Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Vladimir Kramnik had barely finished the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir when they headed to Sochi for the Russian Team Championship. In Round 2 Shak beat the reigning Russian Champion while Vlad was held to a draw by his old rival Alexei Shirov. Their all-star team Siberia-Sirius also features the likes of Giri, Grischuk and Andreikin and has won its first two matches. Peter Svidler’s Bronze Horseman are the reigning champions, but were held to a disappointing draw in Round 2.
The Gashimov Memorial in Azerbaijan ended on Sunday, and the very next day the Russian Team Championship began in Sochi, Russia. It could mean some exhausted grandmasters, but fortunately the Premier League of the Russian Team Championship this year has the most relaxed schedule you could imagine. While last year it was a 5-team double round-robin, this year it’s an 8-team single round-robin held over 7 rounds. Originally it was intended to have 10 teams and 9 rounds, which must explain why it now features an almost unheard of three rest days. Add the fact that there are up to 8 players on a team but only 6 play in each match and the players can hope to enjoy some relaxing spring days by the sea!
In Round 1 Siberia's Mamedyarov and Kramnik were given the chance to sleep off their vodka session with Veselin Topalov…
…but the team had decent replacements in Reykjavik Open winner Anish Giri and Ian Nepomniachtchi. They didn’t have it easy, though (click on a game to replay it with computer analysis):
Anish Giri spoilt his structure with one rash move and had to defend a position a pawn down against Vladislav Artemiev, Russia’s top junior. Although the new Vlad is already 19 and hasn’t had the kind of career trajectory required to worry the elite, he’s still closing on 2700 and renowned precisely for his play in quiet technical positions. Anish was up to the test, though.
Nepomniachtchi was frustrated by Gata Kamsky, who has now gone 24 games unbeaten since losing to Fabiano Caruana in St. Louis just one month ago. It looked as though Black was about to convert his extra pawn:
But Kamsky blitzed out 54.Rxd4! Of course 54…Kxd4 is met by 55.Nc6+, but hasn’t he blundered a piece after 54…Ra4? No, it turned out 55.Re4 Rxb4 56.Re5+ Kd4 57.Rxg5 was a fortress… or at least Nepo couldn’t break through despite playing on to move 106.
Siberia broke through elsewhere, though, with wins for Korobov, Andreikin and Grischuk. The latter featured a big blunder in mutual time trouble - 27...Ka8?:
Grischuk played 28.Qxg6!, when 28...Qxc3 failed to save the day after 29.Qxf7! (threatening mate on a7) 29…Qxd4 30.Qc7! Timofeev resigned, since 30…Re8 will be met by 31.f7 and there’s nowhere for the rook to go.
There should have been easy wins for all four favourites in Round 1, but it didn’t work out that way, with Malakhit held to a draw after Alexei Shirov was comprehensively outplayed by Ivan Rozum. Bronze Horseman beat their St. Petersburg neighbours Sports School (“Specialised Children’s and Youth School of the Olympiad Reserve for Chess and Checkers”, or SCYSOR CC, if you prefer ) by a narrow 3.5:2.5 margin, despite a huge rating gap on the lower boards. That was mainly down to a disastrous piece grab by Aleksey Goganov (2605) against his untitled 2330-rated opponent Grigory Palchun:
Goganov can be forgiven for missing the one winning move, 38…Ne3!!, clearing a path for the c8-rook to give check on c1 (if 39.Bxe3 then 39…Qe1+ is mating) and making all kinds of things work for Black. However, it was a very bad idea to "consolidate" with 38…Qxa2?, when after 39.Qd7! it’s game over. 39…Rg8 40.Bxh6! Kh7 41.Bxg7 and even Palchun later “missing” mate-in-3 couldn’t alter the outcome of the game.
Maxim Matlakov also lost on 2nd board, but wins for Maxim Rodshtein, Vladimir Fedoseev and Peter Svidler were enough for victory. Peter stayed true to the 6.d3 Spanish he produced 3.5 hours of videos about for chess24 and played a piece sacrifice on move 20 with 20.Bb3:
Evgeny Romanov accepted with 20…Bxh4 21.Qxf7+ and although Peter had no immediate knockout blow the black pieces struggled to find any coordination for the remainder of the game.
This round may prove very significant for the overall outcome. Bronze Horseman are weakened this year by the absence of 2700 players Leinier Dominguez and Bu Xiangzhi, who are replaced only by 2592-rated Aleksey Goganov. Goganov couldn’t be faulted as he made up for his first round loss by winning on bottom board, but Ildar Khairullin lost to Maksim Chigaev while there were draws on the top four boards. The big miss was Maxim Rodshtein failing to convert a winning ending against 15-year-old Andrey Esipenko. That dropped match point may cost St. Petersburg dear, since Legacy Square Capital and Siberia both went on to post narrow 3.5:2.5 wins.
Siberia played both Kramnik and Mamedyarov, with the latter following on perfectly from Shamkir by winning yet another game with the black pieces, this time against reigning Russian Champion Alexander Riazantsev. Shak is just one win short of overtaking Hikaru Nakamura and Vishy Anand to climb to world no. 7.
Malakhit aren’t to be underestimated, since despite having no player rated above 2700 they have seven strong grandmasters. In fact, apart from Riazantsev they have no less than three former Russian Champions. Igor Lysyj lost to Anton Korobov, Alexander Motylev drew with Alexander Grischuk and Sergei Rublevsky beat Ian Nepomniachtchi in a wild game. Nepo played fast in a sharp Sicilian until spending 17 minutes on move 20:
Our fearless silicon friends suggest sacrificing a piece with 20.exd6! Bg5+ 21.Kb1 b4 22.e5, when White’s central passed pawns and space advantage allow him to face the future with hope. Instead after 20.Nd5!? Bg5+ 21.Kb1 Nxe5 it was the black pieces that were taking over. Nepo opening up his own king a few moves later with 25.c4? was the last straw, and despite some time trouble Rublevsky was ruthless in converting the win.
It ultimately didn’t matter, but Vladimir Kramnik let his old rival Alexei Shirov off the hook:
Shirov, playing Black, was low on time and living on the edge. Here 31.Bh6! would have been a killer. Perhaps Kramnik dismissed that due to the piece-winning double attack 31…Qh5 (threatening mate on h2) 32.g3 Qxh6, but it turns out 33.e7! is a simple win in that line. Vladimir may have thought he had a safer win with 31.f4? but that was hit by 31…d2! and suddenly White had nothing better than getting a drawish rook ending by force. The Russian no. 1 did his best to rustle up something, but it was never going to work against as strong an endgame player as Shirov.
One last game that deserves a look was a close shave for Igor Kovalenko.
He said he was outplaying Dmitry Andreikin in an interesting opening that he feels isn’t as good for White as people think, when he allowed a tactical shot:
26.Bxc6! When the dust of many exchanges had settled Igor summed up: “My opponent had an extra piece, I had an extra pawn”. It was tricky to exploit the extra piece, though, and when another pawn dropped Andreikin was forced to concede a draw on move 83. Why do we tell that story? Well, is this Russian interview by Salim Fazulyanov (from where the quotes come) the future of post-mortems?
There’s lots more action in Sochi, with Senior, Boys and Girls tournaments and - and these you can follow live on chess24 - the Women’s Russian Team Championship (a 9-team event) and the Higher League of the Russian Team Championship (a 16-team Swiss Open).
Both those events only have a single rest day, so you can be sure to find some action. The Higher League is notable for having some top female players as well, with Aleksandra Goryachkina and Natalia Zhukova both featuring.
Natalia's team "Gogol-mogol" beat the politically named "Krym nash" ("Crimea is ours") 4:0, with her win over Timofey Iljin featuring a nice finish:
35...Qd4! and the b2-rook is lost, since the threatened Rxg3+ isn't only winning a knight but giving mate.