Features Oct 7, 2014 | 2:34 PMby IM David Martínez

China vs. Russia (2): Soviet chess technique

Vladislav Artemiev at the 2012 Russian Higher League: "In chess I dream of three things: getting 2800 and winning Wijk aan Zee and the Tal Memorial. It's hard to become World Champion and I worry I won't. You need to win a match for that? Anand will soon be beaten, though maybe by the time I strengthen Carlsen will be getting old?" | photo: ruchess.ru

Is 16-year-old Vladislav Artemiev set to follow in the footsteps of Anatoly Karpov, Vladimir Kramnik and Mikhail Botvinnik? Spanish IM David Martínez continues his series looking at the Russian and Chinese schools of chess by examining three endgames in which the young Russian talent demonstrated extraordinarily good technique. 

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.

Mikhail Botvinnik was one of the founders of the Soviet School of Chess | photo: Pot, Harry / Anefo

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.  

Vladislav Artemiev: Making the difficult look easy

Artemiev scored 8/9, for a 2869 performance, at the student round robin during this year's Moscow Open | photo: official website

Artemiev exemplifies Botvinnik’s methodical technique. With the white pieces he prefers a calm game and normally plays queen’s pawn openings, not looking for any great theoretical complications. He aims for solidity and a microscopic edge in the opening, which he’s then willing to try and exploit for hours on end, usually with great success! With Black he also plays for a win, not shying away from complications but playing the highly theoretical Najdorf and Grünfeld.

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: 

1. ♘f3 ♘f6 2. g3 Quiet development, avoiding the main lines.

2... b5 3. ♗g2 ♗b7 4. O-O e6 5. d3 ♗e7 6. e4 O-O 7. c4! Taking control of the d5-square in order to combat the black knight.

7... b4 8. e5 ♘e8 9. d4 d6 10. ♕c2 ♘d7 11. ♘g5 Eliminating Black's light-squared bishop.

11... ♗xg5 12. ♗xb7 ♖b8 13. ♗xg5

13. ♗c6! ♗xc1 14. ♖xc1 dxe5 15. ♖d1 was the most precise way to retain the advantage, since the white centre survives. In the game Khismatullin manages to destroy it.

13... ♕xg5 14. ♗c6 ♖d8 15. f4 ♕e7 16. ♔g2 dxe5 17. dxe5 f6! 18. exf6 ♘exf6 Black has managed to withstand the initial pressure and is back in the game.

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. ♘c5 c6 Khismatullin rejects entering the pawn ending after

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.

28. ♖e4 ♔f7 29. ♔f2 The white pieces are somewhat better.

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.

30... h6 31. hxg5 hxg5 32. g4! The second step: fix it. The g5-pawn is now a permament problem for Khismatullin to deal with.

32... ♖d6 33. ♖e5 The third step: attack it!

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.

34... ♔f7 35. ♖a8 ♖f6+ 36. ♔e3 ♘e6 37. ♖xa7+ ♔g6 38. ♘d3 The work has already been done and Artemiev loses no time chalking up the win.

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 on his way to a 2712 rating performance and 13th place at the 2014 European Championship in Yerevan | photo: Arman Karakhanyan, official website

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.

15... ♘c6 16. d4 e5 Matlakov decides to play actively.

17. dxe5 ♗xe5 18. ♗f3 d4 19. ♘a4 ♖fd8 A pawn sacrifice in exchange for greater activity.

19... dxe3 20. ♕xe3 ♖fe8 21. ♗xc6 ♗xb2 22. ♕xe7 ♖xe7 23. ♘xb2 bxc6 24. ♘c4 , followed by Na5, and White still has a tiny edge.

20. ♗xc6 bxc6 21. exd4 ♗c7 22. ♕e3 Artemiev doesn't complicate matters and instead looks to simplify.

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.

30. ♗c3 ♘d3 31. ♖fb1 ♖xb1+ 32. ♖xb1 ♘f4 33. ♗e5 ♘d3 34. ♖d1 When fighting for the advantage it's usually better to keep one rook, especially if it's pinning a knight!

34. ♖b8 ♖xb8 35. ♗xb8 would be insufficient. For instance: 35... ♘b2 36. ♔f1 f6 37. ♔e2 ♔f7 and the black king also makes it to the centre.

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.

37... f6 38. ♖b1 Since the bishop is working flat out it's time to activate the rook.

