After taking a commanding lead after Round 9, the Russian grandmaster coasted to victory.
The final rounds of the European Individual Chess Championship did not produce any surprises in the fight for first place as Ernesto Inarkiev of Russia easily captured the top prize. He had held a commanding lead after nine rounds, so he really only had to be careful not to lose in Rounds 10 and 11, which he did with two easy draws. He finished with 9 points.
The fight for the other spots on the podium was fierce, with nothing really decided until the last round.
Igor Kovalenko of Latvia lost to Inarkiev with White in Round 9 after overpressing and I thought he might be unable to regain his composure. That turned out not to be true as he won his final two games to take clear second place with 8.5 points. I especially liked his clean execution of the higher-rated Laurent Fressinet of France in Round 10:
Kovalenko, Igor vs. Fressinet, Laurent
European Individual Chess Championship |Gjakova, Kosovo |Round 10 |23 May 2016 |1-0
c5?Black was a little worse but this is panicking too soon.
( 23... Nd6 )
24. dxc5bxc525. Rb6Rc726. Rcb1!White does not bother with the c-pawn and just puts his pieces on good squares. Black is in big trouble. 26... Rd727. h4!Even in a position like this one where everything seems to be happening on the queenside, Kovalenko is careful not to take his eyes off the prize. Soon, the Black king will be severely lacking cover. 27... Nd828. h5h629. Qg6Qf730. Rb8!Well calculated. The a4 pawn is immune 30... Rxa4?This loses immediately, but the game was already beyond saving.
( 30... Rxb831. Rxb8Rd1+32. Kg2Qd5+33. f3Qc4The computer's line is a
little more resilient but it doesn't offer that much hope for salvation. )
31. R1b7!Ra1+32. Kh2Qxg633. hxg6Rad134. Rxd7Rxd735. Bxc5Black is completely paralyzed and unable to prevent Bb6 (or Be7). A fine execution by Kovalenko
The fight for bronze was even more competitive. At the end, three players tied for third with 8 points. Baadur Jobava of Georgia wound up with the best tie-breaks to edge out David Navara of the Czech Republic, who was the top seed, and Francisco Vallejo Pons of Spain.
Jobava has wowed fans for years with his creative and unorthodox playing style, and this tournament was no different. Unlike many of his other wins, his final-round encounter with second-seeded Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland was decided by nitty-gritty technical play in an endgame. Jobava’s patience and precision was especially admirable, and he won a fine game in the style of Anatoly Karpov, the ex-World Champion. The endgame looked innocent enough for Black, but Jobava had other ideas.
Jobava, Baadur vs. Wojtaszek, Radoslaw
European Individual Chess Championship |Gjakova, Kosovo |Round 11 |23 May 2016 |1-0
17. g4!Preparing to compromise the Black kingside 17... Be718. Rag1Kf719. g5!The pawns on e5 and e6 pawns will end up being terribly weak. 19... fxg5
( 19... f5In light of how the
game went, I would prefer this move, but I can also understand why Black did
not want to allow White to gain a protected passed pawn. 20. h4 )
20. Bxg5Rhg821. Be3Rad822. a4!Gaining space on all sides 22... a5
( 22... b6Looks more natural to me. The pawn on a5 could become a weakness. )
23. Bf2!b624. Rxg8Black now cannot hold both open files. 24... Kxg8
( 24... Rxg825. Rd1!Rd826. Rxd8Bxd827. Kd3Black will soon feel the pain of having all of his pawns on dark squares 27... Bc728. Ke4Kf629. Bg3With a deadly zugwang: 29... Bd630. Bh4+!Kf731. Bd8 )
25. Rg1+Kf726. Be3Rd727. Bh6Kf628. Rg7Blacks position is deteriorating. 28... Rc729. Rg8Kf530. Be3Bf6
( 30... e4This does not
offer much relief: 31. Rh8!exf3+32. Kxf3h433. Rh5+Kg634. Kg4 )
31. Rf8Rc632. Rf7Kg633. Rd7Bg534. Bf2Kf535. Kd3h436. Be3Bf437. Rd8!Another strong move. White is now ready to give a check on the f-file.
( 37. Rf7+?Too soon 37... Kg638. Rf8Rd6+!39. Ke4Bxe340. Kxe3Rd1And Black has good counterplay )
37... Rc738. Rf8+Kg539. Bxf4+exf440. Ke4Finally, just before time control, White has changed the nature of the position. The rook endgame is completely winning for White because of Black's numerous weaknesses. 40... Rd741. Ke5!A final accurate move seals the deal. White needs to force the Black king to the h-file, where it will be cut off. 41... Rd242. Rg8+Kh643. Kf6Kh744. Rg7+Kh845. Rg4Kh746. Rxh4+Kg847. Rg4+Kh748. Rh4+Kg849. Kxe6Rxb250. Rxf4Rb351. Ke7Rxc3White is not only up a pawn, Black's pawns on
the queenside are immobile so he has no counterplay. The game is effectively over. 52. Rg4+Kh753. f4Rxh354. f5Re3+55. Kf8Kh656. f6Kh557. Rg1
Vallejo Pons, the final player to join the tie for third, won a fine game over the rising German star Alexander Donchenko:
Vallejo Pons, Francisco vs. Donchenko, Alexander
European Individual Chess Championship |Gjakova, Kosovo |Round 11 |23 May 2016 |1-0
21. Rb1!Vallejo does not concern himself with the pawn on c4. Instead, he looks for play on the kingside. 21... dxc422. Ng5Despite being up a pawn, Black's position is utterly hopeless. The simplest threat is Qd1-xh5. 22... cxb323. Rxb3Be7Black's best attempt to stop Qd1 falls short
( 23... Nd524. Qd1! )
( 24. Qd1Bxf625. exf6Rh8That was presumably Black's idea, though he would have still been losing. )
24... Kxe725. Qc5+Ke826. Ra3Qc427. Qxc4Nxc428. Rxa7Black has managed to get the queens off the board and avoid being checkmated, but the endgame offers no salvation -- he is still dead lost. 28... Nd229. Rc1Ne430. Nxe4fxe431. Rxb7Kf832. Rb6
( 32. a4Might have been a little cleaner, but the move played is also fine. )
32... Kg733. Re1c534. dxc5Rxc535. Rxe4Rc1+36. Kh2Rc237. Rf4!The last finesse. White correctly chooses to give up the a-pawn and focus on the kingside. 37... Rxa238. Rb7Rf839. Rb3Rg8
( 39... f5Was the last chance to resist, but this is hard to find in severe time pressure. 40. exf6+Rxf641. Rxf6Kxf642. f3White should probably still win but it's not over yet. )
Inarkiev’s victory has brought new life to a photo that circulated on the Internet a few years ago (see below). He is certainly a very deserving champion and I look forward to seeing what the future will bring for him.
Inarkiev with some supporters.
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.
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.
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