Reports Mar 6, 2015 | 10:53 AMby IM David Martínez

European Championship 8 & 9: Navara downs Nepo

The curse of the sole leader struck again in Jerusalem, with David Navara bringing an abrupt end to Ian Nepomniachtchi’s reign. We analyse that spectacular game in depth, while Anton Korobov and Evgeniy Najer were the other big winners in Round 9 of the European Championship. They join Navara in the lead on 7/9, with only two rounds to go.

David Navara is once more confirming his talent | photo: Yoav Nis, official Facebook page

We’d already mentioned the great form Czech no. 1 David Navara has been showing in this tournament, and his live rating of 2754.9 currently makes him the world no. 14 and the favourite to win the whole event. His victory over Nepomniachtchi was truly impressive:

1. ♘f3 ♘f6 2. c4 c5 3. ♘c3 d5 Nepomniachtchi's favourite way of countering the English Opening.

4. cxd5 ♘xd5 5. e3 White cedes space to Black but, as we'll see, this line is not without some venom.

5... ♘xc3 6. bxc3 ♕c7

6... g6 was Nepo's usual move, but after losing to Svidler with 7. h4 he preferred to go for the move in the game, which has only had one elite outing... though not a bad one  Carlsen - Giri

7. ♗b2 After 13 minutes of thought Navara deviates from the game mentioned and decides to play without d4. In fact, it's worth noting the curiosity that he doesn't advance the d-pawn until move 31, and the e-pawn doesn't move again until move 44... but despite that we'll see that he controls the centre for almost the whole game!

7. d4 g6 8. ♗b5+ was Carlsen - Giri in Norway Chess 2014. You can find the game annotated in our Round 1 report on that tournament.  

7... ♘d7 Since Black ends up in trouble in only a few moves this is perhaps the moment to seek an improvement. Nepomniachtchi no doubt avoided Nc6 to prevent pins with Bb5, but the knight would have been better placed on c6, for instance in order to stop a future a5, as happened in the game.

8. ♕b3! This is a very attractive way of stopping e5. Can you see how before reading the following comment?

8... e6

8... e5 is impossible due to the immediate 9. ♘g5! and there's no way to defend f7 since 9... ♘f6 is met by 10. ♗b5+ and a black piece has to interfere with the queen's defence of f7.

9. c4 Stopping the f8-bishop from being developed by putting pressure on g7.

9... b6 10. a4! Navara continues to play very concretely, looking to pose problems on the queenside before completing his development.

10... ♗b7 11. a5 f6 Trying to complete development, but creating new weaknesses! Black's problem is that he still can't play

11... e5 due to 12. axb6 axb6 13. ♖xa8+ ♗xa8 14. ♘xe5! ♘xe5 15. ♗xe5 ♕xe5 16. ♕a4+ , picking up the bishop on a8 - a nice trick!

12. ♗d3 ♗d6 13. ♕c2! Navara's play is of the very highest level, here exploiting the weaknesses on the black kingside.

13... f5

13... g6 is refuted tactically by 14. axb6 axb6 15. ♗xg6+! hxg6 16. ♕xg6+ ♔f8 (16... ♔e7 17. ♕g7+ wins the h8-rook) 17. ♖xa8+ ♗xa8 18. ♘g5! Threatening both mate on f7 and an invasion on e6. 18... fxg5 19. ♗xh8 White has a near decisive advantage.

14. ♘g5! Giving Black no respite! It's now the e6-point that's weak.

14... ♘f8 15. f4 Reinforcing the e5-point, which has been left weak since no black pawn can control it. Another very interesting approach was

15. ♗e2 with the idea of meeting 15... h6 with 16. ♗h5+

15... h6 16. ♘f3 ♘g6 Controlling the important g6-square.

17. h4 Preventing the black knight from feeling at home. There was also the very direct

17. ♖g1 with g4 to follow.

17... O-O-O It was difficult for Nepo to choose a flank for his king, since neither seems to offer any prospects of safety!

18. axb6 axb6 19. ♗xf5! A brilliant combination by Navara.

19... ♘xf4

19... exf5 20. ♕xf5+

20. ♗e4! David had calculated all the lines accurately.

20... ♗xe4

20... ♘xg2+ 21. ♔f2 and the knight is lost.

20... ♘h5 21. ♖a7 and it's the bishop that falls.

21. ♕xe4 ♘d3+ The knight can't be captured due to the discovered check by the bishop on g3, but Navara had seen that the knight will be trapped on b2.

22. ♔e2 ♘xb2 23. ♖hb1 And there's no escape!

23... ♖he8 24. ♖xb2 After the dust has settled White has achieved a big advantage, since the black king position is highly vulnerable and the white heavy pieces are ready to make life very tough for the black monarch... On the other hand, White doesn't yet have a material advantage, so he needs to play with precision in order not to waste such a good position.

24... ♕b7 25. ♕b1 The white pieces coordinate smoothly. First they hit b6.

