23 October 2020

G is for Gorgeous!

Russian Championship Higher League finale in Dmitry Kryakvin's review

Now that the season's primary qualification event is over, I think this is really good news! First and foremost is that nobody has got sick! It was not without some upsets, though. Some people got the time of the last round wrong (14.00 p.m. instead of the usual 15.00 p.m.), others yet saw tragic developments taking place in their lives… However, we have managed to prove that you can hold competitions on these difficult days with a sufficient margin of safety. Alexander Tkachev's team has considered every minor detail so that even arbiters were among those wearing gloves. Good job, and we are now looking forward to the Russian team championship and the Russian Championship Superfinal!

Have you ever wondered about anything that the latest Higher Leagues might have in common? Well, they share something indeed! It has been three years in a row now that the men's Higher League is taken by a student representing the legendary Ural State Mining University. Those students are Alexey Sarana, Aleksandr Predke, and now Maksim Chigaev.

There was a time when a popular chess journalist and writer Evgeny Gik introduced the idea that chess players were good friends of mathematics. There even came out a number of books dedicated to the topic of chess and mathematics. They say that Mikhail Tal cold multiply multi-digit numbers in his mind and was fond of mathematical/combinatorial games (adding together the required number of digits from the passing cars' license plates, as you can learn from Genna Sosonko's essay). Anatoly Karpov entered the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics of the Moscow State University, but it did not work out very well for Anatoly Evgenyevich. Mathematics was one of Garry Kasparov's favorite subjects, but Garry Kimovich would not repeat his predecessor's mistake and did not apply for the Faculty of Mathematics. On the other hand, Alexander Alekhine hated mathematics with all his heart.

Other times, other manners, as they say. When talented young people start digging into the nuances of surveying and exploration of minerals, into the safety of mining and electrification of enterprises, their tournament results and ELO ratings would somehow skyrocket in no time at all. These disciplines seem to be of extreme use for chess players, unlike the rocket science taught by Demidovich and Fichtenholz! The nonlinear differential and integral equations will exhaust you to the extent of erasing the boundaries between a bishop and a knight. They tell the more you tune into the nuances of setting up the mining equipment, the more your chess mind is tuned to generating the first lines of Leela Zero's level! Let's give credit to the new realities of century XXI!

In the women's tournament, the names of the first five qualifying players begin with the letter G. Valentina Gunina, Marina Guseva, Leya Garifullina, Tatyana Getman, and Yulia Grigorieva. Ekaterina Goltseva was also contesting the qualification ticket until the last moment to add to the above names. Oksana Gritsaeva used to qualify into the Superfinal on more than one occasion. We should not forget about one and the only Alisa Galliamova, who did not come to the Higher League this time. To continue the G-letter list, Aleksandra Goryachkina and Olga Girya will join the qualifiers in the Superfinal.

A young female player complained to me that her last name does not begin with G. There seems to exist a good old way to fix this problem, but Alexander Grischuk and Sergey Grigoryants are already married. On opening the rating list of Russian male players, we have found out about Boris Grachev. The same is true about a young promising Aleksey Goganov. So, it's too early to lose your heart yet.

As far as the tournament is concerned, Valentina Gunina simply left her opponents no chances by scoring 8 out of 9. The lucky winner immediately announced her decision to pay her coach's share out of her first prize pool of 150 thousand, and contribute the rest to the care of homeless cats. Valentina has spent the entire quarantine not only working hard on chess, but also supporting the starving army of fluffy tails.

The second place is with Marina Guseva. The grandmaster from the near Moscow region delivered her last round game as if to justify the motto "Not a Step Back"!


Belenkaya – Guseva

Sicilian Defense


1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cd 4.Q:d4 Nc6 5.Bb5 Bd7 6.Qd3 g6 7.c4 Bg7 8.0–0 Nf6 9.Nc3 0–0 10.h3 a6 11.B:c6 B:c6 12.Nd4 Rc8 13.Be3 Nd7 14.Rac1 Nc5 15.Qb1 Ne6 16.Qd3 Bd7

Known for her high-quality opening preparation, Belenkaya has superbly arranged her pieces and would have retained a stable edge with 17.Rfd1 or 17.b3. However, she ignored the threat to her c4-pawn.

17.b4?! B:d4! 18.B:d4 Nf4 19.Qe3?!

In the old game of 2013, Tari – Tomchak, White retained compensation after 19.Qd2 R:c4 20.Be3. The e3-queen is not positioned equally well.

19...R:c4 20.e5

After 20.Bb6 Qc8 21.Q:f4 R:c3 22.Bd4 R:c1 23.R:c1 Bc6 24.e5 f6! 25.ef e5 26.Qh6 R:f6 Black fends off the opponent's assault and keeps the extra pawn, but the fight is not over yet. The St. Petersburg GM's attempt to muddy the waters using tactical means receives a cold shower.

20...Bc6 21.Rfd1? (21.f3) 21...N:g2 22.Qg3 Ne1!

Black blazes through much like Trotsky's armored train.

23.Ne4 B:e4 24.R:c4 Nf3+ 25.Kf1 de

After dropping the d4-bishop, Black has two minor pieces for the rook, a host of pawns, and an attack – Marina Guseva went on to win and take second place with 6.5 points under her belt.

Tatiana Getman vs Leia Garifullina was an uneventful draw as this result suited both players. As it often the case, the last qualification ticket saw a lot of fighting. Ekaterina Goltseva could not hold the leader at bay, and Ekaterina Kovalevskaya and Dinara Dordzhieva, who won their games, did not get into the top five (I feel so much for Dina and her many sixth and seventh places in the Higher Leagues that led her nowhere in terms of qualification). Luck has sided with the tournament's revelation Yulia Grigorieva of Bashkortostan: she defeated Zarina Shafigullina and, thanks to her great start and higher Buchholz score, has landed fourth.


Kovanova – Kovalevskaya


It is White to move, and her best choice seems to be 14.N:d5 Q:d5 15.Q:d5 B:d5 16.Rfd1 Rad8 17.c3 Rfe8 18.Bf1, although Black's prospects are somewhat higher anyway. You can understand Baira's decision as Kovalevskaya is a well-known endgame expert, and Kovanova was determined to win. However, White's plan was not flawless.

14.Ne4 Qb6 15.Bd6?

It was not late to think again via 15.c3.

15...Rfd8 16.c3?

The pawn proves poisoned: 16.B:c5 Q:b2 17.Rab1 Nf4!, and even the most stubborn 16.Bc4! Nf4 17.B:e6 N:e6 fails to get rid of the terrible pin along the d-file.

16...Nf6! 17.N:f6+ B:f6 18.b4 cb 19.c4

Running to rescue at full speed, but now Kovalevskaya seals the battle via a petite combination.

19…R:d6! 20.Q:d6 Nd4 21.Q:b6 N:e2+ 22.Kh1 ab, and Black won.


Shafigullina – Grigorieva

White has a space advantage, Black still has to solve problems with the queen's knight, but the KID's dynamic is so terrible that it should never be underestimated.


White should have shored up the b5-pawn via 20.a4 Nb6 (20...Qb6+ 21.Kh1 fe 22.N:e4 N:e4 23.fe R:f1+ 24.Q:f1) 21.Nb2, covering all the exposed squares, or even go for 20.Na4.

20...Qb6+ 21.Kh1?

Black would not have had that many options to develop initiative after 21.Nf2.

21...fe 22.fe Ng4 23.Rfe1

Zarina produced this move quickly, but there was really no good alternative to it: 23.h3 Qd4 or 23.Na4 Q:b5.

23...Qd4 24.Bf1

The last opportunity was in 24.Nd1!, intending 24...Q:a1 25.Nc3, but Black has a much superior 24…B:b5! 25.Q:b5 Q:a1, and the queen is not trapped.

24...R:f1+ 25.R:f1 Q:d3, and the name of yet another Superfinal participant became known soon after.

Your author caught himself thinking that for all this pandemic mask wearing, I just don't know how Grigorieva looks like! So much for the Gulchatai topic that we discussed before. I sincerely congratulate Grigorieva and all those who Caissa has favored here in Sochi.

In the open tournament, everything turned out to be on a much tougher scale. After a bright victory over Aleksei Pridorozhni, Andrey Esipenko made a quick draw with Aleksey Goganov. Anything could have happened, and Andrey and Aleksey had a lot to worry about for the remainder of the round. In the end, their expectations came true, and they clinched the coveted 4th and 5th places! Mikhail Antipov and Vladimir Fedoseev had far fewer worries about their Superfinal tickets. On the other hand, the leader Maksim Chigaev initially experienced many difficulties against Konstantin Sakaev, whose performance in Sochi was brilliant. In terms of positions, Konstantin Rufovich should have scored at least 7 points. Once again, our Sirius' center youth coach fell a little short of making it into the Superfinal since his last appearance there a decade ago.

We watched the game's progress with my old literary assistant and Chigaev's friend, International Master Mikhail Popov. Sometimes Popov was very worried about the evaluation spiking in Sakaev's favor, but I was there to calm Popov with Papanov's famous cliches "Take it easy, Kozlodoev! They will put us behind bars anyway!" Maksim eventually landed on a bag filled with 530,000 rubles and without much worries at that. I am very happy for my teammate and his wife Nastya, who also happens to be one of my favorite students. A hefty prize pool will come in handy to a young family for sure!


Sakaev – Chigaev

Grunfeld Defense


1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Qb3 d:c4 6.Q:c4 0–0 7.e4 Nc6

A very trendy line of the so-called Russian System of the Grunfeld Defense. The knight's move on c6 has displaced the Hungarian line 7...a6, the classic Botvinnik-Smyslov system 7...Kfd7, and the Ragozin line 7...Ka6, featured in the great confrontation of the two "Ks". The current theory extends miles after 8.Be2 e5 9.d5 Nd4. Black sometimes sacrifices two or even three pawns to maintain the dynamic balance in the position. However, every well-known theoretician is never without his own opinion about the subtleties of this or that line.

8.h3 Nd7

8...e5 may transpose to the old game 9.de Nd7 10.e6 fe 11.Q:e6+ Kh8 12.Qd5 R:f3 13.gf Nd4 14.Be3 Nc2+ 15.Kd2 N:a1, as in Portisch – Korchnoi of 1983, and I remember Korchnoi claiming that 16.Bd4!? looked like a very decent option. Young players of Maksim's generation have a popular cliche "moving your knights around", which Chigaev adheres to as well.

9.Be3 Nb6 10.Qc5 Nd7

White is not especially worried about 10...f5 11.e5 f4 12.Bd2, and back in 2019, Magnus Carlsen defeated Grunfeld's ardent proponent Maxime Vachier-Lagrave after 10...a5 11.Rc1.

11.QB4 Kb6 12.QB5 Kd7

Needless to mention, this is by no means a prelude to peace negotiations, but rather the Capablanca-Botvinnik rule aimed at reducing the distance to the time control. It is clear that in time pressure, the chances would usually side with a younger player, and the experienced Sakaev tries to avoid such developments.


13.Qa3 e5 14.d5 Nd4 15.0–0–0 doesn't look bad, but the St. Petersburg GM's idea is way trickier as he proposes his opponent to exchange queens or face risks of getting under the attack.


White is better after 13...e5 14.Q:d8 R:d8 15.d5 Nd4 16.0–0–0 N:f3 17.gf, and Black opted for a riskier but more complex continuation for that reason.

14.Qg3 e5 15.d5 Nd4 16.0–0–0 N:f3 17.gf!?

17.Q:f3 Bg5 18.h4 B:e3+ 19.Q:e3 was also an option, but one of this game's main mysteries is why Konstantin Sakaev never set his h-pawn in motion.

17...Bh4 18.Qh2 c6 19.f4 ef 20.B:f4 Qa5?!

20...Re8 is more precise, but Black boldly jumped out with the queen – a well-known Grunfeld trick to make your opponent engage in calculating many complex and counter-intuitive lines.



At first, Popov and I thought that Chigaev intended to sacrifice the exchange with 21...Qc5!? 22.Bd6 Q:f2 23.Q:f2 B:f2 24.B:f8 K:f8 – it is not so easy to win with White, but it is clear that he is out of the woods, not to mention that it is much easier to play this position as White from the psychological point of view.


White is also on the offensive after 22.Qf4 Be7 23.Rg1 c:d5 24.ed Bd7 25.d6.


Following the engine-recommended 22...Bf6 23.e5 Bg7 the white battery along the h-file could have fired powerfully with: 24.h4 Bg4 25.h5.

23.Qf4 Bd8 24.B:d8 R:d8



25.h4! looks dangerous indeed. This is especially true after the exchange of dark-squared bishops. The two-time Olympic champion chose to push his pawn to d6 and try to achieve his pieces' central domination.

25..Re8 26.d6 Be6 27.Qd4 Qg5 28.h4 Qf4

It is this maneuver that has brought the tournament victory to Maksim. 29.h5 Nd7 30.hg fg 31.Bc4 Qf7 32.B:e6 R:e6 might have seemed unclear to White, which compelled him to keep on the safe side instead.

29.Qd2?! Q:d2 30.R:d2 f5!

Without queens on the board, Black faces checkmating threats no longer. As the famous game from the Spassky – Karpov match goes to show, the absence of heavy pieces tends to turn the d6-pawn into a liability rather than an asset. I am sure that in the updated edition of the wonderful book by Konstantin Sakaev and Konstantin Landa dedicated the middlegame, the Spassky – Karpov and Sakaev – Chigaev games will be placed next to each other. 

Now, White should have been cautious, for example, with 31.Bd3. Instead, he started creating weaknesses in his own camp, and Max, on the other hand, came back with a series of strong moves.

31.e5?! f4 32.Bd3 Nd7 33.Re1 f3! 34.Re3 Bf7 35.Ne4

There is not much to be happy about after 35.R:f3 R:e5.

35...Kg7 36.Nf6 N:f6 37.ef+ K:f6 38.R:f3+ Kg7 39.Rf4 Rad8 40.Bc4 B:c4 41.R:c4 Rd7 42.Kc2

After the obvious 42…Re5, White is saddled with many weaknesses and grovels for a draw, but then the opponents shook hands – this result secured Black an uncontested victory in the Higher League!

in the pursuit group, Igor Lysyj and Vladislav Artemiev drew their games. The rating favorite fell outside of the top five even, and I don't know how things stand in terms of qualification into the Superfinal by rating – we need to take a more in-depth look into the situation. Out of those who had 5 points going into the last round, Alexander Predke and David Paravyan managed to win – this fetched them a specific financial reward, but not the qualification spots.


Riazantsev – Predke


White is on a ferocious attack, and after the formidable queen shot, the opponent seems unable to resist any longer.

36.Qh6! de

36...N:c3 37.Rg7 looks bad, and 36...Qf7 is spectacularly met by 37.Nd6 Qf8 38.R:g8+ K:g8 39.Rg1+ Kh8 40.e5! N:c3 41.ef, when there is no capturing the queen because of the checkmate on f7.


Winning nicely was 37.d5! Q:f5 (or 37...Qe5+ 38.f4 Q:f5 39.Bd4 Ref8 40.R:g8+ K:g8 41.dc Nb2 42.Rg1+ Kf7 43.Qg7+ Ke8 44.Bc5) 38.Bd4 (the white bishop joins the fray and the black position collapses) 38…Ref8 39.fe Qf3 40.Rdf1 Qe2+ 41.Rf2.

37...Qd6+ 38.Bg3??

This is time trouble taking its toll. After 38.Rg3, the ex-Russian champion would have maintained a formidable pressure, and now it turns out that with queens still on the board, the once formidable attacking knight cannot be saved.

38...Qf8! 39.Nf5 N:c3

Scooping the pawn material, and the enemy has no more units ready to fight.

40.Be5 Q:h6 41.N:h6 Rg6! White resigned.

The battle between David Paravyan and Pavel Ponkratov proved especially crucial. At the Kurnosov Memorial, the Chelyabinsk filibuster had won by opening the game with 1...h6, and the Moscow GM was eager to avenge himself in this game.


Paravyan – Ponkratov


30...Bd6 31.Re6 Rd8 32.Nb4 B:b4 33.cb Rb8 34.a3 c5, making a draw, was perhaps more precise. However, Paravyan was already playing on the incremented time, which must have reassured Black to a certain extent.

31.Re6! c5 32.Ra6 c4 33.Nf4+!?

It is not that easy to win the game after 33.Ne5+ Kf5 34.Nd7 R:b2 35.N:f8 Ke4 36.Ne6 Kd3 because the king has suddenly become very active. However, this king's march was also possible after the text.

33...Kf5 34.Ne6 



34...Ke4! 35.R:a4 R:b2 36.N:f8 Kd3 looked very strong. And such a spectacular parade of the monarch would have been entirely in Ponkratov's style. However, the goddess of chess, who used to safeguard her servant throughout the tournament, turned her back on him this time around.

35.b4! cb

The piece sacrifice does not help after 35...B:b4 36.cb (or 36.Nd4+ Ke4 37.Nc6) 36...R:b4 37.Ke2 Rb2+ 38.Ke3 R:a2 39.N:g7+ Kg6 40.Ne6 – and the knight should prevail over the pawns.

36.ab Rc8

White grabs the opponent's pawn, followed by bringing his king around and winning the game after 36...a2 37.N:f8 R:f8 38.Ke2; 36...Be7 37.Nd4+ Ke4 (37...Kg6 38.b4) 38.Ke2. Black's only chance is to try to survive the rook ending.

37.N:f8 R:f8 38.R:a3

Even more precise was 38.Ke2! as the pawn drops anyway.

38...Rc8 39.b4 Ke4

A textbook ending with a remote passed pawn arises in all lines: 39...d4 40.cd Rb8 41.Rb3 Ke4 42.Ke2 K:d4 43.Rg3 Rb7 44.Rg4+. In some lines, Black fails due to the compromised pawn structure on the kingside – the pawns should ideally form a "breakwater" structure f7, g6, h5..

40.Ke2 d4 41.f3+ Kd5 42.Kd3 dc 43.R:c3

The time control will pass, and the pawn has been eliminated. Earlier, we would have written that you could pour yourself a cup of coffee and take a think about how to convert your edge best. However, COVID regulations prohibit any lunch areas in playing venues.

43…Rb8 44.Rb3 Rb5 45.Kc3


45...Kc6 46.Ra3 Rg5 is tougher. I recall the classical ending played between Alekhine and Capablanca. Having defeated the great Cuban in the final game of the match, the Russian giant took the crown. Pavel Ponkratov has his own scores to settle with this endgame for he had failed to defeat Semen Khanin in Chelyabinsk. The weaker side kind of failed to avenge himself in this game. Now, instead of a lengthy conversion, Paravyan simply appropriated the second pawn.

46.Ra3 Kc6 47.Ra6+ Kb7 48.Ra5 Black resigned.


Alekseev – Khismatullin


White is slightly better because of the black knight on a6, and it was worth going for a precise 27.N:d5 N:d5 28.g3.

27.Qg4?! Qf7! 28.Nc3?

White fails to appreciate the danger, but even after 28.N:d5 N:d5 29.g3 e3, Denis Khismatullin would have given a hard time to his opponent.

28...B:h2+! 29.K:h2 Rg6 30.Qh4 Rh6 31.Q:h6 gh 32.Rdc1?

White lost his heart after losing the queen, whereas after 32.Nc:d5 N:d5 33.N:d5 R:d5 34.Kg1 he still had some practical chances as the bishops could suddenly jump into action out of their hiding.


Upset by Black's having no problems converting after something simple like 33.Nc:d5 N:d5 34.N:d5 cd 35.B:a6 ba 36.B:a5 Rf8, Alekseev stopped the clock.


Pridorozhni – Lobanov


What a spectacular endgame! Both sides queen their pawns simultaneously, and this position would pose a challenge even to the computer. White needs to play 40.Kg5! d5 41.g7 Rg8 42.Kg6 c4 43.bc dc 44.Rc5. This time, Black remains down a rook and cannot deliver perpetual check after 44...Kc3 45.f4 Rd8 (45...d3 46.Rd5 d2 47.f5 Kc2 48.f6 c3 49.f7 R:g7+ 50.K:g7 d1Q 51.R:d1 K:d1 52.f8Q, winning) 46.f5 d3 47.f6 d2 48.f7 d1Q 49.f8Q.

However, Black manages to deliver perpetual check down a queen confidently after 44…c3! 45.f4 Kc2 46.f5 d3 47.f6 d2 48.f7 Rd8 49.f8Q d1Q 50.g8Q Qd3+. How can you calculate all this when already exhausted by the preceding struggle?

Aleksei Pridorozhni allowed Black to bring the king into the game.

40.f4? Ke4! 41.Rf7 d3 42.Re7+ Kd4 43.Re1?

On the other hand, the white king did not join the "who is faster" game via 43.Kf3!

43...d5! 44.f5 c4 45.bc dc 46.f6 c3 47.f7 d2 48.Rd1

48.Re8 d1Q+ or 48.g7 deQ 49.f8Q Qe6+ loses the game.


It was not yet late to go wrong with 48...Ke3 49.g7 c2 50.R:d2 c1Q 51.R:d8 Qc4+ 52.Kg5 Qf4+ 53.Kg6 Qe4+, and it is already Black who needs to bail out with the perpetual check. However, Sergey Lobanov's decision resembles a mini-puzzle solution.  

49.g7 c2

50.R:d2 c1Q! 51.R:d8 Qf4+! 52.Kh5

The once-formidable passed pawns, and then the rook drop inevitably wherever the king chooses to head for. For example, 52.Kh3 Qh6+ 53.Kg2 Q:g7+

52...Q:f7+ 53.Kh6 Qf6+ 54.Kh7 Qh4+ White resigned.

The 10-day holiday after a half-year break is over. Meanwhile, the Rapid Grand Prix is underway in Kemerovo. The women's stage of the Russian Cup will be hosted by Chelyabinsk in a short while. They even start publishing the regulations of children's regional championships. Chess life is gradually improving, and we are looking forward to new events. On the other hand, it is too early to relax, and all safety measures should be observed. Take care of yourself, dear friends!