38... ♔f7 39. ♖b7+ ♔e6 40. ♖c7 On the verge of the time control Artemiev has managed to put pressure on his opponent, and the error arrives:

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.

41. ♗d2 ♘e2+ 42. ♔f1 ♘d4 43. ♖xc4 With a minimum of fuss Artemiev has won a pawn!

43... ♘b3 44. ♗c3 ♖a7

44... ♘xa5 is impossible due to 45. ♖a4 winning the knight.

45. ♖a4 ♖c7?

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

46. a6 ♖xc3 47. a7 ♖c8 48. a8Q ♖xa8 49. ♖xa8 The material gain is already significant, and the rest is simple.

49... ♔f5 50. ♖d8 ♔e6 51. ♔e2 ♘c5 52. ♔e3 ♔f7 53. f4 ♔e7 54. ♖c8 ♘e6 55. ♔e4 ♔f7 56. f5 What's impressive is the ease with which Artemiev's bishop dominated an apparently equal ending.


Just as proof that Matlakov doesn't always lose to Artemiev... this is a photo of their drawn encounter in the 2012 Russian Higher League | photo: ruchess.ru

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:

1. ♘f3 d5 2. g3 Once again the same strategy.

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.

17... ♘d7 18. ♗xc5 ♘exc5 19. b4 ♘e6 20. ♘e4 ♖ed8 21. ♕b2 ♘g5 22. ♘xg5 ♕xg5 23. ♖fe1 And again a good bishop against a knight. In this case the white rooks are also better than the black rooks.

23... a6 24. e6 fxe6 25. ♖xe6 ♘f6 26. ♖de1 ♖d7 27. ♖e7 ♖ad8 28. ♕b3+ ♘d5 Matlakov is left with little choice but to sacrifice a pawn in order to put a stop to White's activity.

29. ♖7e5 ♕f6 30. h4 What's the rush? Artemiev delays the capture on d5 in order to slightly improve his position first.

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!

37. ♖d4 ♕f3 38. a4 b5 Matlakov doesn't want a white pawn to reach the sixth rank.

39. a5 ♖e8 40. ♖d8 ♖xd8 41. ♕xd8+ Entering a queen ending - let the torture commence!

41... ♔h7 42. ♕d6 ♕e4 43. ♕c5 ♔h8 44. ♔f1 White needs to activate his king in order to make progress. Clearly that's no trifle, since the black queen is very well centralised.

44... ♔h7 45. ♕c3 ♔h8 46. f3 ♕b1+ 47. ♔e2 The king has left the first rank!

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.

55... ♔h8 56. ♕e4 ♕d6 57. ♔h3 ♕d7+ 58. g4 ♕d2 59. ♔g3 12 moves later the white king has managed to advance one rank further.

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.

97... ♔h7 98. ♕f5+ ♔h8 99. ♕e4 ♕f8 100. ♕d4 ♔g8 101. ♔g4 ♔h7? A slip which Artemiev fails to exploit.

101... ♕c8+ was correct.

102. ♕f4?

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.

102... ♕d8 103. ♕f5+ ♔h8 104. h6

104. g6 can't be played since the black king is very dangerous! 104... ♕d4+ 105. ♔f3 ♕c3+ and it's perpetual check.

104... gxh6 105. ♕e5+ ♔h7 106. ♕f5+ ♔h8 107. gxh6 ♕e7? When down on time in such a difficult position it's no surprise that errors follow.

108. ♔h5? Allowing a nice defensive resource.

108. ♕c5 ♕e6+ 109. ♔g5 is shown by the machines, and was the correct approach since the black queen can't avoid being exchanged for its white counterpart. 109... ♕f7 110. ♕c8+ ♔h7 111. ♕f5+

108... ♕f7+! Playing for stalemate.

109. ♔g5 ♕g8+ 110. ♔f4 ♕f7 111. ♔g4 ♕g6+ 112. ♔f4 ♕xh6+? Matlakov rejects a repetition and captures the pawn, but now his queenside becomes very weak.

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.

119... ♕g5+ 120. ♔d4 ♕c1 121. ♕c5 ♕d2+ 122. ♔e5 ♕d8 123. ♔e6 ♕d2 124. ♕d6 ♕c1 125. ♕c5 ♕h6+ 126. ♔d7 ♕f4 127. ♔c6 ♕f6+ 128. ♕d6 ♕g6 129. ♔c7 The white king's triumphant march is over.


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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