A National Team Championship With World-Class Players
BySamuel ShanklandMay 04 — 10:00 PM
Image by World Chess by Agon Limited
The Russian Team Championships features top players from other countries as well
Russia’s strong chess tradition means that any national championship will feature top players. But the Russian Team Championship now underway in Sochi also includes top players who have been recruited from other countries. The teams include Vladimir Kramnik, Alexander Grischuk, Peter Svidler, and Ian Nepomniatchi, all from Russia, but also Anish Giri of the Netherlands, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan (who just won the fourth Gashimov Memorial) and Maxim Rodshtein of Israel, among others.
After three rounds, team Malakhit is in the lead with a perfect match score and the best tiebreaks.
In such a competition, there are no really easy games, even in Round 1. Giri found that out in his game against Vladislav Artemiev of Russia. Artemiev thoroughly outplayed him (and with the Black pieces no less!), but Artemiev wasn’t quite able to convert his advantage into a win.
Anish Giri vs. Vladislav Artemiev
Russian Team Championships |Sochi RUS |Round 1.1 |01 May 2017 |ECO: B42 |1/2-1/2
1. e4c52. Nf3e63. d4cxd44. Nxd4a65. Bd3Ne76. O-ONec67. Be3Nxd48. Bxd4Nc69. Be3Be710. Nd2O-O11. c3b512. f4Bb713. Nf3Na514. b3Qc715. Rc1Bc516. Bxc5Qxc5+17. Kh1Qe318. Ne5Nc619. Rf3Qa720. Ng4f521. exf5exf522. Ne3Ne723. Rg3Rae824. b4Qb8!Black targets the pawn on f4. 25. Qf1Ng6!The pawn on f4 cannot be saved. White took the pawn on f5 as compensation, but after 26. Nxf5Be4!Black was much better prepared for the opening of the f-file. 27. Bxe4Rxe428. Nd4Rexf429. Rf3Rxf330. Nxf3Ne531. Qd1Nxf332. Qd5+Kh833. gxf3The dust has settled and White has an unpleasant position. His pawns are weak and his king is exposed. 33... Qe834. Rc2
( 34. Qd3This is the computer's suggestion, but it looks pretty depressing. )
34... h635. Qe4Qh5
( 35... Qxe436. fxe4Re8This would probably lead to a similar position as in the game. )
36. Rd2!Good defense from Giri. The pawn on f3 pawn is not that important, but activating his rook is.
( 36. Kg2Rxf3!?37. Qxf3Qg6+And White has a long defense ahead of him. )
( 36. Rf2d5And Black clearly has an edge. )
36... Rxf337. Qa8+!Now White can force a trade of queens, easing his defensive task. 37... Kh738. Qe4+Rf539. Rd5!Qf3+40. Qxf3Rxf3Black is up a pawn in this rook-and-pawn ending, but with accurate play, White should be able to hold. 41. Rd6!A very accurate move on the first move after time control. The pawn on a6 is far more important than the one on d7.
( 41. Rxd7Rxc3And Black is winning )
( 41... Rf642. Rxd7!Now this works since Rxc3 is no longer possible. 42... Rf1+43. Kg2Ra144. Rd2Rc145. Rd3Rc2+46. Kg3Rxa247. Rd6White should hold a draw. )
42. Rxa6Kg843. Ra5Kf744. Rxb5Rc1+45. Kg2Rc2+46. Kg3Rxa247. Rb6White has traded enough pawns that with accurate technique, he should not lose. Giri defended very precisely and wasn't in much danger the rest of the way. 47... Rd248. b5Rd3+49. Kg2h550. Rb8g551. Rd8Ke652. Rg8Rd2+53. Kg3Rd3+54. Kg2Kf555. Rf8+Ke556. Rg8Kf657. Rf8+Ke558. Rg8Kf459. Rf8+Kg460. Rf2Rd661. h3+Kh462. Rb2Rb663. Rb4+g464. hxg4hxg465. Rd4Rxb566. Rxd7Rb2+67. Kg1Kh368. Rd3+g369. Rd1
In Round 2, Nepomniachtchi was upset by Round 2 Sergei Rublevsky, another Russian. Rublevsky is not nearly as strong as he was at his peak, but he still can be very dangerous, as he demonstrated by demolishing Nepomniatchi, and, like Artemiev, with the Black pieces:
Ian Nepomniachtchi vs. Sergei Rublevsky
Russian Team Championships |Sochi RUS |Round 2.4 |02 May 2017 |ECO: B40 |0-1
1. e4c52. Nf3e63. b3d64. Bb2Nd75. g3Ngf66. Nc3b67. d4cxd48. Nxd4Bb79. Bg2Be710. Qe2O-O11. O-O-ORe8White has an unusual but very effective setup. The bishops on the long diagonals give him a lot of control over the position, and he looks much better. But he now started to lose his way. 12. g4
( 12. f4!This looks much more natural to me. The threat of e5 compels some response and then White can play g4. )
12... g6!Not enough to equalize, but it is the most resilient reply. Black is ready to meet g5 with Nh5 and preemptively takes the f5 square under his control. 13. h4
( 13. f4!Again, I prefer this move )
13... e5!14. Ndb5Nc515. h5?This is too much. White cannot allow himself to be saddled with Sveshnikov knights when he is castled on the queenside.
