14 Aug

Russian Around

On the current rating list, almost a quarter of the top 100 players are Russian, and roughly another quarter have Russian as their first language, but are registered with another country — and all a byproduct of the Soviet system collapse over two decades ago, when many of those players became emigres or began playing for independent countries that rose overnight from the ashes.


This predicament is familiar to international players. For instance, there’s a nice anecdote from the the American (ex-Russian) Grandmaster Ed Gufeld, who was asked by a reporter, on arriving at the 1996 Moscow Olympiad, which squad of six he expected to win. “Well, America has quite good chances, because we have four Russian players,” mused Gufeld. “Then again, perhaps Israel has even better chances because they have five Russians. But I think Russia will win, because they have six Russian players.”

But despite a lack of team golds of late, Russia still has enormous strength in depth that is derived from those Soviet times, when chess was heavily state supported both culturally and financial as a propaganda tool, because supremacy in the chess world was thought by the Kremlin to symbolise intellectual superiority.

And in the old days of their total chess hegemony, the annual Soviet Championship used to be the highlight of the chess calendar — and that tradition has carried over to the 68th Russian Championship, with its “super-final” - normally held in Moscow towards the end of the year - currently in-play now in Chita in Siberia, around 500km from the main Russia-China border crossing, five time zones off the beaten track, while Mongolia is even closer.

Five of the 12-player all-play-all field are over 2700 (in current rating order) Dmitry Jakovenko, Sergei Karjakin, Evgeny Tomashevsky, Peter Svider and Nikita Vitugov; and all are in the top 100 apart from Khismatullin on a “mere” 2642. But there’s no such thing as a weak Russian around, as Khismatullin showed no respect for seven-time champion Svidler in round four.

Peter Svidler - Denis Khismatullin
68th Russian Championship Superfinal, (4)
Sicilian Defence
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 a6 Against 2.Nc3, this is a good universal option, because if White plays a Closed Sicilian, then ...a6 is almost always a good idea; it also stops ideas of Grand Prix Attack themes of 3.Bc4; and  more importantly, it retains for Black mainline Sicilians, such as the Najdorf/Dragon/Scheveningen. 3.Nge2 d6 4.g3 g6 5.d4 cxd4 6.Nxd4 Bg7 So now we're basically back in the mainstream of a Sicilian Dragon now. 7.Bg2 Nf6 8.b3 0-0 9.Bb2 Bd7 10.Qd2 Nc6 11.Nde2 b5 12.0-0-0?! This is the wrong approach, as we'll soon see why. 12...Ng4! Because of precisely this: hitting f2 and opening the scope of Black's bishop. 13.Rdf1 If 13.Nf4 Qa5! and Black is already better, as White can't play 14.Kb1 as 14...Nxf2! is winning. 13...Qa5 14.h3 Nf6 15.Kb1 On reflection of what happens, Svidler should have opted instead for 15.a3. 15...b4 Also a good plan was 15...Rfc8!? 16.Nd1? White had to start exchanging the pieces off now, with 16.Nd5 Nxd5 17.exd5 Bxb2 (If 17...Na7 18.Bxg7 Kxg7 19.c4! all but relieves the pressure for White, as Black is more or less forced into the exchange of queens now after 19...bxc3 20.Qxc3+ Qxc3 21.Nxc3 with an equal game.) 18.dxc6! (It looks very dangerous, but it does help simplify the position) 18...Bc3 19.Nxc3 bxc3 20.Qe3 Be6 21.Rd1! and already White is threatening Rd3 picking off the dangerous pawn on c3. 16...Qc7 17.Ne3 a5 18.f4?! White had to play 18.Bxf6! as it forces 18...exf6 (Not 18...Bxf6? 19.Nd5 Qb8 20.Nxf6+ exf6 21.Rd1 and White is much better.) 19.Rd1 Qb7 20.Nf4 and positionally and structurally, White has the better prospects. 18...a4! 19.e5 dxe5 20.fxe5 Nxe5! Such exchange sacrifices are standard fare in Sicilian Dragon/King's Indian Defence positions, where Black goes all out for the attack by dramatically clearing the lines for his dark-squared bishop on g7. 21.Bxa8 Rxa8 22.Rf4 axb3 23.axb3 Qa7! (See Diagram) The open a-file - in conjunction with many x-ray attacks involving the g7 bishop - ultimately proves decisive. 24.Nd4 To demonstrate how much trouble White is in, just look what happens when you take the knight on e5: 24.Bxe5 Ne4!! 25.Qd4 (25.Rxe4 Qa1+ 26.Bxa1 Rxa1#) 25...Nc3+! 26.Nxc3 Qa1#. 24...Nh5 Hitting f4 and g3 - but more importantly, it is clearing the path for that g7 bishop (watch this space), which is soon going to inflict a deadly strike. 25.Nd5 Bc6! The relentless theme of opening the path for the bishop on g7 continues. 26.Nxc6 There's nothing better here for White, as the alternative is also bad: 26.Nxe7+ Qxe7 27.Nxc6 Nxc6 28.Bxg7 Kxg7 29.Rf3 Qa7 and Black is mating down the a-file. 26...Qa2+! Sportingly, Svidler allows the pretty mate. 27.Kc1 Qa1+!! 28.Bxa1 Rxa1+ 29.Kb2 Nc4 checkmate 0-1

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