Siberia (a cosmopolitan mix, with a formidable top six of Kramnik, Aronian, Grischuk, Li Chao, Wang Yue and Korobov) were second seeds behind the Azeri state oil-sponsored outfit of SOCAR, the defending champions and favourites - but Kramnik’s truly inspired performance on top board proved to be the difference between the two top teams, as he scored four successive 2700+ wins (that included the SOCAR top board, Veselin Topalov) to put his team into pole position going into the final round.
And in the final round, Kramnik winning streak was halted with a draw against Hungarian Peter Leko, as his “Italian” team Obiettivo Risarcimento Padova (which also included US Champion Hikaru Nakamura and Russian World Cup winner Sergey Karjakin) came close to beating Siberia, but they held on for a draw. The result saw Siberia winning undefeated on 13/14 match points, two points clear of SOCAR, with Peter Svidler’s Russian team Mednyi Vsadnik in third place, on 11 match points.
Kramnik's 4.5/5 on top board translated to a 3100+ performance and boosted his Elo rating by nearly 20-points. He now rejoins “the old gang” alongside Topalov and Vishy Anand as the respective two, three and four behind Magnus Carlsen in the unofficial live ratings. Kramnik’s superb performance also put a spanner in the works for Anish Giri taking the second rating spot for next year’s Candidates Tournament.
The young Dutch star was on the cusp of qualifying for the Candidates on the basis of possessing the second-best averaged rating for the calendar year. However, his near 20-point rating collapse in Skopje - coupled with Kramnik’s similar rise - makes it an even closer call for who gets that crucial second spot behind Topalov. As it stands, Giri marginally holds the advantage - but he needs to stop the haemorrhaging of rating points as he now moves straight to this week’s Grand Slam Masters Final in Bilbao, Spain.
Vassily Ivanchuk - Vladimir Kramnik
31st European Club Cup, (6)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 The Giuoco Piano, or 'quiet game' in Italian, stretches back to the early 17th century and the early days of 'modern chess'. And Kramnik has always played in the classical mode here with 3...Bc5 rather than the more adventurous Two Knight's Defence with 3...Nf6. 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3 d6 6.Bb3 a6 7.Nbd2 Be6 8.0-0 0-0 9.Re1 h6 10.Nf1 Bxb3 11.Qxb3 Less than a couple of weeks earlier, at the World Rapid & Blitz Championships in Berlin, one of Kramnik's opponent took back the other way and Kramnik had an easier time of it: 11.axb3 d5 12.Qe2 Ng4 13.d4 exd4 14.Nxd4 Qh4 15.h3 Nf6 16.Nxc6 bxc6 17.e5 Rfe8 18.Ra4 Ne4 and Black is marginally better, Kryvoruchko-Kramnik. 11...Re8 12.Be3 Bxe3 13.Nxe3 Qd7 Indirectly defending b7 and also possibly looking at ideas of a direct assault on the White king with ideas of ...Nf6-h5-f4 etc. 14.h3 Ne7 15.Nh2 c6 The direct 15...Ng6 and going for the ...Nf4 outpost was also an option here for Kramnik. 16.Rad1 d5 17.Nhg4 Nxg4 18.hxg4 Rad8 19.d4 exd4 20.Rxd4 Qc8 21.Red1 b5 22.Qc2 dxe4 23.Qxe4 Nd5 24.Qd3 Qe6 25.Qf5 Qxf5 26.gxf5 Re5 27.g4 Kh7 28.R1d2 h5! Necessity is the mother of invention. In order to try to save the game, Kramnik has to sacrifice a pawn to split Ivanchuk's kingside pawns. Without this, he stands no chance of saving the game. 29.gxh5 Rd6 30.b3 a5 The dust has settled, and Kramnik is a pawn down - but as usual for Ivanchuk, he is in desperate time trouble and see's his advantage turning into a lost rook and pawn ending due to the weaknesses of his kingside pawns. 31.Nxd5? Kramnik would have been hard-pressed to draw after the clinical 31.a4! that would in turn have weakened all of Kramnik's queenside pawns. 31...Rdxd5 32.c4?! (See Diagram) By now, as they would say in poker, after losing a winning hand, Ivanchuk is playing "on tilt" - the correct and only way to proceed now was going into a drawn rook and pawn ending with 32.Rxd5 cxd5 33.Rd4 Rxf5 34.a4!. 32...bxc4 33.bxc4 Rxd4 34.Rxd4 Rxf5 35.Rd7 f6 Now we can see that it is the Black rook that dominates this ending, as Kramnik nick's an unexpected win - but just watch now how his technique easily converts for the full point. 36.Ra7 Rxh5 37.Kg2 Kg6 38.f4 Rc5 39.Kf3 Kf5 40.Ke3 White would have been hopelessly lost after 40.Rxg7 Rxc4 - not that what he played changes the outcome. 40...Rxc4 41.Rxa5+ c5 42.a4 The subtilty is that 42.Kd3 allows 42...Re4! cutting the king off and Black wins with his two passed pawns running up the board. 42...Re4+ 43.Kd3 Kxf4 0-1