13 December 2020

Perseverance and Inspiration

Klementy Sychev reviews Rounds 4-6 of the Superfinals

The hot contest for leadership in the men's Superfinal continues. Sergey Karjakin, who seems to have found his inspiration, is still at the top, but he is now accompanied by the persistent Ian Nepomniachtchi, who had defeated Alexey Goganov and Mikhail Antipov.


Antipov – Nepomniachtchi

 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.a3

Antipov tested 6. a4 against Vitiugov.

6...e5 7.Nf3 h6 8.Bc4 Be6 9.Bb3

This is a hesitation. 9.Bxe6 fxe6 10.Nh4 looks more interesting, and Black finds it hard to cover the exposed squares.

9...Nc6 10.0–0 Rc8 11.h3

11.Bxe6 fxe6 12.Nh4 is now met by 12...Kf7, and White cannot open up the game to his advantage because after 13.f4 exf4 14.Bxf4 g5 he drops a piece.

11...Be7 12.Nh2?!

This is the root cause of his further difficulties as he should not have weakened the d4 square. The spirit of the position called for 12. Qd3 0-0 13.Rd1, and the position is approximately equal.

12...0–0 13.Ng4 Nxg4 14.hxg4 Bg5

This is not bad, but better still was the straightforward 14...Nd4.

15.Nd5 Nd4 16.c3 Bxc1 17.Rxc1 Nxb3 18.Qxb3 Bxg4 19.Qxb7 Rb8 20.Qxa6 Rxb2

Ian's pieces have emerged active out of the tactical complications, and ...Bе2 is in the air. Mikhail needed to be extremely vigilant.

21.Rb1 Be2 22.Qc6?

This move suddenly turns out to be a crucial mistake, and the Candidates Tournament leader presses his advantage home in a gracious style.

22.Qa7, intending to exchange queens after 22...Rd2 23.Rfe1 Qg5 24.Qe3 could have stood the ground.

22...Rd2 23.Rfe1 Qg5

It suddenly became clear that there is no stopping ...Bf3 in any satisfactory way.


This desperado exchange sacrifice stops the checkmate, but loses the battle.

I dare assume that in his calculations the reigning Moscow champion missed that 24.Qxd6 is refuted by 24...Rxd5 25.Qxd5 Bf3 26. g3 Qh5 with the inevitable checkmate; also bad is 24. Ne3 Bf3, and the most persistent 24. Qd7 runs into 24...Bf3 25. Qh3 Bxe4 26.Rxe4 Rxd5, and the position has transposed into the conversion stage

24...Rxe2 25.Qxd6 Re8 26.Qd7 Re6 27.g3 Qh5 28.Kg2

28.Qd8+ Kh7 29.Ne7 is followed by the exchange sacrifice 29...Rxe7 30.Qxe7 Qf3 31.Rf1 Rxe4, and the white pawns are goners.

28...Kh7 29.Qd8 Qg4 30.Rb4 Rg6

White stopped the clock in the face of the inevitable checkmate.

The top board of Medny Vsadnik, Nikita Vitiugov, defeated Alexey Goganov in a sharp branch of the Vienna Variation.


Vitiugov – Goganov


1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.e4 Bb4 6.Bg5 h6

6...c5 is the mainline theory.

7.Bxf6 Qxf6 8.Bxc4 c5 9.0–0 cxd4 10.e5 Qd8 11.Ne4 0–0 12.Qe2 Be7 13.Rfd1

This is an improvement on Sjugirov – Goganov from the Russian Higher League, when Goganov solved all his opening problems after 13.Rad1 Qc7 14.Rc1 Bd7! 15.Ng3 (15.Bxe6 Nc6!) 15...Bc6 16.Nxd4 Rd8.

13...Qa5 14.a3 Rd8 15.b4 Qb6 16.Ng3

Also interesting is the bold 16.g4 even if the upcoming complications show no clear advantage: 16...Qc7 (16...Nd7 17. Rac1 Qc7 18.Bxe6 Qb6 19.Bf5 Nf8 with a transposition of moves) 17.Rac1 Nd7 18.Bxe6 Qb6 19.Bf5 Nf8 20.Rxd4 (20.Rxc8 Rdxc8 21.Bxc8 Rxc8 22.Nxd4 Ng6 leads to an unclear position) 20...Rxd4 21. Nxd4 Qxd4 22.Bxc8 Qxe5 23.Bxb7 Re8, and Black retains compensation for the sacrificed pawn.

Suddenly, a critical moment has crept in, and Goganov fails to take a proper decision.


It makes sense from a strategic point of view (gaining control of the c5-square), but Black is already lagging behind in development; he should have focused on his army's immediate mobilization instead.

