Sergey Karjakin and Ian Nepomniachtchi continue to lead the Russian Championship Superfinal after scoring 4.5/6. Friday is a rest day, before they meet head-to-head on Saturday, when Nepomniachtchi will have the white pieces. Meanwhile in the women’s section 19-year-old Polina Shuvalova continues her amazing run. She’s now racked up six wins in six rounds, with her closest pursuer, Aleksandra Goryachkina, a full 1.5 points behind.
Friday is a rest day in the Botvinnik Central Chess Club in Moscow where the Superfinals of the 73rd Russian Championship and the 70th Russian Women’s Championship are taking place. After six days of tense struggles the players have one chance to catch their breath. The leaders will be preparing for the decisive rounds that will determine who becomes the 2020 Russian Champion, while those who started badly will have the chance to recover and fight for ratings and their place in the table. On Saturday they’re all back in action.
Let’s take a look at some of the key moments from the 5th and 6th rounds:
Round 5: Matlakov grabs the only win
Round 5 was relatively calm in the men’s section, with five draws and only one decisive game.
Sergey Karjakin was playing Aleksey Goganov, who sprung a surprise on move 6 by playing a new idea in the Catalan Opening, 6.Nh3!? According to the chess24 database, that was the first time the move had been seen at grandmaster level. It brought nothing significant, however, with Karjakin calmly exchanging all the pieces to enter a slightly more pleasant queen ending, which after the exchange of queens became an absolutely drawn pawn ending.
Ian Nepomniachtchi decided to test his opponent Nikita Vitiugov in a long theoretical variation of the Scotch Game. Nikita turned out to be prepared and the game ended in a forced draw by 3-fold repetition on move 25.
Fedosev-Antipov also featured little action. The rook and bishop ending that arose on the board after quick exchanges in the opening turned out to be slightly more promising for Black, but objectively it never went beyond the bounds of equality. A draw on move 32.
Dubov-Artemiev also ended in a draw, but Daniil balanced on the edge of the abyss. In a Paulsen Sicilian he decided to castle long, later explaining:
6…Bb4 is the main move. He obviously went for 6…d6 because he doesn’t care about theory at all. That’s why I decided to castle long. There is such a line and I was pretty sure that he has exactly zero knowledge about it. The drawback of that idea was that my knowledge was quite similar!
Ultimately Daniil’s risk-taking proved unjustified as his king came under a terrible attack and Vladislav should have won. Dubov talked about the critical moment afterwards.
Daniil was exaggerating a little about five ways to win, but Black could indeed have won here. The most precise path was the move 20…d4! You can’t reply 21.cxb4 due to mate-in-4 with 21…Qa2+ 22.Kc1 Qa1+ 23.Kd2 Bxb4+ 24.Kd3 Qc3#. White would have to play 21.cxd4, but in that case Black wins with 21…Qa2+ 22.Kc1 Nc6!! and the white king has nowhere to hide.
Most likely it was the move 22…Nc6 that escaped Vladislav’s attention. He thought for almost 27 minutes and made the move 20…Bc5?, which Daniil met by capturing the knight with 21.cxb4, when it turned out Black had nothing better than perpetual check. 21…Qxb4+ 22.Kc1 Qa3+ 23.Kb1 and so on.
In the game Esipenko-Svidler, White attacked in a Grünfeld, but Peter defended precisely. After the opening his position looked quite dangerous, but the computer consistently gave 0.00, meaning Andrey was never winning at any moment.
The only win was scored by Maxim Matlakov. His namesake Chigaev’s decision to play for a win in an equal position backfired.
After 18.Rfc1?! Rfc8 19.Bd2 Qc6 20.h3 f6 21.c4?! bxc4 22.bxc4 Bxc4 Black got an extra pawn and excellent winning chances. After the game Maxim Matlakov commented:
It seems to me that Maksim began to play too ambitiously, trying to carry out c4, and at some point his conception broke down. He miscalculated and, out of nowhere, I got an extra pawn and winning chances.
