Ian Nepomniachtchi and Sergey Karjakin share first place before the final round of the Russian Championship Superfinal, with the deciding games to take place on Wednesday. Both play Black, with Sergey taking on Daniil Dubov while Ian plays Maksim Chigaev. If the players end tied for first we’ll get a rapid play-off for the title. In the women’s section, Polina Shuvalova is leading Aleksandra Goryachkina by half a point, but in the final round Aleksandra has every chance of catching the leader.
After Mikhail Antipov dropped out of the tournament after testing positive for the coronavrius everyone feared that the Russian Championships might be stopped, as happened with the Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg, which has proved impossible to resume for almost a full year.
It seems, however, that those fears were unfounded. No more players have tested positive, and there’s just one round to go, starting today at 15:00 Moscow time, or 13:00 CET.
Let’s take a look at the most interesting events from Rounds 9 and 10.
Round 9: Nepomniachtchi suffers his first defeat
After eight days of play Ian Nepomniachtchi was leading Sergey Karjakin by half a point, but in Round 9 he faced a tough test. His opponent was Daniil Dubov, who’s well-known for his excellent home prepration. However, Ian’s opening repertoire is also deep and solid, so the key question before the game was whether Daniil would somehow manage to surprise Ian.
Daniil certainly managed that. He chose a relatively rare variation of the Grünfeld Defence with the move 7.Bb5+. Up to move 14 the players were repeating the game Nakamura-Nepomniachtchi, which was played in blitz in the Paris Grand Chess Tour last year, but then Dubov played the novelty 14.d5!?
It was clear that Ian looked at that position in his home analysis, since the players made the next five moves fast. Black gave up the exchange and got counterplay on the queenside, but after 19.Rf3 Nepomniachtchi sank into thought for a full 20 minutes, which happens relatively rarely when he’s concerned. He came up with 19…Qa5?!
In an interview after the game Daniil referred to that moment.
This move, it seems to me, is already bad, as far as I recall. We didn’t look at it in our home preparation.
Daniil replied with 20.e5! and after 20…Kg8 21.Kh1 Rd8?! 22.е6! fxe6 White had a decisive attack.
23.Bxg6! hxg6 24.Qc2!, hitting the c3-bishop and the g6-pawn. Ian decided to preserve material with 24…Bg7, but after 25.Rg3 g5 26.Qg6 Qd2 27.Rxg5 Qc3 28.Qxe6 Kf8 29.Re1! the only way to defend against mate was to give up his queen with 29…Qxe1. That just prolonged the resistance for a while, however. 10 moves later Black had resigned.
After the game Daniil praised the work of his second Alexander Riazantsev:
He deserves great credit for this win. He gave me a shot on goal.
Thanks to that win Daniil Dubov moved up to third place, together with Maksim Chigaev, who drew in 19 moves against Maxim Matlakov.
Meanwhile Sergey Karjakin caught Ian in the lead after managing to defend a slightly worse endgame with Black against Vladimir Fedoseev.
Peter Svidler was unable to beat Vladislav Artemiev despite the evaluation changing a few times from “White is winning” to “equality”, before Vladislav managed to hold a tricky endgame in 64 moves.
Andrey Esipenko scored his first win on his Superfinal debut. He spent a long time manoeuvring and finally managed to break down the defences of Aleksey Goganov.
75.b4! Qa3? More stubborn was 75…Qa8, but White’s position is in any case winning. 76.b5 cxb5 77.Rd8 Rf7 78.Qd5 and Black resigned.
Before Round 10, Nepomniachtchi and Karjakin had 6 points, while Dubov and Chigaev had 5.5.
Round 10: Both leaders win while chasing pack lose
The 10th round was uncompromising, with only one game, Vitiugov-Matlakov, ending in a quick draw. The remaining four games were won by White (no moves were made in Antipov 0-1 Svidler, since Antipov is out of the event).
Vladislav Artemiev made a decisive mistake against Sergey Karjakin with three moves to go to the time control. In time trouble he didn’t spot the rook invading on e6, after which it was possible to parry the attack on his king only at the cost of huge material losses.
Ian Nepomniachtchi decided to test Andrey Esipenko in a sharp, piece sacrifice variation of the Petroff. Andrey defended very accurately by returning the piece, but he couldn’t hold a slightly worse rook ending. As a result, both Nepomniachtchi and Karjakin moved to 7/10 before the final round.
Their closest pursuers lost. Daniil Dubov went all-out in his game against Vladimir Fedoseev, playing the following system with Black: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 d6?! 4.с3 f5 After the game Vladimir called that nothing but “nonsense”, but he also pointed out that it was nonsense he was somewhat prepared for.
Fedoseev didn’t manage to reap any great rewards from the way his opponent played the opening. White had an advantage, but the position remained perfectly playable if Daniil Dubov hadn’t decided to go for a dubious piece sacrifice on move 16.
Instead of the natural 16…Qg5, Dubov decided to leave his bishop on e7 undefended. 16…Qg6? Vladimir accepted the sacrifice. 17.Bxc6 Bxc6 18.Qxe7 Rhe8 19.Qf7 Re2 and here there followed a move that Daniil had probably overlooked in his calculations: 20.Qf5+! A queen exchange, after which Black’s attack is no longer dangerous while White keeps an extra piece. The rest, as they say, was “a matter of technique”. Black conceded defeat on move 62.
