Reports Dec 15, 2017 | 9:42 PMby Colin McGourty

Svidler wins incredible 8th Russian Championship

23 years after winning his 1st Russian Championship as an 18-year-old Peter Svidler is now an 8-time Champion after defeating Nikita Vitiugov in a playoff finish. He picked up the 1 million rouble top prize, will get a Renault Captur car in January and also returned to the World Top 10 at the age of 41. 19-year-old Aleksandra Goryachkina is just starting out, but at this rate may match Peter someday. She already has her 2nd Russian title after beating Natalia Pogonina in a thrilling finish to the women’s event.

8-time Russian Champion Peter Svidler | photo: Boris Dolmatovsky, Russian Chess Federation

You can play through all the open Russian Championship Superfinal games using the selector below – click a result to open the game with computer analysis, or hover over a player’s name to see all his results:  

Svidler holds off the youth of today

The 2017 Russian Championship Superfinals were taking place in Svidler’s home city of St. Petersburg, in the State Museum of the Political History of Russia. It made a fitting setting for a man who’s already gone down in chess history to remark at the rise of the youngsters (this was before it began):

Svidler to Channel 1: "My opponents are younger every year, while I'm not getting any younger"

At times Vladimir Fedoseev's biggest enemy seems to be himself | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation

Svidler was top seed in the absence of Vladimir Kramnik (preparing for Wijk and the Candidates, and rarely seen in the Russian Championship), Alexander Grischuk (in China for the World Mind Games) and Sergey Karjakin (at the London Chess Classic), but this year has seen Maxim Matlakov, Vladimir Fedoseev and to some extent Daniil Dubov finally begin to fulfil their potential and break into elite company. Maxim had a disappointing event as he prepares to play the Tata Steel Masters in January, but the others got off to a flying start. 

Fedoseev scored 4/4 while Dubov’s 3.5/4 included a win with the black pieces over Svidler, who spent almost 10 minutes on move 2 and failed to switch to playing for a draw in time after the opening went wrong.

The first sign that anything good might come of the tournament for Peter came immediately in the next round. He took another long think in the opening, trying to work out how to avoid a drawish line in the Grünfeld, only to decide he shouldn’t risk it. He was pleasantly surprised, though, when Sergey Volkov didn’t go for the draw. A little later we got what was probably the move of the tournament, and a candidate for move of the year:

23…e6!! was a beautiful refutation of the whole plan of expanding on the kingside. There's nothing better than to accept the sacrifice, but after 24.gxf5 exd5! it says all you need to know about the position that the engine gives 26.Qa4, immediately giving up the c4-bishop, as the best option. Instead 25.Ba6? lost on the spot to 25…c4! 26.Qa4 Rb2! and White’s pieces are weak or out of play while Black has a ferocious attack. Peter comfortably won in 32 moves and even resisted the urge to go for a flashier queen sac finish - telling Evgeny Miroshnichenko, “What has Sergey Volkov ever done to me?”

Making history in a museum of history | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation

Svidler picked up another win in Round 5, over bottom seed Evgeny Romanov, but draws in the subsequent rounds meant that he entered the penultimate round against Vladimir Fedoseev a point behind. Fedoseev’s 4/4 start was a distant memory after losses in Rounds 6 and 7 and a missed chance against Dubov, but a win over Volkov saw him back as sole leader just when it mattered. He would play last-placed Romanov in the final round, so a draw with White against Svidler would give him a great chance of winning a first Russian title. It has been noted, though, that Fedoseev isn’t the world’s best player when it comes to playing pragmatically for a draw.

It’s time to quote Svidler after the tournament:

Here, instead of simply recapturing, Fedoseev seems to have decided to “play for a win” with 37.f5!?, but it turned out he never won back the pawn. He did offer a draw a couple of moves later, but Svidler, needing to win for any chance of the title, fought against his inner demons and refused. The position became uncomfortable for White and one disastrous check allowed the black king to enter and decide the game. It was a bitter end for Fedoseev, who could only draw his final game (in fact he almost lost to Romanov) and missed out on a playoff. 

The end of the road for Fedoseev against Svidler | photo: Boris Dolmatovsky, Russian Chess Federation

Svidler summed up:

I didn't participate in this game very much. Most of the running was done by my opponent - you're not supposed to win a position like this with Black!

Six players went into that final round of the Russian Championship with a chance of victory, but Nikita Vitiugov soon brought clarity to the situation:

14…Rxe3! was already a winning blow. 15.Qxe3 would run into 15…Bf4, but Sergey Volkov was relying on 15.Bxg4. Alas, that lost to the follow-up 15…Rxc3+! and the twin threats of 16…Bf4 and 16…Qg5+ meant the remaining 16 moves of the game were a mere formality.

