17-year-old Vladislav Artemiev has won the Russian Higher League in Kaliningrad, earning the chance to take on Svidler, Karjakin and co. in the Russian Championship next month. 2014 European Champion Alexander Motylev finished second, while otherwise it was a triumph for youth, with qualification spots also going to Russian Junior Champion Ivan Bukavshin (20), Ildar Khairullin (24) and Daniil Dubov (19).
The only chess player worldwide younger and higher rated than Vladislav Artemiev is Wei Yi, and though the Chinese player has been making all the headlines recently it’s clear his Siberian rival is also going to be a top player. His four wins and five draws in the Russian Higher League didn’t feature the scalps of any star players, but you can see how tough the event is when you realise none of the top five seeds managed to qualify for the Russian Championship – Malakhov (2699), Matlakov (2696), Fedoseev (2674), Inarkiev (2668) and Sjugirov (2662) all fell short.
Russia currently has four of the top six rated juniors in the world, but it’s Artemiev who looks like the real star. We already featured him in an article comparing his endgame technique to that of Botvinnik, Karpov and Kramnik, and that ability allowed him to pull off some unlikely wins.
In his Round 1 game against Jaroslav Prizant he was on the wrong side of a combination based on the weak d6-bishop:
16.Bxg7! Nxg7 17.Qh6 Be5 18.f4. The dying bishop was able to force an ending – 18…Bxb2+ 19.Kxb2 Qf6+ 20.Qxf6 Nxf6 – though it was clearly worse for Black. Artemiev nevertheless went on to outplay his opponent, who fatally miscalculated a “drawing” line.
In Round 3 Russia’s new Vlad showed he's no tactical slouch either:
16…Rxb2! 17.Nxe5 Qf6! – and the double attack on f2 and the knight meant Black had won material and, shortly afterwards, the game.
Overall the 17-year-old won three games with the black pieces, a topic which featured in a post-tournament interview with Eteri Kublashvili for the Russian Chess Federation website:
It turned out I was in decent form. To be honest, the tournament followed an unusual pattern: I scored almost all my wins with the black pieces. Before the final two rounds I needed to win one game, since it became clear my tiebreakers wouldn’t be so good. I went for it and beat Mikhail Kobalia, although this time with White. That win also happened to be quite beautiful. Then in the last round I made sure of the necessary draw against Alexander Motylev.
How was it playing against the senior coach of the Russian junior team, Mikhail Kobalia, under whose guidance you’ve won so many team tournaments?
To be honest I didn’t really want to meet him at the board and was hoping to avoid it. But there was no choice (laughs). The game was quite complex, but at some point Mikhail started to make mistakes and lost.
How did you manage to win the other games with Black? Did your opponents play too aggressively?
It’s long since been the case that the percentage of points I score with Black is much higher than with White. With White it’s harder to get a fight, and if you push too hard then your opponent gets chances. In the end I was the one who exploited those chances.
In the final round you made a quick draw with Alexander Motylev, while the other contender for tournament victory – Ivan Bukavshin – kept fighting for a long time and got a position with an edge. Did you follow his game and worry about the fate of first place?
Yes, of course I followed Ivan’s game, but I can’t say I was worried. It wasn’t so fundamental to me if I take first or second place, since the majority of players, myself included, were focussed on qualifying for the Superfinal.
The crucial win over Mikhail Kobalia, which featured Artemiev playing for domination across the whole board, has been analysed by Spanish IM David Martinez:
1. e4 c5 2. ♘f3 e6 3. g3 The King's Indian Attack is a weapon recommended by none other than Bobby Fischer against the Sicilians with e6. Apart from its objective value it's also highly recommendable both for the ease with which you can play it and also the options it gives to play for a win, since for many moves you keep almost all the pieces on the board.
5... e5 In my view this is the most precise response, even if it does lose a tempo.
6. O-O d6 7. c3 ♗e7 This kind of setup, with "antlers" (c5-e5) and the bishop on e7 was underestimated for many years. In my opinion it's highly playable against almost any kind of closed system, whether it's the King's Indian Attack or the English.
9. d3 O-O 10. ♘bd2 ♖e8 11. ♘c4 ♗h5 12. h3 ♗f8 13. g4 ♗g6 I think the only mission of the bishop on g6 is to be exchanged someday on f5, at best, so it seems better placed on e6. Ok, I admit that it also defends something on g6
15... b5 16. ♘e3 h6 17. ♗xf6 ♗xf6 18. ♘hf5 ♖b8 The battle couldn't be more tense. White's attack on the queenside is nowhere close to landing a killer blow, so Artemiev has to adopt a different approach. He switches to dealing with the queenside as well.
19. a3 ♗g5 20. b4 a5! Black is almost always going to have the upper hand on the queenside, so why is Artemiev provoking these moves? First of all, so as not to get crushed there, but as we'll see, he also wants to create some counterplay on the b-file so that Black isn't left with a free hand.
21... ♕xa5 was still possible, allowing the black queen some activity. The d6-pawn would fall, but c3 is also hanging.
29... bxc4 30. dxc4 ♗d8 31. ♖b8 f6 32. h4 Although the machines tell us the position is more or less equal, it's undoubtedly White who has more chances of notching up a full point, especially since time is becoming short.
35... ♗e6 Kobalia's position is already difficult, but he could still have tried
35... g5 looking to set up a blockade. Despite Black's multiple weaknesses it would neither have been quick nor trivial to transform that advantage into a win.
The player who stood out most apart from Artemiev was 2014 European Champion Alexander Motylev, who was first to take the sole lead after winning four of his first six games.
His crucial win against top seed Vladimir Malakhov couldn’t have been more crushing, ending with 27.e6!
The full Russian Championship Superfinal, which takes place in the far-Eastern Russian city of Chita from the 8-21 August, will be one of the first big tests – and chances – for Artemiev, as he looks to break into elite-level chess.
The event is a 12-player single round-robin, featuring:
Vladimir Kramnik and Alexander Grischuk qualified as the highest rated Russians on the July 2015 rating list but appear to have declined their invitations. The Women’s Superfinal will take place simultaneously and feature almost all the top players, including Ekaterina Lagno in her first Russian Championship.
We don’t have to wait that long to see Artemiev in action again, though, since he’ll be top seed at the Lake Sevan International Chess Tournament in Armenia. That 9-round closed tournament starts this Sunday (12 July) and features some real stars of the future - Duda and Sevian especially stand out alongside Artemiev for their age and ratings.
You can check out the official website here, while we also hope to broadcast the games on chess24.
We respect your privacy and data protection guidelines. Some components of our site require cookies or local storage that handles personal information.