Alexander Morozevich is no longer among the game’s elite, but when he is on, he is still a fearsome competitor, as he showed recently in the Russian Team Rapid Championship.

The 2016 Russian Team Rapid and Blitz Championship is underway in Sochi, Russia, and the rapid segment has concluded. One of the top individual performers in the event – maybe the top performer – was Russian grandmaster Alexander Morozevich. He played in eight of the nine rounds, scoring six points and achieving a performance rating of 2756. That figure is well below his peak rating of 2788, achieved in 2008, but represents an improvement over his current (classical) rating of 2683. He lost one game and drew two, but won five, three of them in crushing style. 

One of those wins was in Round 4 against American Gata Kamsky. It wasn’t all that long ago that Kamsky was a serious world championship contender, and while he’s no longer playing at that level, the speed with which he lost the game was still startling.

Morozevich, Alexander vs. Kamsky, Gata
TCh-RUS Rapid 2016 | Sochi RUS | Round 4.6 | 05 Oct 2016 | ECO: A80 | 1-0
1. d4 f5 2. Bf4 The London System setup is everywhere these days, although against the Dutch White's setup has a very different character than against 1...d5 or 1...Nf6.
2... Nf6 3. e3 d6
3... e6 and  )
3... g6 are more common, but 3...d6 is also a standard option and can of course transpose to 3...g6 lines.  )
4. Nc3 g6 5. h4 Be6 Black often plays
5... h6 so as to meet h5 with ...g5.  )
6. Nf3
6. h5 Nxh5 7. Rxh5 is playable here, and after
7... gxh5 it isn't clear which of 8.Qxh5+, 8.Nf3, and 8.Nh3 is best.  )
6... h6 7. Bd3 Now that Black has played ...h6 his g-pawn is a little loose, so White prepares e4 to take aim at the potential weakness.
7... c6?! A little too slow.
7... Bg7 8. e4 Qd7 is comparatively better, but even here White's advantage is obvious.  )
8. e4 fxe4 9. Nxe4 Nxe4 10. Bxe4 White already has a considerable advantage.
10... Bf5 11. Nd2
11. Bxf5 Qa5+ Perhaps  )
11. Qe2 was best, keeping castling options open and hurrying to use the half-open e-file.  )
11... Qd7 12. Qe2 Na6 13. Bxf5 gxf5 14. Qh5+ Kd8 15. O-O Nb4 16. c4! This keeps protects the pawn, keeps Black's knight out of d5, and allows White to meet ...Kc7 with c5 in some variations. But what about ...Nc2, with a fork? We'll see in a moment.
16... Nc2 17. Rad1 Nxd4 18. Nb3 Nxb3 19. axb3 Black is a pawn up, but it hardly matters. White is almost fully mobilized, while Black's development is terrible and his king is vulnerable in the center. White's position is practically won.
19... b6? Aimed against c5 in some cases, and hoping to create a nook for the king on b7. Good ideas both, but there was no time for this.
19... Qe8 20. Qxf5 Rg8 was a better defense, followed by ...Kc7 and either ...Qd7 or - more likely - ...Qg6.  )
20. Be5! Rh7
20... Rg8 21. Qf7 wins at least a piece.  )
21. Qg6 e6 22. Bxd6! Bxd6 23. Qg8+!
23. Rxd6 Qxd6 24. Qxh7 is a far worse choice, though it's also winning with room to spare.  )
23... Kc7 24. Qxa8 c5 25. Qxa7+ Kc6 26. Rxd6+! A nice finishing touch. Taking with the king allows the skewering 27.Rd1+, while recapturing with the queen allows 27.Qxh7.

In Round 6, Morozevich faced Dmitry Bocharov, a strong Russian grandmaster who had also defeated Kamsky earlier in the event. Bocharov tried to surprise Morozevich with a rarely used opening variation, but to no avail. Morozevich won convincingly.

Morozevich, Alexander vs. Bocharov, Dmitry
TCh-RUS Rapid 2016 | Sochi RUS | Round 6.2 | 06 Oct 2016 | ECO: B46 | 1-0
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 Nf6?! This is a very risky line at best, perhaps best used as a surprise weapon and at short time controls.
6... Qc7 and  )
6... d6 are the approved alternatives.  )
7. Nxc6 bxc6 8. e5 Nd5 9. Ne4 Qc7
9... f5 is also common.  )
10. Nd6+ Bxd6 11. exd6 Qb6
11... Qa5+ is a little finesse to draw the bishop away from the b-pawn's defense (12.Bd2 Qb6), but White can ignore this and play
12. c3 followed by castling, and only then play c4. Black can't stop this plan in any sensible way, so it makes sense to avoid any small tricks by Black.  )
12. c4 Nf6 13. O-O c5
13... O-O led to a quick disaster in another rapid game:
14. Be3! Qxb2 15. Bd4 Qa3 16. Bxf6 gxf6 17. Qd4 Rb8 18. Rac1 Intending Rc3-g3.
18... e5? 19. Qg4+ Kh8 20. Qf5 Kg7 21. Rcd1! e4 22. Qg4+ Kh8 23. Qxe4 1-0 (23) Shirov,A (2751)-Ljubojevic, L (2559) Monte Carlo 2000. Instead of Rd3, White will play Bd3 next. Black can play ...Qa5 (or ...Qc5) followed by ...Qh5 and kick around for a few more moves, but sooner or later a White rook on the third rank will finish the job.  )
14. Bf4
14. Be3  )
14. b4!?  )
14... Bb7 15. Qb3 An interesting approach. Normally White tries to blow Black off the board, as we saw in the Shirov-Ljubojevic game and with the suggested 14.b4 last move. Morozevich shows that a quieter approach is also powerful. With the bishop pair and the monster pawn on d6 it turns out that Black's situation in an ending is hardly any better than in a middlegame.
15... Qxb3 16. axb3 O-O 17. Be3 Rfc8 18. Ra5 Ne4 19. Rd1 Threatening simply f3 followed by Bxc5.
19... Rc6 20. f3 Nxd6 21. Bxc5 Ne8 22. Rxd7 And White wins a pawn all the same. He still has the bishop pair, has far more active pieces, and now that he has a 3-1 queenside majority Black is completely lost.
22... Rc7 23. Rxc7 Nxc7 24. Kf2 Ne8 25. b4 Nf6 26. b5 axb5 27. Rxb5 Bc6 28. Rb6 Rc8 29. Bd6 Nd7 30. Ra6 e5 31. b4 e4 32. b5 Ba8 33. c5 exf3 34. gxf3 White's queenside passers will soon win one piece, maybe two.

