Reports Oct 29, 2017 | 11:48 AMby Colin McGourty

Euro Teams 1: Italy shocks Azerbaijan

Wins for Sabino Brunello and 17-year-old Luca Moroni saw 22nd seeds Italy pull off a shock victory over 2nd seeds Azerbaijan in Round 1 of the European Team Championship on Crete. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was rested for that game, with other teams also paying the price for resting their top players as England, Poland and Germany were held to draws. In the women’s section star names such as Valentina Gunina and Nana Dzagnidze lost individual games, but the favourites all won.

Nigel Short lost to Victor Bologan on top board as England were held to a 2:2 draw by Moldova | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Round 1 of a big Swiss open usually provides very few shocks, but with only four boards and few of the very weak teams that play in Olympiads, the first round of the 2017 European Team Championship was no walk in the park for the favourites:

Playing with fire

The teams on Crete consist of five players, with only four able to play each round, and presumably reasoning “if not now, then when?” almost all of the top teams took the decision to rest their top player in the first round. In some cases that worked out fine. Armenia without Levon Aronian demonstrated the professional “draw with Black”, “win with White” approach. 

Daniil Dubov just missed out on a win on his first start for Russia in a major event, but Nikita Vitiugov got the win the team needed against Alexander Beliavsky | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

The Russian team without Alexander Grischuk seemed to have misheard those instructions and almost won with Black and drew with White, though in the end they settled for one win for Nikita Vitiugov over 63-year-old Alexander Beliavsky. Some other teams such as Ukraine without Pavel Eljanov and Hungary without Peter Leko scored comfortable team wins, with Leko’s replacement Viktor Erdos playing a nice miniature against Hedinn Steingrimsson of Iceland:

19.Rxd5! exd5 20.Qf5 Bxc5? 21.Qg4+! was already winning, and the finish was swift: 21…Kh7 22.Nh5! Rg8 23.Nxf6+ Kh8 24.Qf5 Black resigns

For other teams, though, resting a star player led to trouble. Another veteran, 59-year-old Slovak Grandmaster Lubomir Ftacnik, faced not Radek Wojtaszek but Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who at 19 was over three times younger than his opponent. The youngster has just crossed 2700 and played a brilliant game in the Bundesliga at the weekend, but he got a bit carried away against his experienced opponent and was hit by a lethal kingside attack. With wins swapped on boards 2 and 3 this game would decide the match, and it’s credit to Duda that he found a way to mix things up:

27…Bxg2!!? shouldn’t have worked after 28.Nxh8!, but after 28.Kxg2? Qb4! Black was threatening to give perpetual check on g4, take the b5-bishop and take the f7-knight. The game continued 29.Qg5 Kxf7 and Black was temporaily a pawn up. Ftacnik was able to win the exchange, but Duda managed to set up a fortress and save a point for his team.

For most of the round it seemed England’s decision to rest Mickey Adams…

…was no problem against Moldova. Luke McShane was very quickly better against Nichita Morozov and did eventually win, though it took 64 moves and a lot of adventures. Gawain Jones was the first to finish…

…and it was only a question of whether David Howell might squeeze a win out of his game against Dmitry Svetushin (he didn’t). 

England team captain Malcolm Pein didn't have the easiest of days | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

That left just Victor Bologan against Nigel Short, and after the game Bologan admitted to Jan Gustafsson that from early on he would have taken a draw at any opportunity. Nigel wanted more, though, and Victor identified the key mistake as 48…Kxg5:

He felt Nigel had missed that after 49.Rc7! if Black continued 49…Bxf3 there was mate with 50.Rg7+ Kh6 51.Nf5#  Short had the move 49…f5! to avoid resigning on the spot, though, and was still close to a draw until a few moves later he allowed a white f-pawn to break clear and win the game.

At least there’s going to be time to do some sightseeing during Round 2!

Germany without Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu were also held to a 2:2 draw by the Greek 2nd team, but by far the shock of the round was Italy defeating 2009 and 2013 Champions Azerbaijan 2.5:1.5. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was rested and on top board Teimour Radjabov was seriously worse against Daniele Vocaturo but did well to hold a draw.

Teimour Radjabov began with a draw on Crete | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Arkadij Naiditsch on Board 2 had talked at the weekend about having a terrible score with Black against weaker opponents. This time he had White against 2555-rated Sabino Brunello, but he also went down in flames, having gone seriously astray even before he played 31.Rc1:

31…Rxb2! 32.Qxb2 Qxa5 left White in a resignable position, and although Arkadij fought on his opponent never put a foot wrong.

When Sabino joined the live commentary it seemed conceivable Italy would crush Azerbaijan 3.5:0.5, but then the top board encounter ended in a draw and Rauf Mamedov managed to win a drawish position against Danyyil Dvirnyy. It looked like being another great escape for a favourite, but 17-year-old Luca Moroni kept his nerve to make an extra pawn count against Gadir Guseinov, with resignation coming on move 98!

Moroni took the pressure in his stride and grabbed a vital win for his team | photo: Niki Riga, official website

The 2nd seeds will need to fight back, though the Swiss system should work in their favour.

Aryan Tari wasn't playing, but he did turn up to support his teammates | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

It didn’t always help to play your top team, though. After the debacle of the last Olympiad a full-strength Israeli team travelled to Crete and Boris Gelfand played on top board. Norway have a young team without Magnus Carlsen, though he did join them for a training camp:

They played their top board Jon Ludvig Hammer but rested their number 2, Aryan Tari. Nevertheless, they still went on to draw the match after 19-year-old Johan-Sebastian Christiansen beat Emil Sutovsky.

The highest rated star to actually play on top board was Anish Giri, and although he drew the Netherlands emerged as 3:1 winners over Montenegro, with Jorden van Foreest coming straight from beating Adhiban in Hoogeveen to win a queen ending in 139 moves.

Jan was complaining in the commentary about the annoyingly good team spirit of the Italian men's team (Fiona noted she was amazed Germany managed to win the Championship in 2011...). Well, it doesn't seem the women's team, that beat Montenegro 4:0, has a worse team spirit! | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

In the women’s section, meanwhile, every single match saw the favourites win, though not without surprises in individual games. For instance, Valentina Gunina’s king was hunted down by WGM Stavroula Tsolakidou as top seeds Russia only beat Greece 2.5:1.5:

Other surprises included Belarus’ IM Nastassia Ziaziulkina beating Georgia’s Nana Dzagnidze and Norway’s WIM Sheila Barth Sahl beating Spanish Women’s Champion Sabrina Vega, but the whole battle lies ahead.

Anna Muzychuk beat Jovanna Rapport as Ukraine overcame Serbia 2.5:1.5 | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Meanwhile, the top names are back in the Open section in Round 2, with Aronian, Grischuk and co. in the action. Games to watch out for include: Giri-Eljanov, Jobava-Navara and Mamedyarov-Ragger, while there are multiple matches that are too close to call. 

Jan Gustafsson and Fiona Steil-Antoni will be commentating live from 14:00 CET, while you can watch every game with computer analysis here on chess24: Open | Women You can also follow the games in our free mobile apps:


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