After six rounds, half the field is tied for the lead!

It is not surprising that the competition for the Russian championship would be fierce — it is still the world’s top-ranked country.  But after six rounds, half the players in the tournament are tied for lead, each player with 3.5 points, or a score of +1! 

This is surprising in a field with a reasonably wide rating range, but the lwest-ranked players, those whose ratings are in the 2600-range have, for the most part, been holding their own against the stronger opposition. At this point, most of the players still have a chance to win.

Vladimir Fedoseev, Peter Svidler, and Alexander Riazantsev jumped out to an early lead by winning in Round 1. I especially enjoyed Svidler’s victory over Ernesto Inarkiev:

Svidler, Peter vs. Inarkiev, Ernesto
Russian Chess Championship | Novosibirsk, Russia | Round 1 | 16 Oct 2016 | 1-0
h6 Black wants to expel White's knight from its aggressive post on g5. But Svidler has other ideas.
13. h4! White is preparing to launch a kingside attack. If the knight is taken, Black would be checkmated rather quickly.
13... Nd8
13... hxg5 14. hxg5 would lead to checkmate on the newly opened h-file  )
14. Qf3 Ng4 15. Qe2 Kh8
15... Nf6 16. f3 I'm sure Svidler had no interest in repeating moves.  )
16. f3 Nf6 17. Nxf6 Qxf6 18. g4! The attack nearly plays itself, and Black has no counterplay. Files will soon be opened and Black will be helpless.
18... Ne6? Missing White's threat, but the position was already very difficult to defend.
18... Qe7! Was necessary. Then if White played Qe4, Black could reply f5. Still, after
19. Ne4 White's position looks much better.  )
19. Qe4! And checkmate on h7 is surprisingly difficult to prevent.
19... Nxg5 A sad necessity
19... g6 20. Nxe6 Bxe6 21. Bxh6 And Black will not be able to survive for long.  )
19... Qg6 20. Qxg6 fxg6 21. Nxe6 White wins a piece.  )
20. hxg5 Qe7 21. Bd2?! White's position is still much better, but he missed the best way to continue.
21. g6! And Bxh6 cannot be prevented.
21... f5 22. Bxh6 gxh6 23. Rxh6+ Kg7 24. Qe3! A subtle move and possibly what Svidler overlooked. Black has no response to White playing Rh7.  )
21... Be6 22. O-O-O c6 23. g6 Another move that was not the best, but Black is still in big trouble.
23. Rxh6+! gxh6 24. Rh1 Would also have given White a big edge.  )
23... fxg6 24. Qxg6 Rf6 25. Qe4 Qf7 26. g5 Rf5 27. g6!
27. gxh6 g6 Black's king is now safe and he is only down one pawn. White should win but this gives Black more chances than he deserves.  )
27... Qxg6 28. Rdg1 Qf6 29. Rxg7! Kxg7 30. Rxh6 Qxh6 31. Bxh6+ Kxh6 32. Qh4+! The last accurate move that White had to find to nail down the win. White does not allow his queen to become passive.
32. Bxe6 Rf4 It would have been significantly more difficult for White to win if White had allowed this continuation.  )
32... Kg7 33. Bxe6 Rf6 With Black's king so exposed, his two rooks are no match for White's queen. Svidler handled the rest of the game easily.
34. Bc4 Re8 35. Kb1 Re7 36. Ka2 Rg6 37. d4 Rh6 38. Qe4 exd4 39. Qxd4+ Rf6 40. Qg4+ Rg6 41. Qf5 Bc7 42. Bd3 Rg3 43. f4 Rf7 44. Qh7+ Kf8 45. Qh6+ Rgg7 46. Bc4 Bxf4 47. Qe6 Rc7 48. Qf6+ Rgf7 49. Bxf7 Rxf7 50. Qd8+ Kg7 51. Qxa5 Kf6 52. Qd8+ Ke6 53. Qe8+ Re7 54. Qg6+ Ke5 55. b4 Be3 56. Kb3 Ba7 57. a5 Be3 58. c4 Rd7 59. Qe8+

Fedoseev, Svidler, and Riazantsev were tied for the lead through four rounds, but in Round 5, other players finally caught up. The top seed, Alexander Grischuk, was the first to join, winning a fine positional game over Grigoriy Oparin.