Nikita Vitiugov with Sergey Shipov after a quick victory that gave him time to prepare for... or worry about, a possible playoff | photo: Boris Dolmatovsky, Russian Chess Federation

That meant the other players on 6/10 had to win, but as we’ve seen, Fedoseev failed to do so. The other candidates were Svidler and Malakhov, who were playing each other in what turned into a minor masterpiece by Peter. He described the advantage he got out of the Four Knights opening as “Scandinavian minimalism”, but one or two inaccuracies (Svidler noted that e.g. 22…Ra8 seems to be essential for Black) and White’s advantage was close to decisive:

Here Peter was happy to spot 31.Re3!, which defends against Black’s one threat of Bxh3 and keeps the whole of Black’s position paralysed. 31…Qg6 renewed the threat, but 32.Nd2 both allowed the rook to protect the h3-pawn and prepared all kinds of threats. Malakhov chose drastic measures to try and turn the game around but only ended up in a mating net as the time control was passed.

Daniil Dubov is closing in on the 2700 club | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation

Meanwhile, Daniil Dubov's bold knight sacrifice eventually paid off against Ernesto Inarkiev as he inched ahead of Vladimir Fedoseev on the Sonneborn Berger tiebreak (they both played the same number of games with Black). That was vital, as it means Dubov gets an automatic invitation to next year’s superfinal, while Fedoseev may have to fight his way through the incredibly competitive Higher League to qualify:

Peter Svidler would have won the tournament anyway on the tiebreak of most games with Black (he had six compared to five for Nikita), though his Sonneborn Berger was worse. Later Vitiugov tweeted:

I’m satisfied with how I played the classical part of the Superfinal. Tiebreaks… I consider that in such a form there’s no more logic in them for determining the best than Sonneborn Berger or Koya (just not "games with Black"). In a round-robin they're by no means as logical as in a match, though of course they provide a spectacle.

The regulations were that players tied for first would play two 15+10 rapid games and then, if the scores were still tied, they’d play a single Armageddon game where White had 5 minutes to Black’s 4. It never came to Armageddon, though, since while an astonishing tiebreak against Sergey Karjakin had stopped Peter getting to put "2-time World Cup winner" on his CV, it couldn’t stop him becoming an 8-time Russian Champion!

Jan Gustafsson couldn't miss the chance to commentate on the tiebreaks:

As did Evgeny Miroshnichenko and Alexander Morozevich for the official website:

In the first game Vitiugov had White and at some point gained an advantage, but as Svidler put it:

In the first game I was equalising and equalising and then I look and I’d equalised to such a degree that I could already continue fighting for a win! Well, and Nikita made the last blunder.

The outcome still wasn’t clear until move 44, when Vitiugov could simply have exchanged queens and played a somewhat worse endgame:

Instead he played 45.Nh5+??, presumably having imagined for a moment that after 45…gxh5 46.Qg5+ White was giving perpetual check, but the d8-square is covered and it was simply game over. As Peter said, they were both incredibly tired before the playoff.

The playoff was tricky, since the players are good friends and Vitiugov has worked as Svidler's second | photo: Boris Dolmatovsky, Russian Chess Federation

The second game was essentially over on move 5:

Nikita had to go for the theoretical 5…exf3 6.dxc6, but since that led to many more exchanges and greater chances of a draw he tried 5…Nce7, only to soon end up in a position that according to Peter was “not only bad, but evoked aesthetic revulsion”.

And just like that Svidler had won his last four games to come from behind and claim his 8th Russian Championship, winning in the years 1994, 1995, 1997, 2003, 2008, 2011, 2013 and 2017. If you want to know the song that inspired the victory...

Praise and recognition of course flooded in:

As you probably guessed, the Cyrillic СВИДЛЕР = SVIDLER!

Goryachkina follows in Svidler's footsteps

Goryachkina is so far winning Russian Championships at the same pace as Svidler | photo: Boris Dolmatovsky, Russian Chess Federation

In the women’s section, 19-year-old Aleksandra Goryachkina copied Svidler by scoring 7/11 and then winning both tiebreak games, in her case against Natalia Pogonina. Click on any result in the table below to open the game with computer analysis, or hover over a player’s name to see all her results:

Natalia Pogonina in a 1930s Soviet kitchen | photo: Boris Dolmatovsky, Russian Chess Federation

The second tiebreak game was a thriller, with Goryachkina doing everything right in the middlegame but then getting into trouble:

38…Bxc2! from Pogonina may have been born of desperation, but after 39.Kxc2!? (39.Qd7!) 39…c4! 40.Qe6 (40.b4!) 40…cxb3+ the white king was suddenly exposed, with Goryachkina down to playing on increments. In the end, though, Black lost on time, with Aleksandra admitting she hadn’t noticed as she was simply trying to avoid getting mated in 1!

That meant that Goryachkina has won the Russian Championship twice in the last three years, and matched Svidler by winning it twice by the age of 19. Although the women’s prize fund is half that of the men her Renault Captur car won't be cut in half! Next step – learning to drive…

We're delighted that Peter Svidler will be visiting us in Hamburg next week. Stay tuned for some shows!

See also:

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