With Some Difficulty, Russia Retains Lead at Team Championship
BySamuel ShanklandNov 19 — 8:59 PM
Image by Przemysław Jahr
The top-seeded Russians had a surprising amount of trouble with 17th-seeded Georgia in Round 6 of the European Team Championship. Up next? France, which beat No. 2 seeded Ukraine.
Russia had a bit of a nail-biter in their Round 6 match with Georgia at the European Team Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland. But the top-seeded team pulled out the win by a score of 2.5-1.5 to remain in first place.
Russia got a critical win from Evgeny Tomashevsky, who was White, in his game against Mikhael Mchedlishvili.
The game had been fairly equal for a long time, but in the above position Mchedlishvili played 29. … Kg8? (Rd8 was better), and Tomashevsky found the quiet but very effective 30. Qf4!, after which, strangely enough, the simple threat of d4-d5 is completely impossible to prevent. This would either leave Black with a shaky kingside pawn structure or give White a powerful passed d pawn.
Not wanting to suffer a slow and painful death, Mchedlishvili looked for some semblance of active counterplay, but after 30. … Rd8 31. d5 Rc2, but this was refuted by the strong shot 32. Nxf7!, showing that even the nitty gritty technical players like Tomashevsky are tactically alert and can strike when they smell blood. After 32….Rf8 33. de6 Rc5 34. b4, Mchedlishvili resigned.
The margin of victory for Russia was narrow because Georgia did had an upset win on Board 3. Ian Nepomniatchi, who had been having a very good tournament —winning a couple nice games against Ivan Salgado Lopez of Spain and Alexander Areschenko of Ukraine — did not have a good day and went down to defeat to the much lower rated Levan Pantsulaia.
The game had been topsy turvy and the players reached the position above just after time control. Nepomniachtchi, who was Black, looks more or less fine to me — his pressure on the kingside and his outside passed pawn on the queenside should be enough to compensate for being down a pawn.
Oddly, after playing a bunch of good moves with very little time on the clock, Nepomniatchi now played 41. … Qb6? on the first move after time control. There are no shortage of better moves. My choice would be Qh5 (the computer claims both Qf6 and Qg5 are also good). After Pantsulaia’s strong reply of 42. Nc6!, the Black queen was really misplaced on b6 and could not assist in the kingside attack.
The game continued 42. … fxe3 43. fxe3 Qd7 47. d4!, it was already clear that things had gone terribly wrong for Black and Nepomniachtchi eventually resigned.
The match on Board 2 was between France against Ukraine. Almost certainly, Russia was hoping for a drawn match so that it could put a little distance between itself and its pursuers. But that was not to be, as Laurent Fressinet of France, who had White, scored the lone win of the match, and in the process finally demonstrated that Pavel Eljanov is human after all and can be beaten.
The game had been tight throughout and I even preferred Black at some moments, but, in the above position, it feels like White is the one with a slight edge. However, Eljanov would have had a fine position with decent counterplay after something like 30. … c4, with the idea of advancing his pawn majority on the queenside.
Instead, he played 30. … h4?!, which is not all that bad a move if followed up correctly, but Eljanov must have missed the Frenchman’s idea. After 31. Bf2 Rd3? (31. … Re5, giving up the exchange, would have still been complicated, though I would prefer White) 32. Bxc5!, it was basically over. Eljanov resigned on the spot.
While neither Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion, nor his team are in contention for a top prize, Carlsen finally won his first game of the tournament, and he did it in his usual fine style, where he makes it almost look effortless. His opponent was Peter Leko of Hungary, who had White.
The position above was from early in the game. Leko had managed to obtain the bishop pair, but with elementary positional chess, Carlsen took the upper hand: 17. … cxd3! 18. Qxd3 Bxa2 (so long bishop pair!) 19. Rxa2.
Each player now had a backward pawn — the c3 pawn for White and the d6 pawn for Black. The battle should revolve around who can get rid of that weakness first by advancing the pawn — whoever could do that would have a very pleasant position. Carlsen solved his problem immediately by 19. … d5!, relying on the fact that 20. exd5? would not work after 20. … e4. After Carlsen advanced his pawn, he had a nice advantage and converted it with no major problems.
Looking ahead to Round 7, France will play Russia, in what could be the critical match of the tournament. If Russia wins, or even draws the match, it may be very difficult for anyone to catch them.
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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