A match this week in Moscow between elite players from different generations ended in a tie.

Competitions between generations in any sport are always interesting. The younger generation will win eventually (no one can cheat father time), but the question is when will it happen? This year? The next? 

The Nutcracker tournament in Moscow is chess’s annual cauldron for competition between generations. Officially called the Nutcracker Match of the Generations, it pits strong Russian or Russian-ethnic players from different generations against each other. This year’s tournament, which ended Thursday, featured two 12-round competitions: kings vs. princes and queens vs. princesses. Neither the kings nor the princes could impose their will on the other as they played to a draw, 32-32. But the queens showed that they still reign as they beat the princesses, 36-28. I will focus on the kings and princes in this article. 

The princes were Daniil Dubov, Vladimir Fedoseev, Grigory Oparin, and Vladislav Artemiev. The kings were Alexey Dreev, Alexander Morozevich, Boris Gelfand (who is Israeli but grew up in the Soviet Union) and Alexei Shirov (of Latvia, which was still part of the Soviet Union when Shirov was young).

Though I am only 25 years old, I already have a few grey hairs poking out of my ears and I am also naturally inclined to root for the veterans in matches like these. It gives me hope that I can still accomplish more later in my playing career. I thought that the kings would be favorites, if for no other reason than that they were rated higher. But it did not start well for them.

The format was that each player faced each player on the other team in one classical game and two rapid games, with the classical games counting for twice as many points. The kings fell behind in Round 1, as Oparin punished an oversight by Dreev.

Oparin, Grigoriy vs. Dreev, Aleksey
Nutcracker Match | Moscow | Round 1 | 22 Dec 2016 | 1-0
15. Nb3 b6? Black's position was not pleasant but this leads to a huge advantage for White
15... Rc7! After this move, Black's position would been reasonably solid. For example:
16. Nac5 Rd8 17. Nxd7 Nxd7 18. Na5 Black would be under a little pressure, but not more than that.  )
16. Nd4! And black loses material directly
16... Nb8
16... c5 17. Nc6  )
16... Be4 17. Bxe4 Nxe4 18. Nxc6! Rxc6 19. Rxd7  )
17. Bf4! The pawn on c6 is a goner. The rest was easy for Oparin.
17... Nfd7 18. Nxc6 Nxc6 19. Rxd7 Bf6 20. Bxc6 Rxc6 21. Rxa7 Rfc8 22. b4 b5 23. Nc5 bxc4 24. Rxc4 h6 25. a4 Bb2 26. Rd7 e5 27. Be3 Bf5 28. Rd2 Ba3 29. b5 Be6 30. Rc3 Bxc5 31. bxc6 Bb4 32. Rdc2 Bxc3 33. Rxc3 Bxh3 34. a5 Ra8 35. c7 f6 36. Bb6 Bf5 37. Rc1 Kf7 38. Rd1 h5 39. Rd8 Bc8 40. a6 g5 41. a7 h4

The princes’s lead was short lived, however. Dreev struck back with a nice win over Fedoseev in Round 2, and then the veterans took the lead in Round 3 when Fedoseev lost his second game in a row, this time to Shirov.

Shirov, Alexei vs. Fedoseev, Vladimir
Nutcracker Match | Moscow | Round 3 | 22 Dec 2016 | 1-0
Be7 11. g4!? The most straightforward plan. White sets his kingside pawn majority in motion. His sole worry has to be that it might become overextended.
11... Nh4 12. Nxh4 Bxh4 13. f4 h5 14. f5 hxg4 15. hxg4 g6 I actually had this position in my opening files, with the note "White is overextended and can't maintain his center." Shirov clearly had a different opinion and makes a very good case for his point of view in this game. I'll have to look over this position more carefully!
16. fxg6 fxg6 17. Ne4 Kc8? One mistake puts Black in a very difficult position.
17... Ke7 Was probably better. It would have connected his rooks and the king could watch over the White e-pawn.  )
18. Bg5! Bxg5
18... b6 In hindsight, this might have been necessary, but the position was already very difficult for Black.  )
19. Nxg5 Bxg4 20. Rf7! White is down a pawn, but, from a practical standpoint, he is playing up a piece. The Black rook on a8 is out of play.
20... b6 21. e6! Kb7 22. e7! One look at the e7 pawn is enough to realize the danger for Black.
22... Bf5 Black had to stop Ne4
22... Rh5 23. Ne4!  )
23. Rd1
23. Re1! This move was even stronger, but Shirov's move doesn't let Black off the hook.  )
23... Bxc2 24. Re1! Better late than never! White is threatening Ne6.
24... a5
24... Bf5 25. Nh7! And Black cannot stop Nf6, winning a decisive amount of material.  )
25. Ne6 Bf5 26. Nxc7

