Reports Dec 22, 2014 | 3:59 PMby Colin McGourty

Christmas Nutcracker: Russian prodigies

The world's oldest grandmaster - 92-year-old Yuri Averbakh - was seated together with Russia's youngest at the Opening Ceremony | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation

Just when we thought the world’s best players would be taking a break before Wijk aan Zee in the New Year, Alexander Morozevich, Peter Leko, Alexei Shirov and Aleksey Dreev are in action in Moscow. Their challenge? To teach the top four Russian juniors – Vladislav Artemiev, Vladimir Fedoseev, Daniil Dubov and Grigoriy Oparin – a lesson. The classical and rapid chess event provides a chance for us to profile some potential stars of the future.

12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov flanked by a Christmas Tree at the Opening Ceremony | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation

An eclectic range of guests was invited - here Vladimir Fedoseev and Daniil Dubov stand between ACP President Emil Sutovsky and Russian Women's Champion Valentina Gunina | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation

White to play and win - tournament sponsor Oleg Skvortsov makes the first move for Alexei Shirov | photo: Russian Chess Federation

The "Nutcracker" Battle of the Generations Match in Moscow sees each of the experienced pros play a classical game against each junior over four rounds from 20-23 December. Then on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (although the Russian Orthodox tradition is to celebrate Christmas on 7 January) they play each other twice in eight rounds of 15min + 10sec rapid chess. As in the events in Zurich – which are also sponsored by Oleg Skvortsov – a win in classical chess is worth two points compared to one point for a win in rapid chess.

The young stars took an early lead in a first round that featured three decisive games, but a single win for Morozevich in Round 2 was enough to restore parity at 8:8. As the real value of this tournament is as a testing ground for talented young players, however, let’s approach it a little differently - by profiling the participants who will be less familiar to chess fans:

Vladislav Artemiev

Age: 16 (b. March 5, 1998 in Omsk, Russia)

Rating (classical/rapid): 2662/2651

Vladislav Artemiev is the hottest new Russian star - you might say that both he and his opponent Shirov here are clearly underrated compared to their actual playing strength! | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation  

Career so far: Both the youngest and the highest rated Russian junior, Artemiev currently looks like the one to watch. Rustam Kasimdzhanov once exclaimed, “just look at his games!” and our Spanish editor IM David Martinez devoted an article to the formidable technique of the young player. His career highlights include winning the World Youth Stars twice, demolishing the student section of the Moscow Open with 8/9 and finishing 13th in the 2014 European Championship to qualify for the 2015 World Cup.  

Tournament so far: Artemiev can be a little disappointed to have scored “only” 50% after two draws, with Black against Dreev and with White against Shirov. In both cases he had the better of opposite-coloured bishop endings, but particularly against Dreev his famed technique let Artemiev down at the wrong moment:

Here 45...a6! and bringing the black king to b3 to support the passed pawns seems to be winning for Artemiev, but after losing a tempo with 45...g5? Dreev was able to find a study-like path to salvation. 

Vladimir Fedoseev

Age: 19 (b. February 16, 1995)

Rating (classical/rapid): 2661/2660

Career so far: Fedoseev won the 2013 European U18 Championship and in 2014 took bronze in both the 2014 World Junior Championship and also the adult European Individual Championship, where his 8/11 represented a 2790 performance rating. A little older than his teammates Vladimir is studying Property Valuation full-time. One of his coaches, Alexander Khalifman, has said Fedoseev will definitely reach 2700 but the rest depends on him.

Vladimir Fedoseev himself says that the next couple of years will be crucial for his chess career | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation

Tournament so far: 50%, after beating Leko with White and losing to Morozevich with Black. In the first game Fedoseev got to demonstrate his fighting qualities, since he ended up in a bad and passive position where he was simply lost if Leko could find precise moves. Instead the Hungarian let his advantage slip and after pressing too hard even went on to lose. The game against Morozevich was one of those sad modern situations when a grandmaster misremembers his analysis. The position is much sharper than it seems:

19…Rd7? was played fast and confidently by a "still in book" Fedoseev, but it's actually the losing move. It turns out 19…Kf7! was the only move, after which the king can shore up the black position just in time.

