The team narrowly avoided defeat in the last round to clinch first. SOCAR, the top seed and 2014 champion, was second on tie-breakers. Nona, the top seed from Georgia, easily won the women’s title.

The Russian team Siberia won the 2015 European Club Cup on Saturday, but it had to survive a final-round scare.

Going into the final round of the tournament, it had been Siberia all the way — it had won all of its matches, and it was really its tournament to lose. Even a drawn match would clinch clear first place. But as is so often the case in chess, no great achievement comes easily.

In the early going, Siberia found itself in a hole as the hero of Round 6, Li Chao B of China, was crushed by Obiettivo Risarcimento Padova’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, who is one of the only western players to have maintained a good score against top Chinese players as they have risen to power.

Straight out of the opening, I like the position of Vachier-Lagrave, who was White. The Black queenside has been loosened and his g7 bishop looks terrible, especially when compared to its gorgeous counterpart on a3.

Vachier-Lagrave wasted no time in blasting the game wide open with 15. b4!, looking to open lines on the weakened Black queenside. After 15. … Nf6 16. bxa5 bxa5 17. Nc4 Nd5 18. Ne5 f4 19. Qb3, Black’s position was already critical, with the enormously active white pieces raking the board. If Li had more time on the clock at this point he might have been able to offer a bit more resistance, but as it played out, Vachier-Lagrave collected the full point in just 32 moves.

Not for nothing, though, had Siberia made it this far unscathed. Their squad showed great resilience to adversity throughout the tournament, and this round was no exception. In Round 6, Li’s countryman, Wang Yue, had a really awful game. But in Round 7, the roles were reversed and it was Wang’s time to shine. In an encounter with another Frenchman, Etienne Bacrot, Wang, who had White, played the trendy 5. h3 line against the King’s Indian and conducted the opening and middlegame excellently. The critical moment came at move 24:

Wang’s knight is attacked and it doesn’t have a great place to go. In addition, his queenside looks a little loose. For instance, the natural 24. Nd5? would be met by 24. … Nxd5 25. Qxd5 Bxe6, when White already has to be very concernd about a devastating threat like Qa4, crushing the queenside and the white king along with it.

Instead, cool as a cucumber, Wang found the extremely strong 24. e7!, counterattacking the rook on f8. If had moved to g8 or f7, then Nd5 would become credible because Black would not have the Be6 resource. So Bacrot took the pawn with 24. … Qxe7, but this relinquished control over the a4 square and allowed 25. Na4!.

Black was now up a pawn but his position was full of holes, and with a6, b4, and d6 all hanging, his material advantage was going to be temporary. Black’s position was very difficult here, and Bacrot was unable to hold.

After 25. … a5 26. Qxd6 Qxd6 27. Rxd6 Rfd8 28. Rxd8! Rxd8 29. Rg5! There were just too many weaknesses and Black had to lose material. Wang converted his advantage flawlessly and helped Siberia draw the match and clinch the championship.

While seven rounds is not a long event, there is no doubt that some players, especially older ones, can get tired by the end. This might explain some of the unusual oversights that arose in Round 7 in the games of several strong players. One strange one occurred in the game between the Israeli Michael Roiz and Vassily Ivanchuk of Ukraine.

The position is about equal. The impressive piece activity of Ivanchuk, who is Black, compensates for White’s bishop pair and the isolated d5 pawn. Plenty of moves would maintain the status quo and lead to a long struggle in a tense but dynamically balanced position, but instead Roiz pretty quickly played 22. Rc2?, which lost a pawn after 22. … b4! 23. Na4 Bxe3!. The point was that 24. Bxe3 would be answered by 24. … Rxc2 25. Qxc2 Qxe3+, and that 24. Rxc8 could be met by the zwischenzug (in-between) move 24…. Bxf2+. After the blunder, Black won very quickly.

Perhaps even stranger was the misstep by Alon Greenfeld, another Israeli, misstep against Dmitry Andreikin of Russia.

Greenfeld, who was playing Black, was up a piece and Andreikin’s compensation was dubious. There were plenty of moves that maintained a pleasant advantage. My choice would have been 22. … Nd6, aiming to pressure the weak pawns — the computer prefers the unnatural looking moves 22. … Nc6 or 22. … Rd7. 

Instead black played 22. … Bg4 and after 23. f3 Bh5, his light-squared bishop became locked out of the game for a long time and he lost his b7 pawn for nothing. That turned the tables. Andreikin now had the advantage and easily converted it into a win. I wonder how this could have possibly happened, particularly considering Greenfeld had played quite a nice game up to that point to get such an advantage against a 2700 player with the Black pieces.

In the Women’s section, the top-ranked squad from Georgia, Nona, which featured Nana Dzagnidze of Georgia, No. 3 in the world among women, cruised to an easy 7-0 score and the European title. Gambit Asseko See of Macedonia was second. 

Additional coverage: Day 6; Day 5Day 4Day 3Day 2Day 1Imported players at European Club Cup.


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.