Emil Sutovsky, the president of the Association of Chess Professionals, tied for first with Evgeniy Najer in the recent Karpov Poikovsky tournament, and took the title on tiebreaks.

These days, Emil Sutovsky, an Israeli grandmaster, may be best known as the president of the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP). But Sutovsky, who achieved the highest overall performance at the 2010 Olympiad and surpassed a rating of 2700 in 2012 (when he was ranked No. 41 in the world), can still play excellent chess. His wonderful attacking style was on full display at the 2017 Poikovsky tournament that honors Anatoly Karpov, the former World Champion, and which ended last Thursday.

Sutovsky shared first place with Evgeniy Najer, a Russian grandmaster whose rating will cross 2700 for the first time with his stellar result. Both players scored 7 points in the 10-player round-robin event, which was held in the small Siberian town of Poikovsky. It was the tournament’s 18th edition.

While Sutovsky followed the classical mantra - win with White, at worst draw with Black - Najer went on streaks: he won his first two and final three games. Anton Korobov of Ukraine, who was attempting to win the tournament for the third straight year, was a point back of the leaders.

Sutovsky’s tournament started with a crushing win over Korobov. Korobov, who was Black, tried an offbeat line in the Sicilian Defense, which was quickly punished. Korobov was forced to resign after just 24 moves.

Emil Sutovsky vs. Anton Korobov
18th Karpov Poikovsky | Poikovsky RUS | Round 1.3 | 18 Apr 2017 | ECO: B56 | 1-0
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nbd7?! Korobov chooses a rare variation, probably hoping to surprise his opponent. Yet Sutovsky has long been renowned for his ability to demolish his opponents in sharp positions. Undoubtedly, Korobov quickly regretted his decision.
6. g4 h6 7. h4 a6 8. Bg2 The players were now on their own, as this position had not been played before. Sutovsky aims to blast through with g4-g5-g6.
8... g6
8... Nb6 Opens up the bishop, but it does not prevent White from pushing forward with
9. g5  )
9. g5 hxg5 10. hxg5 Rxh1+ 11. Bxh1 Nh5 12. Bf3 Ne5 13. Be2!
13. Bxh5 gxh5 14. Qxh5 It is dangerous to take this pawn. White could get into trouble after:
14... Bg4 Black has good piece coordination and the two bishops restrict White's play.  )
13... Bg7 14. Be3 Nc6 There is no way that Korobov could have enjoyed his position at this moment, but he had little choice but to threaten the center. Sutovsky is ready to capture on h5.
14... Bd7 15. Bxh5 gxh5 16. Qxh5 Is a great position for White. The difference between capturing on move 13 and move 15 is that White has now developed the bishop to e3 and the bishop on g7 is vulnerable.
16... Bg4 17. Qh7 Kf8 Now 18. Nd5, 18. Nf5 and 18. g6 (followed by 19. Bh6) are very powerful options.  )
15. Nd5 Kf8
15... Rb8 Was a superior option. Sutovsky would have had to deal with his center before he could afford to capture twice on h5.
16. Bxh5 gxh5 The queen has to continue defending the knight on d4. Meanwhile, Black is just a move away from escaping danger. For example:
17. c3 e6 White, is still better, but the position is much less scary for Black than the actual game continuation.  )
16. Bxh5 gxh5 17. Nf5 Bxf5 18. exf5 Bxb2 This pawn is unimportant, as the action is about to heat up on the kingside. This move requires Korobov to commit all of his pieces to the queenside, at the same time that his kingside is collapsing.
19. Rb1 Qa5+ 20. Kf1 Qxa2 21. f6 exf6 22. gxf6 Kg8
22... Be5 23. Rb3 Ends the game. The Black queen no longer attacks the knight on d5, so Sutovsky would be able to play Qxh5 on the next move. Black is also not in time to try to trade queens to lessen the attack.
23... Qa1 24. Bh6+ Ke8 25. Nc7+ Kd7 26. Qxa1 Bxa1 27. Nxa8 And White has won a rook while Black has too little compensation for it.  )
23. Kg2 Be5 24. Kh3 The queen reaches the g-file, and the Black king is mated. A smooth crush by Sutovsky!

Najer was fortunate enough to have White in the first two rounds. He used that advantage to defeat Viktor Bologan of Moldova, who had a disastrous tournament, finishing in last with 1.5 points, and Ernesto Inarkiev of Russia, who is ranked No. 27 in the world. Najer manhandled Inarkiev in a Scotch game, forcing resignation after just 32 moves.

