The Russian Team Championships features top players from other countries as well

Russia’s strong chess tradition means that any national championship will feature top players. But the Russian Team Championship now underway in Sochi also includes top players who have been recruited from other countries. The teams include Vladimir Kramnik, Alexander Grischuk, Peter Svidler, and Ian Nepomniatchi, all from Russia, but also Anish Giri of the Netherlands, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan (who just won the fourth Gashimov Memorial) and Maxim Rodshtein of Israel, among others.

After three rounds, team Malakhit is in the lead with a perfect match score and the best tiebreaks.

In such a competition, there are no really easy games, even in Round 1. Giri found that out in his game against Vladislav Artemiev of Russia. Artemiev thoroughly outplayed him (and with the Black pieces no less!), but Artemiev wasn’t quite able to convert his advantage into a win.

Anish Giri vs. Vladislav Artemiev
Russian Team Championships | Sochi RUS | Round 1.1 | 01 May 2017 | ECO: B42 | 1/2-1/2
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Bd3 Ne7 6. O-O Nec6 7. Be3 Nxd4 8. Bxd4 Nc6 9. Be3 Be7 10. Nd2 O-O 11. c3 b5 12. f4 Bb7 13. Nf3 Na5 14. b3 Qc7 15. Rc1 Bc5 16. Bxc5 Qxc5+ 17. Kh1 Qe3 18. Ne5 Nc6 19. Rf3 Qa7 20. Ng4 f5 21. exf5 exf5 22. Ne3 Ne7 23. Rg3 Rae8 24. b4 Qb8! Black targets the pawn on f4.
25. Qf1 Ng6! The pawn on f4 cannot be saved. White took the pawn on f5 as compensation, but after
26. Nxf5 Be4! Black was much better prepared for the opening of the f-file.
27. Bxe4 Rxe4 28. Nd4 Rexf4 29. Rf3 Rxf3 30. Nxf3 Ne5 31. Qd1 Nxf3 32. Qd5+ Kh8 33. gxf3 The dust has settled and White has an unpleasant position. His pawns are weak and his king is exposed.
33... Qe8 34. Rc2
34. Qd3 This is the computer's suggestion, but it looks pretty depressing.  )
34... h6 35. Qe4 Qh5
35... Qxe4 36. fxe4 Re8 This would probably lead to a similar position as in the game.  )
36. Rd2! Good defense from Giri. The pawn on f3 pawn is not that important, but activating his rook is.
36. Kg2 Rxf3!? 37. Qxf3 Qg6+ And White has a long defense ahead of him.  )
36. Rf2 d5 And Black clearly has an edge.  )
36... Rxf3 37. Qa8+! Now White can force a trade of queens, easing his defensive task.
37... Kh7 38. Qe4+ Rf5 39. Rd5! Qf3+ 40. Qxf3 Rxf3 Black is up a pawn in this rook-and-pawn ending, but with accurate play, White should be able to hold.
41. Rd6! A very accurate move on the first move after time control. The pawn on a6 is far more important than the one on d7.
41. Rxd7 Rxc3 And Black is winning  )
41... Rxc3
41... Rf6 42. Rxd7! Now this works since Rxc3 is no longer possible.
42... Rf1+ 43. Kg2 Ra1 44. Rd2 Rc1 45. Rd3 Rc2+ 46. Kg3 Rxa2 47. Rd6 White should hold a draw.  )
42. Rxa6 Kg8 43. Ra5 Kf7 44. Rxb5 Rc1+ 45. Kg2 Rc2+ 46. Kg3 Rxa2 47. Rb6 White has traded enough pawns that with accurate technique, he should not lose. Giri defended very precisely and wasn't in much danger the rest of the way.
47... Rd2 48. b5 Rd3+ 49. Kg2 h5 50. Rb8 g5 51. Rd8 Ke6 52. Rg8 Rd2+ 53. Kg3 Rd3+ 54. Kg2 Kf5 55. Rf8+ Ke5 56. Rg8 Kf6 57. Rf8+ Ke5 58. Rg8 Kf4 59. Rf8+ Kg4 60. Rf2 Rd6 61. h3+ Kh4 62. Rb2 Rb6 63. Rb4+ g4 64. hxg4 hxg4 65. Rd4 Rxb5 66. Rxd7 Rb2+ 67. Kg1 Kh3 68. Rd3+ g3 69. Rd1

In Round 2, Nepomniachtchi was upset by Round 2 Sergei Rublevsky, another Russian. Rublevsky is not nearly as strong as he was at his peak, but he still can be very dangerous, as he demonstrated by demolishing Nepomniatchi, and, like Artemiev, with the Black pieces:

