Gadir Guseinov beat Vladimir Fedoseev to make Arkadij Naiditsch’s Odlar Yurdu the surprise sole leaders going into the last round of the 2017 European Club Cup, but the final round pairings set up a great battle. If Odlar Yurdu lose to Radek Wojtaszek’s AVE Novy Bor in the final round Vladimir Kramnik’s Globus will win the event if they can overcome Ernesto Inarkiev-led Legacy Square Capital. In the women’s event top seeds Nana Dzagnidze’s Batumi will be champions if they overcome the 6th seeds from Romania.
There was some competition for attention before the penultimate round of the 2017 European Club Cup. First from the resort hotel’s swimming pool…
…and then from the political machinations of the Executive Board Meeting of the FIDE Congress taking place in the same venue. The short version is that the revolt against FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov continues apace, with the board confirming that all the power of the organisation currently lies with Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos:
There was also a vote with the purpose of discouraging Ilyumzhinov from trying to extend his 22-year reign as president beyond next year:
Backers such as Russian Chess Federation President Andrey Filatov and Vladimir Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov immediately came to the defence of Ilyumzhinov, with one of his advisors, Nikita Kim, also describing the scene:
Everything was going according to plan, but suddenly, without being on the agenda, Makropoulos, who recently represents the opposition to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, raised the question of whether members of the Executive Board want Ilyumzhinov to be a candidate for the next election. There was a vote, which doesn't influence anything going forwards - it was just people's private opinions.
It's clear where that's coming from: first - US sanctions, as some people simply don't want to take the risk of not supporting the USA. Secondly - the upcoming reforms which Ilyumzhinov is planning to undertake to improve the efficiency of FIDE. Some people fear for their posts. The voting doesn't have any significance, since the president is chosen at the General Assembly - 188 countries, 188 delegates, one country, one vote. Only that body can choose the president and there are no procedures for support from the Executive Board.
Multiple sources say they’ve received letters from the Russian Embassies of their countries stating that Ilyumzhinov will stand. If we do get a new FIDE President, though, we can’t expect a new era in chess. The most likely replacement is Makropoulos, who has spent over 30 years involved with FIDE and has long been considered the man genuinely in charge of the organisation.
Let’s leave politics aside, though, and return to chess! The penultimate round of the European Club Cup was hugely tense, with the top 7 matches in the open section featuring 3 draws and 4 decisive encounters decided by a single result. Click on any of the results below to open that game with computer analysis:
The top clash of the day saw top seeds Globus take on 2nd seeds Alkaloid, and for the second day in a row Globus drew all their games. This time there were few fireworks, though, with Vladimir Kramnik the last man standing as he tried to squeeze out a win against Ding Liren.
He explained afterwards that with Black against a player of Ding Liren’s strength he set out to play solidly, and needed to defend accurately until 19.Nxd7?!, “a very strange decision” he called “an immediate draw offer”. Soon Kramnik was able to play for a win and ultimately came close:
In queen endgames what matters is usually not the number of pawns but how advanced they are, and the a3-pawn gives Black real winning chances. In fact here, after 44...f3+!, the only drawing move was what Ding Liren played, 45.Kh3!, getting out of checks, and then after 45…Qb1 he had to find 46.d6! Kramnik got to use some of his favourite post-mortem expressions:
45.Kh3 works by a miracle, but it seems that it works… It looks really awful, this move, but I couldn’t find a way. 46.d6 unfortunately is just in time to save.
Kramnik still has an excellent chance of winning the tournament with his team, but in personal terms his chase to qualify for the 2018 Candidates Tournament by rating has ended not with a bang but a whimper:
He needed to climb to 2802 by the end of the event to overtake Wesley So, but is on 2783.2 on the live rating list. Since any rating gain in the European Team Championship that starts late this month and goes on into November would only count for one list, not two, he’d essentially need to gain double the number of points, which even after a last-round win in Antalya looks impossible.
Kramnik referred to the situation, and getting Black in his three games, in his post-game interview, where he explained he had expected to play with White against Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu in Round 2:
I was ready to play, but the team decided it would be like this. Who knew that I would have three Blacks?
Kramnik didn’t completely rule out playing the European Team Championship, but seems more inclined to take a break:
I’ve played a lot, maybe too much. My game lately is not on the level I want. I want some time to rest and recover and then come back fresh.
The good news for chess fans, though, is that for the first time since 2011 Kramnik confirmed that he’s going to play in the Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee this January, when the tournament celebrates its 80th edition. The full interview below includes Kramnik talking about his extraordinary draw with Naiditsch the day before:
That draw for top seeds Globus was a chance for co-leaders Odlar Yurdu, whose name means “land of fire” in Azerbaijani.
