CHESS: COLUMN LET’S PLAY CHESS- Russian Championship sans big guns By Edgar De Castro

By Edgar De Castro

The 70th Russian Championship was held in the city of St. Petersburg, simultaneously with the London joust.

The all-GM, single round robin event (Dec. 3-14), had 12 participants, including the Kremlin’s young stars and aspiring hopefuls. The absence of Russian big guns – Kramnik, Kariakin, Grischuk, Nepomniachtchi and Jakovenko –  considerably lowered the strength of the competition to a category 18 on the FIDE scale.

St. Petersburg native Peter Svidler, the highest rated, topped this year’s edition, beating Nikita Vitiugov, 2-0, in the rapid tiebreaker. It was Svidler’s eighth Russian championship plum. The tourney resulted as follows: Svidler and Vitiugov, 7.0; Dubov, Fedoseev, 6.5; Malakhov, Tomashevsky, Riazantzev, 6.0; Sjugirov, Iniarkeiv, 5.0; Matlakov, 4.5; Romanov, 3.5 and Volkov, 3.0.

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In the following game, tournament winner Caruana ”avenged” himself against the same opponent who defeated him decisively in the 2016 Candidates Tournament.

London Chess Classic 2017 

W) S. Kariakin (Russia)

B) F. Caruana (USA)

Sicilian Defense

1. e4              c5 

2. Nf3             e6 

3. d4              cxd4 

4. Nxd4          Nc6 

5. Nc3            Qc7 

6. Be3            a6

The Taimanov variation, a well-known Sicilian variant strongly recommended in the 70s, but only the Russian world contender, Mark Taimanov, succeeded in making it popular. Black’s idea is to develop his Q-side pieces early, while reserving his options on the other wing.

7. Qf3!?            …

White’s last is an unproven commodity, a rare sideline seldom seen in top level competition. More usual nowadays is 7. a3 or 7. f4, when Black can transpose into the Scheveningen variation with 7…d6 and 8…Nf6.

7….                Ne5!?

Double-edged but interesting. After 7…Bb4 8. Nxc6 Bxc3ch 9. bxc3 Qxc6, the ensuing middle game hangs in the balance. And if  7…Nf6 8. Nxc6 bxc6 9. 0-0-0 Be7 10. Be2 d6 11. Qg3 0-0, the position is near equality.

8. Qg3            b5 

9. O-O-O?!        …

Seems premature to say the least. Instead, a waiting attitude such as 9. a3, would be the simpler and most natural continuation.

9….               Nf6 

10. f4             Neg4 

11. Bg1          h5!

In this kind of setup, Black is not hard put to achieve equality. There are also good alternatives, but the text is most accurate according to the engine.

12. e5            …

After 12. Bd3 b4 13. Nce2 e5 14. h3 exf4 15. Qxf4 Qxf4 16. Nxf4 Ne5, Black obtains equality.

12….             b4 

13. Na4          Nd5 

14. Nb3          Bb7 

15. Nac5        Bc6 

16. Ne4          f5 

17. h3?!            …

Not a good choice. 17. exf6 is much better, according to the engine.

17….             h4! 

The refutation of White’s last move.

18. Qe1         fxe4 

19. hxg4        Nxf4 

20. Rxh4        Rxh4 

21. Qxh4       Qxe5 

Now White loses a pawn without compensation.

22. Bd4          Ng6 

23. Qh3         Qg5ch

24. Kb1          Bd5 

25. Bg1          Be7 

26. g3?           …

The decisive mistake. Correct is 26. Be3, and White would be in a position to offer a longer resistance.

26….             Ne5 

27. Be2          Nf3

28. Bxf3         exf3 

Now Black’s two connected passed pawns will rule the waves.

29. Bd4          Kf7 

30. Nc1          d6 

31. Nd3          e5 

32. Bf2          Be6 

33. Nxb4        e4 

34. Qh1         Rc8 

35. Nxa6?      …

This loses quickly, but other tries for White also fail. E.g. 35. c3 a5 36.Nc2 Qxg4 and Black has an easy win.

35….             Qa5!

After the text, either White swap Queens into a lost ending or loses material. The rest needs no further comment.

36. Qh5ch     Qxh5 

37. gxh5        Bg5 

38. Re1         Bc4 

39. Nb4         Re8 

40. Re3         Bxe3 

41. Bxe3       Re5 

42. g4           Rg5


If 43. b3 (43. Bxg5? f2 wins) Be2, 44. Kc1 Rxg4 45. Nd5 Rf2 46. Nc3 f2 ends the story.

Solution to last week’s puzzle:

White to move and win.

White=Kh1, Rc5, Rd1, Nd6, Ne6, Pa2, Pb2, Pf4, Pg2, Ph2

Black=Kb8, Ra8, Rh8, Nc6, Ng6, Pa7, Pb7, Pf6, Pg7, Ph7

1. Rxc6! bxc6, 2. Rd3 … Threatening 3. Rb3 mate.

2…  a5, 4. Rb3ch Ka7, 5. Rb7ch Ka6, 6. Nc5 mate.

White to play and win.

The Philippine Star

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