The European Individual Championship is one of the elite events on the calendar. Yet year after year, the number of top players competing in the championship has declined.
This article is copyright free and can be reproduced without permission.
The European Individual Chess Championship now underway in Gjakov, Kosovo, has a prize fund of 120,000 euros, including 20,000 for first place. More importantly, the tournament is a qualifier for the 2017 World Cup, with 23 available spots. As the top two finishers in the World Cup qualify for the Candidates tournament to select the challenger for the World Championship, the European Championship can be a step for a player to qualify for the World Championship.
Given what is at stake in the European Championship, there is curiously one thing missing: a lot of strong players.
In this year’s championship, there are only five players rated 2700 or above. (A rating of 2700 is the plateau of the elite players; there are currently 42 of them in the world.) Altogether, there are only 60 players rated over 2600, the level of a top grandmaster, in the championship.
In 2015, there were six players over 2700 and 63 over 2600. In 2014, the championship attracted 15 players at the 2700 level and 72 over 2600. The 2013 championship had 12 players 2700 or above and 80 who were 2600 or higher. And in the 2012 championship, there were 15 players 2700 or higher and 98! players 2600 or above.
One possible explanation for the dwindling fields is the location of the competitions. But last year’s was in Jerusalem, and in 2014, it was in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.
Without doing a survey of the top players, it is impossible to know why so many of them are passing up what appears to be such a golden opportunity.
Though the competition has thinned, there are still enough formidable players to make the tournament very tough. After four rounds of this year’s event, only one of the top five, Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland, had a perfect score. He was joined by Ernesto Inarkiev of Russia (who was named after the South American revolutionary Ernesto “Ché” Guevara) and the erratic, unpredictable and sometimes brilliant Baadur Jobava of Georgia.
Each of the players took different routes to their victories in Round 4.
Wojtaszek’s opponent, Alexander Ipatov, who plays for Turkey, chose a passive opening that ceded too much space to Wojtaszek, who had White. Wojtaszek nursed his advantage and gradually wore Ipatov down until he cracked and lost a long game.
Radoslaw Wojtaszek vs. Alexander Ipatov
European Individual Championship |Gjakova KOS |Round 4.1 |15 May 2016 |1-0
1. Nf3Nf62. c4The English Opening. Black now has a wide variety of
options. 2... b63. d4Bb74. g3If Black now played 4.... e6, the opening
would transpose to the main line of the Queen's Indian Defense. 4... g6Switching to the Double Fianchetto defense, which is somewhat rare. The
reason is that Black has basically ceded control of the center to White. 5. Nc3Bg76. d5Before Black has time to react, White immediately occupies d5,
which also cuts down the scope of the Black light-squared bishop. 6... O-O7. Bg2Na6The only viable way for Black to develop his knight. 8. O-ONc59. Nd4Preparing to play e4 to reinforce the center. 9... e5Black reacts
before White can finish consolidating his center. The move gains some needed
breathing room for Black. 10. Nc2Of course, White does not play 10. de6,
when he would give up his strong center point. 10... a5Played to block White
from playing b4 to dislodge the knight on c5. 11. b3d612. Rb1White wants
to organize b4 and prepares it with Rb1 and a3. 12... Bc813. e4Played to
prevent Black from gaining some activity with his bishop by playing Bf5. 13... Bg4Often a useful move. If White plays f3, it weakens e3 and blocks
his own bishop. If White does not, the bishop is a thorn in his side. 14. f3Bd715. Bg5Qe816. Na3White comes up with an interesting plan based on the
weakness of Black's light squares. 16... Nh517. Nab5Rc818. a3Time to
dislodge Black's knight. 18... f519. b4Nb720. Bd2Black was threatening
to trap White's bishop with f4, followed by h6 and g5. 20... f421. g4It is
not ideal to close the kingside like this, but White's initiative on the
queenside is developing quickly and White must slow Black's attack on the
kingside. 21... Nf622. Na7An interesting way to infiltrate Black's
position. 22... Ra823. Ncb5Though White's knights look awkward, they are
tying Black to the defense of weaknesses on the queenside. 23... Qe724. Bc3Bxb525. Nxb5g526. Rf2White anticipates the opening of the h file and
prepares to swing his rook over to the kingside by using the second rank. 26... h527. h3Qd728. Be1Not necessary, but White wants to stop any
possible infiltration on h4. He is also clearing the c file for his rooks and
queen. 28... Rf729. Bf1Indirectly defending the knight on b5 so that
pushing the c pawn is now possible. White's advantage is concrete and Black
has little counterplay. 29... Bf830. Rbb2Rh731. Rh2The h-file is
defended; White now has nothing to fear there. 31... hxg432. hxg4Rxh233. Rxh2Kg7An odd move. Black blocks his bishop and his king turns out to be
poorly placed on g7. 34. Bd3axb435. axb4Though Black's rook occupies the
open a-file, he has no points of entry -- every square is covered by White. 35... Nd836. Qb1White continues to slowly improve the position of his
pieces. Notice that White has plenty of room to operate, while Black is
cramped and can do little. 36... c5A desperate attempt to free his
position, but it ends up only creating weaknesses and targets for White to
exploit. It would have been better to sit tight and play 36.... Be7. 37. dxc6Nxc638. Bc3Qc839. Qb2Nd8An error, though how to exploit it takes a
computer. 40. Rd2A good and reasonable move, but White had a killer: 40.
