Jakovenko claims European title in dramatic finish
28-year-old Russian Dmitry Jakovenko has won the European Championship after winning on demand in the final round to take clear first with 8.5/11. His French opponent, Laurent Fressinet, still had the consolation of a silver medal as the other top players drew, leaving no less than 13 tied on 8/11. Vladimir Malakhov took bronze by a whisker ahead of three more Russians, while there was more drama lower down the table in the scrap for World Cup qualifying places. Gawain Jones and Jan Smeets were among those who sneaked in with last-round wins.
We last reported from Plovdiv after Round 9, when seven players were leading on 7/9 and a disgruntled Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had left the building. Although all but two of the top eight pairings in Round 10 finished drawn, those two games proved crucial. Dmitry Jakovenko had a level position against Mikhail Kobalia when he decided to make things more interesting by sacrificing a piece for two pawns:
22.Nxd5!? cxd5 23.Qxb5 Black can probably hold back the passed pawns, but after 23…Re4?! 24.Ra1 h6? 25.c6! White was on top and went on to win smoothly.
Meanwhile, Laurent Fressinet won a remarkably straightforward miniature against Vladimir Akopian. 17…dxc4? looks innocuous, but that opening of the position appears to have been almost the losing blunder, and by move 25 it was just a question of how Fressinet would choose to finish off his opponent:
So going into the final round Fressinet was in the clear lead with 8/10 and knew half a point would see him become European Champion. First, though, he had to draw with the black pieces against Jakovenko. The tension could only be guessed at, as sadly prolonged failures of the live broadcast from Bulgaria spoiled the round as a spectator experience.
As you can see below, the Russian achieved a nagging edge out of the opening, which even exchanging queens failed to diminish. Fressinet was on the ropes, with his pieces tied to the defence of the chronically weak e6-pawn. He cracked as the time control was approaching with the pseudo-active 33…Rd7?, as after 34.hxg6 hxg6 35.Bc2! it turns out Black can no longer defend the g6-pawn.
Most of the other top games were drawn relatively quickly (ensuring World Cup places all round), but it was only after Jakovenko saw Ernesto Inarkiev spend 61 moves failing to win a better endgame against Francisco Vallejo Pons that he knew for certain (without a calculator!) that he’d won the European title. Although the Russian is perhaps an unfamiliar face to chess fans, his win can’t be considered a huge upset given he started the event as the third highest rated player – and has now jumped up to 2743.1 and 13th place on the live rating list.
It was a painful tournament, however, for some of the other top-rated players. Second-ranked Mamedyarov called it a day after dropping 18 rating points. No. 4 Anish Giri saw things out to the bitter end, but even winning his last two games couldn’t stop him plummeting out of the 2700 club after a disastrous campaign. He’s dropped to 2691.1, though it’s hard to imagine he won’t bounce back soon.
It was a much better event for the other world-beating junior and the tournament’s no. 1 seed, Fabiano Caruana, who continued his good form despite playing an incredible number of games in the last few months. The final round was a bridge too far, however. After four wins and six draws he fell victim to Yuriy Kryvoruchko from the Ukraine, who seemed to be better prepared. The nice 24.Bxf7+! isn’t fatal, but in the play that followed White’s patient manoeuvring is very impressive:
There was some spectacular chess lower down the table as players fought to make it into the 23 qualifiers for the next World Cup. Vladimir Akopian and Alexander Khalifman have some history, as they played a 6-game match for the FIDE World Championship back in Las Vegas in 1999. Khalifman of course won that encounter, but this time round Akopian took revenge in a mind-boggling Najdorf. Khalifman’s 18…Ng4!!? deserved better than the loss it led to after he blundered with 25…Ka7??
It was a bad day all round for the Najdorf (and the French!) as Maxime Vachier-Lagrave lost a similarly wild game to Evgeniy Najer. The g-pawn doesn’t help Black, as he’s getting mated in the final position:
Gawain Jones, who was the sole leader after 4 rounds, played some of the most entertaining chess at the event, pulling off a great escape or two until he came a cropper against Viorel Bologan in the penultimate round – sacrificing two pawns for an attack that ran out of steam. That left him needing to win with the black pieces in the final round to make the World Cup. Describing his opening play as “dubious” is perhaps putting it mildly, but he eventually won a weird and wonderful game against his Dutch opponent (who might have nightmares about those black pawns):
It wouldn’t be this year’s European Championship if there wasn’t at least a hint of controversy. With many of the players “peacefully inclined”, there were likely to be some issues with the draw rules in place. French GM and journalist Robert Fontaine tweeted:
Looks like arbiters didn't give the draw to Bologan-Malakhov. But Maze&Smirin repeated moves from 15 to 40...Something must be changed!
It seems nothing untoward actually happened in the game between Viorel Bologan and Vladimir Malakhov. Although it was suggested the presence of an arbiter “encouraged” Bologan to play on after a single repetition in the early stages of a Berlin Defence, he said himself after the game at Chess-News that he simply decided to continue. The uninspiring play that followed (drawn in 41) gave Malakhov, probably the world’s only top chess player who happens to be a nuclear physicist, the bronze medal.
But Sebastien Maze – Ilia Smirin was a real oddity. The players didn’t try to claim a draw by repetition but… simply repeated things. Again, and again, and again, from move 16 to 40.
A joke, a protest, inspired by Loek van Wely? Somehow it seems we’re likely to hear a lot more about the rules that were in place at this year’s European Individual Championship!
The final standings at the top were (performance rating was the first tie-breaker):
European Championship 2012 | Round 11 standings (top 40)
|8||GM||Vallejo Pons Francisco||ESP||2693||8.0||2765||66.0||71.0||8||7.00||1.00||10||10.0|
|15||GM||Jones Gawain C B||ENG||2635||7.5||2760||70.0||74.0||7.5||5.61||1.89||10||18.9|
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