Vladimir Kramnik and Alexander Grischuk returned while Mamedyarov-Harikrishna, Sasikiran-Giri and Nepomniachtchi-Bartel were thrillers, but it was a long grind from Sergey Karjakin that made top seeds Globus the only big team with a 100% score after three rounds. The other key match was drawn, after a brilliant attacking win for Maxim Matlakov over Evgeniy Najer was cancelled out by an endgame win for Vladimir Malakhov over Vladimir Fedoseev. In the women’s event Natalia Zhukova’s Bossa Nova lead while Batumi bounced back to beat 2nd seeds Ugra.
Four of the five top-seeded teams in the open section played each other in Round 3 of the European Club Cup, and the matches didn’t disappoint (click on a result to open a game with computer analysis, or hover over a player’s name to see all his or her results):
Globus were taking no chances against AVE Novy Bor as they unleashed Vladimir Kramnik and Alexander Grischuk for the first time in Antalya and dropped their two lowest rated players rather than resting any of the top guns. For a long time, though, it was the team from the Czech Republic that had the initiative.
Radek Wojtaszek was the first to spring a local surprise against Vladimir Kramnik and although the Russian no. 1 equalised with little trouble he was never better and a lack of time gave him little choice but to accept a draw by repetition at the end. His hopes of qualifying for the Candidates by rating are fast receding, with the loss of 0.8 rating points no big blow but of course no help. Why did he skip the first two rounds?
It’s always about the team… It’s our captain who is deciding. I was ready to play all games. I’m ready to play any day, but it’s always our common decision with the captain.
Spoiler alert: Kramnik got his wish to spend another day in the sun as Globus were paired with a weak team in Round 4 and Kramnik and Mamedyarov were left out. That of course means only three potential games remain for Vladimir to make a last attempt at gaining some rating before the November list comes out.
Alexander Grischuk also simply equalised with the black pieces in an uneventful game against David Navara, but elsewhere there was mayhem, and it didn’t seem to favour the favourites. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov sacrificed an exchange against Harikrishna on move 17 and then a piece on move 24:
24.Bxc4!? gxf4 25.Bxe6+ Rf7 never really looked like a winning attempt, but Shak went on to hold a position with a pawn for the exchange.
Anish Giri again played the Najdorf with Black and came under a fierce attack from Krishnan Sasikiran:
25.Nxh6+! blew open the black king position, which ultimately proved enough to force a draw by repetition on move 35, though it might also have been possible to fight for more.
The most sensational game of the round, though, was Nepomniachtchi-Bartel, which started by following a Svidler-Erdos game from the recent World Cup until it suddenly veered off course when, it seems, Ian Nepomniachtchi simply mixed up his preparation (he said he hadn’t checked it before the game).
Mateusz Bartel summed up later:
As Ian pointed out, it was probably a bad game - that’s why everyone enjoyed it!
11.d5?! was a move that Nepo said, “could have been clever if I remembered anything, but maybe I just mixed up lines”, and on move 15, in a bad position, he decided to sacrifice a piece:
15.Nd5!? cxd5 16.Bxd5 Be6. Nepo confessed to having missed this last move, and after 17.Nf4 we got what was the first and could have been the last critical moment of the game:
Bartel sank into a 22-minute think and later explained he was trying to get 17…Nf3+ to work, but it doesn’t and he couldn’t. Instead, though, as Nepomniachtchi pointed out, 17…Rd8! “should be more or less over… a piece is a piece and I should be dead lost”. 18.Bxe6 fxe6 19.Nxe6 Rd6! was the key. He wasn’t planning to resign immediately, but saw no real compensation.
Bartel, however, played 17…Bg7?, and after 18.Bxe6 fxe6 19.Nxe6 it was very much a game again. What followed had so many twists and turns that it’s simply impossible to summarise. Here 19…Kf7 was the start of an extraordinary career for the black king, that somehow emerged unscathed from a lost position…
…saw Nepo bravely sac an exchange with check on f6, dodged a bullet by not going to f4 on move 43 (both players and initially the computer thought White might need to force perpetual check, but in fact 44.Nh5+! wins the queen instantly or slowly gives checkmate) until finally making it all the way to e1.
That was far from the end of the story, with White having some more great winning chances in what followed. Perhaps the cleanest, but also trickiest, was after 55…Qxb2:
Here Ian didn’t delay in playing 56.Kg1 to defend f2, a move he regretted not playing two moves earlier, but in fact it was much stronger to play 56.Qc4!!, threatening a check on f1. If 56…Qxf2+ then 57.Ng2+ not only defends all the squares from which the black queen could give check but gives check itself. After 57…Kd1 58.Qa4+! the h8-rook will eventually be won with a double attack.
The game, however, ended abruptly after 56.Kg1?! Rc8?! 57.Ng2+ Ke2 58.Nf4+ and a draw by perpetual check.
Nepomniachtchi could still have played for a win with
57.h6!, but seeing how things were going on the last remaining board of the match he decided
enough was enough – “I already took too much risk in this game!” Their post-game
press conference ended (you can watch the full live show here, but unfortunately at the moment the recording has the sound and video severely out of sync):
Bartel: I was rather peaceful in my preparation, but when you’re playing Ian you can’t be too peaceful.
