Russian Team Ch: Karjakin stars as Tomsk claim gold
Tomsk-400 have won the Russian Team Championship for a fifth time, with Sergey Karjakin posting the tournament’s best performance. Their rivals could only draw against each other in the final round, giving St. Petersburg silver and ShSM-64 bronze. Karjakin comments on his team’s victory, and don’t miss a longer interview with Peter Svidler at the end of this report!
Karjakin interviewed after leading Tomsk-400 to victory | Photos by Eteri Kublashvili (more here)
Gold medals for Tomsk-400
There were fears before the Russian Championship began that the new 7-round Swiss format might result in an accidental winner, but in the end nothing could have been further from the truth. On their path to victory Tomsk-400 played the top six teams apart from themselves, and the top five places were taken by the top five seeds. What is true, however, is that the short format left the ultimate medal allocation balanced on a knife edge. It all came down to a nail-biting final round.
The St. Petersburg Chess Federation were leading by a single match point going into the last day, but knew that only a win was likely to give them the title. It was the same story for their opponents, ShSM-64, though the team from Moscow knew that even a narrow win might not be enough. In the end, however, they cancelled each other out:
|3||St. Petersburg Chess Fed.||3.0 - 3.0||ShSM-64, Moscow||1|
|1||2744||Svidler, Peter||0.5 - 0.5||Caruana, Fabiano||2767||1|
|3||2730||Dominguez Perez, Leinier||0.5 - 0.5||Wang, Hao||2733||2|
|4||2702||Movsesian, Sergei||1 - 0||Leko, Peter||2720||3|
|5||2695||Efimenko, Zahar||0.5 - 0.5||Riazantsev, Alexander||2710||5|
|6||2683||Zvjaginsev, Vadim||0.5 - 0.5||Grachev, Boris||2705||6|
|7||2632||Matlakov, Maxim||0 - 1||Najer, Evgeniy||2640||8|
Peter Leko had been having a wonderful tournament (3 wins, 2 draws) but he met his match against an inspired Sergei Movsesian, who won his fourth game in a row after demolishing Leko’s Berlin Wall. Don’t believe anyone who tells you the Berlin is a quiet opening!
That blow struck for St. Petersburg (who’d previously beaten key rivals Tomsk-400 and Economist), was matched by Evgeny Najer’s convincing win against Maxim Matlakov. Najer’s ultra-aggressive opening eventually gave him a huge strategic advantage, and Matlakov’s desperate attempts to generate counterplay were easily refuted:
ShSM-64 team captain and "64" editor-in-chief Mark Glukhovsky looks on as the tension mounts
With the other games drawn it all came down to Zvjaginsev – Grachev, which would be a game to skip apart from its huge sporting significance. Vadim Zvjaginsev got the better of an innocuous rook ending, and reached move 88 trying to promote his passed pawn:
That draw meant the goal was wide open for Tomsk-400, who had what should nominally have been an easy match against Polytechnik:
|4||Tomsk - 400||4.0 - 2.0||Polytechnik, Nizhniy Tagil||6|
|1||2766||Karjakin, Sergey||1 - 0||Kokarev, Dmitry||2637||1|
|2||2727||Ponomariov, Ruslan||0.5 - 0.5||Bocharov, Dmitry||2609||2|
|4||2683||Motylev, Alexander||0.5 - 0.5||Smirnov, Pavel||2599||3|
|6||2656||Khismatullin, Denis||0.5 - 0.5||Maletin, Pavel||2586||4|
|7||2688||Areshchenko, Alexander||0.5 - 0.5||Kryakvin, Dmitry||2566||5|
|8||2657||Kurnosov, Igor||1 - 0||Ovetchkin, Roman||2499||6|
Tomsk were missing Viorel Bologan (3 wins, 3 draws) who left a day early, but ultimately the wins came from the other likely sources, Sergey Karjakin (4 wins, 3 draws) and Igor Kurnosov (3 wins, 2 draws). The middle of the Tomsk-400 line-up was perhaps less impressive, though Ruslan Ponomariov’s solid display on board 2 (1 win, 4 draws) was just as useful as it has been previously for Ukraine, when Vassily Ivanchuk would dominate on board 1. Karjakin performed the Ivanchuk role perfectly, though his final round win had looked unlikely at one stage (he began by sacrificing no less than three pawns in a Najdorf), and ultimately came down to a dramatic blunder in a theoretically drawn ending:
Dmitry Kokarev shouldn’t be too downhearted, however, as knight and rook v. two rooks is far from a trivial draw. As Sergey Shipov pointed out, Evgeny Bareev once lost the same ending to Garry Kasparov:
Sergey Karjakin, back up to no. 6 in the world, at the centre of attention
Karjakin summed up the event for Eteri Kublashvili of the Russian Chess Federation website:
The tournament went perfectly: we managed to finish first in the overall standings, and I was first on my board. Of course luck was involved, but on the other hand when you’ve got a short tournament of only seven rounds it’s pretty difficult to win without luck. I think my best game in Loo was the win with the black pieces against Dmitry Jakovenko, which meant our team won a crucial match. Of course it would be better if there were more rounds as that would be a more objective format. With nine to eleven rounds the best team will always win, while here it was a lottery until the very last moment.
