Alexander Grischuk’s 6/7 took him to world no. 3 on the live rating list and was the standout performance as his team Malakhit won the Russian Team Championship. Our final report includes extensive interviews with both Grischuk and Peter Svidler, as well as analysis of their last-round games.
As we explained in our big report on Rounds 4-6, top seeds Malakhit had done all the hard work and were huge favourites to take the title going into the final round. In the end a draw would have sufficed, but instead they smoothly dispatched 8th seeds Politechnik 4.5:1.5.
Malakhit’s eight players lost only two games between them over the whole course of the tournament, with Grischuk scoring five wins and two draws on second board for a 2982 rating performance. His final round opponent, Anton Shomoev, was nominally his weakest, but it still took some high quality chess to finish things off:
White has an extra pawn but has to resolve very difficult problems to hold onto it. Grischuk once more demonstrates very precise calculation and finds the correct solution, just as he did in the second round against Morozevich.
45. ♘c8! A beautiful only move!
49... ♗f7 Avoiding the pin, but allowing Grischuk to force a won ending.
Afterwards he was interviewed by Vladimir Barsky for the Russian Chess Federation website, with the conversation moving swiftly from the Russian Team Championship to the Candidates Tournament. Grischuk explains why he prefers the knockout system and reveals the truth about his now infamous comments on Vladimir Kramnik’s opening preparation:
Vladimir Barsky: Alexander, you put a huge amount of energy into
the tournament and posted a brilliant result. Did you miss playing?
While you were lying on the stove in March and watching events in Khanty-Mansiysk did the thought cross your mind: that’s where I should be?
No, not at all.
What impression did the Candidates Tournament make on you?
The 2011 Candidates Tournament in Kazan provoked a mass of criticism due to the huge number of draws. That was mainly blamed on the format – short matches using the knockout system. I think, however, that wasn’t the main thing. Kazan was the last straw after which chess radically altered. Now people playing White have a totally different approach: simply to get a game.
Nevertheless, after Kazan they decided to switch to the double round-robin format. And, to be frank, London 2013 ended up being the best tournament in the last 50-60 years. And everyone said: look how wonderful it is! But I wouldn’t rank the tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk alongside London. Fans of the round-robin system got very lucky that we had London first and then Khanty-Mansiysk. If it had been the other way around then I don’t think we’d have had such rapture.
Of course Anand did great and I’m very happy for him, as he’d been dragged through the mud recently. Well done! He did slightly disappoint me at the end, particularly by agreeing to a draw against Andreikin, but he nevertheless took first place very convincingly.
Yes, the sporting intrigue of the current tournament couldn’t match the one a year ago, but from a creative point of view the current tournament was also good, wasn’t it?
No, I’m not talking about creativity. Above all the last round was no longer interesting to watch, though after all that should be the main point of any event: the highlight, the cherry on the cake! In Kazan the last round featured perhaps the most interesting game of the whole tournament: Gelfand beat me in a brilliant game. And what games we had in the last round in London! But here… I was supposed to commentate on the last round for Chess TV viewers, but I asked to be let off as it was no longer of interest.
As for creativity, in Khanty-Mansiysk there were undoubtedly a lot of interesting games, but I think there would now also be around the same number of fighting games in a knockout. It’s true that in a round-robin games involving someone on minus one or two are likely to turn out entertaining, but for me personally it’s much more appealing to have some nerves or tension rather than entertainment. I’m more interested, for instance, in a qualifying match that finishes 0:0 and gets decided on penalties than in a 5:3 win in a match that decides nothing. Everyone has their priorities, though, and each to their own.
I’d like to clear up one point. When you answered questions for [the RCF website] before the start of the Candidates Tournament you noted, in particular, the weak opening preparation of Kramnik with Black. Was that a joke or only partly a joke?
Of course it was a joke, but now Kramnik probably won’t talk to me anymore! It turned out I’d jinxed him… It was absolutely a joke because home preparation has always been his very strongest point. Personally in eight or so games against Kramnik with White I’ve only once managed to get a fight; he spent five minutes on all the other games.
Congratulations on Malakhit’s victory in Loo! What can you say about your performance overall?
I can say the same as about Anand: well done! I don’t like praising myself, but in this case we played seven strong teams so our win was absolutely deserved. We all did well! For example, Sergey confidently held down Board 1, not losing a single game; Leko played extremely solidly, Bologan played well. I think everyone played very well. I’m personally very happy about our win!