Nepomniachtchi: It’s not about Ian but having an extra piece after move 12 - not even for a pawn! You can’t be too peaceful then.
The game that encouraged Nepomniachtchi to abandon his Napoleonic plans was Karjakin-Ragger, where Sergey Karjakin reached a marginally better ending by move 18 and slowly set about upping the pressure. This is the position after 31…axb5:
It took 26 more moves, but Sergey eventually won Black’s a and b-pawns and from there made no mistake in claiming a hugely important match win for his team:
The bonus for Globus in terms of the fight for tournament victory is that they got paired against 14th seeds Gambit Asseco See in Round 4, for what should be a pure formality.
2nd seeds Alkaloid bounced back from their loss to Legacy Square Capital the day before by pulverising Norway’s Vålerenga Sjakklubb 6:0, while 5th seeds Legacy Square Capital took on 3rd seeds Mednyi Vsadnik from St. Petersburg in the other crucial match of the round.
Again it was hugely tense, with Peter Svidler on top board successfully proving that he had enough compensation for a pawn against Ernesto Inarkiev, while on board two Maxim Matlakov scored a sparkling win over the hero of the day before, Evgeniy Najer.
Maxim admitted it hadn’t been a walk in the park:
Unfortunately when you see this game with a computer there are a lot of mistakes. It’s spectacular, but… it’s like the match with Aronian!
Maxim twice won on demand against Aronian in the recent World Cup, and this was the same swashbuckling style of chess. Najer went for a rare option on move 6, which Matlakov tried to exploit by pushing an early e4 and then going for what he described as an almost intuitive sacrifice on e6. The key turning point in the game, however, came after 15.Qb3:
What both players missed here was that Black can play 15…Bxe4! and after 16.Rfe1 he has 16…Bd5! – “It’s hard to believe, but it’s ok for Black!” (Matlakov) In fact, White would need to play extremely well to avoid defeat.
Instead after 15…Nh5? 16.Ng5! White was winning, and the last straw came after 16…Nxf4 17.Qf7+ Kd8 18.Qxf4 Rg8 19.Rad1 Bc6 20.e5:
Maxim felt that after 20…Be7! he still had “a big task” ahead, though the computer shows off with 21.Nc5!! Bxc5 22.e6!. In the game, though, Najer played 20…h6?, and the end was swift: 21.Nf7+ Ke8 (the king can't run as 21…Kc7 is met by 22.e6+!) 22.Qf5 Be7 23.Qg6 Qxa4 24.Ng5+! and even in a team competition it was acceptable to resign with mate next move.
That would have been enough for a match win if not for Vladimir Malakhov, who played the Sergey Karjakin role by managing to win the following rook ending with White against Vladimir Fedoseev:
Fedoseev will be hoping that game won’t prove as fateful for his team as his somewhat similar loss at the World Team Championship proved for Russia.
Of the four teams tied for first place on 6/6 the only one other than Globus that may have realistic chances of winning the event is Arkadij Naiditsch-led Odlar Yurdu from Azerbaijan. In Round 3 they beat the Italian team from Padua 3.5:2.5, though the match could easily have ended in a draw:
Alberto David was in time trouble and here failed to appreciate the danger of Rauf Mamedov’s c-pawn, playing 34.Nxd6? and falling to defeat. Instead White can simply draw with 34.Rd3! and the plan of giving perpetual check with Rg3 and Rh3. If the black king advances and takes the knight on f5 it gets mated in a few moves.
One curiosity lower down the table was a first positive result for Jon Ludvig Hammer’s Oslo Schakselskap. Finally they had six players and scored a 4:2 win:
In the women’s section, meanwhile, Bossa Nova are the only team with 100% - and a 2-point lead – after wins for Natalia Zhukova and Elena Zaiatz saw them overcome the dangerous Odlar Yurdu team.
The big match-up was top seeds Batumi Chess Club Nona taking on 2nd seeds Ugra. It was close to a must-win match for Batumi after the loss the day before, and they managed, with wins for Nana Dzagnidze over Anna Ushenina and Nino Batsiashvili over Olga Girya. Nino has a curious claim to fame after that last game, though - for the second day in a row the newly-minted grandmaster from Georgia missed mate-in-3!
37.Qb8+! Kc5 38.Qb4+ Kd5 39.Qd4# was of course something she’d expect to spot if not in time trouble in a tense match. It was possible that 37.Qd4+? would let the win slip away, but for a second day in a row Nino nevertheless finally went on to claim the full point.
Harika Dronavalli drew her 3rd game for Batumi, this time against Natalia Pogonia:
The women’s section may be more interesting to watch in Round 4, with Legacy Square Capital favourites on paper to end the 100% record of Bossa Nova. In the open section the mismatches are a disappointment for such a short event, though Mednyi Vsadnik-Beer Sheva is an all GM clash, with Peter Svidler playing Kramnik’s long-term second Zahar Efimenko on top board. Alkaloid-Nice Alekhine is also all-GM, though Ding Liren’s team has five 2700+ GMs while Hrvoje Stevic is the only 2600+ GM for his team.