With a draw in the Round 8, Russia kept its lead, but it must secure at least a draw in the final round to clinch the title.

Russia still has a little work to do if it is to win the European Team Championship. Before the penultimate round, it seemed that a draw would be sufficient to secure the title. But in Round 8, Hungary smashed Azerbaijan, winning 3.5-0.5, which not only advanced Hungary a half point closer to Russia, but also significantly improved the team’s tie-breakers. If Hungary can decisively beat Russia in the finale, Hungary could still swoop in to steal the gold.

Of Hungary’s three wins, the one I most enjoyed was Richard Rapport’s victory over the struggling Teimour Radjabov.

The position above is quite pleasant for white — Black’s c pawn is under control, and, while there are no concrete threats yet, the White bishops are looking very menacing, pointing directly at the kingside, while Black’s are not doing anything productive. If Black could migrate the b4 bishop to f6 or the b7 bishop to e6, he would be absolutely fine.

Instead, with his time running down, Radjabov chose 26. … Ba6?! This is a very tempting move because it looks like it forces some trades, but after 27. Qb2!, Black had all sorts of problems. White now threatened both 28. Qxg7, mate, and 28. Bxe6.

Black had no choice but to play 27. … Qg6, but after 28. Qa2! Bb7 29. Rd1!, White’s initiative grew quickly. Radjabov was also in time trouble, and within a few moves he was caught in a mating net and resigned.

Along with victories by Ferenc Berkes over Eltaj Safarli and Zoltan Almasi over Arkady Naiditsch, Hungary moved up to 12 match points (two points for a win and one for a draw) and 20.5 game points.

Russia could have clinched the title with a win, but the team only managed to draw in its match against Armenia. The key to the match was the victory of Gabriel Sargissian of Armenia over Alexander Grischuk.

Sargissian, who had White, obtained a slight edge in the opening. In the above position, White is a little better because Black will have a hard time developing the c8 bishop. But now Sargissian did something fairly unsual in queen pawn openings — he castled queenside with 12. 0-0-0!

White almost always castles kingside, particularly when both the c and d pawns have been exchanged. But in this case 0-0-0 turned out to be very strong. After 12. … Qxd4 13. Rxd4 e5 14. Rd2 Be6 15. b3 Rfd8 Rhd1, White had full control over the open file.

The next critical moment came a few moves later.

Black is one move away from equalizing. All he needs to do is to be able to play 21. … e4. But, Sargissian broke through first with 21. Nxb7!, relying on the resource 21. … e4 22. Nc5! exf3 23. Nxe6+ Ke7 24. Nf4 fxg2 25. Nxg2.

Black had some compensation due to the fractured kingside structure, but after 25. … g5 26. h4! h6 27. hxg5 hxg5, White was just up a pawn and that turned out to be enough to win the game.

While only two teams have a chance for first place, all the other teams are still fighting hard. And since it is the end of a tough tournament, fatigue has begun set in, particularly among older players. One player who may have been affected by fatigue in Round 8 was Alexei Shirov of Latvia.

After losing an almost unlosable endgame in 98 moves in Round 7 to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaian, fatigue may have come back to haunt Shirov in Round 8 in his game against Anish Giri of the Netherlands.

In the above position, Shirov, who is Black is definitely suffering, and he might even be lost. The looming invasion on the h file will be difficult to deal with. However, Black could still fight on and offer some meaningful resistance with 30. … Qb4. Instead, Shirov played 30. … Rd3??, and resigned immediately after 31. Rd1!, as he must either lose a rook or his queen for a rook.

Against Hungary in the final round on Sunday, Russia will be the favorite, both because of its higher rating and its better position in the standings. But Hungary now has a chance at least. And they have had some success recently being in a position where they had to win. In last year’s Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, Hungary clinched the silver medal by winning the last match. 

At least five other teams also have a shot at either the silver or bronze medal, so the last round will likely be hard fought and exciting.


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.