Russia have gone through a long, barren spell in team chess following the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union. But it seemed like old times once again, as the No.1 chess nation stormed to not one but two golds in the biennial European Team Championships in Reykjavik, Iceland, as they won both the open and the women’s title for the first time since 2007 in Heraklion, Greece.
The European Team Championships is regarded as the third most pre-eminent team tournament. It is surpassed in playing strength only by the extravagancy of the biennial Chess Olympiad and the World Team Championship. This is an event that the Soviets/Russia have dominated since it started in 1957, with the Soviets winning nine successive titles, and Russia three titles.
Yet despite their huge firepower as perennial top seeds, Russia have tended to underperform in team events in recent years; lacking the iron-will and determination to win of the past. But this time it was different: Russia got off to an impressive solid start in both the open and the women’s section as they played- for once - as a team from start to finish.
The evocative playing venue of the Laugardalsholl, the very same indoor sports arena where Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky played out their dramatic 1972 Cold War title-match, and the recent Russian chess failures wasn’t lost on seven-time Russian champion Peter Svidler, who after his team clinched double gold, said: ‘Without [Fischer-Spassky] our problems winning team events wouldn’t have happened, because chess wouldn’t have boomed in the West.’
The key win that took Russia to gold in the open section was their seventh round victory over fourth seeds, France. The match was decided by today’s game, a crucial win that all but sealed the deal for the Russians, as they ended their undefeated campaign with draws in the final two rounds against Armenia and Hungary to clinch the main title.
Alexander Grischuk - Laurent Fressinet
20th European Team Ch., (7)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 Once again, we witness a Berlin Defence at the top level - but this is far from being the solid “Wall" we’ve come to expect. 9.h3 h6 10.Rd1+ Ke8 11.Nc3 Ne7 12.b3 Bf5 13.Nd4 Bh7 14.Nce2 Rd8 15.Bb2 a6 16.c4 c5 17.Nf3 Nc6 18.Nf4 Bc2 19.Rxd8+ Nxd8 The only way to recapture, as 19...Kxd8? allows 20.e6! 20.e6 f6? The position is critical; and Fressinet cracks under the pressure, as this is a very bad miscalculation that sees Black going rapidly downhill from here. Instead, what had to be played was 20...fxe6! (Note that you can't take with the knight, as it falls to a cunning trap: 20...Nxe6 21.Re1 Ke7 22.Ba3! b6 23.Nd4! and White is much better.21.Re1 the reason for 20...fxe6 - Black now has his king defending e6 as well as the knight on d8. 21...Kf7 22.Ne5+ Ke8 23.Neg6 Bxg6 24.Nxg6 Rh7! There's a subtle difference with the rook going to h7 here and h7 in the game - here, pieces have been exchanged off that eases the pressure, and Black can chase the knight off with a …Kf7. 25.h4 h5 etc. 21.Rc1 Bf5 22.Re1 Bd6 23.Nh4 Bc2 24.Nh5 There's the old adage that "a knight on the rim is dim" - but here there are two that flies in the face of that convention! 24...Rh7 The lesser of two evils, as 24...Rg8 25.Bxf6! Nxe6 (Not 25...gxf6? 26.Nxf6+ Kf8 27.Nxg8 Kxg8 28.e7 quickly winning.) 26.Nxg7+ Kf7 27.Rxe6 Rxg7 28.Bxg7 Kxe6 29.Bxh6 Bb1 30.Nf3! Bxa2 31.Nd2 will quickly win, as white has cut off one of the bishops and will simply now push his kingside pawns up the board to win. 25.f4! Nc6 26.g4 Nd4 27.f5 a5 28.Kf2! Allowing for a potentially total strangulation with Ng6, as it prevents any embarrassing "moments" with a future ...Nf3+. 28...a4 29.bxa4 Bxa4 30.Re3! (See Diagram) The noose is tightening: Grischuk is now threatening Ra3 either winning a piece or mating. 30...b6 At least defending against Ra8 threats with ...Bc6. 31.Ng6 Kd8 32.Rd3 Kc8 33.Ke3 Bc2 There's no hope of defending this. If 33...Nc2+ 34.Kd2 Nb4 35.Ra3 Bc6 36.e7 Kb7 37.Re3 wins. 34.Ra3 Nxe6 35.fxe6 Bxg6 36.Ra8+ Kb7 37.Rg8! In the end, it's the badly placed ...Rh7 that proves to be the difference between drawing and losing, as the Black rook can't get into the game. 37...f5 38.Bxg7 Bxh5 39.gxh5 Kc6 40.a4! The misery for Black continues, as Grischuk calmly plays a4 to stop any possibility of ...b5. 40...Kb7 41.Bf6 Kc6 42.Rg7 Rh8 43.Rxc7+! 1-0 A fitting finale - the entombed Black rook finally escapes...only to fall into a tactic.