Vladimir Kramnik and Alexander Grischuk were both lost after the time control in Round 5 but strong nerves and some help from their opponents Arkadij Naiditsch and Rauf Mamedov enabled both them and their team Globus to draw. That draw between the leaders was good news for the chasing pack, with David Navara beating Vladimir Malakhov to make AVE Novy Bor one of three teams only one point back. In the women’s section two losses in a row have knocked out early leaders Bossa Nova, with favourites Batumi Chess Club and Odlar Yurdu in first place.
As we mentioned in our previous report, the pairings for Round 4 of this year’s European Club Cup gave us a disappointing series of mismatches, with the top teams duly scoring crushing wins.
The one match that looked like a potential upset, though – Svidler’s Mednyi Vsadnik taking on the strong Israeli team Beer Sheva Chess Club – did provide a surprise, with all six boards drawn. The biggest miss came in what was on course to be a brilliant win by Ildar Khairullin, who sacrificed a piece for three pawns against Victor Mikhalevski. Everything was going well until 25…Rfh7:
Many moves win for Ildar here, with e.g. 26.R6a7+ Kd6 27.Rd8 leaving Black so tied up that he’ll need to sacrifice a piece to retain some chances of survival. Instead, though, Ildar went for 26.Rb6?, allowing 26…Bc5!, and although after mass exchanges White still retained some winning chances the game ended with bare kings on move 46.
Some of the top teams also got relatively easy match-ups in Round 5, with Mednyi Vsadnik recovering from their draw the day before by crushing LSG Leiden 5.5:0.5, while defending champions Alkaloid did the same against the relatively strong Obiettivo Risarcimento Padova team.
Ding Liren led the way by brushing aside Daniele Vocaturo with Black on the top board for his third win in a row. He talked about the game, and his recent success in the World Cup, afterwards:
The tightest match-up of the day on paper was Radek Wojtaszek’s AVE Novy Bor facing Ernesto Inarkiev’s Legacy Square Capital, and it proved just as tight in practice. Novy Bor took victory due to a win for David Navara, who brutally punished Vladimir Malakhov’s 21…Rh8?:
Navara played 22.Bxd7+! and it turns out that for tactical reasons the only option to recapture was 22…Kxd7. For instance, 22…Nxd7 would run into 23.Bxd6! cxd6 24.Rxh8 Rxh8 25.Qc3+!
After 22…Kxd7 23.Rxh8 Rxh8 24.c4 the threat of c5 forced the strategic concession of 24…c5 and Black was in a hopeless situation, eventually resigning on move 41. Evgeny Najer looked to have chances of levelling the match with a win against Harikrishna on board 2, but in fact after a time trouble blunder it was Harikrishna who might have gone on to win if he wasn’t in a situation where a draw guaranteed his team a 3.5:2.5 victory.
The day’s real excitement, though, came in the match between the leaders, Globus and Odlar Yurdu, even if you might not think it from the scoreline:
Globus were the heavy favourites, but didn’t put out their absolute strongest team, since Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was rested on a day he would have faced his Azeri colleagues. Giri would later comment, “We had to put Mamedyarov against you, another Azeri - fight fire with fire!”
The bottom four boards were all drawn relatively uneventfully, which meant the fate of the battle rested on the top two boards. Initially, at least, things looked good for the top seeds, since Alexander Grischuk looked on course to do some Dragon slaying against Rauf Mamedov’s Sicilian, while Vladimir Kramnik varied on move 15 from an exciting draw scored by Wesley So against Peter Svidler in the recent Sinquefield Cup. He then sacrificed a pawn in an operation that Anish Giri wasn’t entirely convinced about, commenting, "Knowing Vladimir I think he was just bluffing!"
Anish felt it wouldn’t have worked for him as he doesn’t have Kramnik’s reputation, but on move 23 it seemed it had all gone well for the former World Champion:
23…Nxg2! took advantage of the awkwardly placed white pieces, with both the d3-rook and the f2-pawn undefended. 24.Bxf8? Nf4! would be game over, while after 24.Kxg2 Qg6+ 25.Kh2 Nh4 26.Rg1 Qxd3 27.Nxh4 Rxf2+ the computer was giving triple zeros, but no obvious forced draw. In fact, it seemed Kramnik was on top, and he certainly had the initiative after his beautifully calculated tactical operation.
It’s at about this time that Anish Giri and Eltaj Safarli joined the live show after their draw, and although the audio and video are out of sync you may want to listen to a highly enjoyable running commentary on the crazy action that followed:
Although, as we mentioned, Kramnik had shown great tactical awareness and ingenuity, that was all about to change after Naiditsch found the brilliant 35.Ne5!:
Suddenly it’s Black who has to work hard for a draw, with 35…Rxe5! the best option. That’s tough to go for with one minute on your clock, but 35…Rxf4? was a losing blunder – Kramnik must have seen that 36.Nd3? immediately loses to 36…Qf1! and after 37.Nxf4 Qxf4+ the e8-rook enters the game to give mate. Alas, after 36.Qc7! first Black was forced to defend g7 with 36…Rg8, and with the rook out of the action he could simply pick up the rook on f4. Kramnik got only the d4-pawn in return.
Giri noted that Kramnik has been having some issues with simple tactics of late and recalled the fateful game against 65-year-old James Tarjan on the Isle of Man. It looked as though this was another game that would truly bury Kramnik’s hopes of qualifying for the Candidates Tournament by rating. In a way it still did, but not without another twist.