Nd4! The point is that if 40. ... ed4, then 41. Bd4 and Black has no good way
to defend the knight on f6. For example, 41. ... Qe6 42. Bf6 Qf6 43. Rh7 Kh7
44. Qf6 is an easy win. Or, 41. ... Be7 42. e5 de5 43. Be5, and the threat of
Rh7 is deadly. 40... Nf741. Be2Be742. Rd1Ne843. Be1The position
remains difficult for Black to play. 43... Nc744. Bf2Missing or passing
up a continuation that might have been stronger -- 44. Nd6! Bd6 45. Rd6 Nd6
46. Qe5 Kf7 47. Qd6, when White's bishop pair and two extra pawns for the
exchange should be enough to guarantee an easy victory. 44... Nxb545. cxb5Though White's pawns are doubled, the one on b5 gives him a potentially
powerful outpost for his rook. It also helps to keep Black's knight in check
by taking away the square c6. 45... Qe646. Bf1Bd847. Rc1Qd748. Bc4White decides that if he can get his bishop to c6, it will be even better. 48... Rc849. Qd2d5Black cracks. It is not so much that this is a pawn
sacrifice -- it isn't, as White's best option is to take with the bishop and
give up the pawn on b5. No, the problem is that it allows White to infiltrate
Black's position. 50. Bxd5Rxc1+51. Qxc1Qxb552. Qc8Qe853. Kg2Qe754. Qc6And the b pawn cannot be saved as 54.... Qb4 would allow 55. Qe8,
winning a piece. (55.... Qe7 or 55. ... Qf8 56. Bf7) 54... Nh855. Bxb6Bxb656. Qxb6Ng657. Be6Qf858. Bf5Nh4+59. Kf2Qe760. Qc5A small error;
60. Bc8 was more accurate. 60... Kf6A clever idea. If White trades queens,
the position is a draw as Black's king is in time to catch the b pawn and
White's king cannot leave the kingside because of the attack on the f pawn by
Black's knight. 61. Qc6+Kf762. Qb6Kg763. Be6Qf864. Bd5Qc8A blunder,
but ... 65. Bc6White misses his chance to end things sooner by 65. Qa7 Kh6
66. Qc5 and Black's queen cannot leave the back rank because of Qf8, so he can no
longer stop the b pawn's advance. 65... Qg8Another mistake, but the
position was already pretty hopeless. 66. Qc7+Qf767. Qxe5+The win of the
second pawn makes things much easier. 67... Kh768. Bb5Qa7+Missing a last
chance to make things interesting after 68.... Nf3 69. Kf3 Qb3 70. Kg2 Qc2,
etc., though White should eventually win. 69. Qc5Qa370. Be2Ng671. e5Qa172. Bd3Kh673. Qd6Qb2+74. Kf1And Black resigned because after 74.... Qc1
75. Kg2 Qd2 76. Kh3, he is out of useful checks.
Inarkiev faced Zaven Andriasian of Armenia. Andriasian, who had Black, played too aggressively, sacrificing a pawn for little compensation and then lost a piece as Inarkiev marched his extra pawn down the board.
