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Anton Korobov reached the only perfect score after five rounds of the European Championship in Vrnjacka Banja, Serbia after beating his Ukrainian countryman Ruslan Ponomariov in a wild game in Round 5. With six rounds to go, however, 42 players are still within a point of the leader.
The European Championship is a gruelling 11-round tournament without a single rest day, and the focus for most of the players is on finishing in the top 23 places to qualify for the World Cup. That can lead to draws at the top, with just one win on the top 10 boards in Round 3, and two in Round 5 — when other games ended in 14, 29, 9, 24, 20, 21 and 15 moves. As you can see, there are no restrictions on draw offers.
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Not everyone is taking things easy, however, with 37-year-old Ukrainian chess maverick Anton Korobov powering to 5/5.
In Round 5 he won a spectacular game against his countryman Ruslan Ponomariov, who is now 39 but made his biggest impact on the chess world as an 18-year-old when he won the FIDE World Championship against another player in action in Serbia, Vasyl Ivanchuk.
Ruslan was level with Korobov on 4/4, a score that included a complex win over 15-year-old French GM Marc Maurizzi. The Round 5 game Korobov-Ponomariov reached its key turning point after 26.Ke1!?
26…f4! and it would be anyone’s game, but instead Ruslan was tempted by 26…Qxh2?, when after 27.Qd6! Korobov was suddenly winning. Play continued 27…Qg1+ 28.Ke2 Qxc1.
Here 29.Qxc7? would lose the queen to 29…Nxd4+, but 29.Rxc6! was crushing.
The knight was defending the d8-square, and now the threat is mate-in-1 with Qd8#. There’s no defence, and after 29…Qb2+ 30.Kf3 Rf7 31.Rc7 Rxa6 32.Rxc8+ Ruslan resigned, with checkmate arriving next move.
There are just four players within half a point of Korobov, Greek IM Stamatis Kourkoulos-Arditis, who got the better of Rasmus Svane in a tricky minor piece endgame in Round 5, and GMs Eltaj Safarli, Thai Dai Van Nguyen and Giga Quparadze.
No less than 38 players are on 4/5, however, including household names such as 54-year-old Boris Gelfand, 16-year-old Volodar Murzin, David Navara, Nils Grandelius, Etienne Bacrot and top seed Gabriel Sargissian.
Another player on 4/5 is Andrey Esipenko, who got to have some fun in Round 5 when 19-year-old Georgian IM Nikolozi Kacharava played the somewhat naïve 17…f6?, running into 18.a5!
Nikolozi thought for 29 minutes, but all his options end badly. Finally he went for 18…Qc7, which was hit by 19.Nxe6! Qd6 20.Nxg7+! Kf8 21.Nf5 Qe6 22.Qe4! fxe5 23.Bxe5
Black is still a piece up, but you can’t hold onto the material with 23…Rg8, when 24.Bg7+ Kf7 25.Nh6+! is the most direct refutation, winning the black queen. After 23…Kf7 24.Bxh8 in the game, Esipenko was up an exchange as well as having dominant pieces. It didn’t last long.
The top performing woman in the tournament is Aleksandra Goryachkina on 3.5/5, who’s now again 2nd only to Hou Yifan on the women’s live rating list. More dramatic, however, has been the performance of her sister Oksana, who is 12 years younger and only half a point behind, despite a FIDE rating of just 1759.
Here are the standings at the top after Round 5.
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