by IM David Martínez
Stay patient, create a weakness, fix it, then attack it. Classical concepts such as this one were at the heart of the Soviet School of Chess established by the Sixth World Champion, Mikhail Botvinnik. That “Soviet” technique attained its peak in the filigree technique of two later World Champions, Anatoly Karpov and Vladimir Kramnik, though of course it was also evident in Botvinnik’s contemporaries Vasily Smyslov and Tigran Petrosian.
We shouldn’t forget there’s also a lineage of dynamic players, exemplified by Alexander Alekhine, Mikhail Tal and Garry Kasparov, but the top young Russians led by Vladislav Artemiev and Aleksandra Goryachkina prefer a much more subtle and positional style of chess. Analysing their games – and we’re going to look at three involving Artemiev – you can’t help but feel the “Patriarch” – Botvinnik – would be very proud that his legacy has extended into the post-Soviet era.
Let’s take a look at three “difficult” games for Artemiev, all wins in classical chess against higher-rated grandmasters: Denis Khismatullin and Maxim Matlakov (twice). In all three encounters you can observe the same pattern: Vladislav shuns complications in the opening, plays quietly but then slowly but surely ups the pressure until his opponent goes wrong. Three true positional gems.
Artemiev, at the time still only an International Master, qualified for the 2015 World Cup by scoring 7.5/11 at this year's European Individual Championship, losing a single game to the eventual winner, Alexander Motylev. In Round 3 he provided a wonderful example of how to exploit a weakness:
19. ♘d2 ♘g4 20. ♖ae1 ♕c5 21. ♕e4 ♘de5 22. ♘b3 ♕xc6 23. fxe5 ♘xe5 24. ♕xc6 ♘xc6 25. ♖xe6 ♘d4 26. ♖xf8+ ♔xf8 We've reached an equal ending - almost a draw - but one which Artemiev nevertheless goes on to win. Of course that was thanks to the mistakes of his opponent, but you have to know how to exploit those!
27... ♘xe6 28. ♘xe6+ ♔e7 29. ♘xd8 ♔xd8 , no doubt fearing the white king would dominate. 30. ♔f3 ♔d7 31. ♔e4 However, it was possible to draw with 31... ♔d6 (31... ♔e6? loses to 32. ♔d4 ♔d6 33. c5+ ♔c6 34. ♔c4 a5 and Black is in zugzwang: 35. g4 g5 36. h3 h6 37. b3 ) 32. ♔f5 (32. ♔d4 c5+ 33. ♔e4 ♔e6 and a draw) 32... ♔c5 33. b3 and both Kd6, and the pawn race that starts with Kd4, seem to hold for Black.
29... g5⁈ A slightly compromising move, since the pawn can be a weakness, something Artemiev immediately tries to exploit.
30. h4! The first step in exploiting a weakness is to isolate it. That's why Artemiev looks to exchange the h-pawns.
33... ♔f6? A very human move, defending the weak pawn, but this allows the white rook to seek a second weakness on the back rank abandoned by Black. The silicon monsters demonstrate a contrived defence of the g-pawn:
33... ♖f6+ 34. ♔e3 ♘f3 Brilliant! 35. ♖e4 ♘h2 and, hard as it is to believe, Black holds this position since the knight has managed to find a square from which it can play an active role - attacking g4 - and no-one can disturb it!
34. ♖e8! The target now is the a7-pawn - cut-off from the rest of the pieces. It can't be saved.
38... ♘f4 39. ♘e5+ ♔h6 40. ♖a6 ♘g2+ 41. ♔e2 ♖f4 42. ♖xc6+ ♔h7 43. ♖c5 A magnificent ending where from move 30 onwards Artemiev gave a true masterclass in how to exploit weaknesses: create one (30. h4!), fix it (32. g4!), attack it (33. Re5) and look to create a second (34. Re8! 35. Ra8).
Artemiev's victim in that game, Denis Khismatullin, won the 2013 Ugra Governor's Cup, but Artemiev was only half a point behind. In his game with Maxim Matlakov he showed how to win with a good bishop against a bad knight
1. b3 Down with theory!
1... d5 2. ♗b2 ♗g4 3. ♘f3 ♘f6 4. e3 c6 5. ♗e2 ♘bd7 6. c4 h6 7. O-O e6 8. ♘c3 ♗d6 9. cxd5 cxd5 10. h3 ♗xf3 11. ♗xf3 O-O 12. a3 a6 13. d3 ♕e7 14. ♕d2 ♘e5 15. ♗e2 It goes without saying: Artemiev likes to play slowly with White.
22. ♖fe1 ♕d6 23. g3 would only temporarily halt the black initiative, as Matlakov could continue 23... ♕d7 24. ♔h2 (24. ♔g2 is impossible due to 24... ♕d5+ ) 24... h5 leaving White in a clearly uncomfortable position.
22... ♕d6 23. ♕e5 ♕d7 24. ♘c5 ♗xe5 25. ♘xd7 ♘xd7 26. dxe5 ♖ab8 27. b4 a5 28. ♗c3 axb4 29. ♗xb4 ♘xe5 The ending is equal, but Artemiev proves capable of exploiting the benefits of having a bishop vs. a knight in an open position with pawns on both flanks. First step: exchange a pair of rooks to eliminate counterplay.
34... c5 35. a4 c4 36. a5 ♖a8 37. ♗c3 The bishop demonstrates its full potential by performing three roles at once: it protects the a-pawn, blocks the c-pawn and attacks g7. Only the best knights, in the most favourable positions, can do as much.
