Reports Oct 18, 2018 | 10:10 AMby Colin McGourty

Euro Clubs 6: Carlsen still the no.1… just!

Magnus Carlsen’s 7-year stay as world no. 1 looked to be over on Wednesday as he blundered badly against Ding Liren, but the World Champion fought back to claim a draw. That was vital for his team Valerenga, who went on to end the title hopes of top seeds and defending champions Alkaloid after Nils Grandelius defeated Dmitry Andreikin while the other games were drawn. Valerenga lead by a point going into the final round, where Peter Svidler’s Mednyi Vsadnik await. The 8-time Russian Champion finally grabbed a win after four losses in a row. It’s Magnus next!

Magnus Carlsen congratulates Nils Gradelius on scoring a match-winning victory | photo: Nikki Riga, official website

A dramatic day’s action in Round 6 of the 2018 European Club Cup left only five teams, AVE Novy Bor, Obiettivo Risarcimento Padova, Valerenga, Molodezhka and Mednyi Vsadnik, still in with a chance of gold:

You can play through all the action with computer analysis here. And here’s the Round 6 commentary from FM Sotirios Logothetis and GM Ioannis Papaioannou:

Carlsen’s great escape

Ding Liren had Magnus on the ropes! | photo: Nikki Riga, official website

Carlsen-Ding Liren was the match-up we all wanted to see, perfectly combining two of the main storylines in top level chess at the moment. One is the fate of the world no. 1 spot - in objective terms a few rating points here or there make little difference to anything, but Magnus Carlsen himself has been very honest about how it does matter. He told Pepe Cuenca during the Olympiad:

I would like to give you some boring, politically correct answer, but the truth is, yeah, it does bother me! I’ve been the number one in the rankings every single day for about seven years and it is unpleasant to have [Fabiano] and, I suppose, Shakhriyar as well, breathing down my neck. So well, I’m hoping he’s not going to catch me, that’s for sure!  

It’s quite a record:

Then there was Ding Liren’s 14-month, 92 classical game unbeaten streak. If such a record is ever going to be in danger it’s playing Black against Magnus Carlsen, especially since the Norwegian was highly-motivated – playing against the top seeds with a serious rating disadvantage on all the other boards, the pressure was on Magnus to make his world no. 1 status count.

It seemed at the start, though, that this was going to be one of those highly-anticipated games that disappoints. Ding Liren had defended accurately, swapped off queens and with 22…c5! seemed to be just in time to solve all his problems:

This was where it exploded into life! In Round 4 against Alexander Donchenko Magnus had missed the chance to play the ugly but powerful 25.g4! Against Ding Liren he wasn’t going to make the same mistake again, but his 23.g4? turned out to be another mistake entirely.

It’s a hard move to fathom, since simply 23…Rxh3 24.Rxh3 Bxg4 wins Black a pawn. After Ding’s almost immediately played 23…d4 24.Rf3 Nxg4! you might speculate that Magnus had missed 25.hxg4 Bc6! (not 25…Bxg4? 26.Re1! and White is winning), but it still made little sense:

What’s clear, though, is that when the dust had settled after 25.Re1!? Nf6 26.Nb6 Bc6 27.Rg3 g5

...Carlsen was in the fight of his life.

The play that followed was incredibly tense, with Magnus doing a good job of sowing confusion as the objective evaluation of the position oscillated between a draw and Black being on the verge of victory. 44…Rxc2! seems to have been one missed chance, and then the game finally had a happy ending for the World Champion after the Chinese no. 1’s decision on move 50:

Around this stage Ding Liren may have been worried about his opponent playing for a win himself with the fast-running a-pawn, but 50…Rf4! still seems to give Black good winning chances. Instead 50…d3?! 51.a5! dxc2 52.Rxc2 Ra4 53.a6 h5?! 54.Rc5 left White not just with a powerful passed pawn but able to terrorize the black pawns with his rook. The players began repeating moves, then agreed a draw:

That was a result that had an impact beyond the tournament hall…

…but in the hall it would also prove to be immensely important. Despite being heavily outgunned Valerenga managed to score relatively quick and easy draws on the bottom three boards.

All the excitement came on the top three boards | photo: Nikki Riga, official website

That left the top three boards featuring grim battles for survival. We’ve seen that Magnus managed, while you would probably have put money on the extremely resilient Dmitry Andreikin also surviving against Nils Grandelius. He’d had to give up an exchange early on to eliminate a passed pawn, but until around move 60 seemed to be holding on. The pressure of Nils tormenting the black bishop pair with his rook finally paid off, though, and the same scene as on the previous day was repeated as the fist-pumping World Champion was the first to congratulate the victor:

David Howell, meanwhile, would share laughter with Magnus afterwards, and you have to assume they were comparing how terrible their positions had been. By move 54 it seemed as though Yu Yangyi, playing White, was on the verge of giving mate:

55.Nf6+ would have been a 3-fold repetition, though, so the Chinese no. 2 decided to play the ending after 55.Qxg5. He had a piece for two pawns, and with Black’s pawns all weak and isolated there were excellent winning chances. Valerenga’s team spirit won the day again, though, and on move 93 all the material had been swept from the board and the single victory by Nils Grandelius had proven to be enough.

