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. dxc5 bxc5 25. Rb6 Rc7 26. Rcb1! White does not bother with the c-pawn and just puts his pieces on good squares. Black is in big trouble.
26... Rd7 27. 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... Nd8 28. h5 h6 29. Qg6 Qf7 30. Rb8! Well calculated. The a4 pawn is immune
30... Rxa4? This loses immediately, but the game was already beyond saving.
30... Rxb8 31. Rxb8 Rd1+ 32. Kg2 Qd5+ 33. f3 Qc4 The computer's line is a little more resilient but it doesn't offer that much hope for salvation.  )
31. R1b7! Ra1+ 32. Kh2 Qxg6 33. hxg6 Rad1 34. Rxd7 Rxd7 35. Bxc5 Black 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... Be7 18. Rag1 Kf7 19. g5! The pawns on e5 and e6 pawns will end up being terribly weak.
19... fxg5
19... f5 In 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. Bxg5 Rhg8 21. Be3 Rad8 22. a4! Gaining space on all sides
22... a5
22... b6 Looks more natural to me. The pawn on a5 could become a weakness.  )
23. Bf2! b6 24. Rxg8 Black now cannot hold both open files.
24... Kxg8
24... Rxg8 25. Rd1! Rd8 26. Rxd8 Bxd8 27. Kd3 Black will soon feel the pain of having all of his pawns on dark squares
27... Bc7 28. Ke4 Kf6 29. Bg3 With a deadly zugwang:
29... Bd6 30. Bh4+! Kf7 31. Bd8  )
25. Rg1+ Kf7 26. Be3 Rd7 27. Bh6 Kf6 28. Rg7 Blacks position is deteriorating.
28... Rc7 29. Rg8 Kf5 30. Be3 Bf6
30... e4 This does not offer much relief:
31. Rh8! exf3+ 32. Kxf3 h4 33. Rh5+ Kg6 34. Kg4  )
31. Rf8 Rc6 32. Rf7 Kg6 33. Rd7 Bg5 34. Bf2 Kf5 35. Kd3 h4 36. Be3 Bf4 37. Rd8! Another strong move. White is now ready to give a check on the f-file.
37. Rf7+? Too soon
37... Kg6 38. Rf8 Rd6+! 39. Ke4 Bxe3 40. Kxe3 Rd1 And Black has good counterplay  )
37... Rc7 38. Rf8+ Kg5 39. Bxf4+ exf4 40. Ke4 Finally, 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... Rd7 41. 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... Rd2 42. Rg8+ Kh6 43. Kf6 Kh7 44. Rg7+ Kh8 45. Rg4 Kh7 46. Rxh4+ Kg8 47. Rg4+ Kh7 48. Rh4+ Kg8 49. Kxe6 Rxb2 50. Rxf4 Rb3 51. Ke7 Rxc3 White 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+ Kh7 53. f4 Rxh3 54. f5 Re3+ 55. Kf8 Kh6 56. f6 Kh5 57. Rg1

Navara played well in the final round, but was also the recipient of an unexpected gift from a strong player, Arman Pashikian of Armenia:

Navara, David vs. Pashikian, Arman
European Individual Chess Championship | Gjakova, Kosovo | Round 11 | 23 May 2016 | 1-0
Rc7? Failing to sense the danger
30... Kf8 Pretty much any other move led to a position with equal chances.
31. Re2 Re8  )
31. Re2! All of a sudden, the bishop on f2 is extremely uncomfortable.
31... Rcc8
31... Rdc8 This saves the bishop...
32. Rf1 Bc5 33. Nh4 But not the king; Nf5 is going to bring Blacks world crashing down.  )
32. Qd2! Bc5 33. b4 And that is that.
33... Qxb5 34. bxc5 dxc5 35. Re7 c4 36. Qf4 Qxd5 37. Ne5 Rf8 38. Nd7 Rce8 39. Rae1 Rxe7 40. Rxe7 Rd8 41. Qc7 Kh7 42. Qxd8 Qd6+ 43. Re5

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... dxc4 22. Ng5 Despite being up a pawn, Black's position is utterly hopeless. The simplest threat is Qd1-xh5.
22... cxb3 23. Rxb3 Be7 Black's best attempt to stop Qd1 falls short
23... Nd5 24. Qd1!  )
24. Bxe7
24. Qd1 Bxf6 25. exf6 Rh8 That was presumably Black's idea, though he would have still been losing.  )
24... Kxe7 25. Qc5+ Ke8 26. Ra3 Qc4 27. Qxc4 Nxc4 28. Rxa7 Black 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... Nd2 29. Rc1 Ne4 30. Nxe4 fxe4 31. Rxb7 Kf8 32. Rb6
32. a4 Might have been a little cleaner, but the move played is also fine.  )
32... Kg7 33. Re1 c5 34. dxc5 Rxc5 35. Rxe4 Rc1+ 36. Kh2 Rc2 37. Rf4! The last finesse. White correctly chooses to give up the a-pawn and focus on the kingside.
37... Rxa2 38. Rb7 Rf8 39. Rb3 Rg8
39... f5 Was the last chance to resist, but this is hard to find in severe time pressure.
40. exf6+ Rxf6 41. Rxf6 Kxf6 42. f3 White should probably still win but it's not over yet.  )
40. Rf6 Ra7 41. Rg3+ Kh7 42. Rxg8 Kxg8 43. Rh6 The rest requires no comment
43... Ra2 44. Kg3 Ra3+ 45. f3 Kg7 46. Rxh5 Ra5 47. Rg5+ Kh6 48. Kg4 Ra2 49. g3 Ra5 50. Rh5+ Kg6 51. Rg5+ Kh7 52. f4 Ra4 53. Rh5+ Kg7 54. Kg5 Ra5 55. Rh6 Ra3 56. g4 Ra1 57. Rf6 Re1 58. h5 Rh1 59. f5 exf5 60. gxf5 Rg1+ 61. Kf4 Rf1+ 62. Ke4 Ra1 63. h6+ Kg8 64. e6 Ra4+ 65. Ke5 Ra5+ 66. Kf4 fxe6 67. fxe6 Ra4+ 68. Kf5 Ra7 69. Rg6+ Kf8 70. Rg7 Ra5+ 71. Ke4 Ra4+ 72. Kd3 Ra3+ 73. Kc4 Ra4+ 74. Kb5 Rh4 75. e7+ Ke8 76. h7 Rh5+ 77. Kc4

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.


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.