These days, Emil Sutovsky, an Israeli grandmaster, may be best known as the president of the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP). But Sutovsky, who achieved the highest overall performance at the 2010 Olympiad and surpassed a rating of 2700 in 2012 (when he was ranked No. 41 in the world), can still play excellent chess. His wonderful attacking style was on full display at the 2017 Poikovsky tournament that honors Anatoly Karpov, the former World Champion, and which ended last Thursday.
Sutovsky shared first place with Evgeniy Najer, a Russian grandmaster whose rating will cross 2700 for the first time with his stellar result. Both players scored 7 points in the 10-player round-robin event, which was held in the small Siberian town of Poikovsky. It was the tournament’s 18th edition.
While Sutovsky followed the classical mantra - win with White, at worst draw with Black - Najer went on streaks: he won his first two and final three games. Anton Korobov of Ukraine, who was attempting to win the tournament for the third straight year, was a point back of the leaders.
Sutovsky’s tournament started with a crushing win over Korobov. Korobov, who was Black, tried an offbeat line in the Sicilian Defense, which was quickly punished. Korobov was forced to resign after just 24 moves.
Najer was fortunate enough to have White in the first two rounds. He used that advantage to defeat Viktor Bologan of Moldova, who had a disastrous tournament, finishing in last with 1.5 points, and Ernesto Inarkiev of Russia, who is ranked No. 27 in the world. Najer manhandled Inarkiev in a Scotch game, forcing resignation after just 32 moves.
Little did anyone know that the Round 3 matchup between Sutovsky and Najer would decide the tournament. Both players appeared to be in excellent form, but one could hardly predict that these two veteran grandmasters would go on to have tournament performances of 2900! In their game, it was Sutovsky who reeled in the full point, but only after Najer’s resourceful defense collapsed at a critical moment.
In the same round, Korobov played the best game of the tournament. He used sacrifice after sacrifice to lure the king of Daniil Dubov of Russia into the center. Korobov’s two minor pieces were ample compensation for his opponent’s queen, and Dubov could not muster any play while Black’s pieces operated in perfect harmony.
Korobov and Najer caught Sutovsky in the fourth round, as they beat David Anton Guijarro of Spain and Maxim Rodshtein of Israel, respectively. Like Najer, Rodshtein only had two draws during the tournament, but unfortunately for him, he suffered four losses against three wins. The disappointing “minus one” performance dropped the Israeli grandmaster below 2700. Korobov downed Guijarro for his third straight win.
Sutovsky struck again in Round 6, this time against Bologan. Bologan is a mainstay at Poikovsky, and the Moldovan grandmaster even won the first two editions. Yet all of that past success could not prevent him from dropping nearly 25 rating points in this tournament.
In Round 6, both Korobov and Sutovsky won. At this point, Sutovsky held a half-point lead over Korobov and Najer. In Round 7, Sutovsky drew with Black while Korobov outlasted Sergei Zhigalko of Belarus and Najer absolutely demolished Dmitry Jakovenko of Russia, who was ranked No. 5 in July 2009 but has fallen back to No. 32. It was a surprising loss for Jakovenko, who usually plays very solidly but never found his footing in the event, finishing with only four points.
After seven rounds, it was Sutovsky and Korobov in first with 5.5 points apiece, with Najer trailing just behind at 5 points. In Round 8, Najer beat Korobov in a 96 move duel. Korobov sacrificed a full rook for a wishful attack, but Najer belongs to the Russian school of chess: in a fine display of technique, he returned some of the material to safeguard his king, and went on to convert the full point with further simplifications via sacrifices.
Sutovsky had an easier time in Round 8 , as his renowned attacking prowess shone when he cashed in after Guijarro refused to accept a central pawn sacrifice.
In the final round, Sutovsky’s good preparation earned him a quick draw against Jakovenko. Only Najer could catch him, which he succeeded in doing by beating Zhigalko from the Black side of a Caro-Kann Defense. Thus, the two 39-year-olds shared first with 7 points.
Robert Hess is a former United States Junior Champion, recipient of the 2010 Samford Award (the most prestigious in the United States for young players) and was runner-up in the 2009 United States Championships. A 2015 graduate of Yale University, he is the chief operating officer of The Sports Quotient, a statistically-based sports site that he co-founded. He can be found on Twitter at @GM_Hess.
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