Ponomariov - Ivanchuk 

  GM Ruslan Ponomariov (2725) - GM Vassily Ivanchuk (2715)  
Super-GM Tournament / Linares, Spain (ESP)
  (Round # 1), 2002.  

[A.J. Goldsby I]

A great game and a good brawl. 

Both sides seem to pull out all the stops.

This game could be seen as a "Grudge Match" and a continuation of their FIDE World Championship Match. (Ponomariov won in January, 2002.)

This game was played at the great "Super-GM" tournament of Linares, Spain. (ESP) I believe this event is traditionally played in Feb/Mar, every year. 

1. e4 e62. d4 d53. Nc3,  
This allows Black to play the Winawer Variation of the French. 
 (The French Defense.) 

   [ White could play the Tarrasch Variation with: 3.Nd2!?, This was (is) a 
      big favorite of Karpov's. So great was his influence that in the early 90's, 
      I went through about 6 Informants - and found NOT ONE example 
      of 3. Nc3, between two  'Top-50'  GM's!!].  


3...Bb44. e5 c55. a3 Bxc3+6. bxc3 Ne77. Qg4 0-0!?
When I was playing these lines all the time in tournament play, these lines 
were considered pretty risky. 

Of all GM's who have consistently played the French Defense in the past, 
only Korchnoi used to be brave enough to play this line. (Regularly.) 

   [ The main line is: 7...Qc7; {Diagram?} This move is more or less forced. 
     Weakening the dark-squares by ... g6?!; is considered foolhardy. 
Rg8; 9.Qxh7 cxd4; 10.Ne2 Nbc6; 11.f4 Bd7; 12.Qd3 dxc3; {"comp."} 
     Black has good counter-play and compensation for the material sacrificed. 
     (This line has been played literally hundreds of times at the GM level.) 

     Interesting is: 7...Kf8!? {Unclear?} ].  


8. Bd3 f5!?; (K-side space) 
This looks natural, but at the same time opens more lines to the Black King. 

This could be even be a dubious ... or just a plain bad move. 

   [ Maybe Black could play: 8...c4!?;  blocking the Q-side.

     Or 8...Qa5!? (Maybe - '!')  with an active game for Black. 

     I once won a tournament game (against an amatuer) that went 
     something like: 8...a6; 9.a4 Nbc610.Nf3 Bd7; 11.Bg5!, This is nice, but ... 
       (Even better for White is: 11.Bxh7+!!, ("+/-") White has a winning attack. 
       {I once defeated a U.S.C.F. Senior-Master with this idea, in an actual 
        over-the-board, tournament game!})   
     11...Rb8?; (Ugh.) Terrible, Black did not even see the threat. 
       (Much better was: 11...Qa5!; or even 11...Kh8!?)   12.Bf6 g6; 13.Qg5 Qe8
Nf5; Now this isn't much help.  15.Bxf5, and Black Resigned. 1-0 
     I only show this game to clearly illustrate what a strong attack White 
     has ... most of the time he does not even have to castle. ].  


9. exf6 Rxf610. Bg5, "+/="  
White is clearly just a little bit better now. 

   [ 10.Qg3!? ].  

10...Rf7; {Box.} 
This is forced. 

   [ 10...e5?; 11.Qh4, "+/-" ].  

11. Qh5! g612. Qd1! Nbc6;  
Now Black's K-side is riddled with holes, and potential targets for attack.

13.Nf3 Qf8!?
This looks too passive to me. 

  [Maybe just a little bit better is: 13...Qa5! (Counter-play.) ].  

14.0-0 c4; ('!?')  15. Be2 h6!?;   
Black gains space and drives back the dangerous White Bishop. He also makes 
a bid to exert more influence on the dark-squares ... yet I think he tampers with 
his Kingside way too much. 

   [ 15...Nf5!? ].  

16. Bc1!,  
Now the a3-f8 diagonal is available to White's QB. 

   [ 16.Bd2!? Nf5; "~" ].  