Ernesto Inarkiev vs. Zaven Andriasian
European Individual Championship |Gjakova KOS |Round 4.3 |15 May 2016 |1-0
1. e4c5The Sicilian Defense is always double-edged. Many top players have
abandoned it because there are many ways for White to gain a substantial
advantage. But there are also many ways for White to go wrong and in a
tournament, where every point is important, sometimes it is worth the risk. 2. Nf3d63. d4cxd44. Nxd4Nf65. Nc3a6The Najdorf Variation, named after
the great Polish-Argentinian player, has long been one of Black's most popular
lines. 6. Be3The Byrne System, named after Robert Byrne, the former United
States champion, and the chess columnist for The New York Times for 34 years
(1972 to 2006). 6... e5The sharpest reply. Though Black cedes control of
d5, he is compensated by having strong attacks on d4 and f4. 7. Nb3The
most popular move, though there have been a few experiments in recent years
with 7. Nf3. 7... Be78. f3A good multi-purpose move. It shores up the
support for e4 and also prevents Black from attacking the bishop on e3 by
playing Ng4. The move also prepares the push g4 to begin an assault on the
kingside. 8... Be69. Qd2Preparing to castle queenside. 9... O-O10. O-O-OWith the opposite side castling, both players are essentially announcing
their intentions to attack each other's king. 10... a5An interesting move
that is also rare. While it is aggressive, it is easy for White to parry this
attack. Both 10. ... Nbd7 and 10. ... b5 are more common and also more
effective. 11. a4Not necessarily best; 11. Bb5, developing a piece was more
logical. 11... Nc612. g4Nb413. Kb1A useful prophylactic move; the king
is almost always better placed on b1. 13... Rc814. g5To rushed; either 14.
h4 or 14. Rg1 were more accurate. 14... Nh5The knight has been chased to a
better square as it now attacks f4. 15. Rg1f5Double-edged. While this will
open the f-file for Back's rook, it also opens the g-file for White's rook.
Perhaps 15. ... g6, slowing White's attack was better. 16. gxf6Rxf617. Bg5Forcing a series of trades, though the resulting middlegame will not be
simple. 17... Rxf318. Bxe7Qxe719. Qxd6Qxd620. Rxd6Nf4An error that
Black will come to regret. He should have played 20. ... Bb3, eliminating the
attack on his bishop and the attack on his a-pawn. While Black gains some
compensation for his pawn sacrifice, it is not enough. 21. Nxa5Rf222. Nxb7White has too many unopposed pawns on the queenside. 22... Rxc223. a5This pawn will quickly become a big headache for Black. 23... Rxh224. a6Bb325. a7Ne626. Rb6Bc2+Another error, though Black was already
losing. 27. Kc1Ra828. Nd6h5Not 28 ... Ra7? Then 29 Rb8 Nf8 30. Bc4 Kh8
31. Rf8, mate. 29. Rxb4A bizarre decision; 29. Rb8 won simply, but I guess
Inarkiev felt that with an extra piece he would have no problems. In a way, he
is right, but the game drags on for another 20 moves. Though Inarkiev misses
some simpler ways to win, the rest of the game is uneventful and really requires no
comment. 29... Rxa730. Rg2Rh131. Kxc2Rxf132. Nf5Nf433. Rg5Rf2+34. Kb3g635. Rb6Kh736. Nh4Rg737. Nd5Nd338. Rbxg6Nc5+39. Ka3Rxg640. Rxg6Nxe441. Re6Nd242. b4Rf143. Ka4e444. Nf6+Kg745. Nxe4Nc446. Kb3Ne347. Nd2Nf548. Rg6+
Baadur, who also had White, like Wojtaszek and Inarkiev, did not play particularly well against his opponent, Mircea-Emilian Parligras of Rumania. But just as they reached the time control, Parligras blundered and lost a piece and promptly resigned.
