Reports Oct 28, 2016 | 8:05 AMby Colin McGourty

Russian Superfinal 11: Riazantsev’s shock win

8th seed Alexander Riazantsev has won the 2016 Russian Championship after beating Dmitry Jakovenko with the black pieces in the final round. His co-leader Vladimir Fedoseev fell at the final hurdle, while wins for Alexander Grischuk and Evgeny Tomashevsky were only enough for a podium finish rather than the rapid playoff chess fans were expecting. Our final report includes snippets from interviews with the players.

Alexander and Alexandra claimed the 2016 Russian Championships | photo: Alexey Ziler

While Alexandra Kosteniuk had wrapped up the women’s event with a round to spare, half the field was in with a chance of winning the Russian Men’s Championsihp. With the chasing pack knowing that only a win was likely to be enough we ended up with the most dramatic round of the whole event:

The one game which didn’t fit that pattern involved our man in Novosibirsk, Peter Svidler, who commented that the tournament “ended for me personally with a bit of a whimper rather than a bang”. The final instalment of his six hours of video from the Russian Superfinal ended mainly with a recap of the tournament as a whole:

The game itself followed Grischuk-Svidler until move 22, where Nikita played 22.a4 immediately rather than Grischuk’s 22.Qg3. Peter had checked the line after that dramatic game earlier in the tournament, had the antidote ready (not the one he’d shown in his post-mortem video) and the game soon ended in a repetition. The one thing Peter wanted to highlight afterwards was that apart from the g7-pawn he’d managed to get all his pieces on light squares!

Peter explained the game was a “test” by his opponent, and added:

He helped me prepare to two Candidates cycles, so he’s one of the better equipped people in the world to know exactly how much, or how little, as the case may be, I work on chess, so the idea to check a line I played in this tournament and play something slightly different is not that ridiculous, but I did remember what my notes said.

Overall Svidler wasn’t thrilled to have scored ten draws in a row after his Round 1 win over Ernesto Inarkiev, but was happy with the creative content of his games:

I feel I played interesting chess throughout, but as is a recurring theme with my tournaments these days, I do feel like I missed a number of opportunities, in particular between Rounds 5 and 8. I had very good positions in every single game, at least at some point in the game.

The +1 score ultimately meant a respectable 4th place in the tournament, but of course as a 7-time Champion Peter was hoping for more.

Svidler's was left trophy-less, unlike his good friend Grischuk (yes, they really are tall guys!) | photo: Alexey Ziler

In this final report we’re going to include quotes from some of the interviews the players gave in Novosibirsk during the event. For instance, asked Peter if chess was a good way to keep children off the streets and teach them useful skills. He agreed that it was, but not necessarily any more so than computer games:

There’s a somewhat outdated idea that computer games are a pointless pastime, but the latest generation of games plays the role that books played in the past. There’s a range of games where you take ethical decisions and you have to grasp how you want to build your life as a character. They also play a role in the upbringing of the new generation.

Do you play games yourself?

I play various games, but very little. I get very distracted, and I forbid myself from playing my favourite type of games. I know I’ll get drawn in. In my youth I really liked role-playing games. My children have already finished Skyrim and Fallout 20 times. They find it interesting to go through it as good guys, then as bad guys, making strange ethical choices. It’s an unlimited game, with different results depending on your choice at forks in the road.

I watch the kids and understand that I’d really like to have nothing to do in life so I could load up Skyrim and spend a month and a half or so really getting to know that universe. But I can’t, and I play something where you can play half an hour and stop. For example, Hearthstone.

Elsewhere there was real fire on board. The co-leader going into the round, 21-year-old Vladimir Fedoseev, loves sharp tactical positions, but he bit off more than he could chew in his encounter with 19-year-old Grigoriy Oparin. 

Grigoriy Oparin ended his first Russian Championship on 50% after a spectacular final victory | photo: Alexey Ziler 

Black played a clever knight jump to d5 since White’s e4-pawn was pinned due to the attack on the e3-bishop, then met 22.e5 with the equally clever 22…f6:

Grigoriy in turn met that with the brilliant 23.Nf5!!, which was just the first in a whole series of tactical blows that left Black dead in the water.

With Alexander Riazantsev playing Black against Dmitry Jakovenko, the chasing pack sensed they were a win away from a rapid playoff or even outright first place. Alexander Grischuk was the first to make his move, though he had a lot of help from his opponent:

Dmitry Kokarev has just correctly gone for the classic Sicilian exchange sac on c3, but now rather than play what Svidler called “the most natural move in the world”, 21…Rc8, he played the strange 21…Qf2??, when 22.Nd4! locked the queen in and led to an easy win for White in only a handful more moves.

Alexander Grischuk has trapped the black queen on f2 | photo: Alexey Ziler

That ultimately gave top seed Alexander Grischuk second place, with two wins and nine draws. An interview he gave to Novosibirsk Chess was a lot of fun, with highlights including:

On smoking:

A bad habit, I agree, but an old and pleasant one! It’s a shame Kramnik isn’t here or we could smoke together… I’ve never seriously had the urge to give up cigarettes. Quitting smoking is really simple – you just have to want to! All methods are useless until you really do want to stop smoking. 

On what’s important for a blitz player:

Everything’s important, but the main thing is be able to play well (smiles). It’s no accident that the lists of the best in blitz and classical 90% coincide.

On Karjakin’s chances against Carlsen:

Well, to be honest, like the chances of our current Russian (ice hockey) team against the Canadians! Our guys need to be in good form, while our opponents shouldn’t be particularly fresh. It’s also very important that the match goes well i.e. in order to beat the Canadians it’s essential for a whole range of factors to coincide. It’s the same with Carlsen – he’s the clear favourite for the upcoming World Championship match, but if Sergey can show his best play, and Magnus suffers a slump, then the battle could be very tense.