16...Bd7 17.Rxd4 (17.Nxd4 fails to 17...Ba4) 17...Be8 18.Rg4 Nd7 19.Nh5 g6 would have been up to the occasion, and it is not that easy to get to the king.

17.b5 a4

This is a waste of time, but what else instead? Now 17...Bd7 makes no sense because after 18.Nxd4 he cannot play ...Bа4; the solid17...Nd7 also does not cut the mustard in view of 18.Rxd4 Nf8 19.Rg4.

18.Nh5 g6

A desperate attempt to solve the pile of accumulated problems. 18...Nd7 19.Rxd4 Nf8 20.Rg4 Ng6 21.Bd3 still fails to help.


That this position is conducive to the combination is only natural. A sacrifice the shortcut to success.

19...gxh5 20.Qxh6 Nd7 21.Bd3

The white figures are about to crush on the black monarch. The rest is easy.


21...Nf8 22.Ng5 Bxg5 23.Qxg5+ Kh8 24.Qxh5+ Kg8 25.Qg5+ Kh8 26.Re1+– loses as well.

22.Qg6+ Kf8

Or 22...Kh8 23.Qf7+–.

23.Bc4 Nc5 24.Nxd4 Rxd4 25.Rxd4 Qc7 26.Re1 Nb3 27.Rf4 Bc5 28.Rd1 Black resigned without waiting for his opponent to deliver checkmate.

The duel of two promising Russian players, Daniil Dubov and Vladislav Artemiev, aroused great interest, and the GMs gave us a vivid battle.


Dubov – Artemiev


1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Be2!?

Daniil sidesteps the mainline theory arising after 6. Ndb5, especially considering that Vladislav had no problems in the first-round game against Nikita Vitiugov.


In his turn, Artemiev goes for safety, dismissing the complications after 6...Bb4. Especially considering that White must have had something up his sleeve going into this line.

7.Be3 Bd7 8.Qd2

Also, of interest is 8.g4 encountered in the So – Carlsen game.

8...a6 9.0–0–0

Dubov invites the fire. More prudent is 9.f3 or 9.f4 so as not to commit his king's position yet.


Black launches the offensive immediately.

10.a3 b4 11.axb4 Nxb4 12.Kb1 e5


This is a significant inaccuracy that leads to many troubles. 13.Nb3 is correct, and despite the obvious progress it is not easy for black to keep up the offensive.

13...d5! 14.Bg5 Be6!

It is this rejoinder that the native of Moscow must have underestimated in his early calculations. Now White is on the verge of defeat.

15.f4 Qa5 16.Bxf6

If 16.fxe5, then 16…Nxe4

16...gxf6 17.fxe5 fxe5 18.Qg5 Rc8 19.Ne3 Rxc3

19...d4 20.Rxd4 Rxc3 21.bxc3 Qa2+ 22.Kc1 exd4 23.Bb5+ axb5 was winning as well, although it was not easy to see from afar that 24.Qxb5+ Nc6! 25.Qxc6+ Bd7 is winning.



Unfortunately, after much thought, Vladislav could not find the right way through the maze of complications and had to settle for a draw.

20...d4 was the way to succeed. However, a subtle winning path several moves down the road was not easy to find at all: 21.cxd4 (21.cxb4 Qa2+ 22.Kc1 Qa1+ 23.Kd2 Bxb4+ 24.Kd3 Qc3#; 21.Rxd4 Qa2+ 22.Kc1 exd4–+; 21.Bc4 Bxc4 22.Nxc4 Qa2+ 23.Kc1 Qxc2#) 21...Qa2+ 22.Kc1 Qa3+ 23.Kd2 exd4 24.Bb5+ axb5 25.Qxb5+, and only the counterintuitive 25...Nc6!! was the immediate decider: 26.Qxc6+ Bd7–+.

21.cxb4 Qxb4+ 22.Kc1 Qa3+ 23.Kb1 Qb4+ 24.Kc1 Qa3+ 25.Kb1 Draw.

A game typical of modern computer chess was played between the youngest and oldest participants of the competition – Andrey Esipenko and Peter Svidler. The young chess player subjected the multiple-time Russian champion to a severe test in his favorite Grunfeld Defense.


Esipenko – Svidler


1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.Nc3 d5 5.h4!?

This sharp continuation has become trendy lately.

5...dxc4 6.e4 c5 7.d5 b5

The most principled, although 7...0–0 is also good. In the endgame arising after many complications 8.Bxc4 b5 9.Bxb5 Nxe4 10.Nxe4 Qa5+ 11.Nc3 Bxc3+ 12.bxc3 Qxb5 13.h5 Qc4 14.hxg6 fxg6 15.Rh4 Qxc3+ 16.Bd2 Qd3 17.Bh6 Qxd1+ 18.Rxd1 Rf5 Maxim Chigaev confidently  held Vladimir Fedoseev's offensive.