While Giri was explaining to us that Naiditsch is a guy with the self-confidence to consider getting a win against Kramnik a normal event, so he was unlikely to let it slip, Arkadij went on and did just that. His mistake came on move 41, when perhaps he'd allowed himself to relax just a little too much after reaching the time control:
Black is completely tied down to the g7-pawn and White has no need to rush, with Qd6 followed by Nf4 and taking on d5 one possible plan to make progress. Instead, though, Naiditsch saw nothing wrong with grabbing another pawn with 41.Qxb7? allowing 41…Qe5+! 42.Ng3 Rb8! 43.Qf7 Rxb2 44.Qf5+ Qxf5 45.Nxf5 c3!
Giri thought Naiditsch might have missed this last sting in the tail, while Safarli thought he simply missed the whole idea with 41...Qe5+, but whatever the case, we suddenly had a drawish ending where Kramnik could even push for a win...
...but ultimately the draw in 62 moves was a fair outcome to a thrilling game.
While that was going on things were every bit as tense on the second board, where Rauf Mamedov had managed to generate serious counterplay on the b-file, but Grischuk was nevertheless on top as he played 32.g6!
Mamedov had to give up a piece with 32…Nxg6, but it was tough for White to keep a significant edge. For instance, after 33.fxg6 Bxg6 the computer recommends 34.Rg4 not 34.Rg1 as played by Grischuk, seemingly so that e5 at a later date wouldn’t hit the rook on f4, but such nuances are too much for a time scramble. The game then swung on the time control move:
Grischuk played the most natural move in the world, 40.Rb1, but after 40…Qe3! it turned out Black had a significant advantage, with the white pieces precariously placed and the black pawn chain set to advance. There was a solution, though. 40.Nd4! allows Black to win a pawn and a piece with 40…Bxc2 41.Rxc2 Qxd4, but after 42.Rg3! it turns out White has all the winning chances.
White will double on the g-file and can gradually bring the knight into the game, with 42…a6!, to stop Nb5, seemingly the only move that gives Black good chances of survival.
In the game, though, Grischuk had 39 seconds to make his move before the time control, soon had to give up one of his knights, and found himself facing up to an extremely unpleasant defence. As Giri commented later, the best chance for the team seemed to have been a “move-order” trick, whereby Grischuk offered Mamedov a quick draw just after the time control while Naiditsch had a clearly won position against Kramnik. That window of opportunity was quickly slammed shut, though, and the whole outcome of the match would depend on whether Mamedov could beat Grischuk (though Giri did have a Plan B of bringing in his teammate Shakhriyar Mamedyarov to tempt Mamedov into a draw by offering a night of free drinks...).
For a long time Mamedov's play was flawless and Grischuk admitted to being “completely lost”, but a glimmer of hope appeared on move 64:
Suddenly Grischuk was able to improve his position dramatically with 65.Nb5! Qc5 66.c3!, giving his knight a perfect outpost on d4. Black still had major trumps such as the threat of mate on b3 and pushing the h-pawn, but suddenly a single slip would be enough for Grischuk to save the game. Ultimately that happened after 76.Rff7:
With under a minute on his clock Mamedov found himself in a situation where his king is in real trouble, and 76…Qc8! is in fact the only way to keep playing for a win. Instead he played 76…e5 and after 77.Rf6+ Kd5 78.Rb5 Grischuk was winning the queen and forcing a drawn ending.
You can see the final moments of that epic game, and a brief comment from Grischuk, in the following summary of the day’s action:
The most interesting match-up elsewhere was perhaps the all-Norwegian clash between Oslo Schakselskap and Vålerenga Sjakklubb. On paper Oslo, led by Jon Ludvig Hammer, should have won, but he finally lost in 100 moves after some fine play by 18-year-old Aryan Tari.
On board 2 Leif Erlend Johannessen could have forced a draw with Black but instead blundered with 29…Qxe2?
30.Bf5+! is a forced mate. Even if only computers could instantly announce mate-in-12, it’s easy to see the white queen, rook and pawns will be too much for the black king. Johannessen resigned as his team lost 3.5:2.5.
The draw at the top kept Globus and Odlar Yurdu in the sole lead and meant that Globus remain the favourites to win the event, but since the leaders only have a 1-point lead they can’t afford any slip-ups. The top eight seeds occupy the top eight places:
One of the teams on 8 points, Alkaloid, now has a great chance to defend their title if they can beat Globus in the penultimate round. Alkaloid have been racking up game points since a Round 2 loss, but note the tiebreak after match points is Sonneborn-Berger, so the high scores don’t give Alkaloid a real edge. It’s curious to note that Kramnik, who some speculated might play only White to boost his Candidates qualification chances, will have played Black three times in a row!
In the women’s section, meanwhile, Bossa Nova’s perfect 6/6 start is a distant memory. The team led by Natalia Zhukova was beaten by Alina Kashlinskaya’s Legacy Square Capital in Round 4 and then favourites Batumi Chess Club Nona in Round 5, when the decisive game was Nana Dzagnidze’s win over Zhukova. More adventures followed, but Natalia’s 22…Nc5? needlessly gave up the exchange:
23.Nf5! Bxf5 24.Rxd6 Nxe4 meant Black temporarily had a pawn for the exchange, but Nana soon won the a6-pawn and later the game.
Odlar Yurdu are having a fantastic event in both sections, since after beating Legacy Square Capital in Round 5 they’re the only team level with Batumi on 8/10. They also beat Batumi earlier in the event.
Round 6 will be critical in the women’s section as well as the open section, with the top teams meeting. Tune in to watch all the games live, with video commentary, here on chess24 from 14:00 CET onwards: Open | Women
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