Grischuk, Alexander vs. Oparin, Grigoriy
Russian Chess Championship | Novosibirsk, Russia | Round 5 | 16 Oct 2016 | 1-0
Qb8 16. Ne1!? This is not the engine's choice, but I like the move. The threat of Nd3-b4-d5 forces Black to make an unfavorable piece exchange.
16... Nc5 17. Bxc5! dxc5
17... Rxc5 18. Nd3 And after Nb4-d5 Black will be left with a bad bishop vs. a good knight.  )
18. Nf3! White returns his knight to where it came from! Now that Black has played c5, Nd3-b4 is no longer feasible. But the knight served its purpose going to e1 by forcing a favorable piece exchange.
18... Rfd8 19. Nb1!? Not a bad move, but I prefer a simpler continuation:
19. Nd2 This looks more natural. The knight will go to c4 and then maybe even e3 and d5.  )
19... Qd6 20. Nbd2 Qc6 21. b3 Bd6 22. Re1 Bc7 Black tries to make his bishop somewhat useful by attacking the pawn on a5, but White is quite happy to keep his knight posted on c4.
23. Nc4 Re8 24. g3 Rcd8 25. Kg2 g6 26. Nb2 Re7 27. Qe3 Kg7 28. Qc3 Nd7 29. Rd1 f6 30. Rc4 Qb5 31. Ra1 Bd6 32. Na4 Ree8 33. Ne1 Be7 34. Nd3 White's plan is complete. His pieces are ravaging the light squares and targeting the weak pawn on c5 while Black has no counterplay.
34... Rc8 35. h4 h5 36. Rd1 Red8 37. Rg1
37. Ndxc5 It might have been time to grab a pawn.
37... Nxc5 38. Rxd8 Nxa4 39. Rc7! The key point of the combination, and probably what Grischuk overlooked.
39... Nxc3 40. Rxe7+ Kh6 41. Rxc8 And the mate threat on h8 is decisive.  )
37... Qc6 38. Kh2 Qe6 39. Kg2 Rc6 40. Rd1 Rdc8 41. Ra1 R8c7 42. Qe1 Rd6 43. Nc3 White finally gets a knight to d5.
43... Rd4 44. Nd5 Rc6 45. Qe2 Kf7 46. c3 Rxd5
46... Rxc4 47. bxc4 This would be an utter disaster. The White knight on d5 cannot be expelled, and the newly opened b-file gives White a route into Black's position.  )
47. exd5 Qxd5+ 48. Qf3 Qxf3+ 49. Kxf3 f5 50. Ke2 e4 51. Nf4 Ne5 Black has some compensation, but not enough for equality.
52. Rca4 c4? Now the White rooks can gain access to Black's position.
52... g5! 53. hxg5 Bxg5 And Black would be able to continue to fight.  )
53. Rb1 cxb3 54. Rxb3 Nd7 55. Rxb7! Nc5 56. Rc4!

Evgeny Tomashevsky also win, beating the struggling Inarkiev:

Tomashevsky, Evgeny vs. Inarkiev, Ernesto
Russian Chess Championship | Novosibirsk, Russia | Round 5 | 16 Oct 2016 | 1-0
19. Bd3 Bxd3? A very poor decision that condemns Black to a difficult defense. It all comes down to the principle that players should avoid exchanging pieces when playing with an isolated pawn.
19... Be6! I would prefer to play White, but Black is more or less fine.  )
20. Rxd3 Nb6 21. Nd6! Re5 22. Kc2 Rd5 23. Rxd5 Nxd5 24. Rb1 In just a few moves Black's position has become nearly hopeless. His knight has no active prospects and White's pieces are perfectly coordinated to attack and win the pawn on c5.
24... Rd8 25. Nc4 f6 26. Rb7 Ra8 Necessary. Black cannot allow White to get a passed a-pawn.
26... Nb6 27. Nxb6 axb6 28. Rxb6 Ra8 29. Kb2! Simple and strong. White has a huge edge.  )
27. Nd6 g6 To prevent Nf5.
28. Rd7 Now Ne4 would win a pawn, forcing Black to move his knight
28... Nb6 29. Rc7 f5 30. Rxc5 White is up a pawn and Black has no compensation.
30... Rd8 31. Nc4 Nxc4 32. Rxc4 Rd7 33. Rc6 Black would have reasonable drawing chances if his rook were more active, but as it is his position is totally hopeless. His pawns are weak and will require constant attention, tying down his pieces to their defense, while White organizes a4-a5-a6 and then brings a rook around to b7.
33... Kg7 34. h4 Re7 35. g3 g5 36. h5 f4 37. Kd3 fxg3 38. fxg3 Rd7+ 39. Ke2 Re7 40. Ra6 Kh7 41. g4 Kg7 42. a4 Rf7 43. a5 Re7 44. Rg6+ Kh7 45. Rd6 Kg7 46. Rc6 Kh7 47. a6 Kg7 48. Rc8 Re6 49. Rc7+ Kf6 50. Rxa7 Ke5 51. Ra8 Ke4 52. a7 Re7 53. Kd2 Ke5 54. Kc3 Rc7+ 55. Kb4 Rb7+ 56. Kc4 Rc7+ 57. Kb5 Re7 58. Kc5

And Dmitry Jakovenko defeated Dmitry Bocharov:

Jakovenko, Dmitry vs. Bocharov, Dmitry
Russian Chess Championship | Novosibirsk, Russia | Round 5 | 16 Oct 2016 | 1-0
23. Nd2 Bf8?!
23... Bf6 Would have been more robust. Putting the bishop on d8 would really solidify the queenside.  )
24. Rc3 Now the pawn on c7 is a real problem for Black
24... g3
24... Bb7 The engine suggests this move, but I can understand why Black did not want to put his bishop on a dreadfully passive square.  )
25. hxg3! fxg3 26. Be3 Qh4 27. Nf1! Simple and strong. Black has no threats and his pawns are about to fall.
27... Ne8 28. d6! Nxd6
28... Bxd6 29. Bc4 And White should win.  )
29. Rxc7 Black is not prepared for the opening of the queenside.
29... Be6 30. Rxf7 Bxf7 31. Qd2! The simplest. White wins the pawn on g3 and Black will be down a pawn, with no counterplay and passively positioned pieces. The fight is effectively over.
31... Be7 32. Qe1 Bg5 33. Bxg5 Qxg5 34. Qxg3 Qxg3 35. Nxg3 h4 36. Nf5 Nxf5 37. exf5 a5 38. Rc6 Rb8 39. Kh2 Be8 40. Rc7 Bxa4 41. Bc4+ Kh8 42. Kh3

While the standings are very compact, there have been quite a few decisive games and the players are clearly fighting hard so I don’t expect the logjam to last until the end.


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 is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.