We all know that computers have transformed chess, but in his Round 5 letter from the European Individual Championship in Aix-les-Bains, Sergey Shipov gave a particularly graphic account of how computer analysis can render strong grandmasters utterly helpless against apparently weaker opponents.
Shipov’s letter can be read in the Russian original at Crestbook. You can also play through the game he analyses in the viewer that follows my translation.
Kids and hulking brutes
To catch your opponent out in an opening line, to arrive for a game and, without making even a single move of your own at the board, to get a won position – that’s the dream of any chess player. And if, in former times, such victories were won through the blood, sweat and tears of long home analysis – moreover, without complete confidence in the quality of the analysis, and knowing that your opponent would sometimes find strong refutations at the board – the situation has now changed.
Nowadays you need to choose the sharpest of lines, where you’ve looked at the complications with a computer, while your opponent hasn’t. And the game’s in the bag!
It’s as if there’s a fight between young school pupils, but from behind the back of one of the kids an older hulking brute towers up and lands crushing blows against his defenceless young opponent.
Two against one, and moreover with the second much stronger than everyone else.
So then, enjoy this massacre of the innocents that took place in the fifth round.
Sergey Fedorchuk (2662) – Saša Martinović (2504)
Note who I’ve called an innocent – an experienced grandmaster with a high rating! But in the given game he turned out to be helpless. It was a mismatch…
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.Ngf3 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nf6 6.exd5 Nxd5 7.N2f3 Bb4+ 8.Bd2 0–0 9.Bc4
And this is where it begins.
Knowing what followed, it’s easy to recommend withdrawing the knight to e2, but at this point Fedorchuk still hadn’t grasped the strength of his opponent’s preparation. He simply didn’t know who he was dealing with. It goes without saying that taking the pawn on e5, without having looked at it beforehand, was problematic.
I think that after this instantly played move Sergey must already have suspected that he was in trouble. But it was already too late. The fight had begun.
In the line 11.Bxb4 Nxb4 12.Qxd8 Rxd8 13.Ne5 Nxc2+ 14.Ke2 Nxa1 15.Nxf7 (or 15.Rxa1 Be6 16.Bxe6 fxe6 17.Nc7 Nd7 18.Nxd7 Rac8! -+) 15…Bg4+ 16.Ke3 Nc2+ 17.Kf4
Black would win with the exquisite blow 17…Be2!! followed by 18.Nxd8+ Bxc4 19.Nc7 Nc6! and so on.
And if 12.Bxf3 Re8+ 13.Be2 Bg4 14.f3 then even a child would see the elegant mating conclusion 14…Bxf3! 15.gxf3 Qh4+ 16.Kf1 Bc5 17.Be1 Qh3#! Never mind the computer.
It’s also not hard to guess that the line 12.0–0 Qxd5 13.Bxb4 Qxb5 14.Bxf8 Kxf8 15.Qd6+ Ke8 16.a4 Qc4 17.Qg3 Be6 18.Qxg7 Qg4! (with a big advantage for Black) would have been taken care of by the great hurricane. (Translator’s note: a set phrase of Ostap Bender’s – for example, in the scene featured in the YouTube video I included in an earlier Shipov report from Aix-les-Bains, Bender uses it to “explain” how the small town of Vasiuki would find the money to invite all the world’s leading grandmasters to play there. Here I think it refers to Martinović, or rather his computer!)
Elegant geometry, don’t you think?
13.Kd2 Qxb5 14.Kc3
A desperate king dash under fire has allowed White to keep his pieces, but a new salvo follows.
This was the first move in the game on which Martinović spent even a little time thinking.
Up to that point he still had his original hour and a half on the clock. The 30 second increment for each move had been more than enough to conduct the game.
This computer trick could no longer have surprised anyone. There followed:
16.Bxf8 Qe5+ 17.Kb3 (or 17.Kc4 Rxf8 18.Bd5 Qf4+ with mate) 17…Nd4+ 18.Kb4 Qb5+ 19.Kc3
Black wins the queen. White resigned, not even having managed to get to the 20-move mark!
You’ll agree that was a massacre. A top class player was simply wiped from the board.
A young, and for now still little-known, international master from Croatia. Judging by the class and depth of his opening analysis, a great future awaits him. I hope it won’t be the future of Sebastien Feller…
What is there for us, kids, to do in the current traumatic situation? There are only two options.
1. Prepare hard with a computer around the whole perimeter of the opening repertoire.
2. Avoid topical and sharp lines, taking Svidler’s approach.
There’s also a third, purely hypothetical, possibility: to reach the level of Kasparov and Kramnik, i.e. to become a hulking brute yourself! To learn to play an unfamiliar position at the same strength as a decent computer program.
But that’s granted only to the chosen. Not an option for all.
You can play through the game below. As you can see (according to the PGN file at The Week in Chess), Fedorchuk did just manage to scrape over the 20-move mark, though it didn’t bring him much joy!
Game viewer by Chess Tempo