40... ♘f4? Losing the c4-pawn.
40... ♘c1! was the original and only move to maintain the material balance. 41. ♔f1 (41. ♗d2 would now be met by 41... ♘b3! ) 41... ♘a2! Not such an easy manoeuvre to see! 42. ♖xc4 ♘xc3 43. ♖xc3 ♖xa5 and a draw.
45... ♔d6 46. ♔e2 ♔c6 stops the a-pawn, but then White would switch to an attack on the kingside. Simplifying on a5 is never going to be possible and the combination of a lack of coordination and two weaknesses (in this case one of the weaknesses is not having an a-pawn!), would lead to defeat for Black. 47. ♔f3
Finally let's return to the European Championship, and the vital last round game against 23-year-old Matlakov. After a marathon 129-move effort Artemiev managed to accomplish his mission and qualify for the World Cup, while his opponent, who started the day on the same number of points, sank to 53rd place. It was a true triumph of technique:
2... ♗g4 3. ♗g2 ♘d7 4. c4 e6 5. cxd5 exd5 6. O-O ♘gf6 7. ♘c3 c6 8. d3 ♗d6 9. ♕c2 O-O 10. e4 ♖e8 11. h3 ♗xf3 12. ♗xf3 dxe4 13. dxe4 ♘c5 14. ♗e3 ♕e7 15. ♖ad1 ♘e6 16. ♗g2 ♗c5 17. e5 After developing his own pieces Artemiev aims to expel his opponent's.
30... ♖f8 31. ♖1e2 ♔h8 32. ♗xd5 cxd5 33. ♖xd5 ♖e7 34. ♕c2 h6 35. ♖xe7 ♕xe7 36. ♕d2 ♕e4 You have to admire Matlakov's active defence. He's managed to reach quite a defendable ending, although a pawn down he's going to suffer... a lot!
47... ♕a2+ 48. ♕d2 ♕e6+ 49. ♔f2 ♕e5 50. ♕d8+ ♔h7 51. ♕d3+ ♔h8 52. ♕d2 ♔h7 53. ♔g2 ♔h8 54. ♕d8+ ♔h7 55. ♕d3+ Repeating moves is a feature of Soviet technique. Botvinnik recommended putting psychological pressure on your opponent by thus prolonging an ending and enticing him to think a draw was on the horizon. Nowadays players usually receive an extra 30 seconds a move, so it's also become a common method of buying more time.
59... ♔g8 60. ♕e7 ♔h7 61. ♕e4+ ♔h8 62. ♕e8+ ♔h7 63. ♕e7 ♕c1 64. ♔g2 ♕c2+ 65. ♔h3 ♕d2 66. ♕e4+ ♔h8 67. ♔g3 ♔g8 68. ♕e6+ ♔h7 69. ♕f5+ ♔g8 70. ♕e4 ♔h8 71. h5 Artemiev combines repetitions and feints with small improvements in his position. It's hard to overemphasise the importance of this on a practical level, since it keeps up the pressure on your opponent.
71... ♔g8 72. ♕e6+ ♔h8 73. ♕e7 ♔h7 74. ♕e4+ ♔h8 75. f4 ♔g8 76. ♔h3 ♔h8 77. ♔g3 ♔g8 78. ♕e6+ ♔h8 79. ♕c8+ ♔h7 80. ♕f5+ ♔h8 81. ♕c8+ ♔h7 82. ♕f5+ ♔h8 83. ♕c5 ♕d3+ 84. ♔f2 ♕d2+ 85. ♔f3 ♕d3+ 86. ♕e3 ♕d1+ 87. ♔g3 ♔g8 88. ♕e8+ ♔h7 89. ♕e4+ ♔h8 90. ♔h4 And 31 moves later again the king has made it one step further to support the break.
90... ♕d8+ 91. g5 ♔g8 92. ♕e3 ♔h8 93. ♔g3 hxg5 94. fxg5 ♕d6+ 95. ♕f4 ♕d3+ 96. ♔h4 ♕d8 97. ♕e5 Black's problems are already becoming real. However, the ending is still drawn since the advance of the pawns has left the white king very exposed to perpetual checks.
101... ♕c8+ was correct.
102. g6+ would have put a cage around the black king. After 102... ♔g8 103. ♕c5 , stopping the black king from becoming active, Black has no defence. For example, 103... ♕d8 104. ♕b6 ♕f8 105. ♔g3 Zugzwang. 105... ♕e8 106. ♔f4 The white king joins the fight and decides the game. 106... ♔f8 107. ♕d6+ ♔g8 108. ♔f5 ♕a8 109. ♔e5 ♔h8 110. ♕c7 ♕e8+ 111. ♔d5 Winning.
108. ♔h5? Allowing a nice defensive resource.
108... ♕f7+! Playing for stalemate.
112... ♕f7 , as played before, would have held the balance, since the c4-square is available from which to check the white king.
113. ♔e5 ♕d2 114. ♕f8+ ♔h7 115. ♕e7+ ♔g8 116. ♕e6+ ♔g7 117. ♕f6+ ♔g8 118. ♕g6+ ♔h8 119. ♕d6 A perfect position for the white queen, from where it defends b4, attacks a6, can shield the king and threatens possible queen swaps, mainly on f6.
You can learn a lot from observing the methodical approach young Artemiev uses to win these endings. He’s clearly assimilated much of the Soviet and Russian heritage, but before his career’s over we might instead be looking to his games to discover the secrets of “Russian” chess!
As we’ll see in the next instalment, though, the Chinese school takes a completely different approach.
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