Borki Predojevic was the hero a day earlier - now it was Howell's turn! | photo: Nikki Riga, official website

For defending champions Alkaloid that meant they can no longer win gold, while Valerenga go into the final round with a one-point lead over the chasing pack. They could be forgiven for feeling vertigo...

No-one is level with Valerenga, since the match between 2nd seeds AVE Novy Bor and 6th seeds Obiettivo Risarcimento Padova ended in a draw, with the Italian team fighting back after they trailed 0:2 to wins by Markus Ragger and David Navara. Czech no. 1 Navara’s win over Spanish no. 1 Paco Vallejo featured a nice tactical finish:

34.Nxc6! might seemed flawed due to the counterblow 34…Nf4+, but in fact after 35.Kd2 Rxc6 White had 36.Qg8! and mate or massive material loss is inevitable.

The comeback came from Daniele Vocaturo, who moved to 4/4 after a meltdown by Sasikiran, and 51-year-old Julio Granda, who had almost beaten Jakovenko the day before and this time did get the 2700-scalp of Vidit. The final position after Granda’s 46.Bf4! was one of the prettiest of the day:

As expected Molodezhka and Mednyi Vsadnik did indeed beat much lower-rated opposition to go into the final round with a chance of gold. The most notable result there was Peter Svidler finally seeing his fortunes turn with a win over Erik Blomqvist:

It was an impressive grind after picking up a pawn early on, though we probably weren’t alone in desperately trying not to jinx Peter by saying anything like, “this is a position he can’t lose” while the game was in progress.

That leaves the standings at the top as follows:

Rk.SNo TeamGames  +   =   -  TB1  TB2  TB3 
15Valerenga Sjakklubb651011168,024,0
26Obiettivo Risarcimento Padova642010183,526,0
32AVE Novy Bor642010168,026,0
44Mednyi Vsadnik St.Petersburg650110158,026,5
63Odlar Yurdu64119165,028,5
88Beer Sheva Chess Club64119143,525,0

And the final round pairings:

As you can see, one of the teams in the top match will have at least 12 points, so only the teams in the top three matches, with the exception of Odlar Yurdu, are still in the fight for gold medals. Valerenga can make it easy for us all by beating Mednyi Vsadnik, though on paper the team from St. Petersburg are favourites. 

Peter Svidler sees the last-round pairings... | photo: Nikki Riga, official website

Once again the top game is obvious. Svidler has had a terrible event so far, but still has a plus score against the World Champion and famously beat him in the final round of the 2013 Candidates Tournament in London. Carlsen would dearly like to win to help his team, but he also knows that a draw will mean he goes into the World Championship match as the world no. 1, a few points ahead of Fabiano Caruana. If he gambles to win there’s a lot to lose!

If Valerenga don’t win there’s a good chance of tiebreaks, when once again the tiebreaks used are the same as the much-criticised ones from the Batumi Olympiad. It would all come down to the results of the teams the top teams have played in Greece.

Nona and Cercle d’Echecs de Monte Carlo meet in the final

Meanwhile in the women’s section there are no mathematical tiebreaks - the last two rounds are being played as a knockout, with the prospect of blitz playoffs if a match is drawn. So far that hasn’t been needed, since the favourites duly made it into the final. 

Bela Khotenashvili beat Elena Semenova in Round 6 | photo: Nikki Riga, official website

Nona beat SSHOR 3:1 with wins for Bela Khotenashvili and Lela Javakhishvili, with Lela showing impressive restraint not to sacrifice her queen here!

There’s nothing at all wrong with 21…Qxh4!, since if 22.gxh4 then 22…Bd5+ is mate-in-3. There also wasn’t much wrong with 21…Qa8+ either, and the Georgian player went on to win comfortably.

The other match was much more nerve-wracking, with Olga Girya’s win for Ugra levelling the score after Deimante Cornette gave Cercle d’Echecs de Monte-Carlo the lead. The hero was Pia Cramling, who beat Natalia Pogonina in a rook ending lasting 77 moves.

Like Julio Granda, the Swedish star is showing there’s no barrier to playing at the very highest level in your 50s!

So there’s just one round to go and, in a welcome break with tradition, the last round doesn’t start earlier than usual! So it’s the same time, same place for the final battles:  Open | Women

Whenever you can’t stand the tension why not play or watch some slightly more relaxed chess in our latest Banterthon:

See also:

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