All the games were drawn in Round 4, so the classical portion of the tournament ended with two wins for the veterans, one for the youngsters, and with 13 draws. That was not a lot of decisive results, but they were soon to come as the games sped up.

I thought the young guys would do better in the rapid games than in the classical ones, but it did not start out that way. In Rounds 5 and 7, Gelfand expertly punished two mistakes, first by Artemiev then by Dubov, to help the kings grab a two game lead in the rapid format.

Gelfand, Boris vs. Artemiev, Vladislav
Nutcracker Match | Moscow | Round 5 | 22 Dec 2016 | 1-0
36. Nc5 Nxd4? Oops
37. Nb7! White wins material.
37... Qf6 38. Nxd6 Qf3+ 39. Kg1! White has to be precise, but he should win quickly if he doesn't make an error.
39. Kf1 Of course, that would have been a huge mistake!
39... Qh1#  )
39... Ne2+ 40. Kf1 Bxe3 This position looks scary for White because he cannot take the knight, but he wins after
41. Qc8+!
41. Qxe2? Qh1#  )
41... Kh7 42. Qf5+
Gelfand, Boris vs. Dubov, Daniil
Nutcracker Match | Moscow | Round 7 | 22 Dec 2016 | 1-0
30. Bd3 Nd2? Now the knight is in trouble.
30... Nc5 After this move, Black would have had active pieces and a solid position. The engine evaluates the position as equal though I would prefer White because he has the bishop pair. Still, the game would contine.  )
31. Bc2! The knight is trapped on d2. Dubov may have thought that
31... Nb4 Saves the knight since it attacks the bishop on c2, but after
32. Ba3! a5 33. Nd3! Black is losing material.
33... Bf5
33... Ne4 34. Nxb4 axb4 35. Bxb4+ Nc5 36. Bxh7 Black would not have lost a piece in this position, but White would have been up two pawns and have had the bishop pair, which would have been more than enough to win.) 34. Nxb4 Bxc2 35. Nxc2+ {White now won the game without difficulty.
36... Kf7 37. f3 e4 38. Kf2 Nxb3 39. fxe4 Nc1  )

A win by Artemiev over Dreev in Round 8 helped the princes close the gap, but heading into the last day they still trailed by three points overall. They would need to score +3 in the last four rounds to even tie the match. They got off to a great start with Oparin and Artemiev scoring big wins over Shirov and Dreev, respectively, in Round 9.