Evgeny Najer vs. Ernesto Inarkiev
18th Karpov Poikovsky | Poikovsky RUS | Round 2 | 19 Apr 2017 | ECO: C45 | 1-0
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nxc6 bxc6 6. Bd3 Najer chooses variation that is not as well analyzed as the main line, but is still well known. Whereas in the main line, Black has done reasonably well, in this variation, Inarkiev was forced to fend for himself in a slightly inferior position.
6... d5 7. Qe2 Be7 A passive choice and one that I do not like. From this point on, Najer's position is rather easy to play.
7... dxe4 8. Nc3 Bb4 9. Bxe4 Could have led to an opposite-colored bishops ending in which Black would have been down several tempi. Black should have been fine with best play, but it certainly would have been easier to play the endgame with White.
9... Bxc3+ 10. bxc3 Nxe4 11. Qxe4+ Qe7 12. Qxe7+ Kxe7 With a slight edge for White.  )
8. Nd2 O-O 9. O-O Nd7
9... Re8 10. e5 Would quickly become uncomfortable for Black.  )
10. exd5 cxd5 11. Nb3 c5
11... Bd6 Has to be a better option. Black refrains from committing his pawns and is able to activate his knight via e5.  )
12. c4 dxc4
12... d4 13. Qe4 Immediately wins a rook, which would be decisive.  )
13. Bxc4 Nb6 14. Bd3 Be6 A standard looking move, but it allows White's pieces to become much more active.
14... c4! 15. Bxc4 Nxc4 16. Qxc4 White would have an extra pawn, but Inarkiev would have ample compensation thanks to his two bishops.  )
15. Rd1 Qc7
15... c4 Is simply bad because of:
16. Bxh7+  )
16. Qe4 g6 17. Bf4 Qc8 18. Bh6 Rd8
18... c4 Is an attempt to win two minors for the rook, for
19. Bxf8 Qxf8 Is just great for Black.  )
18... Bf6!? Was a highly interesting exchange sacrifice.  )
19. Qe5 f6 20. Qg3 Kf7
20... Bd6 21. Qh4 Bd5 22. Qxf6 Qc7 Certainly should have been analyzed by Inarkiev. The activity he gains for his pieces would have been a breath of fresh air.  )
21. Be2 Qc6 22. Rdc1 Najer avoids trading rooks and applies pressure on the c-pawn.
22... Na4
22... Rac8 hardly looks better, but it likely was. After
23. Ba6 Ra8 Black's pieces lack harmony, but everything is defended for the time being.  )
23. Na5 Qb6
23... Qc8 Avoids the knight retreat with tempo, but is still bad for Black.  )
24. Nc4 Qc6 25. Bf3 Bd5 26. Qf4 Perhaps this is what Inarkiev overlooked. White breaks through!
26... Kg8 27. Re1 Bf8
27... Rd7 Is not a good defense because Black's pieces are completely overloaded.
28. Na5 Qd6 Now many moves are decisive, including the extremely simple:
29. Qxa4  )
28. Bxf8 Kxf8
28... Bxf3 29. Be7 Bxg2 30. Bxd8 Rxd8 31. Na5 Is simple enough.  )
29. Qh6+ Kg8 30. Re7 Mate is unavoidable, so Inarkiev threw in the towel.

Little did anyone know that the Round 3 matchup between Sutovsky and Najer would decide the tournament. Both players appeared to be in excellent form, but one could hardly predict that these two veteran grandmasters would go on to have tournament performances of 2900! In their game, it was Sutovsky who reeled in the full point, but only after Najer’s resourceful defense collapsed at a critical moment.