Ian Nepomniachtchi vs. Sergei Rublevsky
Russian Team Championships | Sochi RUS | Round 2.4 | 02 May 2017 | ECO: B40 | 0-1
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. b3 d6 4. Bb2 Nd7 5. g3 Ngf6 6. Nc3 b6 7. d4 cxd4 8. Nxd4 Bb7 9. Bg2 Be7 10. Qe2 O-O 11. O-O-O Re8 White has an unusual but very effective setup. The bishops on the long diagonals give him a lot of control over the position, and he looks much better. But he now started to lose his way.
12. g4
12. f4! This looks much more natural to me. The threat of e5 compels some response and then White can play g4.  )
12... g6! Not enough to equalize, but it is the most resilient reply. Black is ready to meet g5 with Nh5 and preemptively takes the f5 square under his control.
13. h4
13. f4! Again, I prefer this move  )
13... e5! 14. Ndb5 Nc5 15. h5? This is too much. White cannot allow himself to be saddled with Sveshnikov knights when he is castled on the queenside.
15. g5! Nh5 16. Qd2! Switching gears. White could target the pawn on d6 when he would still have an edge.  )
15... a6! 16. hxg6 fxg6 The open h-file is not a huge deal, and after
17. Na3 b5! The White knights are not very effective and Black threatens to play b4.
18. f4 Ne6!? An enterprising sacrifice.
19. fxe5 Nd7 20. Nd5?
20. exd6! For better or for worse, White had to take some pawns. After:
20... Bg5+ 21. Kb1 b4 22. e5! White has fair compensation for the piece and the position is very unclear.  )
20... Bg5+ 21. Kb1 Nxe5 The tables have turned. White's pieces are passive while Black dominates the open board.
22. Bf1 I won't pretend to understand this move. I guess Nepomniatchi was hoping to play Qh2, but it still looks bizarre.
22... Bxd5! Eliminating the strong knight.
23. Qh2
23. Rxd5 Nf4 24. Qh2 Qe7 And Black has a big edge as he threatens both g4 and d5.  )
23... Ra7! Nice and easy. Black defends his only weakness.
24. exd5 Nc5! White's position is a train wreck. The bishop on f1 and the knight on a3 are really lousy, the White dark squares are weak, and Black will soon be able to muster some significant threats.
25. c4 Nxg4! 26. Qg1 Ne3 27. Re1 b4 In addition to all of White's other problems, he is also now down a pawn.
28. Nc2 Nxc2! 29. Rxe8+ Qxe8 30. Qxg5
30. Kxc2 Qe4+ And White would quickly be checkmated.  )
30... Na3+! 31. Ka1
31. Bxa3 bxa3 And White will be mated shortly. For example:
32. Rh2 Rf7  )
31... Nc2+ 32. Kb1 Na3+ 33. Ka1 Qe1+! The easiest path to victory.
34. Bc1
34. Qc1 Nc2+ 35. Kb1 Qe4  )
34... Qc3+ 35. Bb2 Qe1+ 36. Bc1 Re7! Preventing Qd8 and getting his last piece involved in the attack.
37. Qd2 Qe4 White had seen enough.

By Round 3 on Thursday, there were plenty of games between players rated at least 2700. In one of those, Mamedyarov kept up his excellent form from the Gashimov Memorial by beating Nikita Vitiugov of Russia:

Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar vs. Vitiugov, Nikita
Russian Team Championships | Sochi RUS | Round 3.1 | 02 May 2017 | 1-0
Nxd7 The computer evaluates the position as equal, but I think it is quite difficult for Black. I like how Mamedyarov was able to increase the pressure from this point.
51. g6! White avoids trading pawns and prevents Kf7
51... Kf8 52. Kg3 Nc5 53. f5! Another strong move. Black is still fine, but he needs to play very precisely as White's king has some routes to invade.
53... Ne4+
53... e5?! 54. Kf3 And Nb4-d5 will cause a lot of problems for Black. For example:
54... Ke8 55. Nb4 Kd8 56. Nd5 Nd7 57. Ke3 And Black is paralyzed.  )
54. Kf4 exf5?
54... Nd6! This was the only way to try to hold on. After:
55. fxe6 Nxc4! Black should be fine.  )
55. Nd4! Well played.
55. Kxf5 Nd6+ And Black would hold.  )
55... Nd6?
55... Nc5! This was the only way to continue defending effectively, though Black would have a long defense ahead of him after:
56. Nxf5 Ne6+ 57. Ke4 Ke8! 58. Ne3 Nc7!  )
56. Ne6+! Ke7
56... Kg8 This saves the pawn on g7, but after:
57. c5! The Black king is cut off from the action and White will be able to create a passed b-pawn.
57... bxc5 58. b6 c4 59. Ke3 White should win.  )
57. Nxg7 Nxc4 58. Nxf5+ Kf8 59. Ke4! And White is winning. The combined threats of running the king to c6 and queening the g-pawn are too powerful.
59... Na3 60. Nd6! White cannot lose the b5 pawn
60... Kg8 61. Kf4 White repeated moves a couple times, presumably to gain some time on the clock. He certainly had no interest in a draw.
61... Kf8 62. Kg4 Kg8 63. Kf4 Kf8 64. Kg4 Kg8 65. Kf5! Avoiding a draw.
65... Kg7 66. Ne8+ Kg8
66... Kf8 67. Kxf6! Black is too slow:
67... Nxb5 68. g7+ Kg8 69. Kg6 Black is one tempo too slow to stop Nf6 mate.  )
67. Nxf6+ Kf8 68. Kg5 Easy enough.
68... Kg7
68... Nxb5 69. Kh6 And the g-pawn queens  )
69. Ne8+ Black cannot stop the g-pawn, so he stopped the clocks.


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, has his own site, and is also on Facebook.