Peter Svidler’s Bronze Horseman are the 2018 European Club Cup Champions after beating Valerenga 4:2 in the final round. Peter had more reason for self-deprecation than usual, but he did hold Magnus Carlsen to a draw. The World Champion will still be no.1 going into the match against Fabiano Caruana, but his team were one of three unfortunate to miss out on medals. AVE Novy Bor (Wojtaszek) took silver and Molodezhka (Potkin) bronze. The women’s event was won by Cercle d'Echecs de Monte-Carlo, with Anna Muzychuk starring on top board.
The one thing we knew for certain going into the final round of the European Club Cup was that if Valerenga Sjakklubb could beat Bronze Horseman (“Mednyi Vsadnik St. Petersburg”) they would be the champions with no need for complicated tiebreak calculations. Up to a point in the match that seemed a possibility, since Tari-Matlakov ended in a quick draw and the games were closely balanced on the other boards. Suddenly, though, Valerenga collapsed in the space of a few minutes, and it was the heroes of the last two rounds who stumbled.
Borki Predojevic, who got the vital win against Gadir Guseinov in Round 5, committed the blunder of the tournament, though to put it in context we should probably start with how Borki met 23.Bc3 with 23…Qc7!
That clever pin indirectly defends the b4-bishop and attacks the bishop on c3. Maxim Rodshtein here almost instantly played 24.Ne1 to which Borki responded with the disastrous 24…Ne4??, “increasing the pressure on c3”. Alas, the white queen is now defended by the knight, so Maxim could simply play 25.Bxb4, picking up a free piece and forcing instant resignation.
There was barely time for the Norwegian team to recover from that blow when Nils Grandelius, who got the only win in Round 6, played 31…c5? in a difficult position against Vladimir Fedoseev:
It’s a far less obvious blunder, but it also loses a piece by force: 32.Ndc4! Ra6 (anything else quickly loses an exchange) 33.R1xa6 Nxa6 34.Nb6! cxd4 (there are options, but they all fail) 35.Nxc8 Rxc8
36.Bxa6 and Nils resigned a few moves later.
Fedoseev was one of the stars for the St. Petersburg team, with his 6/7, 2829 performance giving him an individual gold medal on board 3. Nikita Vitiugov (5/6, 2814) took gold on board 2, and Maxim Matlakov (2791) gold on board 4, so it’s hard to deny the team deserved their overall gold. Peter Svidler commented afterwards:
He certainly didn’t have the tournament of his life (at least not in a good sense), starting with four losses in a row, three of them with the white pieces against 2600 opposition. Only the loss to Ding Liren cost the team match points, however, and losing to Ding Liren is something no-one is safe from at the moment!
Peter’s fortunes picked up with a win in the penultimate round, then against Magnus he was the player in the driving seat. Carlsen chose a currently trendy line of the Caro-Kann that Jan Gustafsson looked at in his latest Opening Clinic.
The position above with 9.Ne2 h5!? had been played by Carlsen's Valerenga teammates David Howell and Nils Grandelius as well as by Indian star Vidit. Peter dodged that particular bullet, though, with 9.Be3, a move barely seen at a high level. Magnus spent 10 minutes before replying with the more modest h-pawn push 9…h6. For the sake of his team Carlsen would dearly have liked to get a win, but instead he ended up defending an uncomfortable knight vs. bishop ending that became critical around the time control:
Magnus correctly judged he could play 40…Nxd5! 41.Kxd5 h5! and the pawn ending was indeed drawn, though it required some precision from both players before it ultimately ended in stalemate:
For Peter it was a tournament to forget, but it can't have been all bad if you end up with a big gold cup at the end!
For Magnus there must have been some frustration personally, though an unbeaten plus score is never bad on top board for a team, and it could of course have gone a lot worse as well as better. Team events haven’t been a happy hunting ground for rating points for the World Champion:
On the other hand, as a team Valerenga overperformed, like Poland at the Olympiad, and came just as close to winning it all.
And then there’s the match perspective: Magnus Carlsen will now go into Game 1 of the World Championship match against Fabiano Caruana on November 9th in London as the world no. 1.
The lead is a mere 2.4 points, small enough that draws won’t gain Fabiano or cost Magnus any points. What that means, of course, is that any player who becomes the World Champion in the classical games will also be the no. 1. Things couldn’t be set up better!
Radek Wojtaszek missed out on an Olympiad medal with Poland, but picked up double silver with his team Novy Bor in the European Club Cup. He was the second best performer on board 1 after Ding Liren, and held both Magnus Carlsen and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov to a draw.