Emil Sutovsky vs. Evgeny Najer
18th Karpov Poikovsky | Poikovsky RUS | Round 3 | 20 Apr 2017 | ECO: B96 | 1-0
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Qc7 8. Bxf6 gxf6 9. Be2 Nc6 10. Qd3 Nxd4 11. Qxd4 Qc5 12. Qd3 Bd7 13. O-O-O Rc8 14. Kb1 b5 15. a3 While
15. e5 Looks like a breakthrough because the pawn on d6 is pinned and Ne4 is a huge threat, but Black has the reply:
15... f5 which will open up the long diagonal for the bishop and restrict White's pieces.  )
15... h5? A move that prevents kingside expansion and keeps the bishop from applying pressure to f7 via h5. Still, it is a very strange decision. To this point, Najer had played very straight-forwardly. Now he wasted a vital tempo with a pawn push that turned out to weaken his position.
15... b4 Was more to the point.
16. axb4 Qxb4 17. f5 And now, if Black really wants to (he doesn't), he can play 17... h5 and transition to the actual game continuation. Thus, it seems that Najer erred by moving his rook pawn.
...   )
16. f5 b4 This doesn't work precisely because of Black's last move.
16... Qe5 Would have been thematic, though White would still have been quite a bit better.  )
17. axb4 Qxb4 18. fxe6
18. Rhf1 Was much less straight-forward, but it would have allowed White to build some pressure. However, if White cannot break through quickly, Black will quickly turn the tables.  )
18... fxe6 19. e5! You don't need to provoke Sutovsky to make such a sacrifice, though Najer handled the ensuing complications well.
19... f5 20. Qg3 Kf7 21. Qg5
21. Rhf1 Again deserved consideration. The rook would pin the f-pawn and help defend the queenside with Rf4.  )
21... Rb8 22. Nb5 Rxb5
22... Bxb5 Would have led to a draw by repetition if White chose (and there wass not anything better).
23. Qf6+ Kg8 24. Qxe6+ Kh7 25. Qxf5+ Kg8 26. Qe6+  )
23. Qf6+ Kg8 24. Bxb5 Qxb5 25. Rd3 Rh7 26. Rhd1 h4 Completely logical. The intent was to permanently close White's access to the g-file for good. But this pawn became quite a liability.
26... Rg7 Was a strong defensive move.
27. exd6 Rxg2 Allows Black to play both defense and offense. In addition, the h-pawn is more difficult to target.  )
27. exd6 Qc6 28. Rc3
28. g4!? With the threat of opening the f-file, was a fascinating option.  )
28... Qxg2 29. Rc7
29. h3 With the idea of scooping up the pawn on h4 was also possible. Since g4 is no longer available to the Black queen, Najer would not have been able to move his rook without losing his h-pawn.  )
29... Qg7 It is unreasonable to give this move a question mark, but it throws away what to this point had been exceptional defense by Najer. He evidently miscalculated and did not realize that his pieces were overloaded and that the threat of Rg1+ at the right moment would prove decisive.
29... Qg4! Simultaneously attacks the rook on d1 and protects the pawn on h4. With Black aiming to play Rf7 followed by Qg7, it is White who needs to hold on. In this case, the configuration of rook and queen on the seventh rank is superior with the rook leading the way.  )
30. Qd8 f4 31. Rxd7! Qg4
31... Qxd7 32. Rg1+ Would be decisive as the queen is lost.
32... Rg7 33. Qxd7 Exploits the pin on the g-file.  )
32. Rc1 Rxd7 33. Qxd7 f3 34. Qe8 f2 35. d7

In the same round, Korobov played the best game of the tournament. He used sacrifice after sacrifice to lure the king of Daniil Dubov of Russia into the center. Korobov’s two minor pieces were ample compensation for his opponent’s queen, and Dubov could not muster any play while Black’s pieces operated in perfect harmony.

Daniil Dubov vs. Anton Korobov
18th Karpov Poikovsky | Poikovsky RUS | Round 3.2 | 20 Apr 2017 | ECO: B91 | 0-1
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. g3 e6 7. Bg2 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. b3 Qc7 10. Bb2 Nbd7 11. a4 Rb8 12. a5 b5 13. axb6 Qxb6 14. g4 g6 15. g5 Nh5 16. f4 Bb7 17. Kh1 Ng7 18. h4 Rbc8 19. f5 Nh5 20. Na4 Ng3+ 21. Kg1 Qa7 22. fxe6 Ne5 23. exf7+ Nxf7 24. Re1 Ne5 25. Kh2 Nh5 26. Nf5 Rxf5 27. Bd4 Qxd4 28. Qxd4 Rf4 29. c4 Rxh4+ 30. Kg1 Bxg5 31. Qxd6 Bf4 32. Qe6+ Kh8 33. Qe7 Bh2+ 34. Kf2 Rf4+ 35. Ke3 Rf7 36. Qe6 Rf6 37. Qe7 Bf4+ 38. Ke2 Rf7 39. Qe6 Rcf8 40. Bh3 Bxe4 41. Nc5 Bf3+ 42. Kf2 Bc6 43. Ke2 Rd8 44. Ra2 Ng7 45. Qxf7 Nxf7 46. Rxa6 Ne5 47. Kf1 Rf8

Korobov and Najer caught Sutovsky in the fourth round, as they beat David Anton Guijarro of Spain and Maxim Rodshtein of Israel, respectively. Like Najer, Rodshtein only had two draws during the tournament, but unfortunately for him, he suffered four losses against three wins. The disappointing “minus one” performance dropped the Israeli grandmaster below 2700. Korobov downed Guijarro for his third straight win.

