The Ukrainian grandmaster edged out the top seed by half a point.

Despite a loss in Round 7, Anton Korobov scored 3.5 points in the last five rounds of the Poikovsky Karpov tournament to clinch first place, with a final score of 6 points. He edged out Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland, the No. 1 seed, by half a point. Three Russians, Dmitry Andreikin, Maxim Matlakov and Dmitry Jakovenko, tied for third, with 5 points each, with Andreikin, the No. 2 seed, having the best tie-breakers. 

Earlier in the tournament, Korobov, the third-lowest seed, was really lucky to have beaten Viktor Bologan of Moldova after Bologan spoiled a masterful game with a tragic blunder. In the second part of the tournament, Korobov didn’t need any such luck. He played more aggressively and grabbed the lead after beating the two Israeli players in the field, Emil Sutovsky and Ilia Smirin, in Rounds 5 and 6, respectively. 

It wasn’t just Korobov who took a more aggressive approach in the second part. It was as if all the players heard my complaint about there being a bit too many unfought draws. After the rest day following Round 4, there were barely any such draws, and there were more decisive games.

Korobov set the tone by beating Smirin with the Black pieces:

Smirin, Ilia vs. Korobov, Anton
17th Karpov Poikovsky | Poikovsky RUS | Round 5.2 | 28 Jul 2016 | ECO: B93 | 0-1
14. Bf4 e5 Smirin wanted to provoke this move as now the scope of the bishop on g7 is limited by its own pawn.
15. Bg5 Again, Smirin tries to misplace a Black piece at the cost of losing a move. With hindsight, he may not have been so happy with encouraging the Black pieces to move.
15. Be3 Be6 and Black will soon try to play d5.  )
15... Nh7 16. Be3 Be6 17. a5 Controlling the b6 square for the his bishop. White continues to try to create a solid positional edge, but
17... f5! Black muddies the situation.
18. Qd3 Nf6 19. Bb6 Qe7 20. Qg3 Kf7! The king isn't really in danger on the f-file, and now Black has created the possibility of playing Rh8 and creating an initiative on the h-file.
21. exf5 gxf5 22. Bd3 e4 23. Be2 The third time Smirin has provoked Black to make some weakness at the cost of losing a move! This time I think it is more justified as Bd4 is a good square for the White bishop.
23... Rh8 24. Rad1 d5 25. Na4 On this square, the knight is out of the flow of the game. White should have been more worried about the kingside.
25. Bd4 seems like a better move but I think Black's position was still better:
25... Rag8  )
25... Nd7! Bd4 is no longer possible.
26. Bc7
26. Bd4 Bxd4 27. Rxd4 Rag8 28. Qe3 Qh4 29. Qf4 Qxf4 30. Rxf4 Kf6 And there is no way to prevent the Black pawns from advancing as White can't keep both his rooks where they are.
31. Rd1 Ke5 32. Rff1 f4  )
26... Rag8 27. Bd6 Qf6 28. Bf4 Bf8 29. Qe3 Bh6! Exchanging White's best defensive piece.
30. Bxa6 A plan that is too slow.
30... Qh4 31. h3 Bxf4 The move gives White some chances, but I think that the position is still too hard for White to play.
31... Rg4! was even stronger
32. Bxh6 Rxh6 and f4 can't be stopped.  )
32. Rxf4 Qg5 33. Bf1 Nf6 34. Kg1 Rxh3! It is all over.
35. Qxh3 Qxf4 36. a6 Rg3 37. Qh2 Qe3+ 38. Kh1 Rg7 39. Ra1 Rh7 40. Qxh7+ Nxh7 41. Nb6 Nf6 42. Ra3 Qe1

Smirin, 48, isn’t in his prime, so he struggles more than he used to in complicated positions. But that didn’t prevent him from continuing to play creatively in the rest of the event. In particular, he showed what he is still capable of when he sacrificed a pawn for a long term initiative against Alexander Motylev of Russia in Round 7:

