In a surprise, the 31-year-old won his first title ahead of many better-known and higher-ranked players.

In an upset, Alexander Riazantsev won the Russian Championship on Thursday. Riazantsev, 31, had started as the eighth seed in the 12-player, round-robin tournament. Alexander Grischuk and Evgeny Tomashevsky tied for second and third, a half point behind the winner.

Riazantsev did not emerge as the leader until the very end. Indeed, as I wrote in my report after six rounds, half the players were tied for the lead. Rounds 7 to 10 produced only four decisive games out of 24. So, with two rounds to go, it was really still anyone’s tournament to win.

Riazantsev started his run to the title with a win in Round 8 over Dmitry Kokarev:

Riazantsev, Alexander vs. Kokarev, Dmitry
Russian Chess Championship | Novosibirsk, Russia | Round 8 | 27 Oct 2016 | 1-0
25. d6 exd6?
25... e5! Black should be able to hold a draw.  )
26. Ne8! And despite being down two pawns, White's activity is causing a lot of problems.
26... Rb4 27. Re3 Bb7? A bad move, but it's a tough position to play for Black.
27... Ba6 Was a more resilient move.
28. Rxd6 Rb1+! 29. Kd2 Rb6!  )
28. Rxd6 Rd4 29. Bg5! Winning material.
29... Rxd6
29... Rc8 30. Rxd7!  )
30. Nxd6 Rb8 31. Re7 Bc6 32. Bh6 Kh8 33. Nf7+ Kg8 34. Ng5 Black has to give up his knight to avoid getting mated. A nice win by Riazantsev.
34... Ne5 35. Rxe5 Rb1+ 36. Kd2

In round 10, Vladimir Fedoseev scored a key victory over Dmitry Bocharov to catch Riazantsev and share the lead going into the final round:

Fedoseev, Vladimir vs. Bocharov, Dmitry
Russian Chess Championship | Novosibirsk, Russia | Round 10 | 27 Oct 2016 | 1-0
17. dxe5 Ndxe5?! The wrong knight. Now c5 is very vulnerable
17... Ngxe5 I'd prefer to be White, but the game would continue.  )
18. Nfd4! Qd6 19. Nc5! White's knights are beautifully positioned.
19... Rf7 20. Nf5! Qf8 21. f4! Energetic and strong. Black is losing.
21... Nd7 22. Nxb7 Bb2 23. Rb1
23. Nfd6! Was even stronger
23... Bxc1 24. Qxc1 Rf6 25. Qxc6  )
23... Rxf5 24. Rxb2 Qf6?
24... Qb8! 25. a6 Nxf4 Black would have some counterplay, although he'd definitely still be struggling.  )
25. Qc1 Everything is protected, White is up a pawn, and Black's position is in shambles. The rest was child's play for Fedoseev.
25... Nh4 26. g3 Re8 27. Rf2 Rxe2 28. Rxe2 Nf3+ 29. Kg2 Nd4 30. Re8+ Kf7 31. Re1 Ne5 32. a6 Rh5 33. a7 Ndf3 34. Rxe5 Nxe5 35. Bc3 Be4+ 36. Kf1 Bd3+ 37. Ke1 Nf3+ 38. Kd1 d4 39. a8=Q dxc3 40. Qe3 Re5 41. fxe5 cxb2 42. Qa2+

Both Fedoseev and Riazantsev had Black in the final round, but Riazentsev rose to the challenge against Dmitry Jakovenko, while Fedoseev had a rough day against Grigoriy Oparin:

Jakovenko, Dmitry vs. Riazantsev, Alexander
Russian Chess Championship | Novosibirsk, Russia | Round 11 | 27 Oct 2016 | 0-1
30. h3 h5! Black wants to start a kingside attack, so he does not worry about the pawn on g5.
31. Ne3?
31. Bxg5? Bxh3! 32. gxh3 Rg7 33. h4 Nd2! 34. Qb2 Bf4 And Black would have had a huge edge.  )
31. Bxc4! Was the only move to try to hang on. It's a strategically dubious looking move, but if Black cannot recapture on c4 with his queen, it is obviously justified.
31... dxc4 32. Qb5 g4 33. h4 And White is more or less okay  )
31... Nxe3! 32. Bxe3 g4! Black's attack will be decisive.
33. h4 g3! 34. Rb2
34. f3 Bf4! And Black will soon win the pawn on h4.  )
34... gxf2+ 35. Bxf2 Be4 36. Qb6 Rg8 37. Bf1 Bh2+ 38. Kh1 Rhg7 39. Qxe6 Rxg2 40. Rxb7+ Kxb7
Oparin, Grigoriy vs. Fedoseev, Vladimir
Russian Chess Championship | Novosibirsk, Russia | Round 11 | 27 Oct 2016 | 1-0
a5 Black looks fine, but White finds a way to make progress.
12. g4! Starting an attack. White is planning to play Nf5.
12... a4 13. a3! White makes a prophylactic move before continuing with his own attack because a4-a3 would be dangerous and must be prevented.
13. Nf5? a3 14. b3 Bxf5 15. gxf5 Qf6 And White would be losing.  )
13... Re8 14. f3
14. Nf5 also looks very strong.  )
14... Bd7 15. h4 More pawns join the attack. Black has basically no counterplay as White's attack builds.
15... Qe7 16. Kb1 Ra5
16... Nd5 Trading some pieces might have provided Black with a little relief, but Black would still definitely be worse.  )
17. h5 Be5? A bad move but it's hard to suggest something better.
18. f4! Bd6 19. h6 g6 20. Rhg1 Preparing to play Nf5.
20... Ra6 21. Qd3 Nd5 22. e5 f6 23. Nf5! Bxf5 24. gxf5 Nxe3 25. Ne4!?
25. Qxe3 This move would have been good enough but the move White played is flashier  )
25... Nd5
25... Nxd1 26. Nxf6+ Kh8 27. fxg6 And Black will be checkmated.  )
26. exd6 cxd6 27. Rde1 Kf8 28. fxg6 hxg6 29. Rxg6 Nxf4 30. Qg3 Nxg6 31. Qxg6 f5 32. Qxf5+ Black resigned instead of playing 32... Qf7 33. h7 (Or 32... Qxf7+ 33. Kxf7 Nxd6+)

Riazantsev was once rated over 2700 and I didn’t understand why he had dropped so far below his peak (2651 at the start of the tournament). Perhaps winning such a strong event (with a score of +3) will get him back on the right track and he will climb over 2700 again.


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.