Sutovsky struck again in Round 6, this time against Bologan. Bologan is a mainstay at Poikovsky, and the Moldovan grandmaster even won the first two editions. Yet all of that past success could not prevent him from dropping nearly 25 rating points in this tournament.

In Round 6, both Korobov and Sutovsky won. At this point, Sutovsky held a half-point lead over Korobov and Najer. In Round 7, Sutovsky drew with Black while Korobov outlasted Sergei Zhigalko of Belarus and Najer absolutely demolished Dmitry Jakovenko of Russia, who was ranked No. 5 in July 2009 but has fallen back to No. 32. It was a surprising loss for Jakovenko, who usually plays very solidly but never found his footing in the event, finishing with only four points.

Dmitry Jakovenko vs. Evgeny Najer
18th Karpov Poikovsky | Poikovsky RUS | Round 7 | 25 Apr 2017 | ECO: A29 | 0-1
1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. g3 g6 5. d4 exd4 6. Nxd4 Bg7 7. Bf4 O-O 8. Nxc6 bxc6 9. Bg2 Rb8 10. Qc2 d5 11. Rd1 Bf5 12. Qc1 d4 13. O-O Nh5 14. e4? Jakovenko uncharacteristically makes a blunder in a level position. There was no reason to play so aggressivly.
14. Bg5 f6 15. Bf4 Is a complex position with mutual chances. I think Black is slightly better, but it is not a significant edge. Of course, this would have been a true challenge, unlike the game continuation.  )
14... Bg4 15. f3 Nxf4 16. Qxf4 Be6 Winning a pawn. Black now has a significant edge.
17. Rf2
17. b3 Jakovenko could not play this, and I assume this is what he overlooked.
17... dxc3! 18. Rxd8 Rfxd8 Is winning for Black. Najer's tripled c-pawns provide a decisive advantage, as the pawn on c3 is on its way to promotion. The open d-file also allows the Black rooks to infiltrate. White's position is hopeless.  )
17... Bxc4 18. Bf1 Bxf1 19. Kxf1 Qc8 Najer picks up a second pawn. The game is far out of reach for Jakovenko.
20. Nb1 Qa6+ 21. Kg2 Qxa2 22. Qc1 Rb4 23. Rd3 Qa6 Jakovenko now gave up. It's rare to see such a strong grandmaster lose in such a fashion.

After seven rounds, it was Sutovsky and Korobov in first with 5.5 points apiece, with Najer trailing just behind at 5 points. In Round 8, Najer beat Korobov in a 96 move duel. Korobov sacrificed a full rook for a wishful attack, but Najer belongs to the Russian school of chess: in a fine display of technique, he returned some of the material to safeguard his king, and went on to convert the full point with further simplifications via sacrifices.