Smirin, Ilia vs. Motylev, Alexander
17th Karpov Poikovsky | Poikovsky RUS | Round 7.2 | 30 Jul 2016 | ECO: C50 | 1-0
Bg4 This is a tough position for White. There doesn't seem any way to hold on to the center, so Smirin decides to just give up a pawn instead!
14. h3! Bxf3 15. Qxf3 exd4 16. Nf5! White is aiming for long-term compensation for his pawn deficit. There are no immediate tactical threats, but the open files and clear diagonals should give White something. There are also possibilities like sacrifices on h6 which Black must constantly be guarding against.
16... Ne5
16... dxc3 17. bxc3  )
17. Qd1 dxc3
17... d3! This move was more solid, but Black clearly didn't expect to have any problems and plays more ambitiously.
18. Bf4 The pawn on d3 won't survive for long. White continues Qd2-Rad1 and perhaps then Bxe5, but Black should be safe in that position as well.  )
18. bxc3 Bc5 19. Bf4 Qd7 20. Qc2! White continues to develop, not worrying that he is down a pawn. That is the best way to play after a sacrifice. For now, it is not obvious why his queen is on c2.
20... Rae8 21. Rad1 Kh8 22. Bb1!? There are no immediate threats, but White's plan is eventually to knock off the knight on e5 and then the bishop and queen combination will be deadly. Overall, Black's position is difficult as he doesn't actually have any plans and White's threats are hanging in the air.
22... Qe6 23. Ba2
23. Kh1 with the idea of moving the bishop on f4 and then playing f4 was also possible, but Smirin finds a stronger and more direct path.  )
23... Qd7 24. Be3! Bxe3 25. Rxd6 Qc7 26. Rxe3 now White has restored material equality and he is dominating the board.
26... Nh5 27. Qd1 Nf4 28. g3! Nxh3+
28... Nfg6 29. Qh5 is obviously bad.  )
29. Kg2 and the knight is trapped.
29... Nxf2 30. Kxf2 Black has a bit of compensation but not enough. He doesn't last long:
30... Rd8 31. Rd4 Qb6 32. Kg2 g6 33. Nh4 h5 34. Nf3 Ng4 35. Re2 Kg7 36. Qd2 c5 37. Rxd8 Rxd8 38. Qf4 Rd7 39. Ne5 Re7 40. Nxg4

White’s pieces were so nicely placed in the game!

In Round 6, Sutovskyused his trusted Grunfeld Defense against Korobov, but Korobov surprised him in the opening with a slightly unusual idea and it was surprising how quickly Sutovsky’s position collapsed after that.

With three wins and no losses after six games, Korobov seemed to be comfortably on his way to the title. But in Round 7, it was Korobov’s turn to be surprised as Andreikin employed an unusual opening. Korobov ended up in a slightly passive position, and quickly lost a pawn, and later the game. It was a typical Andreikin-style win.

This meant a host of players, including, Wojtaszek and Andreikin, were trailing Korobov by just a half point. Wojtaszek particularly seemed as if could have done better. Though he often managed to create problems for his opponents, his positional style did not yield enough chances.

For example, in the penultimate round, Wojtaszek completely outplayed Motylev. Several times, Wojtaszek was more-or-less one move away from beating Motylev, but he kept letting Motylev off the hook. They finally arrived at the following position:

Kovalenko, Igor vs. Wojtaszek, Radoslaw
17th Karpov Poikovsky | Poikovsky RUS | Round 7.4 | 30 Jul 2016 | ECO: A21 | 1/2-1/2
78. Nf4 Black has had a seemingly decisive edge for quite some time, and he had already missed some easier ways to convert his advantage. At this point, the game has become a tricky rook and knight endgame where Black needs to play accurately if he is to win. But fatigue begins to set in for both players:
78... Kb3? Heading in the wrong direction.
78... Kd4! and Ke4 next followed by Ne5 will protect the king against any checks. Then the White knight is dislodged and its game over.  )
79. Ne2
79. Re7! the knight is ideally placed on f4! It is harder and harder For Black to win.
79... Kxa3 80. Nd5  )
79... Rf2 80. Nd4+ Kc3 81. Ne6 Black now had an amazing study like win:
81... Ra2
81... Kd2!! 82. Rxc4 e2 and there is no way to defend against the e-pawn promoting to a queen!  )
82. Nf4 the knight is back where it should be and White is going to be able to play Kf3, too. There is no longer any way to win.
82... Kd4 83. Ne6+ Kd5 84. Nf4+ Kd4 85. Ne6+ Kc3 86. Nf4 Rc2 87. Rc5 Kd4 88. Rxf5 Nd2 89. Rf8 Nf1+ 90. Kg4 Rf2 91. Rd8+ Kc4 92. Rc8+ Kb3 93. Re8 Rd2 94. Re5 Kxa3 95. Nd5 Rg2+ 96. Kf3 Rf2+ 97. Kg4 Nh2+ 98. Kg3 Nf1+ 99. Kg4

Wojtaszek missed a pretty easy win, but, to be fair, after five hours of play these endgames can be tricky to play accurately.

In the last round, Wojtaszek had a smooth positional victory over Bologan, but Korobov matched his effort by beating Igor Kovalenko, a fellow Ukrainian.

Overall, I think it was an excellently well played event. None of the players gave away easy points and even Bologan, who finished tied for last, played exciting chess, including two wins in the second half.

For Korobov, this tournament will come as a welcome relief. A few years ago, he was rated over 2700. He hasn’t had good results or been very consistent recently, but perhaps this victory will turn things around.


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.