Team Siberia Maintains Its Grip on First in European Club Cup
BySamuel ShanklandOct 23 — 11:37 PM
The Russian team dispatched another rival in Round 6 and remains undefeated with one round to go. It only needs to draw in its last round to clinch first. Four teams are tied for second, each with one loss.
Siberia, the No. 2 seed in the European Club Cup, kept its record perfect by beating another top rival in the penultimate round and now only needs a draw in the last round to secure the championship.
In Round 6, Siberia’s victim was Alkaloid, the No. 3 seed. The pace was set quite early as SOCAR’s Li Chao b of Chine, who was White, pretty much cruised straight past Dmitry Andreikin of Russia.
White had a pleasant advantage for some time in the form of his extra central presence and more active king, but had been unable to turn it into anything tangible. But, in the diagram above, the Li could have played 31. Ke3 and kept a modest edge, but he forged aheadwith 31. Kd5!, which was even stronger.
After 31. … Rd8+ 32. Kc6 Rd2, even with the knight on b5 under attack, it seemed that Andreikin was achieving very real counterplay along the second rank, but Li Chao was ready with 33. a4! It was a splendid move that White must have seen in advance.
Now if Black were to exchange knights, after 33. … Rxe2 axb5, he would have unable to stop the very simple plan of Kxc7, Kxb6, and queening the b pawn. So Andreikin tried 33. … Nd6, but this freed up the c3 square for Li’s knight. Soon enough the entire queenside fell, and Li collected the first full point for Siberia.
Yury Kryvoruchko of Ukraine leveled the score for Alkaloid with a fine victory over Li’s countryman, Wang Yue. Based on what was happening on the other boards, it looked as if the match would end in a draw. But then the game on the top board between Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, playing for Siberia, and Vassily Ivanchuk of Ukraine, took an unexpected turn.
Ivanchuk, who was White, was slightly better against Kramnik, but I thought against even remotely competent defense, there was no chance Ivanchuk would win. But then Ivanchuk fell apart, somewhat as he had the day before against Peter Leko of Hungary.
In the position above, Ivanchuk played 31. Nxd5?, which unnecessarily released the bind he had on Kramnik. The pin on the d file was really tough for Kramnik to deal with and he must have been thrilled to exchange the knights.
Instead, 31. a4! would have posed some real problems Kramnik, although I do believe that he would have been able to have eventually simplified to a drawn pawn-down rook ending.
[Editor’s note — In the diagrammed position, 31. c4 does not win material because of 31 … bc4 32. bc4 Ne3 33. Rd6 Nc4. Or, 32. Nc4 Re1 33. Kg2 Rf6, and Black has counterplay because of White’s exposed king.]
The game actually continued 31 … Rdxd5, and Ivanchuk erred again with 32. c4? After 32. … bxc4 33. bxc4 Rxd4 34. Rxd4 Rxf5, Kramnik was poised to collect the h5 pawn for nothing. He rode his extra pawn to victory and moved gave the Siberian squad a perfect score of 6-0.
SOCAR, the top seed, which had lost to Siberia in Round 5, bounced back in Round 6 against Ave Novy Bor. I particularly enjoyed the encounter between Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, playing for SOCAR, and Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland. The two players are the strongest and most consistent devotees to meeting the English Attack against the Najdorf Sicilian with an early 8. … h5. This line has been contested in several of their games. This time it was Topalov’s time to shine.
The players arrived at the diagram above. Up to this point, the game had been quite positional in nature. Topalov, who was White, had placed his rooks on d1 and c1 to potentially support a c5 advance and had not commenced the kind of attack on the kingside that is usually associated with this opening.
But his play contained more than a drop of poison and he unexpectedly expanded on the kingside with 24. g4! The move did not have any grand attacking ambitions — the only means of opening a file would be gxh5, which would be undesirable. Rather, Topalov played g4 to eventually drive away the knight on the f6 square by advancing g5, giving him a foothold on e4 for his own knight. He then planned to play c5, after which Black would be in some trouble.
After 24. … hxg4, Topalov correctly responded with 25. fxg4!, using the pawn on h3 to prevent the h8 rook from penetrating to the second rank. Taking with the f pawn also allowed Topalov to attack h5 with his bishop after he pushed g5, so that Black had to think twice about whether he wanted to move his knight to that square.
Not wanting to be squeezed by allowing an octopus of a knight on e4, Wojtaszek tried 25. … e4, but eventually Topalov was able to round up the weak pawn and close out the game in fine style, leading his team to a 3.5-2.5 victory.
Another match featured a very interesting endgame between Christian Bauer of France and Jonas Lampert of Germany.
After being outplayed in the middlegame, Lampert, who was Black, offered a lot of resistance to reach the position above. It looks hopeless — Lampert is down a piece after all — but White only has 2 pawns left, and the wrong bishop for his h pawn. As such, Black is able to hold. But not with 50. … h4?, as played in the game. After 51. g4!, White was able to leave himself with a g pawn instead of an h pawn. He then used his bishop to control the Black h pawn and eventually broke through with his king.
Instead, I believe 50. … f4! would have drawn. The key difference is that after 51. g4 hxg4 52. hxg4, Black’s pawn is on f4 rather than h4. This is important because it helps restrict the advance of the White king by controlling the e3 square. Here, the only square White can use to bring his king closer to the action on the kingside is d3, and black has 3 squares for his king to prevent the maneuver Kc4, d4, and e4. White cannot control all of them, so the position is drawn. With the pawn on h4, as occurred in the game, White has the e3 square available for his king, so c4 is no longer an acceptable square for the Black king. With only 2 squares instead of 3, Black will fall into a deadly zugzwang.
With only one round to go, it seems unlikely that any team can stop Siberia from winning the title. But chess is never easy, and the players on Siberia’s opponent, Obiettivo Risarcimento Pdova, will certainly pressure them enormously to try to achieve a tie. It should make for an exciting finish.
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.
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