Back in the Sadler

“They never come back”, according to the old saying in the boxing world. Thankfully, that is not always true in chess. Many years ago, I had my only-ever experience of giving serious, one-on-one chess coaching, to a remarkable young boy, then aged about eight years old. He was remarkable because he combined great all-round intelligence, tremendous natural chess talent, and a ferocious work ethic. He came from a talented family; his brother was one of the best young concert pianists in Britain, finishing second in the BBC’s televised “Young Musician of the Year”. The  youngster’s name was Matthew Sadler. To cut a long story short, he went on to become number 15 in the world, putting up a series of outstanding performances for England in Olympiads and other team events, in the late 1990s. He also became a sought-after second, working extensively for European stars Lautier and Piket, and the former once beat Garry Kasparov as Black, with a Sicilian novelty prepared by Matthew.

 Photo: Chessbase/ Jacoby archive

But then suddenly, in 1999, aged 25, Matthew gave up professional chess, and moved to Holland, to work in computing. His reasons were not totally obvious, but basically, he felt that he had had his fun, and it was time to get a real job. He was also handicapped by the fact that, despite his exalted world ranking, he was still only the number three in England, behind Adams and Short, and this meant that he tended to miss out on a lot of invitations to big events – any organiser wanting an Englishman would tend to take one of the top two. So, one of England’s best players walked away from the game. Initially, he continued to play Bundesliga, but eventually even gave that up, Over the past 12 years, he has contented himself with a few games for his local Dutch club, Amersfoort, where he is the best player by about 400 rating points! For a number of years, his only annual outing over the chess board was the Dutch Commercial Team Championships, where he would turn out for his employer over a weekend, and massacre a group of decent amateur players.

However, things picked up twelve months ago, and Matthew started playing a few rapid and weekend events in Holland. His success was immediate, as he won a series of such tournaments, ahead of a small group of Dutch professionals, such as Eric van den Doel, who make their living from such small events. Matthew made a big splash, by playing a few eccentric Basmaniac openings, such as 1…h6 and 2…a6. As a lapsed professional, it paid to avoid too much theory!  But the appetite grows with the eating, and soon, Matthew was working seriously on the game again, and plotting a return to international tournaments. It finally happened last week, at the Sants Open in Barcelona. It could not have been better. In a monster field of 350 players, including over 20 GMs, Matthew scored seven wins and three draws, for an outright first place on 8.5 /10. He was never in real danger of losing, and played with all his old tactical flair.

Photo: Chessbase 

His last round game was against the number one seed, Jan Smeets, one of the new generation of young Dutch GMs, who have emerged during Sadler’s retirement period. Smeets is a regular second of Topalov, and thus can be presumed to be very well-prepared in sharp openings.  In this game, he defended the Meran QGD, a line in which Sadler has a great record as White. He prepared it immensely thoroughly back in 1997, in readiness for playing Russian Semi-Slav expert Alexey Dreev, in the inaugural FIDE World Cup in Groningen. He did such a good job, that despite 14 years of theoretical advances, his preparation in this line is still top-class, as several strong GMs have recently found to their cost. Smeets was to be added to the list:

[Event “Barcelona”]
[Date “2011.08.28”]
[White “Sadler”]
[Black “Smeets”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “D48”]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. Nf3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Bd3 Bb7  Another top GM who has recently felt the Sadler expertise in the Meran is ex-FIDE world champion, Rustam Kazimdzhanov. A few months ago, he played 8a6 against Matthew, at the Dordrecht blitz tournament, but after 9.e4 c5 10.d5 Qc7 11.0-0 c4 12.Bc2 Bc5 13.dxe6 fxe6 14.Ne2 Bb7 15.Nf4 Qb6 16.Ng5 e5 17.Nfe6 White again had a raging attack, very similar to the present game, and which ended with the same result.  9. O-O a6 10. e4 c5 11. d5 Qc7 12. dxe6 fxe6 13. Bc2 c4 14. Ne2

14… Nxe4  As far as I can establish, this move is a novelty, but it looks an extremely risky one. As the Kazimdzhanov extract showed, White’s basic strategy in this line is to trap the black king in the centre and attack it, so opening the e-file is very dangerous. 15.Ned4 e5 16. Ne6 Qb6 17. Bxe4 Bxe4 18. Nfg5 Bg6 19. a4 b4 20. Qg4

White has a very strong attack against the uncastled black king.

Qc6 21. f4 Bd3 22. Be3 Nf6 23. Nc7+

Ke7?  This is the losing move. Black had to try 23…Qxc7, when Fritz actually thinks he is still surviving after 24.Qe6+ Be7 25.fxe5 Rf8! However, Smeets was in desperate time-trouble already, having only three minutes or so to reach move 40, so it was an almost impossible task to defend this position. 24. Qh3 e4 25. Nxa8 h6 26. Nc7 Bxf1 27. Rxf1

White has an extra piece, since 27…Qc7? 28 Qe6+ Kd8 29 Nf7+ wins the queen. The remaining moves are just time-scramble desperation. hxg5 28. Qxh8 g4 29. Nxa6 Kf7 30. Nxb4 Bxb4 31. Qd8 Nd5 32. Rd1 Bd6 33. a5 Qa4 34. Rxd5 1-0

So, the great news is that British chess has another star back in the fold! It just shows the merits of having a great work ethic and really putting 100% into whatever one does. And, of course, it helps to have been well coached when young…

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