The game Ponomariov, Ukraine, v. Ni, China, is taken from the first round of the mammoth FIDE World Cup held in Russia. It is a French defense in which Ruslan Ponomariov, as White, comes up with the strange 5. Nce2.
Ni Hua, as Black, chose the road of normal development. Ponomariov’s prospects arose from the fact that he had cut off Black’s king, and Ni relied on his queen and bishop to defend his king’s wing. By the 18th move, Black had compromised his king’s pawn protection, putting the onus of good play on himself. On the 19th move Black moved his king to h8, allowing White’s knight to occupy h6 and after that the curtain soon falls.
a) I have generally seen 7.f4 played here. Now we have a position that could also arise by 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.c3 c5 6.Ndf3 Nc6 7.Ne2, whereas White usually plays 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.Ne2.
b) This seems like a limp reaction. More challenging responses would be 7. . .Qb6 or 7f6 (perhaps preceded by 7cxd4 8.cxd4).
c) White now seems to have a very easy game to play. His pieces are well placed to press the initiative on the kingside.
d) White gets a strong attack after 13. . .Bxh4 14.Nxh4 Qxh4 15.g3 Qe7 16.Nh5, but now after the move Black plays in the game White presses the attack at no cost.
e) Not 16. . .Bxf6? 17.Qd3 g6 18.Nxg6 hxg6 19.Qxg6+ Bg7 20.Nh5 etc.
f) It’s hard to suggest a good move for Black! 18. . .f5 would blunt the attack but at the cost of ruining Black’s dark squares.
g) 19. . .Bf8 looks like a better defense, although Black would still have a terrible position.
h) Of 20. . .Rf8 21.Qh5 etc.
i) Threatening mate in two with 24.Qf7+ Kh8 25.Qg8#.
j) Black’s position is shattered, e.g. 25. . .Rh8 26.Bh6+ Kg8 27.Qg4+ Kf7 28.Qg7+ etc.
Annotations by grandmaster Patrick Wolff, a two-time US champion.