16-year-old Aleksandra Goryachkina has so far been the stand-out player of the 2015 Russian Championships. Already twice Girls World U20 Champion, Aleksandra hasn’t allowed even food poisoning to stand in the way of scoring six wins, one draw and one loss to take a half point lead with three rounds to go. 17-year-old Vladislav Artemiev was matching her in the men’s event, but a loss to Sergey Karjakin allowed the ratings favourites to move into the top places, with Evgeny Tomashevsky just ahead of the crowd.
We last checked in with the Russian Championships after Round 3. A lot has happened since, but it’s left the leaders almost unchanged. Evgeny Tomashevsky did and does lead the men’s championship by half a point, while Aleksandra Goryachkina is doing the same in the women’s event. The difference is that she no longer shares the lead with Olga Girya. In fact, the youngster’s performance so far is sufficient cause to start with the women for a change!
Chess commentator Sergey Shipov has used the above phrase to liken Goryachkina to the 9th World Chess Champion Tigran Petrosian, whose strategic cunning and tactical sharpness was legendary. So far in Chita such skills have allowed her to brush aside a series of strong opponents. IM David Martinez takes a look at her latest victory in Round 8 - the day's only decisive game in the women's event:
1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. ♘f3 ♘f6 4. ♘c3 e6 5. ♗g5 Goryachkina doesn't usually play the most complicated lines so you might expect 5. e3 here. In this case, though, we'll see that she knew her opponent doesn't play the most complex variations like the Botvinnik or Moscow, and would instead go for the Cambridge Springs.
7... ♗b4 8. ♕c2 O-O 9. ♗e2 c5 Upping the tension in the centre. This line forces White to play sharply, but Guseva had already gone for this in 2014 and therefore Goryachkina came to the game very well-prepared. This seems to have been one of those cases where Guseva committed the classic mistake of repeating the same lines - it's particularly a problem with games you won!
10. ♗f4 cxd4 11. exd4 ♗xc3 12. bxc3 ♖e8 13. O-O e5 14. ♗e3 ♕c7 Up to this point we've been following the game Kashlinskaya - Guseva from Khanty-Mansiysk 2014. In that game Alina played Qb3 and lost, but Aleksandra had a good novelty prepared.
15. a4! The idea is that now b6 would quickly be met by opening the queenside with a5.
16. cxd4 dxc4 17. ♕xc4 ♕xc4 18. ♘xc4 We've reached an ending that demonstrates how far endgame knowledge in modern chess has advanced from the "classical" approach of the World Champions before Fischer. White has an isolated pawn which Black is going to block, but the dynamics of the position - even without queens - more than compensate for that possible weakness, especially with the bishop pair! It was the great American World Champion who was the first to understand that the dynamics of certain endgames compensate for major structural flaws.
19... ♘7f6 20. ♖fc1 h6 21. ♘d6 ♖d8 22. ♘xc8 Goryachkina decides to take the most technical approach, capturing the bishop so that her own bishops will be converted into monsters. A different type of player would have continued the dynamic approach, but Aleksandra already has a plan in her head... and a great appreciation for the bishop pair!
23... ♘xe3 This exchange still wouldn't solve anything, since the white bishop is better than the knight and d4 wouldn't be a weakness... Black can try to defend, but it would be an uphill struggle.
24. ♔f1 Improving the position little by little - typical of the top Russian players!
26. ♔e2 would have been the most calm approach.
28... ♖e8? An error which costs Black the game.
28... ♔c6! , in order to capture on c5, is the typical kind of move that a computer simply calculates is possible and plays. For a human, though, it's hard even to imagine! Curiously, after capturing on c5 the bishops don't have sufficient activity to "finish off" Black.
Aleksandra also has enormous will power and patience. In Round 4 she took 88 moves to beat Anastasia Bodnaruk, but that was nothing compared to Round 7. During the rest day Goryachkina suffered food poisoning – as did some of the other players – and started her Round 7 game an hour late (with permission). She didn’t let that get in her way, though, and went on to convert two extra pawns in a queen ending in no less than 120 moves. Incredibly, that wasn’t even the longest game of the day, since Bodnaruk and Pogonina drew in 121.
Aleksandra has suffered only one loss in Chita – misplaying an opening against Anastasia Savina to end up a pawn down for no compensation - but this year it doesn’t look as though she’s going to suffer a mini collapse as she did last year, when she started with four wins in five but finished only third. Her performance so far is touching 2700, while the rating points picked up are moving her to within touching distance of 2500 - roughly equivalent to the 2700 mark for men:
So who can stop her?
Well, first and foremost, Alexandra Kosteniuk, who is only half a point behind and has the white pieces against Goryachkina in Round 9! Alexandra is unbeaten and went on an incredible run from rounds four to seven, beating four strong rivals: Pogonina, Gunina, Kashlinskaya and Savina.
Kateryna Lagno, 1.5 points back, also can’t be ruled out, since the debutant has been extremely solid, scoring three wins and four draws and only collapsing in a single game – a 24-move loss to a rival for the Russian no. 1 spot, Valentina Gunina.