The Nepomniachtchi-led Moscow team of ShSM Nashe
Nasledie started the final day level on points with Malakhit, but knew only a landslide
victory would give them any realistic chance of first place. That was never likely
to happen against last year’s winners St. Petersburg, so they appeared happy to settle for a draw and silver medals. The points were shared in all six games, though not without some truly spectacular chess!
3. d4 No thanks!
3... exd4 4. ♘xd4 ♘f6 5. ♘xc6 bxc6 6. e5 ♕e7 7. ♕e2 ♘d5 8. c4 With the exception of some gambits this line strikes me as the most complicated in modern chess. A huge amount of tension already surrounds the e5-pawn.
11. c5 is met in a concrete fashion with 11... ♗xf1 12. cxb6 f5! and the white queen can't defend both e5 and g2. I'm going to show an example line just to illustrate the complications of the position: 13. b7 ♖b8 14. ♕e3 ♗xg2 15. ♖g1 ♗d5 16. ♕xa7 ♕xe5+ 17. ♗e3 ♗b4 18. ♕xb8+ ♔f7 19. ♕c8 ♗xc3+ 20. ♔f1 f4 21. ♕xd7+ ♔f6 and the machine evaluates this with a neat and tidy 0.00.
11... ♕b4! Taking up the gauntlet! This move hits both b2 and c4, but Nepomniachtchi isn't worried.
12. e6! Blow for blow!
14... ♘d5! The blows keep coming!
15. cxd5 And White responds by sacrificing the rook! What a show!
15... ♕xa1+ 16. ♔d2 ♗xf1 Black is a rook up but the initiative is now in White's hands and the black king is totally exposed. Miraculously there's no mate, and all the remaining moves are practically forced.
A year ago Peter Svidler told Vladimir Barsky that the reason he was playing the Bundesliga and Russian Team Championship with no break after the London Candidates was that "a shark has to keep swimming so as not to die". This year Barsky asked Svidler if he'd thought up a similar comparison, but the 7-time Russian Champion was still lamenting his second-last place in the Khanty-Mansiysk event:
Peter Svidler: I’m still avoiding talking about what happened: in the house of a hanged man you try not to talk about ropes! Everyone saw everything. I truly believe I’ve got something to be proud about over Khanty-Mansiysk, but when the end result is what it was…
Vladimir Barsky: You’re not going to have as crazy a sequence of tournaments as last year?
No, I even turned down something to avoid that. I’ll play in Stavanger and I’ll play Dubai. If they pick me I’ll play the Olympiad. Autumn, meanwhile, will be a little crazy as always: the European Club Cup, the Grand Prix, if I get in (and, of course, if it takes place), the Russian Championship Superfinal, and something else. But I’ve made sure there won’t be a repeat of last year’s nightmare. Plus, there are now fewer tournaments: there’s no Alekhine Memorial, for example. But I did turn something down in May so as to have time for other things.
In general, what can I say? It’s necessary to recover after a serious disappointment and try to play the way I played in Khanty-Mansiysk, because I liked the way I played there! I think I played well, but I just blundered a lot of pieces and pawns in single moves. But such is life. As for the inherent quality of the games, I don’t think I’ve got anything to criticise myself for. If I can retain the same mood and play in the same spirit… Perhaps I can still flail around* a little? It was lively!
Yes, it was very exciting!
Now I need to get into the Grand Prix. In principle I should qualify on rating, but it seems there are some problems with the formula… If I qualify then I’ll have to tell myself that the Grand Prix is my new goal. For now, however, I still haven’t fully gotten over the Candidates Tournament, but I think I will; I don’t even think I’m deceiving myself. If I needed to I’d work on deceiving myself too, but I don’t think I have to fool myself with that assessment!
* Editor’s note: The word Svidler uses here may refer to a Russian fable about two frogs that ends with the moral, “Do not die before you are dead!”
No harm was done, however, and the final table looked as follows:
The 4-team women’s event also went according to rating, although it wasn’t without its own drama!
Yugra’s Viktorija Cmilyte looked on course for an incredible 6/6, but she first missed a win against Alisa Galiamova, then spoiled a fine position and then switched to all-out kamikaze mode:
The Lithuanian star sacrificed her knight with 28.Nxe6? but after 28...fxe6 29.Qg6 Qg8 the attack was over and a few moves later she had to resign.
Again though, no harm was done, as wins for Natalia Pogonina and Baira Kovanova enabled her team to claim overall victory by a single match point.
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