( 15. g5!Nh516. Qd2!Switching gears. White could target the pawn on d6 when he would still have an edge. )
15... a6!16. hxg6fxg6The open h-file is not a huge deal, and after 17. Na3b5!The White knights are not very effective and Black threatens to play b4. 18. f4Ne6!?An enterprising sacrifice. 19. fxe5Nd720. Nd5?
( 20. exd6!For better or for worse, White had to take some pawns. After: 20... Bg5+21. Kb1b422. e5!White has fair compensation for the piece and the position is very unclear. )
20... Bg5+21. Kb1Nxe5The tables have turned. White's pieces are passive while Black dominates the open board. 22. Bf1I won't pretend to understand this move. I guess Nepomniatchi was hoping to play Qh2, but it still looks bizarre. 22... Bxd5!Eliminating the strong knight. 23. Qh2
( 23. Rxd5Nf424. Qh2Qe7And Black has a big edge as he threatens both g4 and d5. )
23... Ra7!Nice and easy. Black defends his only weakness. 24. exd5Nc5!White's position is a train wreck. The bishop on f1 and the knight on a3 are really lousy, the White dark squares are weak, and Black will soon be able to muster some significant threats. 25. c4Nxg4!26. Qg1Ne327. Re1b4In addition to all of White's other problems, he is also now down a pawn. 28. Nc2Nxc2!29. Rxe8+Qxe830. Qxg5
( 30. Kxc2Qe4+And White would quickly be checkmated. )
30... Na3+!31. Ka1
( 31. Bxa3bxa3And White will be mated shortly. For example: 32. Rh2Rf7 )
31... Nc2+32. Kb1Na3+33. Ka1Qe1+!The easiest path to victory. 34. Bc1
( 34. Qc1Nc2+35. Kb1Qe4 )
34... Qc3+35. Bb2Qe1+36. Bc1Re7!Preventing Qd8 and getting his last piece involved in the attack. 37. Qd2Qe4White had seen enough.
By Round 3 on Thursday, there were plenty of games between players rated at least 2700. In one of those, Mamedyarov kept up his excellent form from the Gashimov Memorial by beating Nikita Vitiugov of Russia:
Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar vs. Vitiugov, Nikita
Russian Team Championships |Sochi RUS |Round 3.1 |02 May 2017 |1-0
Nxd7The computer evaluates the position as equal, but I think it is quite difficult for Black. I like how Mamedyarov was able to increase the pressure from this point. 51. g6!White avoids trading pawns and prevents Kf7 51... Kf852. Kg3Nc553. f5!Another strong move. Black is still fine, but he needs to play very precisely as White's king has some routes to invade. 53... Ne4+
( 53... e5?!54. Kf3And Nb4-d5 will cause a lot of problems for Black. For example: 54... Ke855. Nb4Kd856. Nd5Nd757. Ke3And Black is paralyzed. )
( 54... Nd6!This was the only way to try to hold on. After: 55. fxe6Nxc4!Black should be fine. )
55. Nd4!Well played.
( 55. Kxf5Nd6+And Black would hold. )
( 55... Nc5!This was the only way to continue defending effectively, though Black would have a long defense ahead of him after: 56. Nxf5Ne6+57. Ke4Ke8!58. Ne3Nc7! )
( 56... Kg8This saves the pawn on g7, but after: 57. c5!The Black king is cut off from the action and White will be able to create a passed b-pawn. 57... bxc558. b6c459. Ke3White should win. )
57. Nxg7Nxc458. Nxf5+Kf859. Ke4!And White is winning. The combined threats of running the king to c6 and queening the g-pawn are too powerful. 59... Na360. Nd6!White cannot lose the b5 pawn 60... Kg861. Kf4White repeated moves a couple times, presumably to gain some time on the clock. He certainly had no interest in a draw. 61... Kf862. Kg4Kg863. Kf4Kf864. Kg4Kg865. Kf5!Avoiding a draw. 65... Kg766. Ne8+Kg8
( 66... Kf867. Kxf6!Black is too slow: 67... Nxb568. g7+Kg869. Kg6Black is one tempo too slow to stop Nf6 mate. )
67. Nxf6+Kf868. Kg5Easy enough. 68... Kg7
( 68... Nxb569. Kh6And the g-pawn queens )
69. Ne8+Black cannot stop the g-pawn, so he stopped the clocks.
Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 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 was also a member of the team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter, has his own site, and is also on Facebook.