Arkadij Naiditsch and Rauf Mamedov picked up wins as Azerbaijan became the first team to beat Hungary in the European Team Championship, setting up a potential title decider with leaders Russia in Sunday’s penultimate round. Russia defeated Croatia with wins for Nikita Vitiugov and Daniil Dubov and now lead by a point. In the women’s section defending champions Russia also lead after beating Italy, though Georgia thrashed Spain 4:0 to remain the only other team with a realistic chance of gold medals.
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Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia in Round 6 was of huge significance for all concerned, with Armenia going on to lose again in Round 7, this time to Germany. They tried replacing the misfiring Sergei Movsesian, but his replacement Hovhannes Gabuzyan lost the only decisive game to Rasmus Svane on bottom board.
Azerbaijan, meanwhile, maintained their momentum by toppling the previously unbeatable Hungarians. Teimour Rajdabov made a quick draw with Black on board 2, while on top board Peter Leko looked unsure for the first time on Crete.
He was thinking early on after Shak started 1.g3, and then on various occasions seemed too inclined to head for safety:
It seems the b2-pawn isn’t poisoned and should be grabbed, while after 33…Bb6!? the endgame proved uncomfortable for Black, though Leko eventually held a draw.
That wasn’t enough, since that uncertainty over what they were looking for seemed to transmit itself to the whole team. For instance, Arkadij Naiditsch has just played 31.Rxf3:
Instead of just grabbing the exchange on f3, Rapport went for 31…Bxc4?! and soon mass exchanges led him to a rook ending a pawn down. Perhaps from a distance it looked like an easy draw, but it was Naiditsch who eased to victory.
It was a similar story on the bottom board, where Ferenc Berkes correctly rejected a draw by repetition against Rauf Mamedov on move 47 but then after 51…Re6! found himself losing a piece:
There were some lingering drawing chances, but Rauf Mamedov has been absolutely on fire on Crete and has joined the 2700 club for the first time in his career!
Russia needed to beat Croatia to keep their lead, and they did it with a hard-fought 3:1 victory. Maxim Matlakov took a quick draw with Black, while Alexander Grischuk also ultimately got a draw with Black after finding a way to escape into a drawish rook ending against Ivan Saric.
The players with the white pieces completed the job, as Nikita Vitiugov ground down the previously unbeatable Marin Bosiocic, while Daniil Dubov grabbed a pawn early on and always managed to stay one step ahead of Alojzije Jankovic:
The black pawn can’t be stopped from queening, but it doesn’t have to be stopped! 55.Nd6! h2 56.Ne8 h1=Q 57.Nc7+ Kb7 58.a8=Q+ Black resigned
It’s curious that despite all the misfortunes that the favourites have suffered we now have four of the top five seeded teams at the start in the top five places, and in the “correct” order, as well:
Ukraine suffered two defeats but have won five matches, with their last two wins coming after a single victory for Pavel Eljanov. He would probably have got there in the end against Constantin Lupulescu of Romania, but 35…h4?? certainly sped things up:
No prizes for spotting 36.Qxd6!
Israel scored a narrow victory over Poland, with only the top board clash between Boris Gelfand and Radek Wojtaszek ending in a draw. 19-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda was given White for only the second time on Crete and bounced back from his loss the day before to beat Maxim Rodshtein, while Emil Sutovsky levelled the score by beating Kacper Piorun. That left only Bartel-Nabaty on the bottom board, but the game turned sour for Poland just when it seemed to be going their way:
Mateusz Bartel sacrificed the exchange with 38.Qxg5?!, though there was nothing wrong with holding things together with 38.Qg4, when 38…Qxf2 looks scary, but can simply be met with 39.Rdd1!. After the dust settles White remains a pawn up. Instead in the game Tamir Nabaty never looked back.
The team missing from the top 5 is England, whose woes continued in their match against Spain, with a win for David Howell cancelled out by Luke McShane losing what seemed a drawish ending to Jose Ibarra. No-one on the team can really be singled out for criticism, though, since every member has now lost at least one crucial game!
The Netherlands are level with Germany, France, Croatia and
Turkey three points off the lead, with some medal chances remaining. They
got a second victory in a row, this time beating Belarus with Jorden van
Foreest again snatching a late win in a drawish ending and Anish Giri beating
Sergei Zhigalko on top board. He talked to Fiona Steil-Antoni about how things
In the women’s section it’s a similar story, with only Turkey preventing the top four seeds occupying the top four places (5th seeds Germany are down in 22nd place). Turkey are the penultimate team with a chance to stop Russia, but the top seeds and defending champions have been looking good.
In their match against Italy they took the sometimes risky decision to take two very quick draws with the black pieces, but it worked to perfection. Valentina Gunina had one of her good days to blow away Desiree di Benedetto, while a tricky position for Alexandra Kosteniuk against Marina Brunello was suddenly over after the unfortunate time control move 40…e5?? (40…d5! and Black is fighting for a win)
41.Bxf7+! was crushing. It’s easy to see that 41…Kxf7 42.Nxd6+! simply wins the black queen on a6 and the game is over (though Marina went for this and only resigned on move 51). The problem is Black can’t even limit the losses to a single pawn, since 41…Kh8 42.Ng6+! hxg6 and now 43.g3! or 43.g4! is mate-in-6, with the queen coming to the h-file.
The Italians had been over-performing on Crete, and another over-performing team, Spain, was also swept away, with the Georgians ignoring the win with White, draw with Black approach and simply winning on all four boards. They remain only a point behind Russia, but face a tough test against Poland in Round 8.
Poland probably need to win that match to be able to fight for silver medals after suffering another near-miss, this time against Ukraine. Anna Muzychuk beat Monika Socko on top board, but Klaudia Kulon levelled the scores by beating Iulija Osmak. At the time she talked to Fiona, and revealed what she’d missed the day before against Alexandra Goryachkina, it seemed as though Poland would win the match:
It wasn’t to be, though, since a great game by Jolanta Zawadzka against Natalia Zhukova was also spoiled at the end:
Jolanta could have played 64.f5+! Kg7 65.Reh2 Kf8 66.g5! and if 66…fxg5 then 67.f6! is mate-in-2. Black would have no time for her counterplay, but instead after 64.fxe5? Rb3! White had lost the grip on the position and the game was drawn in 78 moves.
So the big match in Sunday’s penultimate round will be the clash between Russia and Azerbaijan, which is simply too close to call. Given the tournament situation Russia will probably be happy with a draw, but with guys like Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Arkadij Naiditsch around that’s never something you can take for granted!
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: