The Russian grandmaster Ernesto Inarkiev has seized control of the European Individual Championship and leads by a full point with only two rounds to play.

The European Individual Chess Championship is turning into a one-man show. After nine rounds, Ernesto Inarkiev of Russia leads by a full point and is on an absolute tear. Including his performance in the recently concluded Russian Team Championship, Inarkiev stands to gain over 40 points on the next rating list, which will push his rating well above 2700.

After he beat the Ivan Saric in Round 7, he was tied with David Navara, the top seed from the Czech Republic. At that point, I predicted his demise against Navara in Round 8. I now must eat my words as Inarkiev made beating an elite player with Black look surprisingly easy.

Navara, David vs. Inarkiev, Ernesto
European Individual Chess Championship | Gjakova, Kosovo | Round 8 | 21 May 2016 | 0-1
c5! Black correctly decides not to fear having the hanging pawns structure. In general, I think the rule of thumb that if a player has one bad piece, it makes his whole position bad applies here. If White could move his bishop from d2 to either b2 or outside the pawn chain to g5, he would be doing great. As it is, he does not have enough play against Blacks pawns, which will soon create problems.
14. dxc5 bxc5 15. Qh3 g6 16. Nce2 Bc6 17. Bc3 Nbd7 18. Bb3 Qa8 So far, both sides have just been maneuvering and improving the placement of their pieces. The computer swears the position is dead equal, but Black looks a little more comfortable to me. Still, what followed next was entirely bizarre
19. g4? Why?
19. Ng3 Just about any other move left White with a reasonably solid position.  )
19. Qg3  )
19... Ne5! Black immediately pounces; d4 is now a big threat.
20. g5
20. Bxe5 This was the best chance to fight on, but it was obviously not what White had in mind when he played g4.
20... Rxe5 Rg5 and h5 is going to hurt, but maybe White can continue to breathe for a little while.  )
20... d4! All too easy. White can already resign
21. f3 dxc3 22. gxf6 c4 23. Bc2 Nxf3+ 24. Kf2 cxb2 With a couple basic one-two punches, Black is now up two pawns with a huge attack. The rest requires no comment
25. Qg3 Qb8 26. Nc3 Ne5 27. h4 Rd7 28. h5 Qd8 29. hxg6 fxg6 30. Rxd7 Qxd7 31. Kg1 Kf7 32. Ne4 Bh6 33. Qh4 Bxe4 34. Bxe4 Qg4+ 35. Qxg4 Nxg4 36. Bd5+ Kxf6 37. Nxg6+ Kg5

Going into Round 9, Inarkiev held a half point lead over Igor Kovalenko of Latvia, Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland, and Aleksey Goganov of Russia. While the latter two fought to a draw, Inarkiev just kept on cruising, winning a second game in a row with Black after Kovalenko made some errors in a worse, but defensible endgame.

Kovalenko, Igor vs. Inarkiev, Ernesto
European Individual Chess Championship | Gjakova, Kosovo | Round 9 | 21 May 2016 | 0-1
Rf7! A very important move. Black prepares to play Rb7 and Kf7, with an excellent coordination for his pieces.
27. Ne4 d5! 28. b3 Na3! 29. Ng5 Rfa7! As strange as Black's play looks, his position remains solid and he will soon be able to open the queenside with a5-a4. Note that having the rook on a7 means Black does not have to worry about Re8.
30. Be5 Presumably White did not want his bishop to get shut out of the game.
30. Re8 d4!  )
30... h6 31. Nf3 a4 32. Rb6 The start of White's problems.
32. Bd6  )
32... Ra6 33. Rb7 R6a7 34. Rb6 Ra6 35. Rxa6 Objectively, it looks foolish to decline the repetition here, but its very understandable given Kovalenko's standing in the tournament.
35... Rxa6 36. Kf2 Rb6 37. Rd1 d4 38. Nd2 Nc2 39. Kf3 Rb7 40. Rb1 Nb4 41. a3 Nd5 42. bxa4 Ra7 43. Rb8 Kf7 44. Ke4 Nc3+ 45. Kd3 Rxa4 46. Nc4 Nd1 47. Rxf8+?! White correctly surmised that he was worse and should be playing for a draw, but this is not the best way to do it.
47. Bxd4! cxd4 48. Ne5+ Kg8 49. Nd7  )
47... Kxf8 48. Bd6+ Kf7 49. Bxc5 Ne3 50. Nb6? I don't understand this move. White is starting to lose the thread of the game.
50. Nxe3 Should hold easily
50... dxe3 51. Bb4!  )
50... Ra5 51. Bb4 Rh5 52. a4?
52. h4 This pawn was worth keeping. Black is too slow to be able to take the kingside:
52... Nf1 53. a4 Nxg3 54. a5  )
52... Rxh2 53. a5 Ra2 54. Na8
54. Kxd4 This was the last chance, but it looks pretty bad as well.
54... Nc2+ 55. Kc3 Nxb4 56. Kxb4 Ke6 White should lose  )
54... Ke6 55. Ke4 Ra4 56. Nc7+ Kd7 57. Na6 Kc6 58. Bf8 Rxa5 59. Nb4+ Kb5 60. Nd3 Kc4 61. Bxg7 Nf5 62. Ne5+ Rxe5+ 63. Bxe5 d3 64. Kxf5 d2 65. Kf6 d1=Q 66. f5 Kd5 67. Bf4 Qh5

Almost all of the other games on the top boards in Round 9 were drawn, so Wojtaszek and Goganov are tied for second and third. While most of the rest of the players in the tournament can no longer fight for first, they are not necessarily playing badly. I particularly liked the clean execution in Round 9 of Dmitry Svetushkin of Russia by the Polish grandmaster Dariusz Swiercz:

Svetushkin, Dmitry vs. Swiercz, Dariusz
European Individual Chess Championship | Gjakova, Kosovo | Round 9 | 21 May 2016 | 0-1
Kh8! Simple and strong. Black is preparing to advance the f-pawn to create counterplay
27. Rg1 Rf8! Patient and powerful
28. Rgg4
28. Rxh5 In light of how the game went, White should have tried that.
28... gxh5 29. Qf5 Qc8 30. Qxc8 Rbxc8 31. b3 Despite being a pawn and exchange ahead, it's very difficult to find a plan for Black. At the same time, White threatens to decimate the queenside by playing Bb6  )
28... Qd7 29. Be4 Nf4! Black is more than happy to give up a pawn to unleash the dragon bishop
30. Qf1 b3! 31. a3 Qe6 White is nearly in zugzwang and will soon lose to some combination of f5 and Rc8. His position is so bad that he decides to open up the diagonal for the Black bishop, but this offers no relief
32. Bxf4 exf4 33. Rxf4 Qe5! 34. Qc1
34. Qg2 Trying to defend both g5 and b2 fails:
34... d5! Opening the c-file
35. cxd5 Rbc8 And Rc2 cannot be stopped  )
34... Qxg5 Simple and easy; Bh6 is one threat.
35. Rhg4 Qe5 36. Rh4 f5 Unable to prevent g5, White called it a day

Inarkiev will possibly be playing White in both of his final games. At this point, it is truly his tournament to lose, and given how convincingly he has played so far, I don’t see anyone catching him.


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 7 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 is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.