16...Bd717. Ne1!?;  
I am not sure what the purpose of this move is. 
(Is White preparing to re-shuffle all of his pieces?) 

   [ Seemingly better is: 17.Rb1!, "+/=" grabbing the half-open file. ].  

17...g518. g3!?;   
White may be preparing to put his KB on g2. (Re-deployment.) 
He is also looking at a possible move of f2-f4. 

   [ Maybe better is: 18.Bh5!? ]. 

Now I am not sure about this move. 

   [ Maybe better is: 18...Rd8!; with the idea of: ...e5! with an attack 
     on White's King! ].  

19. Ng2 Qg720. f4 Nd621. Qe1 b5!?; "~"  
Interesting, but ... 

    [ I like21...Qg6!; "=" {Diagram}  
    This seems to be much better than the game. ] 


The position is now almost completely equal. 
22. fxg5! Rxf1+23. Bxf1 hxg524. Ne3 Rf825. Bg2 a5;  

26. Bd2 Qg627. Ng4 Rf5!?; (Maybe - '?!') 
Black defends his King-side with this move.

But this idea may be bad. 

   [ Seemingly better is: 27...Qxc2!; 28.Bxg5 Qg6; "=" This idea could be 
     good, basically Black has liquidated a big liability - his isolated KNP. ]  


Now according to the computers, White has a significant advantage. Both 
of White's Bishops work well, and his pieces are well-posted. Additionally 
Black has many weaknesses and his light-squared Bishop is VERY bad. 
And to top it all off, Black's pieces now have little scope. (Passive.) 

28. Qe3 Kg7
29. Rb1 Kh7;  
Black is very passive here. He must sit and wait for White to decide what 
he is going to do. (Not a good situation to be in!) 

Now White correctly (and very brilliantly) opens the game for his Bishops 
and his Rook. (And his other pieces too!) 
30. a4! bxa431. Bc1 Rf732. Ba3 Qxc2?!; (Maybe - '?') 
To me, opening the game now, when White seems completely ready for 
it - is very, very risky. 

In actuality, this may be the losing move! 

I can only guess ... but I have read a great deal about Ivanchuk, and I have 
also seen him play. (A couple of times when I was in the military, and once I 
watched one of his games at the New York Open one year.)  He is very prone to 
time pressure, and this move may be a result of that. 

   [ Surely (much) better is:  32...Nf5!?; "~" ].  

33. Rc1 Qf534. Bh3!,  (Nice!)   
This is correct, although at first glance this might seem a very bad square 
for this Bishop. 

Now the threat is a discovered attack, (Ne5) White will lose his Bishop, 
but win the Black Rook on f7.

(This may have been the move that Ivanchuk overlooked.) 

   [ 34.h3!? ].  

Now Black has to move his Knight. (Or give away a piece for free.) 
34...Ne4[]35. Ne5 Qf2+36. Qxf2 Rxf237. Nxd7 Ra2;  
A piece down, Black desperately seeks counterplay. 

Now all the computers agree that Black is lost.

38. Bc5 Nd2
39. Bg2 a340. Nf8+ Kh641. Re1 e5!?
Black tries to mix it up. (What else can he do?)

42. dxe5 g443. e6 Nf3+44. Bxf3 gxf345. Kf1!, ("+/-") 
Black Resigns. 1-0 

A very exciting game, rich in fighting content and different ideas - ideas that 
are often radically different from those that are  'the norm'  in chess. 

I commented and played over this game one night on a Spanish chess server 
just a few days after it was played. As a result, I received over 60 requests to 
annotate this game. Enjoy! 

1 - 0 

This game can be downloaded free in  The Week In Chess (The old site.)  

 Game first posted on my web site, March 25th, 2002.  
(This page last updated:  Wednesday; November 15th, 2003.)


(I borrowed from a very old file to do the comments on the opening.)

This game is a shortened version of the game as it exists in my database.
  (I have shortened it just slightly for publication.)  
If you would like a copy of the fully annotated version
 of this game to study, please contact me.

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