On Nepomniachtchi’s rise:

I always told him, “your rating should be 100 points higher than it is!” Until recently he played weaker than he could. Now he’s getting results that are worthy of his talent.

On the most beautiful countries he’s visited:

I really don’t know… The Faroe Islands are incredibly beautiful! There’s wonderful cuisine in Macedonia – I’ve never eaten anything more tasty than the local meat… In Russia there are a lot of places I like to visit – Khanty-Mansiysk, Elista… There are only two places I’ve got a fervent dislike for: Wijk aan Zee in winter and Las Vegas in summer. In one there’s a biting wind, in the other infernal heat.

Grischuk with Natalija Pogonina (silver in the women's section) and Anastasia Bodnaruk (bronze) | photo: Alexey Ziler

On the best chess player of the 20th century:

Undoubtedly Kasparov. There’s also Fischer, but he didn’t play for very long at the top level, while Kasparov was better than the rest for almost 20 years… I played dozens of games against him, but didn’t win one. True, back then I was still young and inexperienced… (smiles)

On whether chess will survive the 21st century:

The question needs to be put differently: will humanity survive the 21st century? There are so many things going on now in the world… But if humanity survives, then chess will too.

There were also strange goings on in Bocharov-Tomashevsky. Both players burnt up time in the opening, with Dmitry Bocharov going for a somewhat dubious-looking pawn sacrifice, getting a better position, and then letting Evgeny Tomashevsky break through into his position in time trouble, with a seemingly easy win on the cards. 

It was too late for Tomashevsky to retain his title, but still a good result after a difficult few months for Evgeny | photo: Alexey Ziler

It did more or less turn out that way, but it’s worth noting that after 38.Qc6! Dmitry would have been winning. Instead he played 38.Qe4??, which lost on the spot:

38…Rxg3! 39.hxg3 Rf2+ meant White had to give up the queen to stave off mate. That win gave 2015 Champion Evgeny Tomashevsky a bronze medal, and when asked by Novosibirsk Chess about his favourite make of car he had a few regrets:

I don’t drive, so I like any make of car, particularly as a prize! (smiles) It’s a wonderful idea to give the champion such a serious additional reward for the title. It’s just a shame that it’s exactly a year too late! (laughs)

The winner of the Renault Captur car, and 14,500 euro in cash, was Alexander Riazantsev, who took full advantage of his opponent Dmitry Jakovenko’s attempts to play for a win on the white side of the Caro-Kann. 

Complete focus for Alexander Riazantsev | photo: Alexey Ziler

The players castled on opposite sides of the board, and in mutual time trouble Dmitry could find no way to resist Black’s attack. He was already at the point of having to grovel for a draw when he played 39.Qxe6?

39…Rxg2! was the end, since White has to give up huge amounts of material to prevent mate. 40.Rxb7+ Kxb7 followed, and with the time control reached Dmitry decided simply to resign.

It was a career best performance for a chess player who is now almost exclusively a coach, as Riazantsev explained in a brief interview with Kirill Zangalis for Sport Express:

How do you feel?

To be honest, I wanted to play decently, but I was in no way counting on victory. Of course I’m happy – it’s the greatest success of my career.

You’ve been playing very little recently, but after all, your rating was once 2726 – the rating of a super-grandmaster.

It so happened that in 2010 I was invited to help the Russian second women’s team in Khanty-Mansiysk. That’s how my coaching career began. I like the job. I’ve worked with many famous chess players. For example, at the last Tal Memorial I was Vladimir Kramnik’s second.

When did you last play a round-robin?

It’s hard to recall?! Probably it was six years ago in Poikovsky.

That sounds weird…

Yes. I decided to play in the Higher League and I qualified for the Superfinal through that, and then I ended up winning gold. You won’t believe it, but up until this point I’d only played rapid and blitz this year.

One of the prizes in the Superfinal is a car from the Russian Chess Federation’s sponsor Renault Russia. Have you already thought about what to do with the gift?

They’re going to give us the keys in the Central Chess Club in Moscow on Friday. When I get them I’ll decide, but for now I have to go to the prize giving.

Riazantsev found himself in the unusual situation of giving autographs | photo: Alexey Ziler

The final table of the 2016 Russian Men’s Superfinal looks as follows:

In the women’s event Natalia Pogonina survived some tricky moments to draw with Olga Girya and take clear second place behind Alexandra Kosteniuk. 

Natalia finished on the same +3 score as Riazantsev, but 1.5 points behind Kosteniuk | photo: Alexey Ziler

Anastasia Bodnaruk actually lost to Evgenija Ovod, but still held on to third. The real stories were perhaps that Valentina Gunina completed her quest not to draw a single game in Novosibirsk, with her win over Ekaterina Ubiennykh her sixth of the tournament – the other five games were of course losses!

A nightmare event ended on a high for Alina Kashlinskaya | photo: Alexey Ziler

Alina Kashlinskaya had been the only player in the women’s section not to score a win in ten rounds, and things looked grim when she was completely lost against Alisa Galliamova. There was a happy ending for Alina, though, who exploited one false step by her opponent’s king to score a win that meant she at least didn’t finish in last place.

All the prizewinners at the closing ceremony | photo: Alexey Ziler

The final standings:

That’s all from the Russian Championships. The next major classical event with elite players will be the European Club Cup in a week’s time, but there’s plenty going on before that, including Vishy Anand, MVL, Hou Yifan and Teimour Radjabov playing in the Corsican Circuit knockout this weekend.

See also:

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