Baadur Jobava vs. Mircea-Emilian Parligras
European Individual Championship |Gjakova KOS |Round 4.4 |15 May 2016 |1-0
1. d4Nf62. c4e63. Nc3Bb4The Nimzo-Indian Defense. 4. e3O-O5. Bd3One of the most, if not the most popular line against the Nimzo. 5... d56. cxd5Jobava clarifies the situation in the center and also makes sure he does
not need to spend another move with his bishop to recapture a pawn. Despite
the logic behind the move, it is not often played as it relieves the tension
in the center and fress Black's light-squared bishop, which helps Black. 6... exd57. Ne2To avoid being pinned by Bg4. 7... Re88. Bd2Bd69. Rc1a610. O-ONc611. f3Jobava wants to expand in the center with e4, butt
Black does not give him a chance. 11... Nb412. Bb1c513. Kh1Nc614. Be1cxd415. exd4Chances are equal and the position has become quite drawish. 15... Nh5Immediately an odd move by Black. 16. Qd2Why not 16. Nd5? After
16 ... Bh2 17. Kh2 Qd5, White should be a bit better because of his pawn in
the center and having two bishops. 16... Be617. g4Nf618. Bh4Be719. Nf4Nd720. Bxe7Nxe721. Rce1Nf822. Nh5White begins probing the Black
kingside, trying to create weaknesses, but this should come to nothing. The
position is still roughly equal. 22... Nc623. Ne2f624. Neg3Rc825. h4Rc726. Nf4Rce727. h5Bf728. Rd1Qa529. Nf5Rd730. Qf2Qc731. Nd3Be632. Rfe1Rdd833. Rg1Kh834. Qh4Qf735. Nf4Bxf5A small error, allowing
White to open the g-file, at the cost of ruining his pawn structure. 36. gxf5h637. Rg2Rd738. Rdg1Black is under some pressure thanks to his error
on Move 35. But all is not lost; he just needs to be careful. For example, 38.
... Nh7 is probably okay after 39. Rg7 Qg7 40. Rg7 Rg7 41. Ne6 Rge7, though it
is clearly easier to play White. 38... Nxd4A blunder that immediately loses
a piece. 39. Ng6+Nxg640. hxg6And Black resigned.
With seven rounds to go, and 52 players with 3 or more points, the competition is still wide open and the 23 spots for the World Cup are still very much up for grabs. Those 52 players are probably feeling pretty thankful, however. After all the competition could be much tougher, and in years past it has been.
Dylan Loeb McClain is a journalist with more than 25 years of experience. He was a staff editor for The New York Times for 18 years and wrote the paper’s chess column from 2006 to 2014. He is now editor-in-chief of World Chess.com.
FIDE and World Chess announces today that the 2018 World Chess Championship Match will take place in London in November 2018. The world’s most prestigious chess tournament is to be the climax of a season of high-profile activity to extend the sport’s appeal among global audiences – and make 2018 the Year of Chess in the UK.
After 9 days of intense chess battles at the last leg of the World Chess Grand Prix series 2017 in Palma de Mallorca, the two winners of the series were finally determined: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan, overall 340 points in the series) and Alexander Grischuk (Russia, 336,4 points). They qualified for the Candidates Tournament – the next part of the World Chess Championship cycle, which leads up to the Championship match.
The sole leader of the Palma de Mallorca Grand Prix Levon Aronian made a quick draw with Evgeny Tomashevsky today, inviting the group of rivals to join him at the top. But same as in the previous rounds all games on the top boards finished peacefully and not a single player came close to catching up with him.
After seven rounds Aronian is in the lead with 4,5 points. A group of 8 players is half a point behind, including Vachier-Lagrave. In order to qualify for the Candidates, the Frenchman needs to win at least one more game. Boris Gelfand defeated Alexander Riazantsev, Pavel Eljanov won against Jon Ludvig Hammer, while Teimour Rajabov outplayed Li Chao. After the victory the Azerbaijani Grandmaster still hopes to qualify, but in that case has to win both games.
Javier Ochoa, Honorary FIDE Vice President and President of the Spanish Chess Federation, made the first symbolic move to start the fourth round, which turned out to be the most exciting round of the tournament so far, with six decisive games out of nine.
In the Third Round of the FIDE Grand Prix in Palma de Mallorca games between the four leaders, Vachier-Lagrave-Aronian and Rajabov-Giri, finished in a draw. Peter Svidler joined the group of leaders by beating Jon-Ludvig Hammer in the third round.
The world’s best chess players and chess establishment came together in Bellver Castle to celebrate the opening of the final leg of the FIDE 2017 World Chess Grand Prix Palma de Mallorca – a prestigious qualifier for the World Chess Candidates Tournament.
Katerina Lagno, one of the strongest Russian women-grandmasters won the historic Moscow Blitz Tournament, beating her fellow Russian Olympic team members Alexandra Kosteniuk, Valentina Gunina and Olga Girya.
After a draw against Ian Nepomniachtchi, Teimur Rajabov won the tournament. One of the strongest players, Rajabov had not won a major tournament lately, but has shown phenomenal form in Geneva and managed to overpower some of top world’s players