Reports Apr 10, 2014 | 10:58 AMby Colin McGourty

Grischuk on fire at Russian Team Championship

Alexander Grischuk with old friend Peter Svidler | photo: Vladimir Barsky

Alexander Grischuk has started the Russian Team Championship with three wins to climb to no. 3 on the live rating list and take his team, ratings favourites Malakhit, to the top of the table. They’re joined there by Universitet, for whom Georgia’s Baadur Jobava has starred with 2.5/3. The story of the women’s event so far has been the contrasting fortune of the best two players, Viktorija Cmilyte (3/3) and Valentina Gunina (0/2).

The Russian Team Championship followed hot on the heels of the German Bundesliga, its only real challenger as the world’s strongest national team event. The format, however, is completely different. While the Bundesliga stretches over 7 weekends and many months the Russian Team Championship is compressed into a single week, with the men’s event pairing teams of 6 (picked from 8, with 3 Russians required in each match) against each other in a 7-round Swiss tournament.

The venue is once again the Black Sea resort of Loo, not far from the Winter Olympics city of Sochi | photo: Vladimir Barsky

Although the event remains extremely strong – there are 14 players rated 2700 and over – it seems to have been unable to halt a decline in recent years. What was once a healthy league with two divisions was last year a single division of 18 teams and has now shrunk again to 13. The teams that finished 4th, 5th and 6th last year have all pulled out, while the women’s event now features only four teams, who play a double round-robin.

Enough sic transit gloria mundi, however… let’s take a look at the chess of some of the world’s best players!

Russian Men's Team Championship, Round 1

The event opened with a real statement of intent from pre-tournament favourites Malakhit, who beat Zhiguli 6:0. Sergey Karjakin on top board continued his form from the second half of the Candidates Tournament to beat Sanan Sjugirov, but as he explained to Vladimir Barsky for the Russian Chess Federation website that was despite entering the game unprepared! 

In Round 1 Malakhit played four of their 2700 GMs - Karjakin, Grischuk, Leko and Malakhov, with Shirov in reserve! | photo: Vladimir Barsky

The following annotations are from Karjakin:

There was a small prehistory to our game. The thing is that when I got to the Candidates Tournament my computer broke on the first day... Or rather, not the computer itself, luckily, but the monitor. We bought a new one and everything worked. I took the new computer to Loo but didn't manage to copy over my analysis. I tried to connect the old computer to the new one, but neither myself nor Motylev could manage. That's why I ended up totally without analysis...

1. d4 ♘f6 2. c4 e6 3. ♘f3 b6 4. ♘c3 ♗b4 5. ♕c2 ♗b7 6. ♗g5 I saw that Sjugirov had already played this variation before and recalled that Black should be doing well, but how exactly - that I'd forgotten. I calmed myself down by telling myself it was unlikely he'd go for this as he'd assume I was well-prepared, but as it happened I'd rechecked nothing as I couldn't!

6... h6 7. ♗h4 g5 8. ♗g3 ♘e4 9. ♗e5 ♗xc3+ 10. bxc3 ♖g8 11. d5 f5 12. ♘d4 ♘a6 To be honest, I'm not sure about this move.

13. dxe6

13. f3 is the most principled response, and after 13... ♘ec5 14. dxe6 dxe6 15. g4 the position isn't so clear.

13... d6 I'm already better, and later on I had a huge advantage.

14. ♕a4+ ♔e7 15. ♗g3 ♘ac5 16. ♘c6+ ♗xc6 17. ♕xc6 ♘xe6 18. ♖c1 ♕d7 19. ♕d5 ♖af8 20. f3 ♘xg3 21. hxg3 ♖g6 22. e3 ♕a4 23. ♕d2 ♘c5 24. ♗e2 g4 25. ♔f2 ♖fg8 26. ♖cg1 ♕e8 27. ♕d5 ♖e6 28. ♖h4 ♖e5 29. ♕d4 ♕g6 30. ♕d2 h5 Maybe I shouldn't have played this, as after the simple

30... ♔d8 it's hard for White to find a move.

31. ♗d1 gxf3 32. gxf3 f4 Although this wins an exchange the position isn't so clear, so maybe I could have got more. (Our Spanish editor David Martinez was nevertheless very impressed with this beautiful break - putting the pawn on a square where it's attacked by no less than three white pieces!)

33. ♖xf4 ♘d3+ 34. ♔f1 ♘xf4 35. exf4 ♖c5 36. ♔f2 ♔d8 37. ♗c2 ♕e6 38. ♖h1 ♔c8 39. f5 ♕e5! A very strong idea. It seems as though White should be able to find something, but I couldn't see anything, even though I calculated some very long variations.

39... ♖xf5 40. ♗xf5 ♕xf5 was a simple plan I spent a very long time contemplating here, but in principle this should be a draw.

40. f4 ♕g7 41. ♕e3 ♖xc4 42. ♗b3 ♖xc3 43. ♕e6+ ♔b7 44. ♕xg8 ♖c2+ 45. ♗xc2 ♕xg8 46. ♗b3 ♕h8! Of course it was clear I was playing with a draw in reserve, but I was only finally convinced of the strength of the 39...Qe5 continuation when I found this accurate move. It defends the h5-pawn and prevents f5-f6. After this Black should gradually win by combining threats to the enemy king with pushing his own pawns.

47. ♔g2 b5 48. ♗f7 ♕b2+ 49. ♔h3 ♕f6 50. ♗g6 b4 51. ♖e1 a5 52. ♖e6 ♕a1 53. ♔h4 ♕xa2 54. ♔xh5 a4 55. ♖e4 ♕h2+ 56. ♔g4 ♕b2 57. ♔g5 d5 58. ♖e5 ♕c3 59. g4 a3 60. f6 a2 61. f7 ♕c5 62. ♖e8 b3 63. f8Q ♕xf8 64. ♖xf8 b2 65. ♖d8 c6 66. ♖d7+ ♔b6 A beautiful final position, of course. I want to queen on a1 and White can't push the f-pawn as then I'll make a second queen on b1 - not a bad choice to have!


Elsewhere in the first round all the ratings favourites won their matches, but not by a wide margin! Last year’s winners St. Petersburg could only muster a single win to beat Politechnik, Universitet did the same against Yamal, while ShSM would actually have lost if Alexander Morozevich (2722) had been beaten by IM Sergei Chekhov (2477). 

Our Spanish editor IM David Martinez felt the moment it could all have gone wrong for one of Russia’s top players was very instructive. Morozevich, with the white pieces, has just moved his queen to e4:

31.Qe4? is a natural move, improving the position of the white queen and controlling the neglected open file. It’s also, however, a bad mistake that loses material, although Chekhov didn't manage to exploit it. What did Morozevich miss?

Well, in such a good position he may have let his guard down and forgotten that the a6-rook is unprotected, even if it seems Black can't attack it. It's useful to be aware of loose – i.e. undefended – pieces. For grandmasters that’s usually automatic, but when you're pressing  you're more likely to think in terms of attacking options rather than tactical counterplay. Moreover, for a player of Morozevich's level and experience to commit an error like this it's almost imperative that the tactic is unusual i.e. hasn't occurred before in the thousands of positions he's seen and solved throughout his career.

Chekhov could win the exchange with 31…Na5!, as a rook move like 32.Rb1 would be met by 32…d5!, and the awkwardly-placed rook on f6 suddenly gets to capture the a6-rook! 

So near yet so far for Sergei Chekhov, board no. 1 for the wonderfully-named "Turbonasos" - "Turbopump" | photo: Vladimir Barsky

Alas, Black played 31…Kg7? – a move which David also tries to explain:

Chekhov let's his opportunity slip. What went wrong for him? There were probably two issues. Firstly, it was the same problem as with Morozevich but reversed i.e. he wasn't aware of the loose enemy piece. Secondly, this is a tactical chance that just emerged after Morozevich's queen move and not one that Chekhov was aiming for. The psychological situation is also very important, though. Some players, when they find themselves getting dominated and especially by a stronger opponent, try to play solidly, spending a lot of time thinking of how "not to lose quickly" or not to allow any simple tactic. They lack the optimism necessary to exploit their opponents' errors.

It should be added to all those factors that mutual time trouble was also an issue, although this really was a simple tactic that could have been seen in seconds.

Round 2

The warm-up was already over as Round 2 saw the top 6 teams meet in the first three matches. Malakhit beat ShSM, with Alexander Grischuk winning a crucial game against Morozevich with a wonderful display of technique:

Grischuk has an extra pawn but converting his advantage isn't easy as d5 is weak, his bishop isn't very good and White has the bishop pair. I think the majority of players would have opted for b5, but there's a brilliant idea here:

35... ♗a4! Genius! Precise calculation from Grischuk.

36. ♖xd5

36. ♖a1 can be met by 36... ♗b5 now that d5 isn't attacked, exchanging off White's bishop pair and making the conversion a simple technical task.

36... ♖b1 Now it's inevitable that Black will get his bishop onto the a6-f1 diagonal. Morozevich finds the only way not to lose his bishop.

37. ♗e3 ♗b3 38. ♖d2 ♗c4 39. ♖f2 The white pieces, however, are totally tied up for a couple of moves until they can resolve the pin. Time to make haste on the other side of the board!

39... b5 40. g4 b4 41. ♔g2 and now Black wins by simplifying:

41... ♗xf1+ 42. ♖xf1 ♖xf1 43. ♔xf1 b3 44. ♗c1 ♘f4! 45. ♔e1 ♘d3+ 46. ♔d2 b2 47. ♗xb2 ♘xb2 The forced line ends here - magnificent calculation by Grischuk. The rest is simple.

48. ♔c3 ♘a4+ 49. ♔d4 ♔f8 50. f4 ♔e7 51. f5 gxf5 52. gxf5 f6 53. ♔e4 ♘c5+ 54. ♔f4 h5


Peter Leko beat young star Daniil Dubov in a theoretically drawn ending to make Malakhit's win more emphatic, though the battle of the shirts was probably a draw... | photo: Vladimir Barsky 

Peter Svidler made his first appearance of the event to hold off Gata Kamsky with Black, while Leinier Dominguez’s win against Aleksey Dreev on second board helped St. Petersburg beat Ladya. The relative surprise was 6th seeds Universitet beating 3rd seeds Yugra, with Baadur Jobava taking down Dmitry Jakovenko on first board. 

Jakovenko's 28.Ng2? was met by a bolt from the blue: 28...Bxh3!

White had simply lost a pawn as taking the bishop would be met by Ng5+ and a queen and king fork on f3 next move.

Round 3

This was the culmination of the first half of the tournament, with last year’s winners and this year’s 2nd seeds St. Petersburg meeting top seeds Malakhit:

Round 3 on 2014/04/09 at 15:00
Bo.2  St. PetersburgRtg-1  MalakhitRtg2 : 4
1.1GMSvidler, Peter2756-GMKarjakin, Sergey2772½ - ½
1.2GMVitiugov, Nikita2747-GMGrischuk, Alexander27770 - 1
1.3GMDominguez Perez, Leinier2757-GMLeko, Peter2730½ - ½
1.4GMMovsesian, Sergei2670-GMShirov, Alexei2702½ - ½
1.5GMMatlakov, Maxim2690-GMMalakhov, Vladimir2701½ - ½
1.6GMShimanov, Aleksandr2637-GMBologan, Viktor26490 - 1

Alexander Grischuk’s third win in a row saw him climb above Vishy Anand to third place on the live rating list, but the game of the match was a beautiful endgame breakthrough by Viktor Bologan:

After playing the Semi-Tarrasch Defence Black has managed to exchange off almost all the pieces, and although White's pawn majority in the centre has advanced the black position seems very solid. However, the next few moves dramatically complicate the game.

21. ♔d4 f6 22. h4 e5+? Whatever the objective value of this move it's clear that in practice it deserves a question mark. The position after Bologan's sacrifice is one of those you'd always rather play as White.

23. ♘xe5! fxe5+ 24. ♔xe5 b6 Looking to get the knight back into play but, as we'll see, the idea doesn't work out.

24... a6 25. ♔d4 b5 , with the idea of Nc4, would give Black more chances of stemming the tide, even if it involves the sacrifice of a pawn.

25. ♔d4 ♘b7 26. e5 Advancing the pawn with tempo, as h7 is attacked.

26... g6 27. ♗a6! Pinning down the black pieces a little more.

27... h5 28. f3 ♔d8 Another tempo lost for mobilising a piece, but it was already too late. Bologan decides to simplify in order to end the game.

29. ♗xb7 ♗xb7 30. e6 Black's lack of coordination is clear and the pawns encounter no resistance.

30... ♗a6 31. g4 hxg4 32. fxg4 ♗e2 33. g5 b5 34. ♔e5 ♗c4 35. d6 ♗xa2 36. ♔f6 b4 37. h5 gxh5 38. g6 ♗b1 39. g7 The final position says it all - a pawn avalanche!