In a heavy-piece endgame Matlakov finished things off with an attack on the king.
42.g5? Qh5 43.Rxd3 Rc1+ 44.Kh2 Qe2 45.Rg3 f4 46.Rg2 Qe1 47.Kh3 Qh1 and White resigned. Maxim Matlakov had scored his first win after suffering two losses at the start, while Chigaev fell out of the chasing pack.
Round 6: Karjakin and Nepo win again
Round 6 was to be followed by the only rest day, so there was no reason for the players to save energy and make quick draws. We got to see a real fight in all of the games, with both leaders winning to open up a full point gap over their pursuers.
Sergey Karjakin had White against Maxim Matlakov. Maxim had won the day before and, in a fighting mood, decided to sacrifice his queen against the 2016 World Championship Challenger.
14.Qxc6 Bxd2?! 15.Qxb6 Bxc1 16.Qd4! Rfb8 17.b3 Rb4 18.Qd3 Bb2 19.a3 Bxa1 20.axb4 White ended up with a small advantage while the position remained very complicated, but at this tournament Karjakin has been playing almost flawlessly, and he gradually built up pressure. He won a pawn and entered an ending where the queen turned out to be much stronger than the rook and bishop.
In his interview after that win Sergey commented:
The game was complicated. Despite my having prepared for this line, Maxim managed to surprise me. The game Ding Liren-Giri from the 2020 Candidates was played in this line, and while preparing I paid most attention to the move played by the Dutch grandmaster. However, Maxim played differently, offering a variation with a queen sacrifice for a rook and bishop. I thought for a long time and nevertheless decided to go for the most principled approach. Objectively Black should hold, but in a practical game it wasn’t so easy to play. At some point Matlakov made an inaccuracy (21…h6), and the advantage was soon on my side. It seems to me that I converted the edge pretty well, although my opponent helped me by making an unfortunate move. Even without that, however, I think White’s position should be winning.
Ian Nepomniachtchi matched Sergey Karjakin before their head-to-head meeting on Saturday as he also won.
Aleksey Goganov played 19.Ra1?! Stronger was 19.Rbc1. Ian replied 19…Nd5, and after 20. Be1?!, another inaccuracy, as the best move was 20.Ba5, 20…c3! 21.Bd3 Bxd3 22.Rxd3 Ba3 the passed pawn had become so strong that White had to give up the exchange to stop it. 23.Bxc3 Nxc3 24.Rxc3 Bb2 Black had a decisive material advantage. In what followed Ian’s victory was never in doubt as he confidently brought the game to its logical conclusion.
I did quite a lot of preparation for this game, where I played what was a new variation for me. The thing is that Aleksey has been playing quite solidly here with White, going fast and willingly for mass exchanges. Therefore my task was to get a more complicated position out of the opening and go for an interesting strategic struggle. In the game I got just what I’d prepared.
Ian and Sergey are both on 4.5/6, one point ahead of their closest pursuers.
Peter Svidler had an advantage in his game against Maksim Chigaev, but one innacuracy was enough for Black to completely equalise the position.
Daniil Dubov spent a long time trying to win an objectively drawn endgame against Mikhail Antipov, but in the end the players agreed to a draw on move 57.
Vitiugov-Fedoseev, like the majority of games between St. Petersburg chess players at this tournament, ended in quite a quick draw. Nikita has 3/6, while Vladimir has 3.5/6, making him joint third with Vladislav Artemiev.
Vladislav managed to beat Andrey Esipenko with White. In a position where White had an extra piece while Black had hopes of attacking the open white king, Andrey made a decisive mistake.
26…Qg6+? It was much stronger to play 26…h6! After the game Vladislav analysed this variation and said:
It seemed to me that I should win after 26…h6, with an extra piece, but it would have been far from easy.
After the queen check the game didn’t last much longer. 27.Kh1 Rf2 28.Qd5+ Kh8 29.Rg1 Qe8 30.Rg2 and Black resigned.
Round 5: Five decisive games
While only one game was decisive among the men in Round 5, there was only one draw in the women’s section – Alina Kashlinskaya was unable to win a rook ending against Natalia Pogonina.
Polina Shuvalova scored a fifth win in a row. Her opponent Valentina Gunina put up long and stubborn resistance, but on move 79 she had to concede defeat.
Alexandra Kosteniuk managed to get back to 50% after suffering two losses at the start. Her opponent, Tatiana Getman, allowed a black pawn to advance to c2 and was unable to find counterplay on the kingside. After mass exchanges the endgame with such a pawn was absolutely hopeless for White.
Aleksandra Goryachkina also won, but it was much tougher, and at one point her position was absolutely lost.
Her opponent Yulia Grigorieva didn’t notice that after 42.Qf7! the rook has no good square to retreat to. For instance, 42…Rg5 would be met by 43.Bb8+! Kb8 44.Qf4+ and the rook is lost.
Yulia played 42.Qf4 and, a few moves later, her position had collapsed. 42…Qb5 43.Re1 Nxd6 44.Qxd6? After 44.cxd6 the position would be roughly equal. 44…Qd3 45.Qf4 Qc2 46.Qf3 d3 47.e7 Rh8 48.Kg1? Qxh2+ and it was mate-in-3, which Aleksandra had no trouble finding.
Alisa Galliamova managed to win a piece in the opening against Olga Girya and went on to convert it. Leya Garifullina is showing great play in the event, with two wins and no losses. In Round 5, the 16-year-old player from Yekaterinburg displayed excellent technique in a bishop endgame against Marina Guseva.
Round 6: Shuvalova makes it 6-in-a-row
Aleksandra Goryachkina drew against Alexandra Kosteniuk, thereby lowering her chances of winning the Russian Women’s Championship Superfinal, since Polina Shuvalova has so far been impossible to stop, with six wins in six games! This time her opponent was Natalia Pogonina.
Polina herself described the game as follows:
The game began with a very comfortable opening for me, and I also had a big edge on the clock. But Natalia is very good at defending such position and at some point I allowed counterplay. After that a large part of my advantage had gone and we were more or less level on the clock, while a difficult-to-fathom endgame appeared on the board. Then, it seems to me, we were already just playing on autopilot, because we were already very tired. There were probably blunders and mistakes by both sides after that, but overall I had the advantage even though I saw a way for her to equalise the position. However, it was tougher for Natalia to defend and I managed to win.
After that win Polina’s gap to Aleksandra Goryachkina in 2nd place is a full 1.5 points, while Leya Garifullina, who drew against Alina Kashlinskaya to move into sole third place, is 2 points behind the leader. There are only 5 rounds to go and Polina’s rivals will have to win almost every game if they still want to fight for the Russian Women’s Championship title.
Meanwhile the reigning Russian Champion Olga Girya scored her first win, beating Yulia Grigorieva with White.
24.Rfe1 c5 25.e6! Nf8 26.exf7+ Qxf7 27.Bxc8 and, with an extra exchange, White went on to win, though not without adventures.
Things are going from bad to worse for Valentina Gunina, who lost to Tatiana Getman and sank to the bottom of the table – 2/6 and 10th place. So far none of Valentina’s games have ended in a draw.
There also hasn’t been a single draw in the games of Marina Guseva, who in Round 6 managed to beat Alisa Galliamova with White.
White is a pawn down, but her advantage is huge, since Black is far behind in development and it’s now very difficult to find the correct moves. There followed 22…h5?, a mistaken plan (better was 22…Ne6 or 22…Rd8), 23.Rd6! Rh6 24.Rd3 Rf6 25.Bg5 b4 26.Bxf6 and White eased to victory.
The standings look as follows with 5 rounds to go: