Ian Nepomniachtchi's 10-move draw against Maksim Chigaev turned out to be enough for victory in the Russian Championship Superfinal after his rival Sergey Karjakin lost a fantastic game to Daniil Dubov and finished half a point behind. Ian is now a 2-time Russian Champion after last winning the prestigious title 10 years ago. Aleksandra Goryachkina won the Russian title for a 3rd time after winning on demand in the final round to catch Polina Shuvalova, who had started the event with six wins in a row. The playoff featured two draws before Aleksandra emerged victorious in Armageddon.
It proved possible to complete the 2020 Russian Championships on Wednesday, December 16th despite the difficult circumstances that had led to one of the players being forced to withdraw after testing positive for the coronavirus.
The rare over-the-board 2020 supertournament featured high quality games, including some that will go down in chess history. That applied, above all, to one game from the final round.
It was clear before the final round that we had a two-horse race for the title between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Sergey Karjakin, who faced faced tricky games. Both had the black pieces against players who could win bronze medals if things went their way.
Ian's opponent Maksim Chigaev, however, preferred not to take any risks. Their game lasted only 10 moves as they played out a well-known theoretical draw in the Najdorf. After a matter of minutes Nepo had nothing to do but wait and see what would happen to his key rival Sergey Karjakin.
Sergey was playing against Daniil Dubov, who is well-known for always going for a fight and taking very few quick draws. He's also renowned for his opening preparation, and for this game he'd prepared a real opening bomb for the 2016 World Championship Challenger.
It would seem impossible to come up with something new on move 6 of the Italian Opening, but there's nothing impossible for Dubov. 6.b4!? Bb6 7.e5!? Formally this is no novelty, as there are a dozen such games in the chess24 database. As Dubov noted afterwards, chess organiser and patron Oleg Skvortsov had played this way in a friendly game against the 15th World Champion Vishy Anand, while even earlier, in the 2002 European U16 Championship, it had been played by chess commentator and chess24 author Lawrence Trent against Jure Borisek, but the move had never been played at the very highest level.
Daniil said afterwards while talking to Sergey Shipov:
At some point I told my second Alexander Riazantsev about this variation as a joke. He made a huge file. The position looks funny, but in reality White has nothing and more likely than not Black has an advantage.
As a result of the opening White had gained a dangerous attack for two sacrificed pieces, but the position was so complicated that it was hard to navigate even with a computer. On move 19, when it seemed as though Black had already parried the attack, Daniil decided to sacrifice his queen!
19.Qxg6!! Daniil commented:
First of all, it seemed to me that I wasn't worse. Secondly, I decided that since I was already out of sporting contention, why shouldn't I make a gift for myself and the spectators and play an interesting game?
The idea turned out to be not only interesting, but correct. Black was forced to accept the sacrifice. 19...fxg6 20.Rxe6 Qf7 Perhaps Black should have played 20...Qc6. After 21.Re7 Qxc4 22.Rxg7+ Kh8 23.Rxc7+ Rxf6 24.Rxc4 White has an extra pawn in the endgame, but that's the lesser evil. Daniil explained, however, that his opponent was probably understandably playing for a win with an extra queen. 21.Bxc3 Kh8 22.Re4 and White had a significant advantage, which Danill went on to convert with great precision.
There was huge praise for the victory.
Alas, even wins against both Karjakin and Nepomniachtchi weren't enough for Daniil to earn a medal. He finished fourth, but thrilled spectators with his creative play and desire to fight in every game. We can't wait to see him online in the Airthings Masters, which starts on 26th December, as well as in the Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee from January 16th.
Vladimir Fedoseev took third place after holding a tough position against Andrey Esipenko. Vladimir played a very even tournament, scoring two wins and not losing a single game.
Sergey Karjakin finished second. After a less than convincing performance in the Skilling Open, some chess fans were unsure if Sergey would be in good enough form to fight for the Russian Championship title, but he proved any sceptics wrong. Sergey has still never won the Russian Championship but he scored five wins as well as losing to Nepomniachtchi and Dubov.
