Mr Hedgehog

I have never been a fan of knockout chess events, and have always regarded the FIDE World Cup and associated world championship events as a monstrosity, despite the superficial excitement that they generate. However, I have to admit to having greatly enjoyed the latest World Cup. The fact that Peter Svidler emerged as winner is certainly a factor, as the cricket-loving, Anglophile, St Petersburg GM has always been a favourite of mine. But the key reason I so much enjoyed Khanty-Mansisk was the superlative online coverage provided by the official website, which included both live video from the playing hall, and GM commentary in English and Russian. Naturally, most Westerners will have listened to the English version, provided by Konstantin Landa and Anna Sharevich.

 The world’s least appropriate radio face – WGM Anna Sharevich from Belarus (Photo: Sergey Kasparov for Chessbase)

But for me, the great delight of the event was the Russian-language commentary, provided principally by Sergey Shipov. Since leaving Moscow in 2005, I still spend a lot of time reading and translating Russian, but I get very few opportunities to speak or hear the language, and it is always a pleasure when I do. In addition, Sergey Shipov is an outstanding commentator. He is nowadays inactive as a player, and although at his height, he reached a FIDE rating of 2667, he is little-known as a player outside Russia . Indeed, I recall Matthew Sadler saying that he once angrily “corrected” the letter “p” to a letter “r” on his Chessbase, “unable to believe that any player could be born just one letter away from chess greatness”!

But Sergey Shipov was a very strong player indeed. He has a particularly good reputation as a blitz player, so much so that he was a regular blitz sparring partner of Garry Kasparov, when the latter was still an active player. Kasparov played even his blitz as a serious training exercise, and he selected opponents on the basis that they would provide a serious challenge, so anyone he regarded as worth using in this regard has to be a pretty decent player. Thanks to his very deep and rapid grasp of positions, Sergey is perfectly qualified to be an online commentator, as he is immediately able to get to the heart of positions, and explain the key ideas and plans, as well as analysing the tactics. His World Cup sessions were a veritable goldmine of instruction.

This was never more so than during yesterday’s fourth game of the Svidler-Grischuk final, which saw the players reach a Hedgehog formation.  The latter was and is Sergey’s calling card. He is one of the greatest experts in the world on the system, and his Russian book on the line is one of the finest opening books I have ever seen. It is now available in a two-volume English translation, published by Mongoose Press. Although I have not seen the latter, I would still not hesitate to recommend it; even if the translators have mangled the original (and I have absolutely no reason to think they have), they could hardly prevent the result still being a masterpiece of chess instruction.

Here is an example of Sergey’s own prowess with the Hedgehog. The game is one is one of his favourites, and was selected by him in an interview published some years ago on the Chess Cafe website.

White Fridman, Daniel

Black Shipov, Sergei 

Berlin 1996

1. c4 Nf6 2. Nf3 c5 3. Nc3 e6 4. g3 b6 5. Bg2 Bb7 6. O-O Be7 7. Re1 d6 8. e4 a6 9. d4 cxd4 10. Nxd4 Qc7 11. Be3 Nbd7 12. f4 Rc8 13. Rc1 Qb8 14. b3 O-O

A typical Hedgehog middlegame ensues. Black manoeuvres behind his 3rd rank pawn wall, waiting for the chance to hit back with the breaks b5, d5 or e5.

15. Qe2 Qa8 16. Bf2 Rfe8 17. Bf3 h6 18. a4 Bf8 19. e5 dxe5 20. fxe5 Nh7 21. Bxb7 Qxb7 22. Nf3

22…f5! 

Sergey was very proud of this decision. Usually in such positions, Black leaves the potentially weak white e5-pawn in place, but here, he forces its exchange. If White does not take en passant, then he loses control of the square e4 for ever, but after the exchange on f6, the black e6-pawn becomes passed and threatens to advance through White’s position.

23. exf6 Nhxf6 24. Ne5 Nxe5 25. Qxe5 Bb4 26. Qe2 Rcd8

White has a great many positional problems – draughty light squares around his king, the passed enemy e-pawn, holes on the queenside, etc. His position is terribly difficult to hold together.

27. Red1 Rxd1+ 28. Qxd1 Rf8 29. Qe2 Qc6 30. Be3 Nd7 31. Bf2 Nc5 32. Na2

Now Black finishes his opponent off with a small combination.

32…Nxb3! 33. Rb1 Rxf2! 0-1

After either capture on f2, 34…Bc5 is deadly.

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