The Russian Higher League has become a showcase for up-and-coming players. The following complex fight turned out to be the difference between the players who finished first and second in the recent competition.

The Russian Higher League event is a “qualifier” for the Russian Championship which features most of Russia’s top players. On its own, the Russian Higher League competition is also very strong. This year’s event, as in previous years, was dominated by the younger generation. In the end, 19-year-old Grigory Oparin won the title with 6.5 points out of 9.

Oparin was slightly lucky at the start, particularly in Round 4 when he swindled his way to a win against 18-year-old Maksim Vavulin. But in the next round, Oparin was at his best against Vladimir Fedoseev, another young Russian star. In an attempt to confuse his opponent, Fedoseev, 21, who was Black, created messy complications in a fairly typical position. Unfortunately for him, it backfired. After this win, Oparin coasted to vitctory by drawing his last four games. Fedoseev did not do badly himself as he receovered from the loss to take second place.

Oparin, G. vs. Fedoseev, Vl3
69th ch-RUS HL 2016 | Kolomna RUS | Round 5.1 | 27 Jun 2016 | ECO: C65 | 1-0
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Playing a closed Spanish instead of the Berlin endgame has become more popular recently. It is a less analyzed approach and both sides have a lot more room for new ideas. In the next few moves, the game becomes a typical Spanish opening.
4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4 Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8 is the infamous Berlin endgame, which has been heavily analyzed and which is considered very drawish.  )
4... d6 5. O-O Be7 6. c3 O-O 7. Re1 a6 8. Ba4 h6 9. Nbd2 Re8 10. Nf1 Bf8 11. Ng3 b5 12. Bb3 Na5 13. Bc2 c5 14. d4 cxd4 15. cxd4 exd4 16. Nxd4 Bb7 17. Bf4 Rc8 18. Rc1 g5? Objectively, this is a bad move, but I admire Fedoseev for being ambitious.
18... Nc4 19. b3 Ne5 would have been a typical way to continue. I prefer White's position, but it is not disastrous for Black.  )
19. Bd2 Nc4 20. Bc3 d5 The idea behind Black's flashy g5. After the center opens up, it might lead to some exchanges, in which case Black's dubious pawn structure would be less of a problem. In addition, Black's threat of b4 looks very annoying.
21. Ndf5! Placing the pieces on good squares. White avoids the threat of b4 by also creating space for his bishop. The move loses a pawn, but it avoids any simplifications. This makes Black's weak structure more important to the course of the game and therefore more vulnerable.
21. exd5 Qxd5 would have completely turned things in Black's favor with the threat of Qg2 mate as well as b4.  )
21. e5 is probably what Fedoseev anticipated. Now Black could have temporarily sacrificed a pawn himself by
21... Ne4! 22. Nxe4 dxe4 the simplifications are great for Black and b4 is still a threat.  )
21... b4 The only way to win the pawn on e4.
21... dxe4 22. Qxd8 Rcxd8 23. Bxf6  )
22. Bd4 dxe4 23. Ba4! Something that was easy to miss when playing 18...g5. Black's position doesn't look too bad on first glance, but it is difficult for him to find good spots for his pieces.
23... Re6 The only square for the rook, but after
24. Bb3 Rec6 is again the only move. Black's pieces are definitely uncomfortable.
25. Qe2 There is no easy way to punish Black mmediiately. But Oparin correctly realizes that the position is more difficult for Black to play. His pieces are not well co-ordinated and he doesn't really have any activity. So there is no reason for White to rush.
25... Na5 26. Rxc6 Rxc6 27. Bc2 Re6 Black retains an extra pawn, but the pawn on e4 ties Black down. All his pieces are stuck trying to defend it and are unable to become more active. Oparin continues to slowly improve his position and build the pressure:
28. Rd1 Qa8 29. h4! Opening the kingside had been a White goal for a while. It is particularly effective at this moment because Black has moved his queen away from the center and the scene of the action.
29... Nh7 30. hxg5 hxg5 31. Qg4 Bd5 32. Nh5 Qc6 33. Nf6+! A nice, but easy tactic to finish things up.
33... Rxf6
33... Nxf6 34. Qxg5+ Kh7 35. Bxf6 Rxf6 36. Rxd5! Qxd5 37. Qxf6  )
34. Bxf6 Nxf6 35. Qxg5+ Kh8 36. Rxd5 A nice combination but it was unnecessary and makes it more difficult for White to win the game.
36. Ne3 would have immediately won the bishop on d5 as it can't move and it can't be defended because the knight on a5 would be hanging and White is also threatening Rd8, etc. Afterward, White would be up an exchange which should have led to an easy win.  )
36... Nxd5 37. Bxe4 It is not possible for Black to keep the extra piece. The threat is Qh5+ followed by Bxd5.
37... Qf6! The ideal defensive position for the queen.
37... Nb7 38. Qh5+ Kg8 39. Bxd5 Qxd5 40. Nh6+! Bxh6 41. Qxd5 was White's threat.  )
38. Qh5+ Kg8 39. Bxd5 The situation has calmed down and White seems to have a clear advantage. But the opposite-colored bishops makes it harder to win. In addition, White's initiative isn't as fearsome after the exchanges.
39... Nc6 40. Qg4+ Kh8 White tries to drive the Black queen away from f6 as it is difficult for White to generate an initiative with the queen on that square.
41. Ng3 Ne5 42. Qh5+ Kg8 43. Ne4 Qe7 44. f4 Nd3
44... Nd7! continuing to fight for the f6 square. White is still close to having a decisive advantage, but he still has to play accurately:
45. Kh2! threatening Ng5.
45... Nf6 46. Qxf7+! Qxf7 47. Nxf6+ Kg7 48. Bxf7 Kxf6 the opposite-colored bishops normally give the defending side more drawing chances, but the pawns on the queenside ensure that Whites advantage is too great for Black to survive.
49. Bc4  )
45. Qh3! Qa7+
45... Nxf4 46. Qg4+ Ng6 47. Qxg6+ The pin is Blacks undoing. Perhaps Fedoseev missed this when he played Nd3?  )
46. Kh2 Qd4 47. Qf5 Its all over.
47... Qg7 48. Ng5 Nf2 49. Kg3 Bc5 50. Bxf7+ Kh8 51. Qc8+ Bf8 52. Kxf2 Qxb2+ 53. Kg3 Qc3+ 54. Qxc3+ bxc3 55. Bb3

—————————————————————

Parimarjan Negi is an Indian grandmaster who is the second-youngest ever to earn the title (at 13 years 4 months and 22 days). Ranked No. 90 in the world, he just finished his sophomore year at Stanford University. He can be found on Twitter at @parimarjan.