Peter Svidler and Sam Shankland both won with the white pieces as their 6-game classical match at the Hoogeveen Chess Tournament got off to an explosive start. Svidler managed to hold with Black in the third game to keep the scores level at the halfway stage, while the other match, between Vladimir Fedoseev and Jorden van Foreest, is also level. Surprisingly, for a match between such aggressive players, all three games there have been drawn.
8-time Dutch Champion (and chess24 author) Loek van Wely has been in charge of the Hoogeveen Chess Tournament for the last few years, and his philosophy for ensuring an event worth watching has been simple: invite creative and fighting players. That was in evidence this year when by move 7 of the first round both the Shankland-Svidler and Fedoseev-Van Foreest games had reached positions never seen before. You can replay all the games using the selector below:
Let’s take the 6-game classical matches in turn:
On paper, i.e. the October FIDE rating list, Peter Svidler is a clear favourite for this match – at world no. 16 and a 2756 rating he’s 12 places and 34 rating points ahead of Sam Shankland. A lot can change in a few weeks, however, and although Svidler’s team won the European Club Cup in Greece he could personally repeat the words of an old Greek: “another victory like that and we’re done for”. Peter dropped 22 points, Sam had a good Olympiad, and it meant that they were actually close enough to swap places on the live rating list after the first game. It also didn't look out of the question that Sam could overtake Hikaru Nakamura before the week was over.
One of the foundations of Sam Shankland’s meteoric rise this year has been an impressive opening repertoire, and he showed he’d come prepared in Game 1 when he managed to spring a surprise on move 4:
After a 5-minute pause Svidler replied 4…e6 and with 5.Be3 b6!? he played in Benko Gambit style, following a FIDE Grand Prix game by Alexander Grischuk against Fabiano Caruana. After 6.cxb6 (Fabi played 6.Nc3) 6…axb6 7.Bg5 the players were in uncharted territory, but worryingly for Peter it wasn’t until move 15 that Sam stopped for a serious think. The gambit pawn was briefly won back, but soon White was up a pawn again, with Black going for a risky-looking king march to try and equalise the position. 31…Ng4+ was the culmination of that plan:
32.Ke2! may have been strong, since after 32…Nxh2 the knight won’t be returning to the action anytime soon. Instead 32.fxg4!? Kxe4 seemed to justify Black’s play, and the drawing chances in the 4-rook endgame were significant. 46…f6?! may have been the mistake that allowed the white rooks into Black’s position, however, and on move 53, with all the black pawns ready to fall, Svidler resigned:
Given Peter’s last tournament had started with four losses in a row, he may have feared the worst – was his only career option ahead to work in PR?
Those fears proved unfounded, as he managed to bounce straight back. The opening of Game 2 also wasn’t one you’d choose to show to kids, with Shankland setting up his pawns on the 6th rank before his king had been able to evacuate the centre:
16.c5! opened the bishop’s path to a6 and cleared more space for White’s developed pieces. There was no time to castle, and although the black king eventually came to e7 it found no refuge. The only danger for White was that there were so many paths to victory that it would have been easy to stumble onto one that didn’t do the job. Instead Peter kept things under control until resignation came on move 34:
Peter Boel reports that Svidler later commented, “in the first game Sam played much better, in the second I played slightly better”, only for Sam to correct that to “much better” as well.
The third game saw Svidler play a pawn sacrifice (10…Nc6) that he justified with, “this move was played by Anish, so it should be good!”, though when Sam deviated soon after it seemed as though this might be another good day for White. That picture changed with 17.Bc3:
Here Svidler was able to force matters with 17…Bh6! 18.f4 Ne4! and the queenside was soon vacuumed up until the game ended in a draw on move 28.
The move the computers had based their optimism for White on was instead 17.Nb3!?, a move Svidler said “looked scary”, only for Shankland to respond, “but it doesn’t work”. It seems he was correct, as in the long line he gave White does emerge with an extra knight, but it’s got no way back into the game and will have to be sacrificed to stop Black’s a-pawn.
So at the halfway stage it’s 1.5:1.5, with the mid-section of the current live rating list looking as follows:
This match has started with three draws, which is a real surprise given it features two of the most unstable and aggressive players in top level chess. Last year, for instance, Jorden van Foreest and Adhiban played four decisive classical games in a row in Hoogeveen, while in the Olympiad the 19-year-old Dutchman had three wins and three losses. If you add in Fedoseev’s almost 100-point rating advantage it seemed drama was guaranteed…
We haven’t exactly been disappointed, however. In Game 1, as mentioned, a unique position was reached by move 7, and later on Fedoseev was close to victory:
This was the moment to push the passed pawn with 50.e5!, and after e.g. 50…Nxa3 51.e6 Re7 52.Rc5 the time Black needs to extricate his knight gives White the chance to support the e-pawn’s advance. Instead 50.Rb8 was played, threatening Rh8+, Rh7+ and winning the rook, but the clever 50…Ne5!? eventually proved sufficient to equalise. Jorden was refreshingly honest:
I was in a bit of time-trouble and panicked a little. In the end I held the game, but I don't know if it was because of my good defence or because of his bad play.
In Game 2 it was Jorden who had chances for more, while in Game 3, although Fedoseev felt he was doing better, our silicon friends claim the game never left equality. We can expect more action in the coming days!
Wednesday is a rest day in the matches, but there’s no such luck for the players in the strong open tournament. Egypt’s Bassem Amin took down Azerbaijan’s Gadir Guseinov in Round 5 to lead on 4.5/5 together with Russia’s Dmitry Kryakvin. You can follow all those games using the selector below:
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