Alexander Grischuk had joked that “it seems like it’s disallowed to reach +2”, but after all games were drawn in Round 7 to leave six players in the lead on +1, Alexander Riazantsev finally pulled clear with a win over Dmitry Kokarev in Round 8. He leads five players by half a point with three rounds to go. In the women’s tournament Natalija Pogonina’s fine run came to a crashing end with two losses in a row, leaving Alexandra Kosteniuk a big favourite to win what would surprisingly only be her second Russian title.
Watch or replay all the Russian Championship Superfinal games from Novosibirsk:
Round 7 may have finished in all draws, but Grischuk-Svidler was, in Peter Svidler’s words, “a very exciting game, which will be difficult to describe properly”.
He did a great job of it in his post-mortem:
The players went for a fashionable line of the Marshall, with Grischuk’s 15.Na3 near novelty coming as no surprise since Svidler had actually been ready to play it himself with White earlier in the tournament. After some adventures – partly fuelled by a faulty laptop – a big fork in the road was reached after 24.axb5:
Svidler saw that 24…cxb5 seemed to be a draw, but couldn’t resist the other recapture:
Here I made a decision which could have potentially cost me quite a bit. Maybe I would have found the correct answers, but what I did is, I think, objectively very risky, but I became so interested by the idea that actually was realised on the board in five moves’ time.
The reason it might have led to disaster was that after 25.Bc3! his plan was 25…Ng4 26.f3 Qxd3??, which would have run into 27.Rxh5+!...
...and if 27…Bxh5 then 28.Bc2! picks up the queen.
We never got to see if Peter would have pulled back from the brink in time, because Grischuk played 25.Rg5, as expected, and Svidler was able to unleash 25...Re2! and then leave that rook there to be captured by White's bishop with 26.Bc3 Ng4 27.Bd1 Rce8! 28.Bxe2 Rxe2.
Svidler was very happy with his position:
For now it’s a full exchange, but my compensation is quite obvious. The knight on g4 is a monster – it’s very difficult to challenge. I threaten to play f6 and then take on f2, and very importantly the rook on g5 is very, very stuck… Whenever I get an opportunity to play something like this, an aesthetically pleasing sacrifice of something, I start feeling somewhat more optimistic than I should have and I probably overestimated my position a little bit, but Black is definitely doing fine here.
In fact it seems to have been Grischuk who was more prone to overestimate his position in this case, with Svidler demonstrating all kinds of tactical tricks. The complexity of the situation led both players into time trouble, and Grischuk burnt up a precious seven minutes on his 35th move. Svidler commented:
The full-bloodiedness of the battle was getting to our heads a little bit here, and we were both just generally very excited to be playing what did feel like a reasonably interesting and quite well-played game.
It was very easy to go astray, with Svidler spotting that the natural looking 37.Qb4?? for his opponent would have led to disaster:
37…Nxf2!! wins, since 38.Qxb8 allows the beautiful 38…Nh3+ 39.Kh1 Be4+ 40.Rf3 Bxf3# Svidler said it was nice to be able to dream of such things during a game, but he had no illusions about his opponent:
To be frank, when playing Grischuk, even if he has what he had – like 50 seconds at this point – I really did not expect him to blunder anything at all. I felt reasonably confident that he will not misplay this position.
37.Qa3 was played instead, and then on the time control move Grischuk surprised Svidler with a move that suddenly meant there was nothing better than a draw.
Elsewhere in Round 7 there was little to report. Bocharov and Oparin played on to move 61, but without seriously upsetting the balance (Correction: as Oparin's coach Sergey Shipov points out, 59...g5!! would have given Black excellent winning chances), while only Nikita Vitiugov came close to beating Dmitry Jakovenko with the black pieces.
It seems Nikita will give mate or queen a pawn, but Dmitry coolly pushed his own pawns with 45.a5 and a few moves later exploited an inaccuracy to ensure the draw. Svidler commented:
It’s been my general conviction for a very long time that Dmitry Jakovenko is one of the premier defenders of our time, and the position he managed not to lose today… I think many people would just have given up on at some point and either outright resigned or just not believed they could hold it and would lose because they wouldn’t come up with objectively the best defence, but he continued finding best moves and eventually Nikita stumbled and did not win.
The bad news for Svidler? He was playing Jakovenko himself in the next round, and had a lot to think about!
A couple of Superfinals ago I actually played the Bird Opening (1.f4) against him with White – such was my despair at his opening repertoire. The Bird probably is not forthcoming tomorrow but this should give you an impression of just how solid his black repertoire is if I can occasionally be driven to extremes like that.
So what would he do? Well, as Svidler explains in his latest post-mortem, he decided to adopt, “the old monkey-see monkey-do strategy, and play the newfangled Giuoco Piano with 8.a4”.
The players ended up reaching the same position on move 17 as Fedoseev-Tomashevsky in Round 4, but took about 40 minutes each to get there, which Svidler described as, “a bit ridiculous”.
He identified the critical position of the game as coming after 20…Qd8:
Svidler had been looking at the idea of swinging a rook over to the kingside with Ra3-f3/g3 and then playing Nh5, but it was only after the game, when Dmitry pointed it out, that he saw he could play 21.Nh5! here, when “it’s incredibly interesting because it’s difficult for Black to make a move… Nh5 definitely should have been played regardless of its objective evaluation, frankly”.
That wasn’t the end of the game, though, since Jakovenko had seen the move and thought Svidler was just gaining some time by playing 21.Qc2 and pretending to offer a repetition, so he went for 21…Re8 instead. In the play that followed White had chances, but a combination of accurate defence and a loss of a tempo (36.Bd6? instead of 36.Bc5), that Peter couldn’t explain, meant the game ended in a draw. Elsewhere Vitiugov overloaded Bocharov’s pieces and was winning a piece by move 20, while Inarkiev managed to bluff Oparin with a sacrifice and beat the young grandmaster, but the game that really mattered for the standings was Alexander Riazantsev’s win over Dmitry Kokarev.
Alexander explained that previously in the tournament he’d believed 3…a6 played by Fedoseev against Svidler to be “for one game only”, only to be surprised when Fedoseev repeated it against him. The same scenario played out in his game against Inarkiev, so that in this game, despite Dmitry Kokarev having playing the Grünfeld for the first time in his life in Novosibirsk, he was ready for a repeat showing. He prepared the 5.h4 sideline (check out Svidler’s eBook section on 5.h4 if you’re a Premium member), on the assumption that someone new to the Grünfeld was unlikely to be familiar with it.
He got a shock, though, as Kokarev didn’t take a serious think until move 24! The move that took Kokarev half an hour was 24…Rb7, though curiously it wasn’t yet a novelty, having been played by Anish Giri against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the 2013 SportAccord rapid event in Beijing.
Mamedyarov played 25.Bf4 and went on to lose, while Riazantsev played the stronger 25.d6!, and after 25…exd6 26.Ne8 Rb4 27.Re3 it seems 27…Bb7 was already close to the decisive mistake. Riazantsev impressively marshalled his small army to create a mating net with 34.Ng5!
White is threatening mate-in-2 or to win a lot of material. Kokarev had nothing better than jettisoning a piece with 34…Ne5 and resigned a move later.
So Riazantsev is in pole position, but with two Blacks, and Grischuk and Jakovenko, to come in his last three games, it’s all to play for:
The women’s event, meanwhile, has a very clear leader. Alexandra Kosteniuk’s co-leader after six rounds, Natalija Pogonina, has gone on to lose her next two games, while Olga Girya also dropped back by losing to Evgenija Ovod in Round 8. Anastasia Bodnaruk, who beat Valentina Gunina in Round 7, is the only player within a point after Kosteniuk won a crucial game against 2015 Champion Aleksandra Goryachkina in Round 8.
The 18-year-old’s resistance was broken at around the first time control, with 46.Qg1!! a nice finishing touch:
There’s nothing good Black can do to stop the white queen coming to g8 or g7 and deciding the encounter, so Goryachkina was forced to resign.
With only three rounds to go Peter Svidler summed up, “it’s time to try and do something!” which applies to all the players at the top of the men’s Superfinal. Riazantsev has Black against Goganov, while four of the players on +1 play each other in Grischuk-Tomashevsky and Jakovenko-Fedoseev. Of course we’ll be hoping the fifth player, Peter Svidler, can do something against Dmitry Bocharov, but although his opponent has lost four games so far, they’ve all been with the black pieces.