They seized it, brushing off the disappointment of not beating Globus to overcome 3rd seeds Mednyi Vsadnik, for whom Vladimir Fedoseev again proved to be the weak link. The young Russian star has had a wonderful year, but has lost some crucial games in team events, including the decisive game against China in the World Team Championship. The one thing missing in his game so far is perhaps the ability to play solidly when the situation demands, as it usually does if you have Black in a close match in a team event.
Against Gadir Guseinov the following position was reached on move 16:
Fedoseev decided to blow open the position with the pawn sacrifice 16…c5?! (16…b4!). That got Guseinov thinking for over 17 minutes, but he correctly responded 17.Bxb5 Rc8 18.Nh5! and Black had little choice but to exchange queens. The g2-pawn could never be taken with the threat to g7, and Guseinov went on to demonstrate brilliantly why the ending was much better for White.
The positions on the other boards were too solid for any teammate to come to Fedoseev’s rescue and Odlar Yurdu duly moved to a brilliant 11/12 match points. The other big match settled by one win and five draws saw Legacy Square Capital beat Beer Sheva. Vadim Zvjaginsev was the hero, starting with 1.b3 against Victor Mikhalevski and then taking advantage when Black decided to push f5 rather than develop:
Here Vadim went for 14.Ne5!, sacrificing a pawn on e5 but luring the black queen onto a dangerous square. Soon the tables were turned, with the a5 and f5-pawns both falling and White going on to convert the advantage more or less smoothly. The only “hope” for levelling the match was Zahar Efimenko on top board against Ernesto Inarkiev, but although that lasted 123 moves it was Inarkiev who was pressing with the white pieces.
The match of the round in terms of entertainment, though, was played out between Csm Baia Mare and AVE Novy Bor:
It couldn’t have started better for the Romanian team, as Levente Vajda played the Benko Gambit against Markus Ragger and had a crushing position by around move 26. It’s tempting to suggest Kramnik using the opening on the Isle of Man might be sparking a revival, but according to our database Vajda has played it 45 times before, even if almost not at all in recent years.
Things went from bad to worse for Novy Bor, as David Navara was struggling and Mateusz Bartel, someone you can always rely on to try and win on demand if the situation requires it, was lost by the time control on the bottom board.
There was a fight back at the top, though, with Radek Wojtaszek taking his record against Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu to 3 wins in 3 games. 36.Rf2?! ran into the crunching 36…Qe3!
37.Qf1 gets hit by 37…Rd1!, with the f4 and h4-pawns falling, while 37.Qc4+ Kf8 38.Kg2 Rd3! was crushing, with Nisipeanu resigning on move 41. On board two Viktor Erdos took the wise decision to repeat a line played by our own Jan Gustafsson in the 2011 European Club Cup all the way until move 19.exd5. He then had a problem, though, since Avetik Grigoryan at this point agreed a draw!
Viktor was all on his own and seems to have asked himself, “what wouldn’t Jan play here”, since he ignored the maxim that “a pawn is a pawn” and instead of taking on f4 played Jan’s least favourite move, 19…f5. Caissa, in the form of Harikrishna, duly punished him.
That still left the problem of David Navara’s game on board three, but it turned out the Czech no. 1 had successfully found a fortress where he couldn’t be beaten despite being down a pawn and a queen for a rook (found, or remembered, since without the h2-pawn this featured in Mark Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual).
That meant Novy Bor are one of four teams two points off the leaders, who they play in the final round:
If Odlar beat Novy Bor they of course win the event, but if they draw and Globus beat Legacy Square it's likely Globus will be top on tiebreaks. Of course if both Odlar and Globus lose things will get complicated!
In the women’s section, meanwhile, the penultimate round may have proven all but decisive:
Fourth wins in Antalya for both Nana Dzagnidze and Nino Batsiashvili saw top seeds Batumi Chess Club Nona score a 3:1 victory over Legacy Square Capital to move to 10/12.
Odlar Yurdu are the only team within a point after beating UGRA Chess Club in a match decided in a war of nerves on the bottom board. On move 38 Baira Kovanova took the fateful decision to grab a pawn on a4 (e.g. 38...Nd5, to cover f6, was called for):
Aydan Hojjatova’s 39.Rg1+! was a cold shower, since the mating threat of Rf6-h6 meant that Black had to give up a bishop with 39…Bg4, and although Baira tried to complicate matters the game was lost.
Given the tiebreak situation it seems that if Batumi merely draw against the 6th seeds from Romania, led by Elisabeth Paehtz, they should finish in first place.