Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian led Siberia to victory in the 2015 Russian Team Championship, with the favourites winning all seven of their matches in Sochi. The big surprise was that last year’s winners, Malakhit, failed to finish in the Top 4 and qualify for the European Club Cup. We also take a look at how 16-year-old Aleksandra Goryachkina starred as the only female player in the event, with Sergey Shipov comparing her endgame technique to that of Akiba Rubinstein.
Our first report on the Russian Team Championship covered the first three rounds, so let’s take a look at what happened in the remaining four:
The favourites comfortably won all four matches in Round 4, with Siberia overcoming another strong rival, ShSM Our Inheritance, 4.5:1.5. There were wins for Dmitry Jakovenko over Vadim Zvjaginsev and Dmitry Kokarev over Daniil Dubov, but the smoothest game of the day was yet another positional masterpiece from Vladimir Kramnik.
IM Lawrence Trent took a look at that game:
Perhaps the other standout result of the day was Goryachkina showing tremendous resilience to draw a tough Berlin endgame against former European Champion Alexander Motylev.
There was also some good fortune involved, though, since Motylev was by no means obliged to throw away a win with 64.Re6??
Motylev had to accept a draw after 64…Re1+! 65.Kf5 Rf1+ 66. Kg5 Rg1+ 67.Kf5, since the white king can’t escape from checks without giving up the rook or the g6-pawn.
With a 4:2 victory over University, their co-leaders before the round started, this match all but made Siberia champions, since it meant they’d beaten all their main rivals. It was anything but as easy as it looks on paper, though.
Vladimir Kramnik was awesome with White in Sochi, but with Black he was outplayed by Shirov and very nearly suffered the same fate at the hands of an in-form Radek Wojtaszek, who had an overwhelming position:
Here simply 34.Nxe7+! Rxe7 35.Bc6 would have left White still a pawn up and with a huge positional advantage. Instead after 34.Bxa5!? Bf8! it was already getting tricky, and 35.Nd8? gave Kramnik a chance to equalise on the spot with 35…Nxd8! 36.Bxd8 Rxb5 37.Rxb5 Rxd8. Even after his inaccurate 35…Rxb5?! most of the danger had passed, and the game fizzled out into a draw.
A fine win for Levon Aronian over Dmitry Andreikin made it advantage Siberia, but the match could still have gone either way until Jobava, who needed to press for a win for his team against Jakovenko, crumbled with 46.Qe3??:
That ran into the simple 46…g5! and Jobava resigned as the pinned rook is lost. To be fair, though, he’d already played himself into a position where he needed to find some tricky geometry to escape: 46.Qf2! g5 47.hxg5 hxg5 and now the crucial difference is that White can give perpetual check, starting either with 48.Qb2+ or 48.Qh2+.
Vladimir Barsky reports Jobava went out onto the smokers' balcony and told tournament secretary Vladimir Fyodorov:
Give me a cigarette immediately, I've just blundered a rook!
Now it's time for our round-by-round Aleksandra Goryachkina update. She very nearly beat GM Artyom Timofeev in Round 3 – as we mentioned in our first report – and in Round 5 she did get that win, against GM Dmitry Frolyanov (2569).
Sergey Shipov was truly impressed, as he explained for the Russian Chess Federation website:
The highlight of the whole round was the game of the only girl in the tournament. I did warn you that Sasha Goryachkina would soon settle in and realise that her opponents aren't that strong... and it happened! In a game against an experienced grandmaster the young female chess player from Salekhard won very confidently, demonstrating technique on a par with Rubinstein's - and I say that in all seriousness.
Judge for yourself:
1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. ♘f3 ♘f6 4. g3 dxc4 5. ♗g2 ♘c6 6. ♕a4 ♗b4+ 7. ♗d2 ♘d5 8. ♗xb4 ♘xb4 9. O-O ♖b8 10. ♘c3 a6 11. ♘e5 O-O 12. ♘xc6 ♘xc6 13. ♗xc6 bxc6 14. ♕xc4 ♕d6 15. b3 ♖b4 16. ♘e4 ♕xd4 17. ♕xd4 ♖xd4 18. f3 ♖fd8 19. ♖fc1 ♗b7 20. ♔f2 f6 21. ♖c3 e5 22. ♔e1 ♔f7 23. ♖b1 ♔e7
27. ♘c5 ♖b6 28. ♘b3 ♖d7 Black has acted too passively coming out of the opening (he had the chance to prevent White achieving a perfect setup on the queenside) and has ended up in a clamp. Realising that it would be tough to win on a narrow section of the board Sasha opens a second front:
35... g6⁈ I think Black should have delayed defining the pawn structure with
37. h6! Masterfully played. The white pawn becomes a potential passed pawn, and a very dangerous one.
37... ♗d7 It wouldn't have helped to play
37... ♗f5 due to 38. ♘xf5+ gxf5 39. ♔d2 ♔f7 40. ♔c3 ♔g6 41. a4! and White reaps a big harvest of black pawns and creates her own passed pawn. Black's counterplay is too slow: 41... ♔xh6 42. a5 ♖b8 43. ♖xc6 ♔g6 (43... ♖a8 44. ♖xf6+ ♔h5 45. ♖xf5+ ♔g4 46. ♖c5 h5 47. ♖g5+! ) 44. ♖xa6 h5 45. ♖c6 h4 46. ♖xc7 h3 47. ♔b3+−
38. ♔f2 ♔d6 39. e4 ♖b8 Dmitry grows tired of waiting to die and decides to hurry events on. It's unlikely passive defence would have helped. As well as the e4-e5 break and then transferring the knight to g5, White can also bring the king to c3 with the idea of a3-a4-a5.
44... ♖b5! is a little more stubborn, but White can still win with 45. ♖a8! (45. ♖f6 gives nothing after 45... ♔e7 ) 45... ♖xe5 46. ♖h8 ♖e7 47. ♖g8! ♔e6 48. ♖g7 ♔f6 49. b5! ♖e5 50. a4 ♖e4 51. ♖xh7 ♖xa4 52. ♖xc7 ♖h4 53. h7 is an example of what might happen. The b5-pawn will queen.
Siberia showed no signs of complacency after all but sealing the title the day before, and smoothly outplayed Rook 4.5:1.5. Kramnik eased to a third white win in a row, against Gata Kamsky, while Wang Yue, brought in as a stable team player when Ding Liren was unable to get a visa, followed five draws in a row with a convincing win over young Vladislav Artemiev.
University ensured Siberia at least wouldn’t be mathematical winners with a round to go by beating Yamal by the same scoreline. Baadur Jobava got to be the one punishing a game-ending blunder:
28…Rd2! forced IM Bogdan Belyakov to resign. It wasn’t all bad for Yamal, though, as Goryachkina – yes, her again! – held 2653-rated Evgeny Alekseev to a 62-move draw.
Malakhit’s brief renaissance was brought to a shuddering halt since despite Grischuk beating Nepomniachtchi on top board there were losses for Riazantsev and Motylev against ShSM Our Inheritance. European Champion Najer’s finish against the latter was particularly picturesque:
27…Rxc4! 28.dxc4 Rc3+!! 29.bxc3 Ba3+ and Motylev resigned due to mate-in-2: 30.Kd2 Qxc3+ 31.Ke2 Qe3#
Bronze Horseman didn’t exactly overwhelm underdogs Zhiguli, but the single win was sheer class – Peter Svidler, who produced a video series for us on the Ruy Lopez with 6.d3, got to show why White’s hyper-solid approach with 6…d6 7.c4 might not be such a good idea. It wasn’t all about the opening, though:
Here 25…Qd8! was a necessary nuance, since 25…dxc5?? runs into 26.Qf3! and Black is losing a piece due to his weak back rank e.g. 26…Qc6 27.Qxe4 Qxe4 28.Rxe4 Rxe4 29.Rb8+ is mate-in-3.
So Siberia had won gold – whatever happened in their match – while Wojtaszek's University took silver and Svidler's Bronze Horseman bronze. That latter result might be considered appropriate
Siberia left out their top guns Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian, but against the lowest-rated team Yamal they still had plenty of firepower, and wins for Wang Yue, Dmitry Kokarev and Pavel Maletin sealed another comprehensive 4.5:1.5 win. Their overall performance was supremely impressive: 14/14 match points, 16 individual wins and only two losses in seven rounds.
Yamal’s heroine, Aleksandra Goryachkina, finished with a draw against 2708-rated Anton Korobov, to end on 3.5/7, with a performance rating of 2638 that gained her 14.9 rating points. She’s broken into the women's Top 20 and is rapidly approaching 2500. It seems unlikely she'll stop there!
Elsewhere there was a tense situation. ShSM Our Inheritance scraped a win against Zhiguli, for whom Sanan Sjugirov was again the only player to lose. He played the Najdorf Sicilian and lived to regret picking up a poisoned pawn, since Ian Nepomniachtchi’s attack was quick and brutal:
35.Qxd6! ended the game!
That narrow win wouldn’t have been enough to give ShSM the final Russian spot in the 2015 European Club Cup in Skopje if Alexander Grischuk’s Malakhit had won… but instead last year’s champion’s suffered a painful 3.5:2.5 defeat. The hero of the day was perhaps FM Bulat Murtazin (born 1999), who comprehensively outplayed GM Denis Khismatullin on bottom board, but Kamsky-Shirov on top board was the big-name clash. Shirov’s tournament started in fine fashion with two wins (one over Kramnik), but then he had four draws before his ambitious play backfired against Kamsky.
It’s a curiosity, though, that perhaps the first game between the two was also played in Sochi, back in 1986!
On that occasion Shirov won a fine game after seizing the initiative with a little combination: 14.axb6! cxb3 15.b7 Kxb7 16.Rxd7.
Kamsky’s win 29 years later left Malakhit in 5th place. The obvious candidates to explain their failure are the absence of Sergey Karjakin and the fact that the top-rated player going into the event, Alexander Grischuk, only played in four of the seven rounds (two wins, two draws).
The final standings in full were as follows:
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