The top teams won all their matches in Round 2, but a few of their players were defeated by much lower-ranked opponents. Among those who lost were the world’s No. 2 and No. 5 ranked players.

Through the first two rounds of the European Club Cup, the top teams have all won their matches, but there have been plenty of exciting games and upsets on individual boards. 

The top-seeded SOCAR team won their second match, 5-1, over SV Werder Bremen of Germany. As lopsided as this score was, it did feature a big upset on Board 1 as SOCAR’s Anish Giri of the Netherlands lost to the much lower rated Vlastimil Babula of the Czech Republic. The trouble for Giri arose in the position after 24. Kh1:

This is an insanely complicated position. Black, of course, has full compensation for his sacrificed piece with his enormous activity and the two passed pawns on the queenside, but White is not without counterplay and the Black king looks quite insecure. With such a complex situation on the board, even the best players in the world are not immune to error.

Here Giri played 24. … b3?, which allowed his pawns to be fixed on the dark squares, greatly hampering their mobility. Instead, the computer suggests 24. … a3, which leaves Black much better in what is still an unclear position with chances for both sides.

After 24. … b3 25. Rbd1! R3d6 26. Be5!, White was able to force the exchange of one pair of rooks and eventually queens as well, all while maintaining the blockade. I particularly enjoyed the final position, after 39. g4:

Here Black is entirely paralyzed. If he plays 39. … g5, White can respond 40. fxg5 hxg5 and 41. h5!, Or, if 39. … h5, then 40. g5. In both cases the king can never get out of the corner and the rook can never leave the back rank, while the White king will just walk over and collect the b3 and a2 pawns.

On Board 2, Siberia routed SC MPA Maria Saal of Austria. I particularly enjoyed how Alexander Grischuk played against Markus Ragger in a King’s Indian Defense.

The King’s Indian always feels like it should somehow lose by force, but so far nobody has ever been able to shut down the best KID players in the world, like Grischuk or Nakamura, with any regularity. They always find new ways to play for the initiative. In the game between Ragger and Grischuk, the following position was reached after 27. Ne1:

Black has already achieved a nice King’s Indian position by making the break on g4 and compromising the White kingside without losing any material. Still, White has some activity on the other side and a reasonably solid structure. The question is what to do. 

Here, Grischuk came up with a lovely maneuvre 27. … Nh8! fixing the problem of his bad knight and opening the file for his rook. Soon enough the knight landed on g5, and while there were plenty more fireworks, eventually White’s poor king position compelled him to give up some material. Grischuk went on to win in fine style.

The King’s Indian does not always work, however. In Round 2, it did not serve Nakamura well. He was upset by the lower-rated Yannick Pelletier of Switzerland. Pelletier did what every White player dreams of in the King’s Indian: he took space and then material on the queenside, and somehow Black never even managed to advance his pawn to f5 to begin his counterattack. Pelletier’s victory was probably aided by excellent preparation.

In the position above, Pelletier played 13. axb6!?, absolutely decimating the Black queenside for the price of a piece. Nakamura clearly was not aware of this move or at least did not remember what to do, because he spent a considerable amount of time on his next few moves.

After 13. … Rxa3 14. Nb5 Ra5?! (according to the computer, Ra8 was better, but Nakamura can hardly be criticized as these positions are very inhuman) 15. bc7 Qd7 16 a4!, and Nakamura’s rook looked really silly. White was now ready for a quick Nb3, followed by c5. Pelletier went on to win rather easily, scoring a huge upset against the No. 2-ranked player in the world.

Luckily for Nakamura, his teammates on Obiettivo Risarcimento Padova prevailed in their games, leading the Italian squad to a 4-2 win over Schachgesellschaft Zurich.

Giri and Nakamura were hardly the only upsets on the day. Another notable one was 2304-rated Dejan Dinev of Macedonia, playing for Gambit Asseko See, defeating Viktor Laznicka of the Czech Republic, a member of Ave Novy Bor, with the Black pieces. This was surely due to Laznicka overpressing in a position that he should have accepted was equal. But all credit should also go to Dinev for taking advantage of the opportunity when it was presented to him.

In the above position, Laznicka played 37. Be8? This move surely was the product of major time trouble. With move 40 approaching, Laznicka had just the 30-second increment to find the best moves. Instead 37. Rb7 should hold the rook ending after 37. … Ba4 38. Bxa4 Rxa4, because of Black’s horrendously passive rook on a4.

But after 37. Be8, Dinev cooly played 37. … Kf8. Then, after Laznicka took the pawn with 38. Bxf7?, Dinev replied 38. … Bd5! Black now controled the b7 square, and White’s pieces were terribly uncoordinated. It was impossible for him to stop the simple advance of the b pawn.

With two rounds over, the competition should get more intense as some of the top squads begin to face tougher opposition. 

Coverage of Day 1


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 7 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.