In the next round, Morozevich again had White, and faced Pavel Tregubov, another strong Russian grandmaster, who probably hoped to surprise him with a slightly offbeat line of the Sicilian. Like Bocharov, Tregubov lost quickly. A difference between the two games was that Morozevich beat Bocharov by following theory’s latest recommendation, while against Tregubov, Morozevich adopted a more experimental response.

Morozevich, Alexander vs. Tregubov, Pavel V
TCh-RUS Rapid 2016 | Sochi RUS | Round 7.1 | 06 Oct 2016 | ECO: B45 | 1-0
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Nf6 6. Ndb5 Bb4
6... d6 transposes to the Sveshnikov after
7. Bf4 e5 8. Bg5  )
7. Bg5!?
7. a3 Bxc3+ 8. Nxc3 d5 9. exd5 is usual, and now it's up to Black to decide how many pieces he wants to swap off before he accepts the isolated pawn. It's a fairly solid line for Black, but one that's unlikely to give him more than a draw in grandmaster-level play. Here are some examples from Tregubov's recent practice.
9... Nxd5 10. Nxd5 exd5 11. Bd3 Qe7+ 12. Qe2 Qxe2+ 13. Kxe2 Ne5 14. Rd1 Nxd3 15. Rxd3 Be6 16. Be3 a6 17. Bd4 O-O 18. Kd2 Rac8 19. g4 Rfe8 20. Rg1 Bd7 21. Be3 Bc6 22. Rd4 Re4 23. Rxe4 dxe4 24. Bd4 f6 25. h4 Kf7 26. Ke3 h6 27. b3 b5 28. g5 hxg5 29. hxg5 Bd5 30. gxf6 gxf6 31. c3 Rh8 32. c4 1/2-1/2 (32) Istratescu,A (2592)-Tregubov,P (2593) Drancy 2016  )
7... O-O
7... h6! looks strong and possibly better for Black.
8. Nd6+ Kf8 9. Bf4 e5 10. Bc1 Qe7 11. Nxc8 Rxc8 12. Bd3 Bxc3+ 13. bxc3 d6 14. O-O Kg8 /=+  )
7... d5!? is also interesting:
8. exd5 exd5 9. Bxf6 Qxf6 10. Nc7+ Kf8 11. Nxd5 Bxc3+ 12. Nxc3 Bf5  )
8. a3 Bxc3+
8... Be7 and  )
8... Bc5 are safer and probably better.  )
9. Nxc3 h6?!
9... d5! 10. Qf3! d4 11. O-O-O  )
10. Bxf6 Qxf6 11. Qd6! Black would otherwise obtain strong counterplay with ...d5, but now White enjoys a lasting bind. And as against Bocharov, it is again the d6 square that is causing Black such trouble.
11... b6 12. f3
12. f4  )
12... Rd8 13. O-O-O Bb7 14. Kb1 Rac8 15. h4 Na5
15... Ne5 was a better way to clear the c-file.  )
16. Nb5 Rc6 17. Qd4 Also like the previous game: trading queens offers Black no respite.
17... e5 18. Qb4 d5 19. Rxd5 Rxd5 20. exd5 Rc5 21. Nc3 Bxd5 22. Bd3 Bb7?
22... Nc6 23. Qa4 Qe6 keeps the game going. White is still better, but a win remains far away.  )
23. Ne4 Bxe4 24. Qxe4 Rc7
24... g6 25. b4 shows the fundamental danger with 15...Na5.  )
24... Rc8 (or 24...Qd8) stops the mating threat posed by Qa8+, but walks into a skewer from the other side.
25. Qh7+ Kf8 26. Qh8+ Finally, Black can't save himself by blocking the diagonal to a8 either, either with the knight or with the rook.  )
24... Nc6 25. b4 Rc3 26. Kb2  )
24... Rc6 25. b4  )
25. Qa8+

It was impressive play by the Russian superstar, whose participation still enlivens any tournament. 


Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.