The Russian women’s team cruised to a 4:0 victory over Turkey that gave them gold with a round to spare - their fifth triumph in the last six European Team Championships. Meanwhile the Russian men’s team was crushed 3:1 by Azerbaijan, with wins for Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Teimour Radjabov and Rauf Mamedov giving the Azeris a one-point lead going into the final round. Their opponents are Ukraine, who beat Hungary to catch Russia in second place. It’s all still to play for!
The penultimate round of the European Team Championship was a feast of dramatic chess, and you can replay all the action from the open section using the selector below – click a result to open a game with computer analysis or hover over a player’s name to see all his or her results:
It was noted before the penultimate round began than Azerbaijan were surprisingly slight rating favourites on three out of four boards against Russia, but few could have imagined the rating favourites would go on to win on every board!
It was almost a competition to see who could win the most impressively. On top board Shakhriyar Mamedyarov didn’t let the black pieces get in the way of his trademark aggressive style as he unleashed 6…g5!?
Our database tells us this was played back in 1968 in Wijk aan Zee by Lajos Portisch, who went on to beat the eventual tournament winner Viktor Korchnoi. That game continued 7.d4 g4 8.Bxc6 Bxc6, with the same moves occurring in a different order on Sunday except that Mamedyarov captured on c6 with a pawn.
Shakhriyar clearly knew exactly what he was doing since he only spent seconds until move 11, by which time Grischuk had already burned up well over half an hour. This was to be one of those days when the Russian’s time handling would become a big factor, since he was down to seconds when the situation became critical:
Computers suggest the awkward-looking 28.Qd3! as best here, getting out of a fork and keeping an eye on f5 and d5, while White is happy to give back the exchange on a1 or e1. Instead Grischuk went for the visually appealing 28.Ra3?! but soon went down without a fight (32.Qe3! instead of 32.Qc1 might have prolonged the game, but again, there was no time). A stunningly one-sided game considering Alexander Grischuk had the white pieces.
The game of the day, however, was played by the star of the tournament, Rauf Mamedov. Russia’s decision to play Daniil Dubov rather than 51-point higher-rated and top-performing Nikita Vitiugov against him may be criticised in hindsight, though both players were unbeaten on Crete and had scored two wins.
Dubov seemed to have things entirely under control, since the players raced into a theoretical line of the Sicilian where it seemed Black would score a quick draw – on paper a good result for the Russian team. It grew uncomfortable for Russia, though, since we had a position where Mamedov was playing with a draw in his pocket – he could force a draw by perpetual check at any moment – but he didn’t rush to take that option.
When Dubov saw Mamedov play 22.Rxe6 here he probably breathed a sigh of relief, since after 22…fxe6 he must have expected 23.Rg7+ Kf8 24.Rxh7+ Kg8 25.Rg7+ and the long-awaited draw. Instead, though, Mamedov followed up with 23.Rc7! and it seems to have dawned on Dubov that he was in deep trouble. After e.g. 23…Bd5 White can play 24.a4! and build up his position while Black is completely paralysed despite nominally being a rook up. Daniil therefore decided he had to sacrifice to free his position and went for 23…Rd8 24.Rxc6 Kf7, but it soon became clear Black’s problems had gone nowhere. This is the position after 31.f4:
Black is up an exchange for two pawns, but completely tied down by the white rook and bishop. In what followed Rauf Mamedov didn’t put a foot wrong as he increased his score to 7.5/8 and a staggering 2998 rating performance – second best is Levon Aronian, with a mere 2810.
The outcome of those two games looked all but inevitable for a long time, so there was pressure on Ian Nepomniachtchi and Maxim Matlakov to make something happen on the other boards. Something did happen, but for Nepo it wasn’t what he needed. His 36…Bd4? was met by a crunching response, 37.Nd6!!
Radjabov was down to under three minutes on his clock and had let his time drop to 13 seconds before unleashing the winning blow. After 37…Qxd6 38.c7! the c-pawn queens, while White is also threatening a killer fork on e8. Nepomniachtchi could afford to spend 15 minutes on his next move, but it was more about keeping his teammates company since there were no longer any viable options to fight for a draw. After 37…Kh7 38.Nb5 he had to give up the exchange on b5 and the rest was trivial for Teimour.
As if unaffected by the mayhem around him Maxim Matlakov quietly outplayed Arkadij Naiditsch in an ending to take his personal score to 5/7 and a 2753 rating performance. It may only have been a consolation victory, but since Sonneborn-Berger tiebreakers will come into effect if teams are tied on match points it may still matter for medals.
