The Superfinals of the 73rd Russian Championship and the 70th Russian Women's Championship began on the 5th December in Moscow's Botvinnik Central Chess Club. After two rounds, four players lead the open event on 1.5/2: Sergey Karjakin, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Vladimir Fedoseev and Maksim Chigaev. 19-year-old Polina Shuvalova leads the women's event after scoring two victories, while half a point behind are Alisa Galliamova, Aleksandra Goryachkina, Natalia Pogonina and Leya Garifullina.
Chess is gradually returning from computer monitors to real wooden boards, and on the 5th December the Russian Championship Superfinals began. The line-up for the 12-player events is of super-tournament calibre, with almost all the best Russian players in action. In the open event Alexander Grischuk, Dmitry Andreikin and reigning champion Evgeny Tomashevsky are missing, while in the women's event there's no Kateryna Lagno.
But everyone else is in: Ian Nepomniachtchi, Sergey Karjakin, Peter Svidler, Daniil Dubov, Aleksandra Goryachkina, Alexandra Kosteniuk... Stars wherever you look!
Many chess fans feared that the quality of the chess might have deteriorated, since some of the players hadn't played classical chess in a year, but the first two rounds showed that the pandemic hadn't had too much impact on the players. The level of play was very high, while we were also treated to some new ideas.
You can replay all the games from the Superfinals using the selectors below.
And now let's take a look at the key moments from the games of the first two rounds.
2016 World Championship Challenger Sergey Karjakin had Black against 2015 World Junior Champion Mikhail Antipov.
Mikhail handled the opening very originally, and instead of calmly castling short he chose 13.h4?!, and then after 13...Raf8 he decided to push pawns on the other side of the board as well with 14.b4. Sergey's response was the cold-blooded 14...Kh8 15.Ra2 Bd8 16. Neg1 Ne7 and Black had an edge. In what followed Sergey methodically outplayed his less well-known opponent, with the crucial moment coming on move 33.
White's position is already much worse and Mikhail decided to take desperate measures: 33.d4?! b3! 34. Qb1 Qb6 35. dxe5 Rf7 36. g4 b2! After that Sergey defused White's kingside counterplay with deft prophylactic moves and Antipov was forced to concede defeat on move 45.
A fine victory by Sergey Karjakin, who was glad to have played his first classical game in almost literally a year (he drew and then lost a playoff to Wei Yi in the quarterfinals of the Jerusalem Grand Prix on December 15th, 2019).
The rating favourite of the tournament is Ian Nepomniachtchi, who's currently world no. 4.
In the 1st round Ian came up against the recent winner of the Russian Team Championship as part of the Bronze Horseman Team from St. Petersburg, Maxim Matlakov. In an extremely complicated and tense game Nepomniachtchi managed to gain a big advantage, but then Maxim found precise moves to almost equalise the position. The climax came on move 39.
Here Black's strongest move is 39...Rd6!, after which, despite White's extra pawn, there would be a long struggle ahead. Instead, in time trouble, Maxim played 39...Rf6??, and after 40.Rxf4! he resigned, since 40...Rxf4 runs into 41.Qd6+, winning material.
Daniil Dubov, who has dazzled in online tournaments, played against a Superfinal debutant, 18-year-old Andrey Esipenko.
Daniil chose the Catalan Opening, to which Andrey's response was less than ideal. In the sharp middlegame that followed Dubov got to play a brilliant idea:
25. Qxc5!! A positional queen sacrifice. After 25...Rxc5 26. Nxd7 Qg5 27. Nxf8 Kxf8 28. d7 Qd8 29. Rxf2 the position on the board was one for the books.
The black queen has no moves, while White has no need to rush in carrying out his main plan - strengthening his position as much as possible before putting a rook on c8 or e8, which Daniil successfully managed in 7 moves. A brilliant creative achievement by the 24-year-old Moscovite player.
The remaining three encounters, Vitiugov-Artemiev, Goganov-Svidler and Fedoseev-Chigaev, never really caught fire and ended in draws. Peter Svidler joined Daniil Yuffa on the English commentary stream:
In Round 2, the stand-out game on paper was the clash between 8-time Russian Champion Peter Svidler and Candidates Tournament leader Ian Nepomniachtchi. In a sharp Najdorf, Peter varied from the 12.f4 he'd played while losing to Ian in the recent Skilling Open with 12.0-0, and the game eventually fizzled out into a 25-move draw. When asked afterwards about how he was finding the return to over-the-board chess, Ian commented, "very stressful!"
Sergey Karjakin was unable to beat Andrey Esipenko with the white pieces. Sergey tried to put pressure on his young opponent but Andrey defended accurately, and confidently held a slightly worse rook ending.
The games Artemiev-Goganov and Antipov-Vitiugov also ended in draws. Mikhail Antipov had a number of chances to win, but missed them in time trouble.
Two games ended decisively. Maksim Chigaev managed to beat Daniil Dubov with the white pieces in a sharp struggle in the Rossolimo Sicilian.
Daniil stayed true to his style as he played the opening aggressively, sacrificing a pawn for active play for his two bishops, but Maksim responded with an exchange sacrifice and gained a big advantage. In the diagram position, Black's best practical option was to return the exchange with 29...Rxe5!?, gaining chances of a draw in an endgame with opposite-coloured bishops. Instead he played 29...Be8?! and after 30. Kh2 Re7 31. с6 Bxc6 32. Qc4 Kh7 33. Qxc6 Maksim was soon able confidently to convert his advantage into a win.
Vladimir Fedoseev played a fine game to beat fellow St. Petersburg grandmaster Maxim Matlakov with the black pieces.
In a complex battle, where even with the computer on hand it's not so easy to work out all the variations, Maxim failed to withstand the pressure in time trouble.
31. Qxd1?! (the computer says it's better to capture with the king) 31...с6 32.Bf1? Nh2 33.Bc4 b5 34. Bf7 Re1! and White resigned, since 35.Qxe1 runs into 35...Nd3+.
After two rounds, Chigaev, Fedoseev, Nepomniachtchi and Karjakin lead on 1.5/2.
In the women's event the clear ratings favourite is women's world no. 2 Aleksandra Goryachkina, who leads Alina Kashlinskaya, the second highest rated player in the event, by more than 100 points. Recently Aleksandra has been playing a lot in open events - she showed fine results in the Higher League of the Russian Championship and also in the Russian Team Championship.
Already in the first round Aleksandra showed that it's not for nothing she's considered the favourite. She managed to beat the winner of the Women's Higher League, Valentina Gunina, with the black pieces.
Valentina is known for always trying to play actively and has scored many beautiful attacking wins, but for Aleksandra, who plays solid positional chess, Valentina has been quite a comfortable opponent, which we saw in this game as well.
12.f4 Nd7 13.cxd5 cxd5 14. Qd3?! A serious inaccuracy. It was essential to play 14. f5! immediately. 14...Nf6 15.f5 Bd7 Black has a big advantage. In what followed Valentina sacrificed a piece, trying to organise an attack on the kingside, but Aleksandra calmly repelled all the threats and White conceded defeat on move 34.
Polina Shuvalova, who like Aleksandra Goryachkina played well in the open touranment of the Russian Higher League, also managed to win in Round 1. Her opponent was Marina Guseva.
27. Be1 Nb8?! The knight should have been placed on f6, from where it could have defended the king from White's upcoming attack. 28. Be4! f5? And this is the decisive mistake, after which the white attack is hard to parry. 29. Вxf5 Qxd5 30. Rd1 Qf7 31.Rxd6 Qxf5 32. Qxf5 Rxf5 33. Rxd8+ Kh7 Polina went on to convert her material and positional advantage.
Two-time Russian Champion Natalia Pogonina managed to break down the resistance of her young opponent Yulia Grigorieva, while the remaining three games ended in draws after interesting fights.
The second round in the women's event was bloody, with only the game between Goryachkina and Pogonina ending in a draw.
The remaining five games all had a winner, with Polina Shuvalova taking the sole lead after winning both her opening games. In the second, Polina had Black against Alina Kashlinskaya and managed to find a fine tactical blow.
31...Rxc4! 32.bxc4 Qc5+ 33. Kh1 f5 34. Qg5+ Kf8 35. Rh4 Qxe5 36. Rh7 Bxc4 37. Qh4 Kg8 38. g4 f4 39. g5 Nb2?
With this last move Polina, who had played the whole game brilliantly, committed a serious error, since 40.Rc1! would have allowed White to get right back into the game. Instead Alina played 40.Rg1? and after 40...Be2! 41. Kg2 Bxf3+ she had nothing better than to resign, since mate was inevitable.
In the remaining games of Round 2, 12th Women's World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk lost with White to the most experienced player in the event, Alisa Galliamova, and Valentina Gunina bounced back from her loss the day before to beat reigning Russian Champion Olga Girya. In the encounter between two young players, Yulia Grigorieva and Leya Garifullina, it was Leya who came out on top, while Marina Guseva beat Tatiana Getman.
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