David Navara ended on a high, beating Paco Vallejo in the penultimate round and then getting the crucial win over Rauf Mamedov in the final round. A highly tactical encounter turned on Rauf’s miscalculation when he played 26.Qf4?!:
After 26…Bxg2! 27.Rxe6 fxe6 28.Qxf8 he must have misjudged how dangerous things were for White after the sting in the tail 28…Bh3! He didn’t make it to the time control before having to resign.
Viktor Laznicka (gold medal on board 7) improved the team’s tiebreak score with a late win on the bottom board, but it wasn’t enough. The eventual tiebreak gap was 12 points, exactly the difference in how much Novy Bor earned for their 4:2 win over 3rd seeds Odlar Yurdu compared to Team Svidler’s 4:2 victory over 5th seeds Valerenga. In this case, though, you could say the tiebreak system did its job – since the highly motivated Valerenga were having a better tournament and were probably the tougher team to beat. The Azerbaijan club side collapsed in a similar way to the national side at the Olympiad, losing two and drawing one of their last four matches.
The match that ultimately decided the bronze medals could easily have decided gold, since the 6th seeds Obiettivo Risarcimento Padova had it all in their own hands.
Wang Hao showed the way on the top board after Vladimir Potkin’s 33…cxd6?:
34.Ra5! pinned the bishop and left Black with no way to avoid what was coming next: 34…Rb8 35.Rxd5! Qxd5 36.Bc4 Black resigns
Wins were traded on the other boards, with Daniele Vocaturo making it 5/5 (team captain Danyyil Dvirnyy also had 3/3 for a similarly incalculable rating performance!), Julio Granda falling at the last after a fantastic event, and Sabino Brunello missing a fleeting chance to draw against Semyon Lomasov:
39…Nxd6! was possible - since the white queen is no longer defended 40.exd6? would lose to 40…Re2+! 41.Rxe2 Qxd5. The most painful miss, however, probably came on move 40 for Paco Vallejo:
40.Qe8! now and Black would have little choice but to resign. He’d like to play 40…c4 to defend the e7-bishop, but that would drop the rook on a7. Instead, with under a minute on his clock, Paco went for 40.d8=Q? and the game fizzled out into a draw.
That meant that despite a heavy round 2 loss to Valerenga the young Russian team of Molodezhka had taken bronze, just as they did in this year’s Russian Team Championship!
The other teams in the tie for third place all have reasons to lament their medalless fate, but even a perfect system will struggle to rank 61 teams in only 7 rounds.
Anna Muzychuk was the hero as the team from Monte-Carlo won their 7th gold in 12 years. She took gold on board 1 for her 4.5/6, a 2627 rating performance that included the crucial win in the final match:
You might, of course, think that the match was a draw, but the tiebreak in the women’s knockout stages was for the win on the highest board to count if there was a tie. The key moment was on move 20 when, instead of capturing on d5, Nana Dzagnidze went for the tempting 20…e4?!
The knight is attacked and Qxh2# is a looming threat, but it turns out that after 21.Ne5! Ngxe5 22.dxe6 everything was working out for White, with the white bishops and rooks ready to dominate the board. Anna didn’t look back.
The tiebreak system was curious, since it would have been an option to have a blitz playoff instead. In the regulations, however, that would only occur if all four games were drawn, as they were in the third-place match between SSHOR and Ugra. The 3+2 blitz match was eventually won 2.5:1.5 by the Ugra team of Anna Ushenina, Natalia Pogonina, Olga Girya and Baira Kovanova, though not without some adventures. Ushenina and Kovanova won, Girya pulled off an amazing save against Dina Belenkaya and Natalia Pogonina lost this winning position:
No harm was done, though, and Ugra took home the bronze medals.
As usual in top level chess nowadays there’s a barely a chance to catch our breath before more big events start. Giri, Aronian, MVL, So, Anand, Grischuk, Nakamura and Karjakin head the line-up for the Chess.com Isle of Man International that starts tomorrow, while on Sunday the Shankland-Svidler and Jorden van Foreest-Fedoseev six-game classical matches begin in Hoogeveen.
Meanwhile in the same venue as the European Club Cup in Greece there's the World Youth U14-18 Championships, with e.g. 14-year-old Nobirbek Abdusattorov playing in the U18 open category.
Of course there are also some pretty big events just a little bit further ahead! Check out our 2018 Chess Calendar for all the details.
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