Maksim Chigaev also took risks. The chess player from Tyumen had Black against Aleksey Goganov, one of the outsiders of the tournament, and managed to achieve a small advantage by move 29.
To keep that advantage he should have played 29…Rc8, but Maksim decided to go on the attack with the move 29…е4?! There followed 30.Bxe4 bxc4?? 31.Bxg6! and it turned out that the bishop can’t be captured due to 31…Bxg6 32.Rxg6 Qxg6 33.Ne7+, winning the queen. Chigaev tried 31…Rb8, but after 32.Be4 Bxd5 33.Rxg7+! Kxg7 34.Qg1+ he resigned, with mate inevitable.
The loss for both players pursuing the leaders allowed Vladimir Fedoseev to move up to clear 3rd place, but his chances of becoming Russian Champion are slim. The title is almost certain to be decided between Ian Nepomniachtchi, who has Black against Maksim Chigaev in the final round, and Sergey Karjakin, who also has Black, against Daniil Dubov. If there’s a tie for first place then the players will continue in a rapid playoff.
Round 9: Shuvalova’s miraculous escape
In Round 9 Polina Shuvalova, who was leading the tournament, played Yulia Grigorieva, who was in last place. It seemed the outcome should have been predictable, but it proved anything but. Yulia managed to completely outplay her opponent and reach a technically won ending with an extra pawn and an exchange. But, instead of the sensation we were expecting, we got some real drama.
In this position White is winning after almost any reasonable move, but one. And that move was the one Yulia made! 60.Ke4?? The desire to bring the king closer was natural, but it turned out to be a blunder. After 60…Na6! 61.Ra8 Nc5+ 62.Ke5 Kb4 63.a5 Kb5 the a-pawn was lost a few moves later and Grigorieva’s attempts to win the theoretically drawn Rook vs. Knight ending weren’t crowned with success. Shuvalova had pulled off a great escape and retained the lead.
Her closest pursuer, Aleksandra Goryachkina, was unable to beat Alina Kashlinskaya. Neither player made any serious mistakes and their game ended in a draw by 3-fold repetition on move 32.
There was also a draw in Garifullina-Gunina. Valentina managed to create problems for herself in an absolutely drawn ending, but Leya missed her chance to win.
57.Be8! was winning, while the move in the game, 57.Be4, allowed Black a study-like draw. 57…Kf6 58.Kh6 f3! 59.g7 Nf7+ 60.Kh7 Ng5+ 61.Kh8 Nf7+ The knight can deal with the white pawn and king, while the white knight is unable to provide assistance since it’s busy keeping an eye on the black pawn’s promotion square. If the bishop had been on e8, controlling the f7-square, White would be winning, but in the game she had to be satisfied with a draw.
Since all three leaders drew the gap remained the same, with Shuvalova half a point ahead of Goryachkina and a full point ahead of Garifullina.
Alexandra Kosteniuk and Marina Guseva moved up to 4th/5th place after managing to beat Natalia Pogonina and Olga Girya in Round 9. Elsewhere Alisa Galliamova managed to clinch victory in style with a queen sacrifice against Tatiana Getman.
22.Qxg6! and Black resigned. Any capture would be followed by 23.Ne7+, with a decisive material advantage.
In Round 10 we were awaiting the clash of the leaders, Polina Shuvalova and Aleksandra Goryachkina.
Round 10: “Your expectations are your problem”
Chess fans were anticipating a decisive clash between Polina Shuvalova and Aleksandra Goryachkina, which would decide the fate of the Russian Women’s Championship title. But as the Russian footballer Andrey Arshavin once said, “Your expectations are your problem”. The women didn’t even put up the pretence of a struggle as they made a well-known Berlin draw in just 15 moves.
The logic behind such a decision was understandable. Polina Shuvalova had White and understandably feared her experienced opponent, while Aleksandra Goryachkina also had reason to hope to catch Polina in the final round, since she has White against tournament outsider Tatiana Getman, while Polina faces a tough game with Black against reigning Russian Champion Olga Girya. The fate of the title will be decided on the final day, with the chances of a playoff high.
Leya Garifullina, who was in sole third place, drew her game. Garifullina has missed a number of winning chances during the tournament, but on this occasion it was her opponent Natalia Pogonina who missed a chance to win.
26.Be2! and Black can’t do anything to stop the bishop coming to h5, when victory for White wouldn’t be far away. Instead Natalia played 26.Qc7? which was met by 26…Rxd8 27. Rxd8 Qc2 28.Rxc8 Rxc8 29. Qxc8 Qc1+ with perpetual check from c1 and f4.
Leya was caught by Marina Guseva, who managed to score an important win over Alexandra Kosteniuk. Alexandra was playing White and managed to get an overwhelming advantage after the opening, but then she lost it all in one move.
24.f4?? was the move that cost Alexandra the game and, most likely, a medal. Marina found the fine tactical shot 24…Rxc1!, thanks to which White’s winning position turned into a lost one. After 25.Raxc1 Nxf4 26.Qg4 h5 27.Qf3 Qxg5 28.Kh1 Qxe5 Black had both a material advantage and an overwhelming position, which Marina converted into a full point without any difficulty.
The remaining games didn’t have any particular tournament significance. Alina Kashlinskaya drew against Olga Girya, Getman-Grigorieva also ended in a draw and Alisa Galliamova beat Valentina Gunina.
It looks like a two-horse race before the final round: