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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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... ♖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.
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.
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:
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.
The crucial result elsewhere was Baadur Jobava’s victory over Gata Kamsky, helping Universitet defeat Ladya and keep pace with the leaders:
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!
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.
13. c4 Increasing control of the centre.
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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