Economist entered the final round with their fate no longer in their hands, but knowing a win by a large margin would boost their medal chances. They seemed to go for it, but it nearly ended in a fiasco, with Ian Nepomniachtchi in particular playing a disastrous opening. The team eventually won by the narrowest of margins:
|7||University, Belorechensk||2.5 - 3.5||Economist-SGSEU, Saratov||2|
|1||2599||Tregubov, Pavel V.||0 - 1||Morozevich, Alexander||2765||1|
|2||2645||Landa, Konstantin||0 - 1||Tomashevsky, Evgeny||2736||2|
|3||2558||Brodsky, Michail||1 - 0||Nepomniachtchi, Ian||2718||3|
|4||2592||Burmakin, Vladimir||0 - 1||Moiseenko, Alexander||2706||5|
|5||2523||Panarin, Mikhail||0.5 - 0.5||Alekseev, Evgeny||2673||7|
|6||2505||Poluljahov, Aleksandr||1 - 0||Roiz, Michael||2652||8|
As it happened, though, even a 6:0 win wouldn’t have helped. Fourth place was a disappointment for Economist, but Alexander Morozevich proved he was a worthy team leader, brushing off a first round loss to finish with a 2810 rating performance. In the final round he beat Pavel Tregubov, despite living very dangerously:
That completed an unfortunate treble for Tregubov, who stood equal or better at around move 30 against all three top-10 players at the event – Karjakin, Caruana and Morozevich – but contrived to lose each game.
So the top half of the men’s standings ultimately looked as follows (the “Total” column gives the crucial game points – the first tiebreaker):
|1||4||Tomsk - 400||RUS||2708||11.0||27.0||13;7;5;2;6;||5||5.5|
|2||3||St. Petersburg Chess Fed.||RUS||2711||11.0||25.5||12;8;4;2;9;||5||4.0|
|6||8||Chigorin Chess Club, St. Petersburg||RUS||2553||9.0||20.0||17;14;15;10;||4||2.5|
|7||6||Polytechnik, Nizhniy Tagil||RUS||2583||8.0||22.5||14;13;11;10;||4||2.5|
Gold medals for Ladya: Natalia Zhukova, Nadezhda Kosintseva, Daria Charochkina, Valentina Gunina and Alisa Galliamova
Favourites Ladya had already sealed victory in the penultimate round of the women’s event, and they celebrated in style by beating Udmurtia 4:0 in their last match. As second-placed Ugra had a bye in the final round the only remaining intrigue was whether ShSM-RGSU could claim silver. They needed a 3.5:0.5 victory against the bottom team, Polytechnik, but couldn’t quite make it:
|5||Polytechnik, Nizhniy Tagil||1.0 - 3.0||ShSM-RGSU, Moscow||3|
|1||2268||Timofeeva, Ekaterina||0 - 1||Kosteniuk, Alexandra||2448||1|
|2||2050||Rassokhina, Ekaterina||0.5 - 0.5||Kovalevskaya, Ekaterina||2419||2|
|3||1920||Zasypkina, Evgenia||0 - 1||Kashlinskaya, Alina||2377||3|
|4||2060||Trubitsyna, Yulia||0.5 - 0.5||Savina, Anastasia||2325||4|
In fact, it could easily have been worse, as Alexandra Kosteniuk beat Ekaterina Timofeeva in an extraordinary game. First Kosteniuk, then Timofeeva, overlooked spectacular tactics, only for the former World Champion to eventually win a drawn ending:
Alexandra Kosteniuk finds some space to think
The final table of the women’s event looked as follows:
|4||6||Chigorin Chess Club, St. Petersburg||RUS||2321||5.0||11.0||5;||1||1.0|
|7||5||Polytechnik, Nizhniy Tagil||RUS||2139||2.0||6.5||7;||1||2.5|
Finally for this year’s Russian Team Championship, a treat: Peter Svidler interviewed by Eteri Kublashvili for the RCF website. Talking after drawing with Fabiano Caruana but before the match was over, he discusses the event, how it compares to the Bundesliga, and reveals that he’ll be commentating on the upcoming World Championship match between Viswanathan Anand and Boris Gelfand:
Peter, could you tell us how the tournament went?
For me personally, or for the team?
Both personally and for your team.
Well, it’ll all become clear for the team in the next hour and a half. While for me personally… I can’t say I’m satisfied with everything, and I’d happily have done without that game against Jakovenko, but given I’d taken quite a long break I think my play was decent overall. “Plus one” on first board is never a catastrophe, though I’d have liked more. Of course I'm not going to treasure losing in 20 moves with the white pieces in a crucial match. All things considered, I’d give myself four out of five.
And would you single out any of your wins?
I won two games, but in both of them my opponents played extremely poorly, so I don’t have anything in particular to boast about. Artyom Timofeev got a very tough position against me right out of the opening and, quite frankly, Emil didn’t play the game of his life against me. Therefore there’s nothing in particular to single out: it was a normal tournament, all my opponents were strong and none of the games was a formality.
What was the atmosphere like in your team?
We always have a wonderful atmosphere! That’s one of the reasons why we all keep playing year after year. The line-up barely changes and rotation is kept to a minimum. It’s a pleasure to play for the team! We’ve already established ties in the local area and we’ve got “our people” in the markets of this wonderful region, so our evening meetings are informal. In my first year playing for the St. Petersburg team under the current management I was slightly shocked by what went on at the first meeting. Now, however, the anticipation of those meeting is perhaps one of the main reasons why we play for the team. Seriously though, we played four crucial matches, losing one and winning two. Today’s match has been very tough going. I hope things will work out – we’ll see.
In the end it was silver for the team from St. Petersburg
You also play for Baden-Baden in the Bundesliga. How would you compare those two teams and two leagues?
Baden-Baden has more strength in depth, I’d say. Baden-Baden’s full line-up is stronger than any team in the Russian league, but at the same time the Russian League is of course stronger than the Bundesliga. After all, in the Bundesliga apart from Baden-Baden you’ve basically only got Bremen, whereas a record number of super clubs show up for the Russian League.
In which league is the weight of responsibility greater?
It’s hard to say, as the formats are completely different. The Bundesliga lasts seven months and I played five games in it this year – three in November and two in March – and I was also lucky with the team: it’s hard to compete with us. While in the Russian Team Championship it’s always “Scandals. Intrigues. Investigations” [the catchphrase of a Russian TV program - CV], as nothing’s ever clear until the final round.
Do you like the current format of the Russian League?
It used to be round-robins, but now they’ve simply decided to try something new. I don’t think the small clubs are very happy with the innovation as previously they’d fight for first place in the Higher League. If they were sponsored by a town or region then when they returned home they could boast about victory in the Higher League; and who’s going to get to the bottom of what kind of league that is exactly? And therefore they got support as it was clear they were competing for something. With the current format it’s clear they’re not going to be involved in the fight for prizes, although they get the chance to play against the big players. So that’s the only problem, but otherwise it’s all very dynamic.
Do you prefer playing in team or personal events?
I really like playing for the team, but as the years go by I’ve started to play worse for them. Therefore I can’t say with my hand on my heart that I’m a team player, although around three years ago I was scoring very good results for the team.
What are your plans for the immediate future?
It seems I’m going to commentate on the Anand – Gelfand match in Moscow, while my schedule starts to get busy from August onwards.
How do you think the World Championship match will go?
I think the match will be more interesting than people think. I don’t consider the current form of the World Champion and the challenger to be a good reflection of reality. Let’s see what happens, as after all we've got two great players competing!
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