Oparin, Grigoriy vs. Shirov, Alexei
Nutcracker Match | Moscow | Round 9 | 22 Dec 2016 | 1-0
17. e3 h5? A bad move in an unpleasant position. Oparin pounces.
17... Qc5 In its infinite wisdom, the engine calls this position equal. Of course this is nonsense and White has long-term pressure. But Black could have avoided immediate disaster.
18. Qd2 Qb5 19. Rd1  )
18. g5! This is tactically justified. After
18... Nxg5 19. f4 Black must lose a piece as there is no good square for the knight.
19... Nge4! The best chance in a bad position.
19... Ne6 20. f5  )
19... Ngh7 20. f5  )
20. dxe4 Nxe4
20... Bxe4 I prefer this move, but after
21. Qf2 White's edge should probably still be decisive.  )
21. Nxg6! Ng3+ 22. Kg1 Nxf1 23. Bxf1 fxg6 24. Qxg6 White's bishops are very powerful in this position. Black decides to gain some counterplay by giving up an exchange.
24... Rxe3 25. Bxe3 Qxe3+ 26. Kh1 Rf8 Black's counterplay is not nearly enough for a piece. Oparin now closed out the game flawlessly.
27. Qxh5! Rxf4 28. Bg2 Rf2 29. Rf1! Rxf1+ 30. Bxf1 With just a queen, Black does not have enough material to start an attack on the open White king. White's extra piece proves to be the difference.
30... Qe4+ 31. Kh2 g6 32. Qe2 Qd4 33. b3 a5 34. Qg4 Qd2+ 35. Qg2 Qf4+ 36. Kh1 Kg7 37. Bd3 Qc1+ 38. Qg1 Qh6 39. Qd4+ Kf7 40. Qf2+ Kg7 41. Kh2 Qg5 42. h4 Qe5+ 43. Qg3 Qb2+ 44. Kh3 Qxa2 45. Qxg6+ Kf8 46. Qd6+ Kf7 47. Qd7+ Kf6 48. Qxb7 Ke5 49. Qg7+ Kd6 50. Qg3+ Kc5 51. Bf5 Qd2 52. h5 Kb4 53. Kg4 d4 54. Qf4 Qe2+ 55. Qf3 Qe8 56. h6 Qg8+ 57. Kh3 Qg5 58. h7 Qh6+ 59. Kg4 c5 60. Qh3 Qg7+ 61. Kf3 Qh8 62. Qg4 Qf8 63. Qh5 Qh8 64. Qh6 c4 65. bxc4
Artemiev, Vladislav vs. Dreev, Aleksey
Nutcracker Match | Moscow | Round 9 | 22 Dec 2016 | 1-0
40. Qd6 Rexd7?
40... Re6! This move would have kept everything under control.
41. Qa3 Qxd7  )
41. Qxh6 Now Black's king is permanently in danger. In a rapid game this is a very hard position to hold.
41... Rd6 42. Qh5 Qd5 43. fxg5 Qe6 44. Rce1 Qxa2 45. Re7 Rg6 46. Rexf7! Qxf7 47. Rxf7 Kxf7 48. Qh7+ Rg7 49. Qf5+ Kg8 50. h4 White's pawns are faster than Black's and Black's king is also wide open. The combination is too much.
50... Rf8 51. Qe6+ Kh8 52. g6 a5 53. h5 Rfg8 54. Qf6 The threat of h6 is decisive.

Gelfand also won in Round 9, beating Fedoseev, but after the princes won Round 10, 3-1, they had tied the match. They then went ahead in Round 11, scoring 2.5-1.5. With one round to go, the Princes lead by one point.

In the finale, three games were drawn. So it all came down to a bishop-and-pawn endgame between Shirov and Dubov. If Dubov, who had Black, could hold, the princes would win the match. But in a difficult position, Dubov erred and Shirov tied it up.

Shirov, Alexei vs. Dubov, Daniil
Nutcracker Match | Moscow | Round 12 | 22 Dec 2016 | 1-0
47. g4 g5? This move looks very natural. Black should try to fix the White g-pawn on a light square. But it turns out the move creates another weakness in Black's position, allow the White king to invade.
47... Bb3 After a waiting move Black has a tough defense ahead with his queenside pawns fixed on light squares and a very active enemy king, but I don't see a winning plan for White.  )
48. fxg5! fxg5 49. hxg5! hxg5 50. Bf5! Stopping Be6. White can now attack the pawn by Kd4-e5-f6, and Black's king cannot follow by playing Kd6 because White can play Bc8. White is winning.
50. Kd4? Be6! With a draw  )
50... Bb3 51. Kd4 Kd6 52. Bc8 Bd1 53. Bxa6 Bxg4 54. Bxb5 Bc8 55. Be2 g4 56. Ke3 g3 57. Bf3 Ke5 58. b5 Kd6 59. a6

All in all, it was a very interesting event with a lot of intense games, and an outcome that both sides could be satisfied with.


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 and is also on Facebook.