The second most important match was Hungary-Ukraine, which saw an unusual situation on the top two boards:
They diverged on move 10, though (Eljanov picked 10…Re8 and Erdos 10…a4), and the only similarity that remained was that both games ended in quiet draws on move 31. Rapport-Ponomariov was anything but quiet, with both sides committing crimes against all the basic chess rules of thumb we’re taught as kids.
There could have been a brilliancy:
Here Ponomariov automatically, and unsurprisingly, recaptured a piece with check, 27…Qxc3+, and White could play 28.Bd2 with tempo and watch the game fizzle out into a draw after 28…Qc8. Instead, 27…e4!! would have been a hammer blow to the white position, since attempts to save the knight only end in tactical disaster.
The game that decided the match was much more prosaic, with Zoltan Almasi missing a chance to keep his kingside structure intact and getting cut down in 34 moves by Martyn Kravtsiv. That 2.5:1.5 victory for Ukraine means they now play Azerbaijan in the final round and will overtake them with a win. Hungary are 3 points behind Azerbaijan, though their excellent tiebreaks give them some chances of a medal if they beat England in the final round and other results go their way.
As you can see, Germany, Turkey and Croatia are just one point behind Russia and Ukraine after winning their Round 8 matches. Germany defeated Israel 3:1, with 20-year-old Rasmus Svane’s win over Ilia Smirin taking him to 5.5/6 after a loss in Round 1, while Georg Meier picked up a quick win over Maxim Rodshtein, who now has 5 wins, 3 losses and no draws on Crete. Germany will play Russia in the final round, and Georg talked to Fiona Steil-Antoni afterwards:
Croatia conquered France 2.5:1.5 despite Christian Bauer beating Ivan Saric on top board. Sasa Martinovic won a miniature on board 4 while Marin Bosiocic bounced back from his loss to Nikita Vitiugov to beat Tigran Gharamian. Marin is performing at 2788 on Crete, and also talked to Fiona:
Turkey are again captained by Michal Krasenkow and again over-performing in a team event. Emre Can set the ball rolling by crushing Ivan Sokolov with Black in 31 moves, the top two boards were drawn, and for once Jorden van Foreest’s uncanny ability to win on demand from any position failed him. In fact when Vahap Sanal repeated moves on move 84 he had a winning position, but the draw was enough for the team.
Events elsewhere are unlikely to alter the medals, though the way England not only escaped but actually won their match against Greece beggared belief, while Spain’s 3.5:0.5 win over Georgia featured not only a brutal king hunt from Oleg Korneev but also a famous tactical shot from Spanish Champion Ivan Salgado. You should be able to find it for yourself - White to play & win!
Let’s start in the women’s section by giving the day’s most beautiful finish, also from a Spanish player: Ana Matnadze. She’d clearly seen it before making her previous move, but if you just glanced at the position after 30.Qe5 you could easily miss it by focusing on the mating attack on the g7-pawn:
Of course 30...Qxe3+!! 31.Kxe3 Rf3+ (played) 32.Kd2 Rd3# is mate. A simple but beautiful finish!
The Russian women’s team also ended in style, simply overwhelming Turkey 4:0 to retain their gold medals with a round to spare:
The drama, in fact, was all in the second match, where Georgia needed to win to keep chances of gold themselves. They were facing Poland, who had been incredibly close to beating both Russia and Ukraine in their last two matches. This time, though, things finally went their way!
The top board was drawn in 31 moves, but the tension was palpable everywhere else. Klaudia Kulon was two pawns down and losing to Salome Melia, but she never gave up and finally saw her determination rewarded when her opponent played 48.b5?
After 48...Rxg2! Rxg2 49.Nxe3+ Kb3 Nxg2 Salome was even a little lucky to still have 51.Bd5! to draw.
Meanwhile Karina Szczepkowska kept her nerve to win a rook ending a pawn up, meaning that Nino Batsiashvili had to beat Jolanta Zawadzka to draw the match. She had her chance in the middlegame (28.Qe2!) but little to work with in the endgame, and in fact she slipped into a mating net:
That victory means Poland are now level with Georgia and have good chances of adding European Team Championship silver to their Olympiad silver medals when they play Romania in the final round, though Georgia will also expect to beat Italy, when it would come down to tiebreaks:
The final round starts one-hour earlier than usual, with Jan Gustafsson and Fiona Steil-Antoni commentating live from 13:00 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: