8 December 2020

Flame of Live Tournament

The Superfinal Rounds 1-3 review by Klementy Sychev

Even with the problematic pandemic situation that we have now, CFR’s effective work has led to another "live" tournament being underway — the Russian Championship Superfinal, which has brought together both ambitious first-timers and heavyweights, absent from which is only the experienced Candidates Tournament participant Alexander Grischuk. The struggle is ferocious as the combatants are thirsty for tournaments and delight us with creative play.

Sergey Karjakin has grabbed the lead in the men’s section. He has confidently outplayed Mikhail Antipov and Nikita Vitiugov as Black and drew the rising star of Russian chess, Andrey Esipenko. The former runner-up definitely intends to prove that his lengthy creative crisis is over and that he has regained a taste for wrestling.


Vitiugov – Karjakin

Black on move

Having outplayed his opponent in the Berlin endgame, Karjakin finished off spectacularly:

35...Ne6! 36.Nd5 Nd4 37.Nb6+ Kc3 38.a6 Kxc2 39.a7 Rh8 40.Rf1 b3

The black pawns blaze through everything in their path. 

41.Rf2+ Kd3 42.Nd7 Ra8 0-1


Let’s have a look at other equally exciting duels.

A vivid win in a complex fight was scored by the tournament’s rating favorite Ian Nepomniachtchi over Maxim Matlakov. 


Nepomniachtchi – Matlakov

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Bb4!?

The latest ripple in the opening fashion as Black attempts to treat the position in the Ragozin-like style. Ian picks up the gauntlet.

6.e3 h6 7.Bh4 g5 8.Bg3 Ne4

Also worthy of attention is 8...h5, as in Bykov – Paravian from the Russian team championship (Sochi-2020).


Nepomniachtchi improves on his game with Riazantsev, where he got no opening edge after 9.Rc1 h5 10.f3 Nxg3 11.hxg3 c6 12.Bd3 Be6 13.Nge2 Nd7 14.Kf2 Bd6 15.Qc2 Qe7.

9...h5 10.h4 Nxg3 11.Nxg3 gxh4 12.Nxh5 Qg5

The most principled. However, after the more reliable 12...c6 Black got an excellent position after 13.Bd3 Qg5 14.Nf4 Nd7 15.Qc2 Nf6, as in Wojtaszek – Riazantsev.

13.Qa4+ Nc6 14.Nf4 Rh6!

The most unusual lift of the black rook to the sixth rank to shore up the c6-knight.

15.Qb5 Bf5

This is a novelty. The only existing game played by correspondence saw 15...Rd6, in which White got a pleasant endgame and went on to win the game after: 16.g3 a6 17.Qe2 hxg3 18.Qh5 Qxh5 19.Rxh5. The native of St. Petersburg finds a way to maintain tension even at the cost of a pawn.


White accepts the challenge, and also of interest was 16.Bd3 Bxd3 17.Nxd3 Bxc3+ 18.bxc3 b6 19.Nb4 Qxg2 20.0–0–0 a6 21.Qxd5 Qxd5 22.Nxd5, with a certain edge in the endgame.

At the same time, an unsophisticated 16.Qxb7 fails to 16...Rb8 17.Qa6 Nxd4 18.Qa4+ Kf8.

16...a6 17.Qa4

There is no taking the pawn 17.Qxb7 due to 17...Ra7 18.Nxc7+ Kd8 19.Qb6 Rxc7.

17...Bd6 18.0–0–0 Kf8!

This is a safe haven for the black king.

Needless to say, 18...0–0–0 due to 19.Bа6.


19.Be2 looks more precise because Black cannot take 19...Qxg2 due to 20.Rdg1 Qxf2 21.Rf1 Qg2 22.Rhg1 Qh3 23.Qd1, and the black queen is in grave danger.


It is vital to keep an eye on the е4-square. 19...Qg3 is followed by 20.e4 Bg4 21.Be2 Bxe2 22.Nxe2 Qxg2 23.Qc2, and White is clearly for choice owing to the powerful pawn center.

20.Be2 Re8 21.Bf3 



An interesting attempt to trap the white queen, but Maxim misses a stunning tactical blow: 21...h3!! intending to meet 22.gxh3 (22.g4 Bxg4 23.Bxg4 Qxg4 24.Rdg1 Qf3 25.Rf1 Qg4 is more precise as it gives a rough equality) with the crushing 22...Nb4!! the knight is not to be touched due to 23.Nxb4 Rxe3, and 23.Rhg1 runs into 23...Qe6, and the white king comes under ferocious attack of the black pieces.

22.Qxa6 Nb8?

This is an obvious inconsistency: there is no trapping the white queen, and the black knight becomes passive. Instead, he should have considered 22...Ne7 23.Nxe7 Rxe7, and the position is still unclear.


Not backing down!

23...c6 24.Nc7 Rc8 25.e4!

Black must have missed this move that gives White the counterattack. 


25...Rxc7 26.Qxb8+ Rc8 27.Qb7 Bxf4+ 28.Kb1 does not help as the powerful pawns are ready to crush the opponent’s defenses.

26.exf5 Qxf5 27.Be4 Qd7 28.Kb1 Bxf4 29.Qb6

29.Qxd7 Nxd7 30.Bf5 secures a substantial edge, but White is after maintaining tension.

29...Qd6 30.Rhf1

Although not a bad move, the straight-forward 30.d5 would have tipped the scale in White’s favor as his pieces dominate in all ramifications: 30...cxd5 31.Qxd6+ Bxd6 (31...Rxd6 32.Bxd5) 32.Nxb5 dxe4 33.Nxd6+–.

30...Nd7 31.Qa6 Re8 32.Bc2 Nf6 33.a3

The straight-forward 33.d5 was decent once again.


Matlakov should have activated his knight via 33...Ng4, and Black stays in the game thanks to the ...Nе3 threat.


This is not so well-timed as it would have been before. White had betted doubled his rooks along the f-file after 34.Rd3.


34...Ng4 was worth considering as well.

35.Nxd5 cxd5 36.Qxb5 Rb6 37.Qxd5 Qc3 38.b4

After lengthy complications, Black got chances to save the game, but in the severe time trouble he made a decisive error.


White would have found it quite a challenge to press home his extra pawn in a complex endgame after 38...Rd6 39.Qc5 Qxc5 40.bxc5 Rxd1+ 41.Bxd1 Be5.

Following the simple 39.Rxf4 Black stopped the clock because he drops a piece after 39...Rxf4 40.Qd6+.


Daniil Dubov also achieved a spectacular victory. He defeated the Superfinal first-timer Andrey Esipenko in an unorthodox line of the Catalan opening.


Dubov – Esipenko

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0–0 6.Qc2!?

An interesting approach. White usually plays 6.0–0, and 6...dxc4 leads to fierce theoretical battles.

6...c5 7.dxc5 d4

This is possible, but the mainline is 7...Qa5+ 8.Nc3 dxc4 9.0–0 Qxc5 10.Bg5 Nc6, and Black’s position is evaluated as OK. It only remains to guess what Dubov’s idea was in the first place, but Black’s position began deteriorating rapidly in the game.

8.b4 a5 9.b5 Bxc5 10.Nbd2 Nbd7

Also of interest is 10...a4, as in Gelfand — Wang Hao.



This is a substantial inconsistency. Black should have held the c5-square no matter what, maintaining a decent position after 11...e5 12.Nxc5 Nxc5 13.Ba3 Qc7.

12.Bd2 Bxd2+ 13.Nfxd2 a4

This is a desperado pawn sac in the hope of achieving positional compensation.

White intended to meet 13...e5 with 14.a4, and the с5-break cannot be stopped.

14.Nxd4 e5 15.Nf5 Nc5 16.Ne3 e4 17.0–0 Qd4 18.Nd5 Nxd5 19.cxd5 e3 20.Nc4 exf2+ 21.Kh1 Bd7 22.Rad1 Qf6 23.d6 Rae8 24.Nb6 Re5

White has completely outplayed his opponent, and a spectacular queen sacrifice leads to Black’s collapse.


25.Qxc5 Rxc5 26.Nxd7 Qg5 27.Nxf8 Kxf8 28.d7 Qd8 29.Rxf2

The black queen is utterly helpless. White brings the rook to e3, and Black's failure is inevitable.

29...Rc7 30.Bh3 g6 31.Rf6 Kg8 32.Rfd6 Rc2 33.R6d2 Rc7 34.Rd3 f5 35.b6 Rc2 36.Re3 Esipenko resigned due to the unstoppable 37.Rе8.

However, the 2018 World Rapid Champion failed to build up on his success as he was defeated by Chigaev, who is making his very confident debut in the prestigious event.


Chigaev – Dubov

 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6

As usual, Daniil opts for a sharp line of the Rossolimo Sicilian.

4.Bxc6 bxc6

This is Moscow GM’s favorite line.

4...dxc6 played in world championship game no.1 between Carlsen and Caruana, leads to a strategically complex battle.

5.0–0 Bg7 6.Re1 Nh6 7.c3 0–0 8.h3

Black is thought to equalize after 8.d4 via 8...cxd4 9.cxd4 d5 10.e5 f6, and chances are balanced in the double-edged fight to come.

Also of interest is 8.d3, as in Xiong – Dubov, Wijk an Zee, 2020. Black took the g4-square under control after 8...d6 9.h3 Rb8 10.d4 cxd4 11.cxd4.

8...f5 9.e5 Nf7 10.d3

The immediate 10.d4 is met by 10...cxd4 11.cxd4 c5, and the black light-squared bishop joins the battle.


A rare and, perhaps, not very timely solution: in many lines, the g6-square weakening has a catastrophic repercussion for the black king’s position.

10...Ba6 or 10...Rb8 belong to the current mainline theory.

11.d4 cxd4 12.cxd4 e6

This slightly strange-looking continuation exposes the d6-square in particular and the whole complex of dark squares in general.

12...Bb7, intending to open up the game with ...с5, is more to the point.

13.b3 c5?!

This substantial inaccuracy hands advantage over to White.

He should have opted for 13...d6, keeping chances to launch counterplay after 14.exd6 c5, as well as after 14.Ba3 dxe5 15.Bxf8 Kxf8 – Black enjoys superb compensation for the sacrificed exchange.

14.Ba3 d6 15.Nbd2!

The white knight is eager to land on с4.

15...Re8 16.Nc4 Bb7

16...d5 17.Nd6 Nxd6 18.exd6 is terrible for Black as giving White a dominating position.

17.dxc5 dxe5 18.Nfxe5 Nxe5

18...Qd5 would have run into the same positional exchange sacrifice 19.Nf3 that we saw in the game.

19.Nxe5 Be4


Black seems to have achieved great counterplay: the е5-knight is pinned and the Qg5-threat is in the air, but...


Maxim Chigaev is up to the task! The exchange sacrifice provides full control over the dark squares, especially over the а1-h8 diagonal.

In case of the imprecise 20.Bb2 Qg5 21.f3 Rad8 White needs to find the counterintuitive 22.h4 to stop any troubles. However, White is in the driver’s seat even in this line: 22...Qxh4 23.Qe2 or 22...Qf4 23.Qc1 Rd2 24.Re2!

20...Bxa1 21.Qxa1 Qg5 22.g3 e5!

Dubov is desperate to stir up any sort of counterplay.


The inaccuracy, however, is quite understandable.

It was not that easy to realize that 23.Qc3 gives White full control over the situation, while after 23...Qh5 it is time to capture 24.Nxe5 Qxh3 25.Qc4+ Kh8 26.Rxe4 fxe4 27.Bb2, and Black is utterly helpless.


Black returns the favor. The position demanded that the only open line be contested via 23...Rad8 and after 24.Qc3 Black can also force the trade of queens with 24...Qd2, and Black is in the game.


Queen’s centralization allows to take the situation under control.

24...Rae8 25.Nd7!

Damocles' checkmating sword along the a1-h8 diagonal is hanging over Black.

25...Bc6 26.Rxe6 Rxe6 27.Ne5 Qf6 28.Bb2



This is a blunder. Black’s attempt to create counterplay at all costs only makes things worse for him. 

The Moscow GM was clearly unwilling to grind out a draw in the opposite-colored bishop ending down two pawns, but it was his only opportunity to save the game: 28...Rxe5 29.Qxe5 Qxe5 30.Bxe5 Kf7 31.Kf1 Ke6 32.Bg7 h5 33.Ke2. It takes much analysis to arrive at an accurate evaluation of the situation that has arisen, but I dare assume it is not easy for White to achieve the goal, if at all possible.

29.gxf4 Be8 30.Kh2

The immediate 30.c6 is also good, and there is no touching the pawn: 30...Bxc6 31.Nxc6 Qxd4 32.Nxd4.

30...Re7 31.c6!

The last nuance.

31...Bxc6 32.Qc4+ Kh7 33.Qxc6 Qxc6 34.Nxc6 Re2 35.Bd4 Rxa2 36.Nxa7 Rd2 37.Bc5 Black resigned because he is defenseless against the b-pawn march.


Matlakov – Fedoseev


White on move


Vladimir Fedoseev outplayed Maxim Matlakov in a complex fight.

21.Rge1 ran into the strong 21...Qg6, when besides ...Nd3 Black is also poised to sacrifice on f4.

White managed to come up with the strongest defensive resource 22.Bd4!, and after 22...Bxf4 23.gxf4 Nxf4 there came to rescue 24.h5!

Black replied 24...Qg5, and Matlakov had to choose between several queen retreats.


The opposition of queen and rook is clearly to Vladimir’s advantage. 25.Qf1 Bg2 does not look good at all as the white queen cuts a bleak picture. However, White retained decent defensive chances after 25.Qh2.

25...Rae8 26.Bf1 Ng4?

It is now Fedoseev’s turn to err. Instead, he could have won the queen via the less complicated 26...Ned3+ 27.Bxd3 Rxe3 28.Rxe3 Be8 or 26...Nf3 27.Nxf3 Bxf3 28.Qxf3 Rxe1 29.Rxe1 Ne2+ 30.Kd1 Rxf3 31.Bxe2 Rf7–+.

27.Qg1 Bf3 28.h6!!

This resource makes the situation unclear again.

28...Qxh6 29.Rxe8 Rxe8


Lack of time made finding the way through the maze of complications far from easy. This is why White missed the amazing blow 30.Bxg7+!! After the mind-boggling 30...Kxg7 31.Nd4 Bxd1 32.Nf5+ Kg6 33.Nxh6 Re1 34.Qg3 Rxf1 35.Kb1 Rh1 36.Qxf4 Be2+ 37.Kc2 Bd1+ 38.Kd3 Rh3+ 39.Ke4 Nxh6 there arises a complex but roughly equal endgame in which the white queen is opposed by a well-coordinated black army.

In the game, after 30...Bxd1 White committed yet another inaccuracy.


Tougher is 31.Kxd1, intending to meet 31...Qh5 (31...c6 32.Qxg4 cxb5 33.Bxg7+ Qxg7 34.Qxf4 leads nowhere as the position is roughly equal) with the same blow 32.Bxg7+! Kg8! 33.Bh6, keeping chances to make a draw in a time trouble turmoil.



32.Bf1 Nh2 33.Bc4 b5 34.Bf7

the game was closed off by the effective-looking 34...Re1!

White resigned in view of 35.Qxe1 Nd3+.

Polina Shuvalova is in the lead in the women's section with an unblemished score. The Youth of Moscow club member has defeated Marina Guseva, Alina Kashlinskaya and Alexandra Kosteniuk and one point ahead of the pack of pursuers.

Let’s have a look at one of her game fragments.


Kashlinskaya – Shuvalova


White on move

White could have simply defended the c4-knight, but Kashlinskaya felt like going all out.


30.Re4 is stronger, and White retains the extra pawn and threatens Bf6.

30...gxf6 31.Re4??

Following this decisive blunder White is no longer in control of the situation.

After the precise 31.exf6 the game would have finished in a remarkable repetition: 31...Qf5 (31...Qc5!?) 32.Re4 Qh7 33.Qg5+ Qg6 34.Qh4 Qh7 – White cannot decline the draw by repetition.


Polina is precise despite the lack of time: with the downfall of the knight Black gets control of the e5-square.

There follows a simple but spectacular finishing off.

32.bxc4 Qc5+ 33.Kh1 f5 34.Qg5+ Kf8 35.Rh4 Qxe5 36.Rh7 Bxc4 37.Qh4 Kg8 38.g4 f4 39.g5 Nb2 40.Rg1 Be2

The time control is over, and White’s position is hopeless. After 41.Kg2 Shuvalova delivered the killing blow 41...Bxf3+, and Alina resigned in view of the inevitable checkmate in several moves.