8.h5 0–0 9.hxg6 fxg6 10.e5 Ng4 11.d6 e6


This rattling rook sacrifice is only the beginning of the lengthy home prep.


The only reply. White gets very strong initiative after 12...Kxh7 13.Ng5+ Kg8 14.Qxg4.


An attempt to muddy the waters. 13.Rh3 Nc6 14.Nxb5 Ngxe5 15.Nxe5 Rxe5+ 16.Be3 Nd4 17.Bxc4 Nxb5 18.Qd3 Nd4 19.Qxg6 Qf6 20.Qe8+ Qf8 21.Qg6 has been known to result in the repetition since long ago.

13...Nd7 14.Bg5 Qe8

14...Qb6 is also of interest, but the text is safer.

15.Be7 Ngxe5 16.Nfg5 Bb7 17.Qc2 Nc6 18.Rxg7+ Kxg7 19.Qc3+ e5 20.Ne6+ Kg8 21.Nc7 Qf7


The novelty prepared by Esipenko for this game. The correspondence games have tested 22.Nxb5 Nb6 23.Ng5 Rxg5 24.Bxg5 Nd4 25.Na3 Rf8 26.Be3 Qe6, and Black is in good shape.

A seasoned Svidler spent about an hour recalling the lines or calculating the upcoming complications. Anyway, the GM was up to the task.

22...Nxe7 23.dxe7 Bxe4 24.Nc7 Qxe7 25.Nxb5 Nb6 26.Rd1 Qh4 27.g3 Qh2 28.Rd8+ Kh7 29.Qe3 Bd3 30.Qxc5 Rf7 31.Rf8 Rxf8 32.Qxf8 Qh1

Black has quelled the opponent's offensive, and White has to repeat moves.

33.Qe7+ Kh6 34.Qf8+ Kh7 35.Qe7+ Kh6 36.Qf8+ Kh7 37.Qe7+ Draw.

Polina Shuvalova is at her best. The Junior world champion has scored three more victories: she defeated Tatiana Getman in a classical fashion, outperforming Valentina Gunina in a difficult fight and outplaying Natalija Pogonina in her trademark Catalan Opening.


Shuvalova – Getman


1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Bb4+ 5.Nd2

In the sixth-round game against Pogonina, Shuvalova will choose yet another interesting line 5. Nc3 0-0 6.Nf3 dxc4 7.0–0 Nc6 8.Qa4. Here, instead of the mainline theory 8...Nd5 9. Qc2 Be7 with the "truckload" of theory, there followed 8...Bd6? 9.Qxc4 , and Black got a difficult position.

5...0–0 6.Ngf3 b6 7.0–0 Bb7

This crucial position has become the hotbed of ferocious theoretical battles.


A trendy continuation.

Proponents of the Catalan Opening are well-advised to look into 8. b3 a5 (Natalia Pogonina won the most important tiebreak game and the 2018 Superfinal against Olga Girya after 8...Bc3 9.Ba3 Bxa1 10.Bxf8 Qxf8 11.Qxa1 Nbd7 12.Ne5 ) 9.a3 Bd6 10.Bb2 Nbd7 11.Ne5 Bxe5 12.dxe5 Ng4 13.e4 Ngxe5 14.exd5 exd5 15.cxd5. White got strong pressure in Riazantsev – Dreev, Sochi 2020.


A certain inaccuracy.

8...Nbd7 is mainline. The native of Moscow must have kept in mind the line 9.Qa4 Bd6 10.Nxd7 Qxd7 11.Qxd7 Nxd7 12.cxd5, when any capture has its disadvantages: 12...Bxd5 (and 12...exd5 runs into 13.Nc4, as in the game) 13.e4 Bb7 14.e5 Bxg2 15.Kxg2 Be7 16.Ne4 c5 17.Be3 – and White mounts pressure in a pleasant ending.

9.cxd5 exd5 


This is the point of White's idea. Exploiting the pin, the white knight rushes to the coveted post on f5.

10...Be7 11.Bf4 c6!

Tatiana defends in the strongest way possible. 11...Ne4 12.Nd2 Ng5 13.Bxg5 Bxg5 14.Rc1, encountered in the Xu Xiangyu – Bu Xiangzhi game does not solve the problem.

12.Ne3 Nh5 13.Nf5 Nxf4 14.gxf4 g6 15.Nxe7+ Qxe7 16.Rc1 f6 17.Nd3

It's time to take stock of the opening: White enjoys comfortable pressure, but it's not easy to succeed. It is all the more instructive to see the competition leader's approach to the situation that has arisen.