The crucial result elsewhere was Baadur Jobava’s victory over Gata Kamsky, helping Universitet defeat Ladya and keep pace with the leaders:

Rk.SNoTeamGames  +   =   -  TB1  TB2 
52St. Petersburg320149.0
611Moskovskaya Oblast311138.5
99Klub Chigorina310228.5

The Women’s Russian Team Championship

The one thing that’s clear about the women’s event is that Klub Chigorina are only there to make up the numbers, meaning the three remaining teams are guaranteed the three Russian spots at the European Team Championship (for the men there are four spots, but real competition!). Otherwise no team has managed to win more than one match, with Yugra and ShSM tied on 7 game points.

The ShSM team taking things easy - Vladimir Potkin, Anastasia Savina & Alina Kashlinskaya

The surprise so far has been the contrast in the performance of the top boards on the leading teams. Russian Champion Valentina Gunina (ShSM) was dropped for the third round after two losses, while Lithuanian no. 1 Viktorija Cmilyte (Yugra) seems to have benefited from commentating on the Candidates Tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk as she now has 3/3! That included winning the following game against Gunina:

1. c4 e6 2. ♘f3 d5 3. d4 ♘f6 4. ♘c3 c6 5. ♗g5 ♘bd7 6. e3 ♕a5 The Cambridge Springs is much more common at an amateur level than at his level, but Cmilyte has encountered it several times in recent years... with very good results!

7. cxd5 ♘xd5 8. ♖c1 Viktorija always employs the same variation - one of the most aggressive.

8... h6

8... ♘xc3 9. bxc3 ♗a3 10. ♖c2 b6 is the other option for Black, keeping the bishop pair.

9. ♗h4 ♗b4 10. a3! The sacrifice that justifies this variation.

10... ♗xc3+ 11. bxc3 b6

11... ♕xa3 , accepting the sacrifice immediately, sees Black come under great positional pressure. 12. ♕d2 b6 13. ♗d3 ♗b7 14. 0-0 ♕f8 15. e4 ♘e7 16. c4 ♘g6 17. ♗g3 ♕e7 18. h4 h5 19. e5 was seen in Cmilyte - Romanko, Tbilisi, and ended in a smooth victory for Viktorija.

12. ♘d2 Cmilyte previously tried 12. Qd2. This move has only been used once, but I guess after this game it will be seen much more.

12... ♗a6

12... ♘xc3? loses to 13. ♕c2 ♘d5 14. ♕xc6 ♖b8 15. ♕xc8+ ♖xc8 16. ♖xc8#

13. c4 Increasing control of the centre.

13... ♘e7 14. ♗d3 ♘f5 Gunina's idea is to exchange off one of the white bishops, but that does little to reduce the pressure.

15. ♗xf5 ♕xf5 16. 0-0 0-0 17. e4 White's plan is to gradually advance in the centre and suffocate Black.

17... ♕f4 18. ♗g3 ♕g5 19. ♗d6 ♖fd8 20. f4 The Lithuanian player has managed to achieve an overwhelming position without doing anything special.

20... ♕h4 21. ♖c3 c5 Trying to get some counterplay, but it's obvious that the white pieces are better prepared for a central battle.

22. e5 f5 23. d5 exd5 24. ♘f3! ♕xf4 25. ♕xd5+ The coordination of the white pieces is now the deciding factor, while Black's pieces are all misplaced.

25... ♔h7 26. ♗c7 ♕e4 27. ♕f7 ♖f8 28. ♕xd7

28. ♘g5+ would have been a pretty way to end the game immediately. 28... hxg5 29. ♖h3+

28... ♗xc4 29. ♖e1 ♕d5 30. e6 ♖ac8 31. ♗e5 ♖g8 32. ♘g5+ ♔h8 33. ♖h3 A crushing win for Cmilyte and very poor preparation from Gunina, who put up no resistance at all.


Viktorija Cmilyte won a crucial game, but her team could still only draw | photo: Vladimir Barsky

The women have a rest day on Thursday 10 April, while the men’s battle looks set to intensify. The leaders Malakhit and Universitet meet in Round 4, with Karjakin-Jobava on top board, while second and third seeds Yugra and St. Petersburg are also paired against each other. Jakovenko-Svidler is the top encounter there.

Stay tuned for more reports from chess24!

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