Unsound Chess Tactic
Position after 22. ... Qd2. White to move.
FEN: r2r2k1/2p2pp1/p6p/1p2R3/8/1PQ5/1PPq1PPP/R5K1 w - - 0 23
Black (Olav Sepp, 2436) has just played 22. ... Qd2, obviously hoping for a queen trade with good drawing chances, or even better, hoping for 23. Qxc7? Rac8 followed by 24. ... Rxc2. But White (Nils Grandelius, 2656) is alert and plays a move that wins on the spot. What is it?
23. Re8+! Black resigns
Either 23. ... Rxe8 24. Qxd2 or 23. ... Kh7 24. Qxd2 Rxd2 25. Rxa8 win huge amounts of material for White.
I named this simple tactic the Hook and Ladder Trick and wrote an article about it a few years ago in Chess Life. It's a funny tactic -- just rare enough that people (even grandmasters) often miss it, but just common enough that you'll get a chance to use it eventually. As in this case, when it works it usually forces immediate resignation. The way to remember it is that the Black queen is standing at the top of the "ladder" (in this case, the d-file) with a rook holding her at the bottom of the ladder. The sacrifice at e8 is the "hook" that pulls the spotter away from the bottom of the ladder, after which the queen falls.
I found this example in a roundabout way. The player of the White pieces, Nils Grandelius, had a great week in the PRO Chess League last week. He is the #2 board for the Norway Gnomes, which means that he is usually overshadowed by his teammate, Magnus Carlsen. But in last week's matches, Carlsen "only" scored 7½ points out of 8, while Grandelius matched him by scoring 7½ out of 8 also! We all know that Carlsen is a chess god, but how does a non-super GM like Grandelius score 7½ points?
As it turns out, he does it by playing the boring old Four Knights Opening, 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bb5. And then for some reason his opponents play 4. ... Bd6 against him. I don't know why anyone would turn down the opportunity to play the Rubinstein Variation, 4. ... Nd4, which is not boring at all but promises Black lots of fun at the mere cost of a pawn. But apparently 4. ... Bd6 is the fashionable move these days, and Grandelius won two games against it last week.
The above game is actually from November 2017, and it went 5. d3 a6 6. Ba4 b5 7. Bb3 Na5 8. O-O O-O 9. Bg5 h6 10. Bh4 Nxb3 11. ab Bb7 12. d4! ed 13. Qxd4 Be7 14. e5 Nh7 15. Bxe7 Qxe7 16. Nd5 Bxd5 17. Qd5 Rfd8 18. Rfe1 Ng5 19. Nxg5 Qxg5 20. Qc5 d6 21. Qc3 de 22. Rxe5 Qd2, reaching the position above. I really like the game because of the way that Grandelius transforms his advantage. By putting his bishop on d6, Black blocks the d-pawn and this eventually allows White to dominate the center with 12. d4 and 13. e5. Then 16. Nd5 comes along and induces Black to give up his bishop -- which makes the a-pawn a weakness. His rooks are not up to the task of defending the queenside pawns, so he tries a tactical solution with 20. ... d6 that backfires because of the Hook and Ladder Trick. Neat stuff!
While on the topic of the PRO Chess League, this weekend they made a very cool announcement: the last two rounds of the playoff will be held in San Francisco! This is amazing news, because the playoffs are likely to involve big stars like Carlsen, Vishy Anand of the Mumbai Movers, Hikaru Nakamura of the Seattle Sluggers, and Fabiano Caruana of the St. Louis Arch Bishops. I'm not quite sure how this is all going to work. I thought that big chess stars have their schedules set months in advance, so it would seem surprising if they could change their schedules and come out to San Francisco on only a month's notice (or less, because no one knows yet which teams will make the playoffs). Ordinarily, the only way to get the big stars is to offer big money... but does the PRO Chess League have that kind of money?
Apparently they do! Maybe it's because the league is hitching a ride on the popularity of "e-sports." The playoff will be held at a venue called the Folsom Street Foundry that is used for other e-sports. Is this the future of chess? To be treated as another version of Grand Theft Auto?
I'm not against it. It's a brave new world out there, and if this is what it takes to get a new generation excited about chess, let's see if it works. Anyway, I'm marking down April 7 on my calendar. It should be amazing. Hopefully I'll get Nils Grandelius' autograph. And maybe that other guy, too, Magnus Whatshisname...