The knight is somewhat passive here. 17...Na6 should have been preferred as Black tries in a number of lines to carry out ...c5 or reroute the knight to the e6-square, where it supports potential counterplay with ... g5.

18.e3 f5 19.Qa4 Rfc8 20.Rc3 a5 21.Rfc1

White gradually improves her position.

21...Qd6 22.Qb3 Kg7 23.a3 Rab8 24.Qc2 Qe6 25.Qa4 Kh6 26.Bf3 Rc7

Seizing the moment to open up the game, Polina launches the offensive.

27.b4! axb4 28.axb4 Ra8 29.Qb3 Rcc8 30.b5

It is difficult to point out where Getman went wrong, but her position is falling apart.

30...cxb5 31.Rc7 Rxc7 32.Rxc7 Ra1+ 33.Kg2 Ba8 34.Qxb5 Ra3 35.Rxd7 Rxd3 36.Ra7 Black stopped the clock. A superb strategic performance!


Gunina - Shuvalova


The critical moment occurred on move 25. Black won a pawn in a complex line of the Ragozin variation, but White's pieces are very active.


An error in a position rich in tactical resources.

However, let me add that it was not easy to spot and correctly evaluate the consequences of 25...Re8 26.Rb5 Ne7. It is important that after 27.Rxd5 Nxd5 Black is safe from the knight fork on f7 and looks forward to pressing home her up exchange advantage with 28.Bxc4 c6 29.e4 Kc7.


Valentina does not fail to profit from this opportunity.

26...c3 26...hxg5 27.Rxd5 Rxh2 28.Rdxg5 does not look impressive, and Polina steps up the voltage up to the max.

27.Bxc3 Ne7


This blunder negates all Gunina's previous efforts.

In the case of 28.Rxd5! Nxd5 29.Nf7+ Kd7 30.Nxh8 Rxh8 White drops the h2-pawn down the line, but her bishop pair and robust center make her position even slightly superior.

28...Bxh2 29.Rg4 Bd6

Black retained an extra pawn and, even if the conversion stage was extended into five dozen moves, there was never any doubt about Black's final success.


Shuvalova – Pogonina

Polina continued her winning streak in round six, but at one point everything could have turned upside down for her. She got a big advantage from the opening (see the comment to move five of the game Shuvalova –Getman), but Natalia put up a stubborn defense.

The precise 46.Крg1 would have kept all chances of success, but there suddenly followed

46.Rc3? Re2?

Black returns the favor! The precise 46...Rdc2! could have turned the table completely. 47.Rc1 (47.Rxc2 Rxc2 48.Bxd5+ Nxd5 loses due to the threat of taking the knight and delivering check from e3) 47...Rxf2+ 48. Kh3 Rae2, and Black suddenly becomes the stronger side!


Now White takes control of the situation once again.


A decisive error. She should not have exchanged the bishop that cemented her position.

It is not that easy for White to succeed after 47...Kf7. Now, after


The c-pawn dropped soon, adding yet another success to her otherwise amazing winning streak!

Nevertheless, the intrigue has not died yet: Shuvalova, who wins in the spirit of Beth Harmon, is pursued by the tournament rating favorite Aleksandra GoryachkinaShe managed to defeat Alisa Galliamova, drew Kosteniuk as Black, and outplay the tailender Grigorieva, although not without some surprises along the way.


Grigorieva – Goryachkina

Yulia Grigorieva, the first-timer of a prestigious competition, has outplayed Aleksandra Goryachkina in a difficult fight and, last but not least, the time control is over. White has an extra pawn, and this is a dangerous passer at that.


The cost of this procrastination is too high.

It is difficult to understand what was wrong with 42.Qf7 as the 42...Qb5 counterattack was easily thwarted by the calm 43.Rf2, and the e-pawn is unstoppable. 42...Qb5 43.Re1?

43.Rg1 still carried significant chances of success. Now the Vice-world champion goes into the counterattack.



A decisive error. Yulia was undoubtedly discouraged by the missed opportunities but after 44.cxd6 Qd5+ 45.Qe4 Qxd6 46.e7 Re8 47.Qe5 Qxe5 48.Rxe5 White still had a chance to save the game.

Now, there is no saving the game after the precise 44...Qd3 .

45.Qf4 Qc2 46.Qf3 d3 47.e7 Rh8 48.Kg1 Qxh2+ 49.Kf1 Rg8 50.Qf2 Qh1+ White resigned.

Thus, it all hangs, to a greater extent, on a head-to-head encounter between two promising Russian players; let's see who Lady Luck will side with! With more than half the distance over, the intrigue remains, and the most interesting is still ahead of us at the home stretch.