Ian Nepomniachtchi became a two-time Russian Champion after first winning the title back in 2010. He scored five wins and just one loss, to Dubov, showing convincing play throught the tournament. Ian commented:
In an interview after the tournament Ian gave credit to his seconds:
It was a very tough tournament, above all because of the long break from "live" chess. Overall, I wasn't thinking about the standings, since there were other priorities: not to get ill, to do some training and not to lose rating. But my team - coaches Vladimir Potkin and Ildar Khairullin - worked very hard, guessed right on many occasions and won some games right out of the opening, including the crucial encounter clash against Sergey Karjakin, where I managed to play a fresh idea.
The final standings were as follows (note Antipov played only six rounds and forfeited the rest after his positive test for the coronavirus):
Before the final round Polina Shuvalova had only a half-point lead over Aleksandra Goryachkina despite starting with a brilliant 6/6. After that the 19-year-old didn't manage to score a single win, so that Aleksandra could be confident that if she managed to beat Tatiana Getman it would be enough since Olga Girya was unlikely to lose to Polina.
Aleksandra was up to the task.
In a tricky position, 17-year-old Superfinal debutant Tatiana Getman committed the decisive mistake on the 40th move: 40...Rf5? There followed 41.Nc8! Rh5 42.Ne7 g5 43.fxg5 hxg5 44.hxg5 Kg7 45.g6 Rh2+ 46.Kc3 Re2 47.Nf5+ and Black resigned.
After that win Goryachkina had to wait for the result of the Girya-Shuvalova game, which dragged on longer. While that game was still in progress the bronze medal was determined, with 3rd place unexpectedly going to Alexandra Kosteniuk. She managed to defeat Leya Garifullina in a rook + bishop vs. rook ending, and was given some assistance by Alina Kashlinskya, who beat Marina Guseva.
For a while Girya-Shuvalova looked worrying for Polina's fans. White had a small but stable advantage, but Polina managed to equalise and the players agreed a draw on move 61.
That meant that Goryachkina and Shuvalova had the same number of points, 8/11. The regulations were that a playoff would take place, with two games of 15+10 rapid chess followed, if necessary, by Armageddon.
The first tiebreak was a complete repetion of the Round 10 game between the same two players. Polina again decided not to go for a fight, making a quick draw against the Berlin Variation of the Ruy Lopez. You could understand her, as the classical game had cost a lot of energy, but she was putting a lot of emphasis on her game with the black pieces.
The opening of the second game whent badly for Shuvalova. Goryachkina achieved a better position and transposed to a winning four-rook endgame with an extra pawn. She made a number of inaccuracies, however, while Polina demonstrated phenomenal stubborness until only bare kings remained on the board by move 84. That draw meant that spectators would get to witness Armageddon, where Polina had Black and four minutes to Aleksandra's five, but only needed to draw.
Unfortunately, the game was an anticlimax. Polina seemed to run out of energy and made the decisive mistake on move 16.
After 16...gxf6! 17.Nxd7 Qxd7 18.bxc3 the position is completely equal, with a draw enough for Polina to win the title, but instead she played 16...Qxf6?? and after 17.Nxd7 Qxf3 18.gxf3 Rfd8 19.Nxc5 Rxc5 20.bxc3 she was a piece down. The game ended seven moves later with a win for Aleksandra Goryachkina.
8/11 was still a wonderful result for Polina Shuvalova, even if she ran out of steam in the second half of the event. Sergey Shipov commented afterwards that it's time to include her in the Russian women's team for future events.
Aleksandra Goryachkina, the women's world no. 2, once again confirmed why she's considered Russia's best female player. She scored five wins and no losses and was a very deserving champion.
The Russian Championship looks to be the last major over-the-board event of the incredibly difficult year 2020, but chess fans won't be left without action to follow. There are just nine days until the Airthings Masters, that starts on December 26th. The 2nd event on the Champions Chess Tour features the likes of Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, Hikaru Nakamura, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Daniil Dubov and Alexander Grischuk!
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