The Russian Championship finished Thursday with a surprise winner, 31-year-old Alexander Riazantsev. He once reached a peak rating of 2720 in July 2012, but his current rating of 2651 made him the eighth seed in the twelve-man field. His plus-three score of 7 out of 11 put him in clear first, half a point ahead of Alexander Grischuk and Evgeny Tomashevsky. Further behind were other top players rated over 2700, including Peter Svidler, Ernesto Inarkiev, Nikita Vitiugov, and Dmitry Jakovenko.
Many rounds had a high percentage of draws. In Rounds 2, 6, and 10, five of the six games were drawn, and it was six for six in Rounds 3, 7, and 9. As a result, the field was closely packed coming into the last round, with Riazantsev and Vladimir Fedoseev tied for first with 6/10, half a point ahead of Grischuk, Svidler, Tomashevsky, and Jakovenko, and a point ahead of Vitiugov and Aleksey Goganov. With eight players having a chance to at least tie for first there was plenty of motivation for a fighting round, and that’s just what happened.
The games Vitiugov-Svidler and Goganov-Inarkiev were drawn, taking all of them out of contention, but the other four games were all relevant to the race for first. Grischuk won with a near miniature (25 moves or less) over Kokarev in a theoretically significant variation of the Najdorf Sicilian Defense.
Grischuk’s final score of 6.5 points was equaled by Tomashevsky, who won with Black in a topsy-turvy game against Dmitry Bocharov.
If Fedoseev, a young (21-year-old) star could also have won with Black, then he would have finished ahead of Grischuk and Tomashevsky and guaranteed himself at least a tie for first place. Fedoseev’s opponent, Grigoriy Oparin, only 19, hadn’t enjoyed a particularly good tournament up to that point, but he won with an impressive attack to dash Fedoseev’s championship hopes.
All the other results put Riazantev in position to take clear first if he could win. Doing so against the highly-ranked Jakovenko, who would tie for first with a win, would not be easy – especially as Riazantsev had Black. The opening was a sharp variation of the Advance Caro-Kann Defense and a key moment came on move 13. By playing 13.c4, White would have had excellent chances, but after Jakovenko’s 13.c3, the game became less clear. White still had some chances later, but the trend was in Riazantsev’s favor and he outplayed his opponent. While he won the World U-12 Championship in 1997, it’s likely that the current result is the best of his adult career.
Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.
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