Daniil Dubov

Age: 18 (b. April 18, 1996 in Moscow, Russia)

Rating (classical/rapid): 2629/2651

Career so far: Daniil became a grandmaster before he turned 15 and really shot to fame when he dominated the 2012 Russian Higher League to qualify for the Russian Championship Superfinal with a round to spare. In that event he drew all but one game after having excellent positions against the likes of Peter Svidler and Sergey Karjakin. Dubov finished half a point off the pace in the 2013 European Individual Championship to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, where he memorably knocked out Ruslan Ponomariov in an Armageddon game he started with 1.b3. In truth, though, Dubov seems to have hit a plateau since his earlier heroics, and his rating has failed to climb in the last couple of years. A particular low was his 1:5 loss to Alexei Shirov in the 2013 Battle of the Generations. Dubov’s coach Sergey Shipov explained the aim had been to practice aggressive chess against one of the world’s most famous attacking players. It seemed to backfire.

Daniil Dubov has had a quiet couple of years - is he ready to make a new leap forward? | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation

Tournament so far: Minus 1, after losing to Shirov in Round 1 and drawing with Leko in Round 2. Dubov drew the short straw as the only player who had to play two games with Black in the first two rounds, and got off to the worst possible start when he lost yet again to Alexei Shirov. Things fell apart in time trouble, and the Latvian star didn’t need to be asked twice to find the finishing blows:

38.Rxg6+ Kh7 39.Rxf5 Kxg6 40.Qe6+ Kh7 41.Rf7+ Kh8 42.Bd4+ Bg7 43.Bxg7+ Nxg7 44.Qf6 resigns

In Vladimir Barsky’s Round 1 report for the Russian Chess Federation he explained that Dubov had been facing a new challenge:

In the classical section of the “Nutcracker” the bonus 30 seconds increment is only added after move 60, while at first the time control is two hours for 40 moves and an hour for 20 moves. According to Dubov it’s the first time in his life that he’s played without an increment and therefore he felt quite uncomfortable and found being in time trouble unfamiliar. I know that long before the start Daniil suggested using a time control that’s more common for our day with increments, but the organisers felt differently. Their point was that it’s precisely the seven-hour control that’s used in the most important official FIDE tournaments: World Championship matches, Candidates Tournaments and Grand Prix events, and the sooner the young Russian talents start to prepare to storm Olympus the more chances they’ll have.  

Dubov at least managed a draw in Round 2, although Leko missed a chance to torture his opponent for hours.

Grigoriy Oparin

Age: 17 (b. July 1, 1997)

Rating (classical/rapid): 2543/2528

Achievements: The least known player in the tournament, Grigoriy was a fast starter, rated 1980 as an 8-year-old and a runner-up at the U10 European Youth Championship. A glimpse of his potential was given recently when he ended the 2014 European Individual Championship with four wins, including beating Daniil Dubov (2618), Pavel Tregubov (2614) and Emil Sutovsky (2652) in consecutive rounds. He also won the 2014 Russian Junior Championship. Grigoriy has obviously had a good chess education, working with Sergey Dolmatov since 2007 and also with Sergey Shipov.

Oparin at the festive drawing of lots | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation

His tournament so far: Plus 1. The lowest-rated player got off to a flying start by beating Morozevich and then drawing with Dreev to become the only junior to have posted a plus score so far. His victory over Morozevich owed a lot to excellent opening preparation, since his fearsome opponent never did manage to complete his development. Vladimir Barsky felt the youngster had yet to learn how to conduct himself at press conferences 

A happy Grigoriy honestly admitted at the press conference that he’d managed to guess the opening variation during his preparation, although a more experienced chess player could have told a touching story about how he forgot and mixed up everything, but due to a happy coincidence he ended up with +- (a big advantage) by move 13.

There's still classical chess today and tomorrow before rapid chess on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

You can play through all the games from Rounds 1 and 2 in the viewer below:

See also:

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