SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
A lot of noise was made of the London Classic tournament with Anand, Carlsen and Kramnik, but to my mind the 63rd Russian Championship is a much tougher and certainly more interesting tournament! Boasting 12 players– including 7 who are currently 2700 plus elo rated–the lowest rated is 2659 and shows it because he is in the cellar! But more than this, the chess is of a high quality. Even most of the draws are hard fought affairs.
With 2 rounds to go Karjakin and Nepomniachtchi are tied in the lead with 6 points (out of 9), followed closely by Grischuk and Svidler. Today Grischuk plays White against Ian Nepomniachtchi, and that should be an exciting encounter. Grischuk is known for his powerful finishes, especially when he has the White pieces. Meanwhile, Karjakin has remained undefeated up to now, and this year he has shown himself to have become a much more consistent and pointy professional.
This year’s championship is very strong! Many of the participants are in excellent form and are reaching their peaks as players. I would not be surprised if a future world champion (or two!) is one of the participants. I am keeping my eye on Nepomniachtchi, who reminds me a lot of Alekhine and Fischer. Ian has lost 1 game so far, but has won 4. I particularly like his win in round 9 against Peter Svidler, who lost his lead in this round.
GM IAN NEOPOMNIACHTCHI
Neopomniachtchi almost always plays the Spanish (3.Bb5), but for this occasion he specially prepared the Scotch Opening. It is a sign of a dangerous competitor to vary his repetoire from time to time, trying to profit from both psychological factors (the element of surprise, especially) and superior preparation. While it is true that Svidler has more experience in the Scotch than his opponent, it is equally true that a fixed target is easier to hit!
POSITION AFTER WHITE’S 9th MOVE (9.Nd2):
Here Svidler , in his game with English GM Howell earlier this year, tried the risque 9…0-0-0 and he managed to survive and make a draw. (9… O-O-O 10. b3 d6 11. Qg4 Kb8 12. cxd5 Qxe5 13. Qe4 Qxa1 14. Qb4 Bb5 15. Bxb5 Qxc1 16. Ke2 Qc5 17. Qxc5 dxc5 18. Bxc6 Bd6 1/2-1/2, Amsterdam)
No doubt smelling a rat — that his opponent had found the refutation–Svidler decided to avoid this game and vary with the more sedate 9…g6, planning to castle on the Kingside. But Nepomniachtchi was well prepared and maybe even better prepared than Svidler:
POSITION AFTER WHITE’S 16th MOVE (16.h4)
The critical line appears to be 16…Bb7, transposing into the computer game between Rybka and Pandix played earlier this year in a tournament for computer programs (Leiden): 16… Bb7 17. Bd3 a5 (17… h5 is better and Black seems ok) 18. a4 Rfd8 19. h5 d5 20. exd6 Rxd6 21. hxg6 fxg6 22. Rae1 Qf8 23. Bxg7 Qxg7 24. Ng5 h5 25. Rh3 Qf6 26. Rhe3 Rf8 27. Ne6 Rf7 28. Nxc5 Bc6 29. f3 Nd7 30. Ne6 Nf8 31. Nxf8 Kxf8 32. Qxa5 Qd4 33. Qc3 Qf6 34. a5 h4 35. a6 Qxc3 36. Kxc3 Rff6 37. c5 Rd5 38. b4 Rd8 39. Re6 Kg7 40. a7 h3 41. Rxc6 Rxc6 42. gxh3 Ra8 43. Be4 1-0
Instead, Svidler played a more forcing line, but one that seems to be a weaker :
16… d5 17. exd6 Qxd6 (17… cxd6 18. Bxg7 Kxg7 19. h5 is also good for White)
18. Bxg7 Qxd2 (18… Kxg7 19. Qc3 Kg8 20. Rd1 Qc6 21. h5 is no better)
19. Nxd2 Kxg7
Svidler needed to have lots of confidence to want to play this ending! Black is clearly worse, his Queenside pawns torn and permanently vulnerable to attack by White’s pieces. Furthermore, his Bishop and Knight are out of play and to make matters worse, Black has absolutely no counterplay or targets to attack in White’s position. I think that Black must be lost!
Be that as it may, there is a difference between having a lost game and actually losing it! Svidler made a fight of it and even managed to get some counterplay based on White’s exposed h-pawn and then on the Kingside pawns. Against a lesser opponent, he might have pulled it off. The critical position is this:
POSITION AFTER BLACK’S 34th MOVE (34…Ne3):
White has made progress over on the Queenside–as expected–but Black is mixing things up. With his last move he attacks White’s Bishop, and if the Bishop moves he can take the g-pawn and then hope to advance his own h-pawn.
Nepomniachtchi showed his class when he simply ignored Black’s threats!
This must have come as a shock to Svidler! White’s idea is to play Kb6 and simply advance his a-pawn. It appears that there is nothing that Black can do about it, and Black’s hope to advance his own h-pawn is much too slow.
The game continued logically:
35. Nxc7 Nxf1 36. Kb6 Bd7 37. Nd5 Kg7 38. a4
This was forseen a long time ago!
38… Bc8 39. Ne7 !
The Bishop is driven off of the diagonal and will not be able to sacrifice itself for the a-pawn. The only way to stop it would require Black to give up both of his minor pieces, extending the game needlessly. [1:0]
Great technique by Nepomniachtchi, quite possibly a future world champion.