Gunina is a full two points back, but deserves a mention as the winner of the last two Russian Championships and the most entertaining player in the event. Last year she lost her first two games and then won her next seven. By Round 7 she also hadn’t had a single draw in 2015, until the commentators were wondering what she would do as she obviously had nothing better than to take a repetition against Ekaterina Kovalevskaya. Valentina solved that dilemma by playing on anyway, rapidly ending up worse and losing in 82 moves. In Round 8 she finally accepted a draw, although only after spoiling a totally won position. It seems it’s just not Valentina’s year!
"Imbecility and courage" was a tweet by Peter Svidler, who’s been entertaining the crowds since he decided he’d had enough of the draws he took in the first three rounds of the tournament. In Round 4 against Khismatullin he ended that sequence in some style, though he was sitting on the wrong side of the board.
Svidler described his double-fianchettoed approach to the Sicilian as “nonsense” and was dead lost after move 23. When Denis Khismatullin played 25…Bc6 Peter thought for 4 minutes and 10 seconds before allowing a beautiful mate:
26.Nxc6 Qa2+ 27.Kc1 Qa1+!! 28.Bxa1 Rxa1+ 29.Kb2 Nc4#!
Our Spanish site asked users on Facebook whether they preferred this mate or 29…Nd3#, which is probably not the way to get onto Svidler’s Christmas card list
It recalls how Peter once broke the usual code of silence during a game to make sure Vishy Anand mated him in the correct manner, explaining:
When looking at this position I realised I had my chance to enter the history books here and now and thought I had to grab it with both hands - a decision which will probably get me laughed out of the room in most polite company, but I just thought I had to do it because when would my next chance come?
See more on that story here.
Things got better after that in the 2015 Russian Championship, though. First Svidler won a very nice game with the King’s Indian Attack against reigning Champion Igor Lysyj. Then he played the spectacular and not entirely flawless game against Russian Junior Champion Ivan Bukavshin that provoked the tweet quoted above. It was even better that Peter talked about it in English afterwards:
Peter Svidler is so far the only 2700+ player to have lost a game in Chita, with his rivals playing solid chess and picking off their weaker opponents. Evgeny Tomashevsky leads with three wins, Nikita Vitiugov and Sergey Karjakin are half a point behind with two wins, while Dmitry Jakovenko has seven draws and one win for fourth place.
Only 17-year-old Vladislav Artemiev seemed poised to upset the veterans of Russian chess. Not only was he playing interesting chess but his opponents were collapsing against him. First Alexander Motylev, then Ildar Khairullin:
It’s true Artemiev has been applying pressure here for a dozen moves, but after 47.Bh4 or 47.Qh5 a draw remains odds on. Instead 47.Kg2?? saw Khairullin resign after 47…Rg1+, since 48.Kf3 Qe3# is mate – ouch!
If Artemiev has one weakness, though, it’s openings. In an article on his play our Spanish editor David Martinez noted:
Artemiev exemplifies Botvinnik’s methodical technique. With the white pieces he prefers a calm game and normally plays queen’s pawn openings, not looking for any great theoretical complications. He aims for solidity and a microscopic edge in the opening, which he’s then willing to try and exploit for hours on end, usually with great success! With Black he also plays for a win, not shying away from complications but playing the highly theoretical Najdorf and Grünfeld.
That can be a risky strategy against the likes of Sergey Karjakin, though, and the established star found a chink in his opponent's Najdorf armour. It could all have been over even sooner. 17.g5! was winning, but you had to spot some details:
Artemiev is still the top scoring junior on 4.5/8, while 20-year-old Ivan Bukavshin and 19-year-old Daniil Dubov are putting in solid 4/8 performances, with six draws, one win and one loss each. Daniil has been here before, scoring eight draws and one loss when he first played the event as a 16-year-old. He talked about that in an interview, as well as reflecting on the unusual venue for the tournament and the potential motives of Magnus Carlsen in proposing a new World Championship system:
Firstly, I need to say that for me personally it would be very good if this proposal would be accepted, but in general I don’t think it’s a very fair system (…) The only reason for that can be maybe Magnus’ wish to give away the title. Maybe now it looks quite strange because he’s the World Champion, but potentially maybe he feels some danger from Caruana or some other guy, and of course a knockout won by some other guy will not hurt Magnus more than his losing a match against some player. So maybe, maybe it’s a very cunning and smart move!
A final mention should go to Denis Khismatullin, who has the most decisive games of any male player in Chita with two wins, four losses and only two draws. In Round 8 he managed to get in some Najdorf preparation Sergey Karjakin had dodged in Round 1. Then his opponent, Alexander Motylev, did the rest. 16.h5!? was the first step on the road to ruin:
Khismatullin described that as, “a human move, but far from the best”. When a misguided exchange sacrifice followed Khismatullin had no trouble winning to leapfrog Motylev out of last place.
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