Evgeny Najer vs. Anton Korobov
18th Karpov Poikovsky | Poikovsky RUS | Round 8.3 | 26 Apr 2017 | ECO: C11 | 1-0
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be3 Be7 8. Qd2 a6 9. dxc5 Nxc5 10. O-O-O Qa5 11. Kb1 b5 12. h4 Bd7 13. g4 b4 14. Ne2 Ne4 15. Qe1 Rb8 16. Nc1 Nc3+ 17. bxc3 bxc3+ 18. Nb3 Rxb3+ 19. axb3 Ba3 20. Bb6 Qxb6 21. Qxc3 O-O 22. Ng5 Rc8 23. Qd3 g6 24. Rh2 Be7 25. Qxa6 Qc7 26. Qa1 Qb6 27. h5 Qg1 28. Nf3 Qxg4 29. Be2 Qxf4 30. hxg6 fxg6 31. Rdh1 h5 32. Rg1 Be8 33. Qa6 Rc7 34. Rxh5 Kg7 35. Qb6 Bd8 36. Rh4 Qf7 37. Rhg4 Qf5 38. Qe3 d4 39. Qd2 Rb7 40. Qd3 Be7 41. Nxd4 Nxd4 42. Rxd4 Bc5 43. Rf1 Qxd3 44. Rxd3 Bb5 45. Rf6 Bxd3 46. Bxd3 Bd4 47. Rxe6 Ra7 48. Rxg6+ Kf8 49. Ba6 Bxe5 50. b4 Bc3 51. b5 Bd4 52. Rd6 Be3 53. Kb2 Ke7 54. Rg6 Kd7 55. Kb3 Ra8 56. Kb4 Rh8 57. b6 Rh6 58. Bb5+ Kc8 59. Ba6+ Kd7 60. Rg7+ Kc6 61. b7 Bc5+ 62. Kb3 Rh8 63. Bd3 Bd6 64. Be4+ Kb6 65. Rd7 Bg3 66. c3 Ka7 67. Bg2 Rh2 68. Bd5 Rh8 69. Rf7 Be5 70. Kb4 Kb6 71. Rd7 Bg3 72. Rf7 Be5 73. Rf5 Bd6+ 74. Kb3 Re8 75. Bf3 Kc7 76. Rb5 Kb8 77. Rb6 Be5 78. Ra6 Kc7 79. c4 Bd4 80. Kb4 Rf8 81. Ra8 Be5 82. Kb5 Rb8 83. Bg2 Bh2 84. Bh1 Be5 85. Bd5 Bh2 86. Ra2 Rh8 87. Ra8 Rb8 88. Ra6 Rd8 89. Be4 Re8 90. Rc6+ Kb8 91. Kb6 Rd8 92. c5 Bg1 93. Bf5 Bxc5+ 94. Rxc5 Rd6+ 95. Rc6 Re6 96. Bd3

Sutovsky had an easier time in Round 8 , as his renowned attacking prowess shone when he cashed in after Guijarro refused to accept a central pawn sacrifice.

Emil Sutovsky vs. David Anton Guijarro
18th Karpov Poikovsky | Poikovsky RUS | Round 8 | 26 Apr 2017 | ECO: B12 | 1-0
1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. h4 h5 5. Bd3 Bxd3 6. Qxd3 Qa5+ 7. Nd2 e6 8. Nf3 Qa6 9. c4 Nh6 10. O-O Nf5 11. b3 Be7 12. a4 Bxh4 13. Ba3 Be7 14. Bxe7 Nxe7 15. a5 Nd7 16. Rfc1 Rd8 17. b4 dxc4 18. Nxc4 Nf5 19. Ng5 Nb8 20. Qf3 Qb5 21. Ne3 g6 Black has many holes on the dark squares, but White has several pawns that are not defended. The initiative should be enough to claim an edge, but if Sutovsky did not play decisively, Black would soon have been better.
22. Ne4?! The question mark is because the move is imprecise, the exclamation point is because it worked out.
22. d5! cxd5 23. Rc7 Nd7 24. Rac1 Would have been extremely difficult to combat. White's pieces are perfectly placed, and Black's king would not have easily been able to find shelter.  )
22... O-O Sutovsky's bluff fooled Guijarro, and now White is winning. It's amazing how one small miscalculation can cost a player a game.
22... Nxd4 Was simple and strong for Black. A free pawn is not always free, but here it came with few, if any, strings attached.
23. Nd6+ Rxd6 24. Qf6 Ne2+ 25. Kh2 O-O 26. exd6 Nxc1 27. Rxc1 Qxb4 Would have been a two-pawn surplus for Black.  )
23. Nf6+ Kg7 24. Nxh5+! gxh5 25. Nxf5+ exf5 26. Qxf5 Material count is unimportant because the Black king is being hunted down.
26... Rfe8 27. Qf6+ Kh7 28. e6! A beautiful finishing touch, clearing the fifth rank for the White rook to deliver checkmate.
28... Qd3
28... fxe6 29. Qf7+ Kh6 30. Rc5 requires Black to sacrifice his queen just to avoid immediate checkmate.  )
29. Qxf7+ Kh6 30. e7 Rc8 31. Re1 With White threatening Re6 next move, he is completely winning.

In the final round, Sutovsky’s good preparation earned him a quick draw against Jakovenko. Only Najer could catch him, which he succeeded in doing by beating Zhigalko from the Black side of a Caro-Kann Defense. Thus, the two 39-year-olds shared first with 7 points.


Robert Hess is a former United States Junior Champion, recipient of the 2010 Samford Award (the most prestigious in the United States for young players) and was runner-up in the 2009 United States Championships. A 2015 graduate of Yale University, he is the chief operating officer of The Sports Quotient, a statistically-based sports site that he co-founded. He can be found on Twitter at @GM_Hess.