ETCC 2-3: Mamedyarov, Giri & Firouzja on fire

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov is on 3/3 as Azerbaijan co-lead the European Team Championship with Hungary, who overcame France despite Alireza Firouzja picking up a 2nd win in three games to continue his rating climb. Benjamin Gledura has starred with 3/3 for Hungary, while Anish Giri has racked up the same score for the Netherlands, but his team is struggling. In the women’s event Russia have scored a near perfect 11.5/12 game points, but Georgia and Armenia have also won all their matches. 

Three rounds into the European Team Championship and it’s already looking as though no-one will have things easy. In Round 2, top seeds Russia cruised to a 3:1 win over the Czech Republic, with Vladislav Artemiev and Andrey Esipenko both getting to give mate on the board.

37…Qxh3+! 38.Kxh3 Rh6+ 39.Kg4 Reg6# was the finish by Esipenko.

In Round 3, however, Russia were held to four draws by 8th seeds Spain, and if anyone had an advantage on the boards it was Spain. That allowed seconds seeds Azerbaijan to take the lead with 6/6 match points, where they were joined by Hungary.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has looked sharp for Azerbaijan. In Round 2 he pounced on a blunder by Serbia’s Aleksandar Indjic.

35…Bxa3! had the simple point that 36.bxa3 runs into 36…Qe5+, winning the bishop on e6 and the game. Ignoring the bishop with 36.Qb3 did nothing to improve White’s chances, with resignation coming on move 40. 

In Round 3 Mamedyarov got the crucial win over Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, and while it’s true that Matthias Bluebaum missed a win over Nijat Abasov (a 97-move draw), the final position of Mamedov-Keymer (a 62-move draw) turns out to be completely winning for White. It’s been a tough debut for Germany for Vincent Keymer, who turns 17 today. 

In Round 2, in his first game of the event, he fell into some very deep preparation by Denmark’s Jonas Bjerre, and though he worked most of it out at the board he eventually slipped! Grandmaster Noel Studer took up the story.

Azerbaijan are surprisingly joined by Hungary, who despite the absence of Richard Rapport took down 2nd seeds France in the biggest upset so far.

Benjamin Gledura’s win over Etienne Bacrot in what looked a roughly equal endgame made it 3/3 for the 22-year-old. Gergely Kantor’s win on the bottom board meant he’s also on 100% (2/2) and left Alireza Firouzja only playing for a consolation win on the top board. Chess is mainly an individual sport, however…

…and Alireza climbed to 2786.6 on the live rating list by grinding out a 2nd win with the Caro-Kann against a strong opponent.

12…Kd7 was an echo of Grigoriy Oparin’s brilliancy 11…Kd7 from a crucial Grand Swiss game…

…but what was remarkable was that after quickly going to b8, Alireza’s king continued its travels to a6 and then went all the way back to f3. 

At this point the game is still in the balance, but after 49.Rc6 Rb7 it turns out the only try was 50.Rd6!, preparing to meet 50…Kxf2 with 51.Rd7 and hope to hold the opposite-coloured bishop endgame. In the game after 50.Rc2 Alireza went for another manoeuvre — bringing the bishop from g7 to e1 — before easily refuting Viktor Erdos’ attempts at a tactical solution. 

The other top scorer on top board is Anish Giri, who followed his win over Baadur Jobava with a quick crush of Wales’ Grzegorz Toczek. That was no surprise, given the 500-point rating gap, but Grand Swiss high-flyer Ivan Saric was busted in almost as few moves in Round 3.

Ivan was asking for trouble, and it came with the exchange sacrifice 20.Rxf6! gxf6 21.Bxh7+ Kf8, when the quiet 22.Bc3! emphasised just how busted Black’s king position was for a tiny material investment. There was no way back. 

Giri has finally released a Chessable course for the white pieces — perfect timing? Not quite…

Other impressive performances include Kacper Piorun scoring 2.5/3 for Poland, with his form giving a great boost to the hopes of Poland, since they already have the formidable duo of Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Radek Wojtaszek on the top two boards. 

Gabriel Sargissian has often been crucial for the Armenian team, and this time, in the absence of Levon Aronian, he’s stepped up to play 1st board, where he’s so far scored 2/2.

His stylish 27.Re7! left Johan-Sebastian Christiansen suddenly busted. 27…Nxe7 28.dxe7 and there’s no way to stop the pawn queening, e.g. 28…Qe8 29.Rd1 and 30.Rd8 next. In the game 27…Qxc7 was met by the key zwischenzug 28.Re8+! Kh7 and only then 29.dxc7 and once again the pawn was too strong. 

Gabriel went on to win again, while Christiansen lost a 2nd game in a row after his great start to the tournament beating Luke McShane. Another Englishman, David Howell, has had a bumpy ride. After losing in Round 1 he bounced back with a beautiful win that could have featured in Michael Stean’s classic book, Simple Chess.

In the final position material is equal, but there’s no defence against simply taking on d8 and then e6 e.g. 30…Bg8 runs into 31.Re7+ Kd6 32.Re8 and Black is losing a piece.

After that David celebrated his 31st birthday…

…but the chess on his birthday was a train wreck, with Italian GM Francesco Sonis brilliantly refuting a misplayed attack. At least David got to play one of his long games, but for most of the 78 moves he was dead lost.

England in general have had a bumpy ride, with the 5th seeds losing to 24th seeds Norway and drawing with 25th seeds Georgia and 21st seeds Italy. Georgia are partly as low as 25th seeds because Baadur Jobava is currently rated a mere 2582, but everyone knows he’s a potential 2700+ player. His 36.Nf6+! against Mickey Adams wasn’t a bluff.

The only move to stay in the game is in fact 36…Kf7!, but Mickey got down to under a minute before playing 36…gxf6? 37.Rxe6 Rxe6 38.Qxg6+ Qg7 and, after the precise 39.Qf5!, it surprisingly turned out that Black is just busted. His king is too weak. 

It wasn’t all bad news for England, however, as Ravi Haria’s win over Lorenzo Lodici in Round 3 took him across the 2500 mark on the live rating list — and that was the last hurdle he needed to jump to earn the grandmaster title!

In the European Women’s Team Championship hot favourites Russia have been brutal so far, conceding just one draw in 12 games, but Georgia (who overcame local rivals Azerbaijan) and Armenia (who beat 3rd seeds Poland) have also won their first three matches.

The traditional powerhouse of Ukraine are missing the Muzychuk sisters, but it was still a surprise when the 4th seeds lost to 13th seeds Italy. On top board Iulija Osmak really chose to castle into it when she played 15…0-0? (the computer likes Black if she forgets about castling and plays e.g. 15…a5!)

16.Ne4! immediately is winning, but Marina Brunello’s 16.Bb1! Qa4 17.Ne4! dxe4 18.Qxh6! also left the black king utterly defenceless.       

Tune into all the action live here on chess24 from 15:00 CET: Open | Women 

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