Ian Nepomniachtchi turned from hero to zero on Tuesday in Hersonissos as his loss to Viktor Erdos saw Hungary beat the top seeds and take the lead after four rounds of the European Team Championship. They’re joined by Croatia, who shocked 5th seeds Israel and Armenia, who defeated the Netherlands, while on a bad day for the favourites Turkey beat Ukraine and England threw away a win against Italy. In the women’s section Russia are sole leaders after beating 2nd seeds Georgia, while Spain and Poland drew to remain one point behind.
Round 4 was a day of shocks in the open section of the European Team Championship, as the 1st, 3rd and 5th seeds all lost, while the 4th seeds were held to a draw:
Russia’s career as “the good horse that only jumps as high as it has to” came to an end on Tuesday, since after three matches where a single win was enough for victory a single loss condemned them to defeat against Hungary. Ian Nepomniachtchi had won a brilliant victory the day before, but in hindsight his decision to accept a position where queens were exchanged on move 7 against Viktor Erdos was already a mistake:
This looks like the quietest position in the world, and indeed it ended in a quick draw when first tried by Tony Miles against Mikhail Tal in 1978, but White has been doing very well of late:
Teimour Radjabov used it to crush Peter Svidler in the Geneva Grand Prix and boost his chances of qualifying for the Candidates, Magnus Carlsen got a winning position against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave before throwing it away in the most dramatic game of the 2017 Sinquefield Cup and Alex Lenderman used it to knock Ayran Tari out of the Tbilisi World Cup.
As you can see, Ian Nepomniachtchi had been behind the revival of the line at the top level and had played 7…b6 against Wang Yue in the 2016 China-Russia match, but after 8.Bb5+ the position had never been seen before. As in the other games, White applied positional pressure without needing to make any spectacular moves, while 24.a5! exposed Black’s weaknesses and left Nepomniachtchi with no good options:
He chose 24…Kf7 25.axb6 Rxb6 but after 26.Rc7! Black was in trouble and by move 32 White had reached a won rook ending a pawn up. Erdos held his nerve to bring home a hugely important full point.
It could have been an easy team victory for Hungary if Zoltan Almasi had chosen correctly on move 41 against Daniil Dubov:
41.Ra8! wins more or less on the spot, with the threat of Qd8+ and Ra5, hounding the black king. Instead Zoltan spent almost 7 minutes on the unfortunate 41.Qf8?, when 41…Qc1+! turned the tables. All Dubov needed to check was that 42.Kh2 Rb1! 43.Qh8+ wasn’t mate, but it turns out the black king could advance to f5 with impunity. That was the signal for a hugely tense hour in which Dubov was pressing for a win in that game while Nikita Vitiugov had serious winning chances against Richard Rapport. In the end, though, Russia failed to get back in the habit of winning games after winning only three in the first three rounds.
So Hungary had leapfrogged over Russia into the lead, where they were surprisingly joined by Croatia. With Gelfand, Sutovsky and Smirin all drawing it came down to board 2, where Marin Bosiocic was trying to prove an advanced pawn on d6 was a strength not a weakness. In the end he managed, with Maxim Rodshtein, like Ian Nepomniachtchi, going from hero to zero in the space of a round.
The other team to join Hungary and Croatia was less of a surprise, with Armenia showing just the kind of team form that enabled the tiny nation of 3 million people to win 3 Olympiad gold medals, and the European Team Championship back in 1999.
Levon Aronian was held to a draw by Anish Giri on top board, and on board two Erwin l’Ami turned on the style with a move the great Armenian World Champion Tigran Petrosian would have approved of:
30.f4!!? Sergei Movsesian accepted the exchange sacrifice by taking on f6 but eventually lived to regret it when the white pawns managed to break through and win the game. Anish got to retweet:
That wasn’t the end of the story, though, since the secret of team success is winning on demand when you need to rescue a result, which is just what Gabriel Sargissian (vs. Benjamin Bok) and Hrant Melkumyan (vs. Ivan Sokolov) did on the lower boards to score a 2.5:1.5 team victory.
Armenia have a real chance to score another great team triumph, since many of the teams expected to do well are suffering. 3rd seeds Ukraine seem to be out of the hunt after suffering a 2nd loss, this time to Turkey. Vahap Sanal was the hero as he beat 141 points higher-rated Yuriy Kuzubov with the black pieces. 3rd seeds Azerbaijan beat Moldova 4:0 in Round 4, but are already playing catch-up after a loss and a draw in earlier matches. Arkadij Naiditsch has three wins in a row after his opening day loss, with the last two featuring a damsel in distress!
4th seeds England, meanwhile, have only themselves to blame for
being far off the pace after again snatching a draw out of the jaws of match
victory. Earlier in the tournament they did that when Nigel Short pushed for a
win and lost to Viktor Bologan of Moldova despite a draw being sufficient for
match victory. The same happened to David Howell against Danyyil Dvirnyy of
Italy in Round 4, with the eventual loss negating Nigel Short’s win with the black
pieces against Sabino Brunello.
There was perhaps an element of poetic justice, though, since Nigel’s victory wasn’t entirely convincing!
He explained opening with the offbeat 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 b6 as follows:
I decided to mix it today. I was looking at some other stuff – sensible openings – and then shortly before the game I decided to play nonsensical openings!
The experiment wasn’t an overwhelming success, but Sabino would eventually lose on time and Nigel credited his opening choices with getting his opponent into time trouble. The final drama took place after 30…fxg5:
Suddenly Black is threatening to trap the white queen with Ng8, and in a panic Sabino Brunello replied 31.f6?, which ran into 31…Rd8+!, when White is lost even if he hadn’t lost on time. Instead White had 31.Rxg5! or 31.Qd6!, when White isn’t winning (as Nigel thought after the game), but it should end only in a draw.
You can watch Nigel expressing some forthright opinions as he talks about the game, arbiters and an incident at last year’s Hoogeveen Chess Festival:
Other notable results include Spain falling to a heavy 3:1 defeat against Belarus and Germany and Poland drawing to stay just a point off the lead. Matthias Bluebaum’s win over Kacper Piorun was balanced by Jan-Krzysztof Duda finally getting the white pieces and using them to score a rook ending win over Georg Meier. The 19-year-old is up to 2714.9 and world no. 35 on the live rating list.
There was better news for Russia in the women’s section, since their 2.5:1.5 victory over Georgia means they’ve now beaten the 2nd and 3rd seeds and are the only team with a 100% record after four rounds. They returned to the usual pattern of losing one game – Lela Javakhishvili beat Olga Girya – but winning two. Kateryna Lagno moved to 3.5/4 with a smooth positional win over Nino Batsiashvili, while Valentina Gunina also stayed true to her style with a kingside assault against Bela Khotenashvili.
Russia’s opponents in Round 5 are over-achievers Spain, who traded two wins apiece with Poland in a match some commentators felt was marred by a mascot!
In the open section two of the leaders, Hungary and Armenia, clash, with Leko-Aronian on top board. The other leaders Croatia face a tough test against Germany. Individual games to look out for include Mamedyarov-Navara and Jobava-Gelfand, with Baadur Jobava having suffered two defeats in his two games so far.
Jan Gustafsson and Fiona Steil-Antoni will again 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: