Reports Dec 21, 2018 | 12:36 PMby Colin McGourty

Alexey Sarana stars as Princes lead Kings

The Princes team of young Russian stars Sarana, Esipenko, Paravyan and Lomasov finished the classical section of the Nutcracker Christmas tournament in Moscow with a 17:15 lead over the experienced Kings – Short, Leko, Gelfand and Najer. Only Nigel Short managed to avoid a negative score for the Kings, while 18-year-old Alexey Sarana has been the star so far, beating Najer and Gelfand and drawing his remaining games. On Friday and Saturday the tournament will conclude with 8 rounds of rapid chess.

53-year-old Nutcracker debutant Nigel Short takes on 16-year-old Andrey Esipenko | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation 

The 2018 Nutcracker Tournament has become a Christmas tradition, with Nigel Short making his debut as an experienced team of four players takes on four up-and-coming Russian talents in the Botvinnik Chess Club in Moscow. This year instead of a Queens vs. Princesses match accompanying the main event we have a Girls vs. Boys Scheveningen match, where the girls took a 17:15 lead before the rapid. 

Kamaliya Bulatova beat Ilya Makoveev in Round 2 | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation 

You can replay all the games using the selector below:

A tough start for the veterans

The focus of the Nutcracker tournament is always on how well the youngsters acquit themselves against established stars, and they made an almost perfect start in Round 1. 16-year-old Andrey Esipenko was tipped as the main one to watch just now by Alexander Grischuk and Peter Svidler during our World Championship coverage, and Vladimir Fedoseev had the following to say in Sport Express:

Andrey Esipenko is one of the main chess hopes of Russia, a pupil of the Sirius school. Vladimir Kramnik has a high opinion of his play. In this tournament Andrey began with a fine positional win over Leko, and in general his play stands out for its maturity and a good intuitive feel.

It helped in the Round 1 victory over Peter Leko that the Hungarian Grandmaster forgot his preparation and agonised for an hour during moves 9-13 over whether to take the pawn on g2:

It seems it should have been taken (ideally a move earlier), but here Peter went for 13…Bd7?!, after which he ended up in a difficult passive position a long way down on the clock. The time situation eventually proved critical as the former World Championship challenger didn’t have enough time to spot a possible escape near the end and fell to defeat in 61 moves:

There was an equally impressive start for 18-year-old Alexey Sarana, who took advantage of Evgeny Najer’s seemingly careless 14.Be3?!


14…Bh6 immediately can be met by 15.Qxd8, but after 14…Qb6! White was all but forced to give up his queen with 15.0-0-0 (15.Nd1 Be7 16.Qg3 is miserable for White) 15…Bh6! 16.Qxh6 Rxh6 17.Bxh6. Again there were later chances for Najer to hold, but in the end Sarana scored a deserved 74-move win.

Alexey Sarana has been on a roll this year | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation 

Fedoseev commented of Sarana:

So far Alexey Sarana has been making a good impression. He’s already a known figure in the Russian chess world – he won the Russian Championship Higher League this year and looked good in the Superfinal. In my view he’s demonstrating his best qualities in Moscow – excellent opening preparation and an ability to work hard.

Alexey has been the player of the tournament so far…


…but it could potentially have been more, since in Round 2 he was tricked out of a winning position by Nigel Short, who had also been in a fight for survival in Round 1 before 16-year-old Semyon Lomasov unnecessarily traded off pieces for a draw. In Round 3 Sarana spotted he could win a piece against Boris Gelfand:


Black is a pawn up, but can only dream about castling for now, and it turns out it’s worse than that - Sarana played 21.Bf3! Qd4 22.Bc6! and although Boris thought for 20 minutes he had to admit that there was no way to save the knight on d7. After 22…Ke7 23.Qxd4 Bxd4 24.Bxd7 Rg8 the game went on, but Alexey made no mistake and took full points.

Semyon Lomasov pulled off a great escape against Evgeny Najer | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation 

You could argue that Alexey was somewhat lucky in the last classical game against Peter Leko, though when Peter let an advantage slip he again found himself on the defensive. Overall the kings did do better after their bad start, though, with Gelfand beating Esipenko in Round 2, when the score for the Kings could have been better if Najer hadn’t allowed Semyon Lomasov a nice escape:


Black is two passed pawns down, but… 64…Qc3+! 65.Qxc3 Stalemate

Fedoseev commented of the 16-year-old:

Semyon Lomasov is one of those who always gets an A grade in a subject. He thinks rationally and takes a thoughtful approach to decisions. His play and results will depend on objective circumstances, but I’m sure that his chess rise is just around the corner.

Nigel Short's win over David Paravyan made him the best performing "King" | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation  

Nigel Short, meanwhile, took two rounds to warm up but was ultimately the only King to have a positive score after the classical chess as he beat 20-year-old David Paravyan in Round 3. It was an example of how sometimes you don’t need to capture an opponent’s piece to take it totally out of the game:

Cricket’s loss was chess’s gain…

…and Nigel came close to winning in Round 4 as well, but his miss was balanced out by an escape by Boris Gelfand as all games were drawn.

The matches will now be decided in 8 rounds of 15+10 rapid chess to be played on Friday and Saturday. Will Andrey Esipenko continue the form he showed in finishing runner-up in the recent European Rapid Championship? Tune into the action live here on chess24 with commentary in English by Evgeny Miroshnichenko and in Russian from Sergey Shipov!

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