Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was unable to help Baden-Baden as the top seeds for the European Online Club Cup finished bottom of their playoff group. The 90 teams that began the event have been reduced to 9 (joined by women’s champions Cercle d’Echecs de Monte Carlo) for the final today and tomorrow, after three days of frenetic action. We saw a brilliant cameo by 52-year-old Vasyl Ivanchuk, who beat Adams and Mamedyarov, while Ladya Kazan qualified for the final with a perfect 10/10 after Vladislav Artemiev won the game of the event with a stunning queen sacrifice.
The traditional European Club Cup is the latest event to switch to online action, and if in the past it’s sometimes been criticised as something of a lottery – it’s typically had just 7 rounds of classical chess to separate 60 teams – the new 15+5 rapid time control has allowed for a much less random, and more gruelling, format!
It began on Saturday with 90 teams divided into nine groups of 10 teams, who played each other once. It was a huge challenge to watch, but you can replay all the games at the following links: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I
Only the top two teams qualified from each section, but just four of the 18 teams to make it through defied the seeding:
There could have been a major upset, however, with Baden-Baden only making it through to the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. The Hungarian team Haldas VSE Szombathely had won six matches, including against group winners Ladya Kazan, after IM Miklos Nemeth caught out Gata Kamsky.
They would have finished ahead of Baden-Baden if they’d won their final match against Ukrainian team Green Chess. In the end they lost 2.5:1.5, but only after Nemeth spoilt a winning position and lost on time in a drawn one, while on top board Imre Hera had managed to do the near impossible and get a winning position in Rook + Knight vs. Rook.
75…Kb2! now wins on the spot, since due to the threat of Rb4# White has nothing better than to give up his rook to delay checkmate. Instead 75…Kc4 76.Ka3 Kc3 77.Ka4, and a draw by repetition, followed.
If Baden-Baden had gone out at that stage it would have been hugely unfair, however, since they beat Haldas 4:0 in their individual encounter, and had posted brilliant scores of 8/9 (Richard Rapport), 7.5/9 (Etienne Bacrot) and 8/9 (Arkadij Naiditsch). Alexei Shirov also won seven games to post a fine score of 7/9, but the two games he lost – Baden-Baden’s only losses – cost the team a full three match points!
The 18 teams that qualified over the weekend were then placed into three groups of six teams to play another round-robin. After five rounds on Monday the top three teams qualified to the finals, and this time Baden-Baden’s luck ran out.
In a very tight group they finished last, though just two points behind winners Mednyi Vsadnik (Fedoseev) and 4NCL Guildford (Adams) and one point behind Poland Hussars (Duda), who qualified, and New Old Boys (Tomashevsky) who didn’t.
Candidates Tournament leader Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s appearance didn’t give the team a boost, since he drew three games and lost to Vladislav Kovalev. Maxime’s second for the Candidates, Etienne Bacrot, also struggled, though anyone might struggle to recover from 19-year-old Andrey Esipenko’s spectacular start.
Computers explain Black has to shrug off the loss of the h6-pawn here and continue 14…Nf6!, since after 14…gxh6? there followed 15.Qg4+ Kh8 16.Ng5!! (hitting f7) and as 16…hxg5 is mate-in-3, there was no choice but to go for 16…Bxg5 17.hxg5 Nf8 18.Rxh6+ Kg7 19.Qh5 cxd4 (other moves just lose more slowly). Andrey got to wrap up in real style!
20.Rh7+! Nxh7 and not 21.Qxh7+? with only a draw, but 21.Qh6+! and Black resigned, since 21…Kg8 22.Bxh7+ Kh8 23.Bg6+ Kg8 24.Qh7+ Kf8 25.Qxf7# is a well-known mating pattern.
Esipenko also beat Gawain Jones and Jacek Tomczak, while another player to star in the group was Polish no. 1 Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who beat Evgeny Tomashevsky and Vladimir Fedoseev while drawing with Mickey Adams and MVL.
Group B was won with a perfect 10/10 by Ladya Kazan, with Vladislav Artemiev starring for the Russian team with a brilliant 4.5/5. He won a stunning game against Poland’s Mateusz Bartel.
16…f5! 17.exf5 Bd5! was a bold idea to get the black bishop to f3. With the pawn on h4 that didn’t seem fatal for White, but the 23-year-old Russian managed to crash through in spectacular style.
After 21…Nxh4!! there was no defence. The game continued 22.Bxe7 Nf5! 23.Bh4 Nxh4 and now Black simply needs to return the knight to f5 a 3rd time and give mate on h1! Mateusz brought his queen into the action, but when it became clear there was no hope of giving perpetual check he resigned.
Bartel’s Polonia Wroclaw scored 4/10 and just missed out on the Top 3, as did Hockenheim, with the French team Clichy Echecs 92 scraping through with the same number of match points – no thanks to Jorden van Foreest, who appeared for one game in the final round, and promptly lost to Tamas Banusz!
In the remaining group the top three qualified comfortably, with Azerbaijan’s Odlar Yurdu, led by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, topping the table. They were closely followed by Germany’s Deizisau (Bluebaum) and Novy Bor. That latter team is based in the Czech Republic, but David Navara is joined by Poland’s Radek Wojtaszek, Austria’s Markus Ragger and the team is led by the Indian duo of Harikrishna and Vidit. Vidit was in top form in the first stage…
…and went on to score 6.5/7, before following up with 3.5/5,
including wins over Bluebaum and Eljanov, in the playoff. Wojtaszek also had a
good playoff, except for one loss in his game against Alexander Donchenko.
It’s a beautiful concealed tactic, since after 16…Nxc5
17.Qd4 you can only play the winning 17…Nb3!! if you notice that after 18.Qxb6 axb6…
…there’s no 19.axb3 because of the pin along the a-file.
The disappointment in the b-group is that we had to say farewell to Vasyl Ivanchuk, whose Chartres Echecs team were knocked out. Vasyl had beaten Adams in the first stage and then defeated Mamedyarov in the playoff.
The 9 teams who’ve made it this far now play one more star-studded round-robin and will be joined by Cercle d'Echecs de Monte-Carlo, the winners of the Women’s Online European Club Cup. That team features Aleksandra Goryachkina, Pia Cramling, Elisabeth Paehtz, Monika Socko, Almira Skripchenko and Monaco-based Tatiana Dornbusch.
Don’t miss all the action from 14:30 CET, with live commentary here on chess24.
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