25... ♗c7 Now b6 is defended they switch to the a-file.

26. ♖ba2 ♗b8 You're not going to let me enter?

27. ♖a8! The pin leaves the bishop a bystander.

27... ♖d6 28. ♖1a7 Forcing an ending immediately, although there was no hurry and it may have been better to first play Qg6, Ne5 and only then enter on the seventh rank.

28... ♕xa7 29. ♖xa7 ♗xa7 30. ♘e5 ♖ed8 31. d3 In this case the rooks are unable to compete well with the queen due to the weaknesses in the black position. When evaluating the battle between a queen and rooks the king safety of the side with the rooks is a key element. In this case we can say that the black king will never be left in peace!

31... ♖f8 32. g4 A fine move - covering the f5-square in order to secure the white knight, but also, above all, preparing Qh1!

32... ♗b8 33. ♕h1! h5 Nepomniachtchi doesn't give up easily in the ending, here doing all he can to prevent the knight from settling on e5.

34. gxh5

34. ♕e4 strikes me as simpler, since after 34... hxg4 35. ♕xg4 ♖f5 36. ♕xg7 the knight remains on e5 :)

34... ♖f5 35. ♘g6 Navara now puts his faith in coordinating the queen and knight against the black king before the rooks can organise themselves.

35... ♖f7 36. ♕e4 ♖f6 37. ♘e7+ ♔c7 38. ♕h7 Time trouble makes itself felt, with David going slightly astray.

38. ♕g4 was better. If 38... ♖f7 39. ♘g6 ♖f5 (39... e5 40. ♘xe5 would be the same as in the game, but the queen is much better placed on g4 rather than h7.) 40. ♘e5! and the threat of capturing on g7 makes the knight untouchable.

38... ♖f7 39. ♘g6 e5 40. ♘xe5 ♖e7 The position remains winning for White, but it's not easy and Navara commits a serious blunder.

41. ♘g6 ♖ed7 42. ♘f4 Too much confidence?

42. ♕g8 ♖xd3 43. ♘f8 was the precise sequence, although it's still not easy to finish Black off. White will capture on g7 and the h-pawn should decide matters if the queen and knight don't manage to terrorise the black king first.

42... ♔b7 As Anand explained when he failed to punish a serious mistake by Carlsen in the World Championship match, at times when you're defending and don't expect any tactics you can miss crucial resources. In this case Nepomniachtchi could have played

42... g5! attacking the queen and knight. The ending is still complex since White retains two dangerous passed pawns. 43. ♘d5+ ♖xd5 44. ♕e4 ♖xd3 45. hxg5 However, it's obvious that Black has much better drawing potential here than in the game. For example: 45... ♖d2+ 46. ♔f3 ♖f7+ 47. ♔g4 ♖d1 and although White still has winning chances he'd have to be very precise!

43. ♕f5 But now there are no longer any chances for Black.

43... ♗c7 44. e4 b5 45. ♘d5 bxc4 46. dxc4 The knight on d5 is worth more than a rook, wouldn't you agree?

46... ♖d8 47. e5 ♖e8 48. ♘xc7 The simplest way to finish off the game.

48... ♔xc7 49. ♕f7+ ♔d8 50. ♕xe8+ ♔xe8 51. exd6 ♔d7 52. ♔f3 ♔xd6 53. ♔e4 And Black resigned since the white king is about to enter the black position. A fantastic game by Navara only slightly marred by his slip on move 42.


Nepomniachtchi only got to enjoy being sole leader for a single round | photo: Yoav Nis, official Facebook page

Elsewhere two players joined Navara in the lead. Korobov pushed and pushed his a-pawn to beat Smirin, while Najer came out on top in a complex Petroff against Nisipeanu.

Rk.SNo NameFEDRtgIPts. TB1  TB2  TB3 
111GMKorobov AntonUKR26877.0264846.550.5
21GMNavara DavidCZE27357.0263449.554.5
337GMNajer EvgeniyRUS26347.0262847.051.0
44GMNepomniachtchi IanRUS27146.5264048.052.5
522GMMotylev AlexanderRUS26656.5262247.051.5
63GMEljanov PavelUKR27276.5261948.053.0
733GMVolokitin AndreiUKR26466.5260946.550.0
820GMSargissian GabrielARM26686.5260647.051.0
913GMSjugirov SananRUS26786.5258942.547.0
10128Iljiushenok IliaRUS24506.5258143.546.5
1139GMBartel MateuszPOL26316.5257945.549.0
1226GMRodshtein MaximISR26606.5255944.047.5
1335GMPopov IvanRUS26396.5255545.049.0
1428GMKhismatullin DenisRUS26536.5251344.048.0

In Round 10 Najer has White against Korobov while Navara has Black against Sjugirov. What will be the approach of the players with half a point less? Will they aim for a draw to secure one of the 23 qualifying places for the World Cup? Or will they target a place on the podium? We’ll soon see – live here on chess24 from 10:00 CET.

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