That’s because the area is now awash, not with political prisoners in gulags, but oligarchies taking multi-million dollar rich pickings from the vast oil and gas revenues there, and sponsor top teams with the best players. First it was Tomsk who dominated Russian team chess, and they went on to become two-time European Club Cup winners. And now, as the 31st edition of the European Club Cup enters the final stages in Skopje, the latest Siberian outfit have taken what could prove to be a decisive lead in the competition.
Siberia - with a formidable top six of Kramnik, Aronian, Grischuk, Li Chao, Wang Yue and Korobov - remains the only team on a perfect 10/10 match points now, after they “brought the heat” to beat the defending champions and top seeds SOCAR of Azerbaijan. It was a close contest between the two top teams in the competition, and the result only went the way of Siberia by 3.5-2.5, after the crucial top board encounter between arch-rivals Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov went the way of the former Russian world champion, who has proved to be Siberia’s talismanic performer.
Kramnik’s phenomenal rating performance in Skopje has not only put his team in the lead, it's also moved him up four places to world No.5 on the unofficial live rating list, as Kasparov’s nemesis now begins a late run to push the young Dutch star, Anish Giri, out of contention for the second rating spot into next year’s Candidates Tournament that will determine Magnus Carlsen's title challenger.
Vladimir Kramnik - Veselin Topalov
31st European Club Cup, (5)
Colle Attack/Queen’s Pawn
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.e3 "It's my new way of playing with White - just trying to get a game," explained Kramnik after the game. He also played this in the recent Rapid and Blitz World Championships in Berlin - even beating Levon Aronian with a full Colle Attack with Bd3, c3 and Nbd2 etc. 3...c5 4.Bd3 b6 5.0-0 Bb7 6.c4 While the Colle Attack proper with c3, Nbd2 is an elementary, lower-level opening, it is easy to play and not much can go wrong for White in the opening. But here, with Black not committing as yet to ...d5, 6.c4 has a bit more bite to it. 6...cxd4 7.exd4 Be7 8.Nc3 d5 9.cxd5 Nxd5 10.Ne5 0-0 11.Qg4 f5 12.Qe2 Retreating from the direct assault on the Black king to now rightly focus on the weakness created on e6. 12...Bf6 13.Bc4 Re8 14.Rd1 Nd7 15.Bb5 And from a simple opening, Kramnik has, indeed, got "a game" he was looking for. 15...Bxe5 16.dxe5 Qe7 17.Nxd5 Bxd5 18.Qh5 g6 19.Qh6 Rec8 20.Bg5 Qf7 21.Bxd7 Qxd7 22.Bf6 A very dangerous position for Black, who now has to be careful of falling into a trap with the mate on g7. 22...Qf7 23.b3 Qf8 24.Qf4 The crucial difference is that White has more space and total control of the dark-squares - but how best to reinforce the advantage? 24...Rc2 25.h4! Exactly! Kramnik is looking to bludgeon open the h-file for potential mating attacks on h8 now. 25...Rac8 26.h5 Qe8 27.Rd3! It's Caveman tactics, but very effective - now Black has to stop hxg6 followed by Rg3 or Rh3 easily winning. So... 27...R2c3 28.Rad1 Also strong was 28.Rxc3! Rxc3 29.Rc1 and long-term, Black is going to be doomed to forever defending those mating threats on the dark-squares. 28...gxh5? 29.Rxd5! (See Diagram) But this was Kramnik's big idea - the bishop on d5 is the lynchpin that's holding Black's position together. Without it, Black has no defence. 29...exd5 30.e6! R3c7 31.Rxd5! Qxe6 32.Qg5+ Kf8 33.Rxf5 Rf7 34.Qh6+ Ke8 35.Re5 Rc6 Now, if 36.Rxe6+ Rxe6 37.Qxh5 Rexf6 Black can easily hold this - but Kramnik has better. Much better.... 36.Qxh5 Saving the bishop and forcing resignation 1-0