Here's an oddity I came across after reading about the Foxwoods Open in the latest New In Chess. The tournament was won by Darmen Sadvakasov in a play-off after, so NiC reporter Loek van Wely tells us, catching up the leader in the final round with a win on the Black side of the Exchange Slav.
Now there are few variations that interest me more than the Exchange Slav, particularly if Black actually manages to win, so I went looking for the game score and found a pgn file with the relevant game. However, scrolling up to find it, I found myself distracted by a different game, also in the Slav, in which White lost very quickly in a variation known to be a draw.
The game appears at the bottom of this report and was played in the final round between IM Justin Sarkar and GM Julio Becerra Rivero. Both players began the final round on the same score, 5.5/8.
The game went as follows:
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 e6 7.f3 Bb4
This line was popular at super-GM level in the Nineties: later 7...c5 was tried in the Kramnik-Topalov match. Rather than 6...e6 the variation with 6...Nbd7 is more common presently, especially if Black has any interest in playing for a win.
8.e4 Bxe4 9.fxe4 Nxe4
Sarkar had had this position at least once before, in the 2006 US Championships against David Vigorito, in which White continued with the normal 10.Bd2 and play continued 10...Qxd4 11.Nxe4 Qxe4+ 12.Qe2 Bxd2+ 13.Kd2 Qd5+
giving a much-explored position in which White's piece is now generally judged to just outweigh Black's three pawns, although the line remains perfectly playable (indeed I play it myself) provided Black is prepared to accept a draw.
I say this because not only is the main line difficult to play for a win if White is not in the mood for a contest, but in fact White has an alternative tenth move which makes it almost compulsory for Black to accept the draw: and this move, 10.Qf3, is what Sarkar played.
This threatens mate on f7 and the knight on e4 and thus (unless Black just wants to be a piece down) forces the response - played by Becerra - 10...Qxd4 which was met by 11.Qxf7+ Kd8
and now 12.Bg5+ is the move, after which 12...Nxg5 13.Qxg7
and now it's considered that Black should accept the draw with 13...Bxc3+ 14.bxc3 Qxc3+ 15.Ke2 Qc2+ since the alternatives (13...Qe3+ and 13...Qh4+) are unpromising. I won't go into the variations here - the interested might like to see Burgess, The Slav, Gambit 2001, pages 234-236 - but at the very least, if Black wishes to avoid the draw, 6...Nbd7 is certainly a much safer, more reliable and more combative way of going about it. It's most unlikely that a master would expect to play for a win, against another master, after 10.Qf3.
However, Becerra got one. Because Sarkar didn't take the draw: instead, he took on g7 immediately, 12.Qxg7??
which loses, and lost, immediately after 12..Bxc3+ 13.bxc3 (13.Ke2 Qxe5) 13...Qf2+. And White resigned, having apparently overlooked this simple capture, check and mate.
Odd, that this should happen to an International Master with a 2400+ rating and prior experience of the variation, but such things happen, even to the greatest of us: meanwhile the lucky Becerra came fourth and took home $668.40, a rather greater prize than either player would have won in the event of a draw.
Luckier still given his apparent willingness to accept the draw for which he didn't, as it turned out, have to settle. An odd preference in itself, given that although he had the Black pieces, his rating exceeded White's by around two hundred points: given his greater strength and the prize money on offer, he surely had every reason to play for a win. Maybe he expected White, too, to play for the win, but found instead that Sarkar called his bluff - so he had no choice but to settle for a draw. Or so it seemed. Until a stroke of fortune came his way.
But such things happen.