at the latest games from the U.S. Championship. I’ll confess that I really haven’t paid much attention to the event yet; things are a little crazy around here right now. But I reckoned I’d download the games from Round 7 and take a look. The first non-draw listed in the database was Kraai-Stripunsky, so I double-clicked and started playing through the moves:

Kraai,Jesse (2492) – Stripunsky,Alexander (2570)
2010 U.S. Championship Saint Louis,  (7), 20.05.2010

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.Bd2 Bd6 7.Bd3 0-0 8.0-0 dxc4 9.Bxc4 a6 10.Qc2 c5 11.Bd3 h6 12.Rac1 Rb8 13.Rfd1 Qe7 14.Be1 b5 15.Ne4 c4 16.Nxd6 Qxd6 17.Be2 Bb7 18.b3 Rfc8 19.bxc4 bxc4 20.Qa4 Bd5 21.Rc2 Rb5 22.Bxc4 Rxc4 23.Rxc4 Nb6

Position after 23...Nb6

This is a spot at which, if you’re watching the game live online, you figure it’d be a safe time to go grab a cup of coffee. White’s going to think for a while (there’s time — it’s early in the game yet) and then cop off the loose pawn at a6. Then probably 24…Bxc4 and something like 25.Rc1, and White has a tough defense because of the material imbalance and because his Queen is drifting out there in limbo. But it’s certainly not totally hopeless.

24.Qxb5??

And that’s when my jaw hit the table.

Some of you might remember an old e-book I once did in which the first forty games had every single move explained. If I’d come across this move while writing that project, the book would never have seen the light of day. I’ll admit it — I’m baffled. I have no idea what White might have been thinking here.

24…axb5 25.Rc5 Ng4 26.Rxb5?

Now he takes the pawn? This is not the time for White to get cute; it’s time to bunker down because there’s a tough fight ahead.

26…Nd7

Position after 26...Nd7

Note what Black has done here. White decided (for whatever reason) to release the tension on the Queenside by exchanging. So this frees up Black to switch the point of attack over to the Kingside. This is classic Nimzovitch stuff; ol’ Nimzo wrote about this kind of thing in his book Chess Praxis. Switching the attack to the other side of the board is an important technique for every chessplayer to understand.

27.a4?!

You’ve got to wonder why he didn’t just cop off the d5-Bishop with his Rook and eliminate one of the attackers. But Kraai’s pretty much sunk regardless, so maybe I’m just nitpicking.

27…Bxf3 28.gxf3 Qxh2+ 29.Kf1 Qh3+ 30.Ke2 Nh2 31.Bb4 Qxf3+ 32.Ke1 Nf6 0-1

A very, very strange game. Props to Stripunsky for making the most of it.

ChessCentral has the Mephisto Chess Challenger on sale right now for $79.95 — that’s $20 off the regular price! Saitek’s tabletop chess computers are some of the best around; I have two that are almost twenty years old and are still going strong. So it’s not hyperbole when I say that the Chess Challenger will provide you with literally years of enjoyment. And it comes with an AC adapter, too, saving you the hassle of an extra run to the electronics store.

Have fun! — Steve

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