At the height of the Soviet dominance of chess, the legendary USSR team championship — which was called the ‘Spartakiad’ (in case you are all wondering: yes, it derived from the name of the slave rebel leader, Spartacus) — proved to be the big highlight of the year by being the most demanding and strongest team event outside of the biennial Chess Olympiad, where even the world champion of the day and his title challengers had to attend.
The Soviet Union may well be gone, but the tradition continues today with now the Russian Team Championship in Sochi standing up as being the Spartakiad — although the state support that once bankrolled such massive team events in chess has been replaced by western-styled financial backing for squads from oligarchies, banks and utility companies. However unlike the Spartakiad, the Russian Team Championship is modelled more on the first professional chess league, the German Bundesliga, with players jetting in from all over the world and being paid to play for one of the many rich Russian teams.
This makes the competition strong and fierce, with the top teams fielding many of the world’s elite superstars, such as World Championship challenger Sergey Karjakin, ex-champion Vladimir Kramnik, seven-time Russian champion Peter Svidler, Alexander Grischuk, Lenier Dominguez, Dmitry Jakovenko, and even former U.S. champion Gata Kamsky getting in on the mix.
This has led to many wonderful games on offer at the Russian Team Championship, one of which we witnessed in our previous ‘Greek Gift’ column, with former Russian champion Ian Nepomniachtchi’s new twist to the Bxh7+ Classical Bishop sacrifice. And today’s game is yet another spectacular sacrificial attack, as Russia's current European champion, Evgeniy Najer, strips the defences from around his opponent’s king.
GM Evgeniy Najer - GM Artyom Timofeev
Russian Team Championship, (8)
French Defence, Rubinstein variation
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 One of the advantages of the French Rubinstein variation is that it can be used both against the Tarrasch as well as the Winawer variations. Black immediately reduces the tension in the centre and maintains a solid pawn structure throughout - but White has easy development. 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Bd3 c5 7.0-0 Nxe4 8.Bxe4 Nf6 9.Bg5 Be7 It's not that long ago that the favoured line here was 9...cxd4 10.Nxd4 Be7 11.Bf3 0-0 where Black achieved many draws here, but White was the one with the easy game with all the pressing with his lead in development and very active pieces. 10.Bxf6! gxf6 The game now sort of resembles the Burn variation, yet another tough nut to crack - but here, White has an extra move in. Also, Black can't play 10...Bxf6 as the simple 11.dxc5 leaves White in an almost winning position, as exchanging queens and capturing on b2, will leave White with rooks on the open d- and b-files and pressure on b7. 11.Qe2 f5 12.Bd3 cxd4 Black may well have an extra pawn and the bishop-pair - but development isn't easy, and neither is the safety of his king, as White just continues to build-up the pressure with his pieces on active squares. 13.Rad1 0-0 This may well be the costly mistake, as castling leads to an all-out assault that cannot be defended against. Perhaps more prudent was 13...Kf8, often seen in the Rubinstein and Burn variations, the idea being just to get the king out of the centre, yet not fall into a castled kingside assault. Still, even with ...Kf8, the defence is tricky for Black - but if he can find a way to exchange off queens or some rooks, his long-term prospects would be good. 14.c3!? And immediately, White 'goes for it' by opening the game up. 14...Bf6 As frightening as it seems, Black's best option now might well have been 14...dxc3 15.Bxf5 Qa5 16.Bb1 Qh5 17.bxc3 and trying to defend this. At least with the queen on the kingside, it's not so easy for White to press home the attack quickly. But White has a big lead in development, and it is still going to be awkward for Black to develop his white-squared bishop. But this would be preferable to what now comes for Black. 15.Nxd4 Qb6 16.Bc4 There's no real attack for now on e6 - but by going to c4, White makes room for the devastating rook lift to d3 and traversing over to the kingside to cause maximum carnage. 16...Kh8 17.Rd3! Qc7 18.Rh3 Rg8 19.Rd1 Now the other rook slides effortlessly into the game, and Black still has to find a way to complete his development of his queenside pieces. This obviously worries Black, as he falls into a nasty trap now. 19...Bd7 On reflection, perhaps wiser was 19...b6 and trying to develop the bishop on the long b7-g2 diagonal. But now, the damage is done and the attack comes sweeping in now like a tsunami. 20.Nxf5! exf5 21.Rxh7+!! (See Diagram) The whole point to the combination is that the errant bishop on d7 hinders any defence of f7. 21...Kxh7 22.Qh5+ Kg7 23.Qxf7+ Kh6 If 23...Kh8 24.Rxd7 Qxd7 25.Qxd7 Rg6 26.Qxf5 Rh6 27.Bd5 and White will easily win with the extra pawns and the defences stripped from around the Black king. 24.Qxf6+ Rg6 25.Qh4+ Kg7 26.Qe7+ Kh6 27.Rxd7 Qxc4 28.Qh7+ All roads lead to Rome here, and this wins - but not so easy to see was the clinical win pointed out by the engine of 28.Qe3+ f4 29.Qe7 and the king is caught in a mating net with h4 blocked by the pawn on f4. Now, if 29...f3 30.Qe3+ Rg5 31.Rd6+ Kh5 32.Qxf3+ Rg4 33.Qf5+ Kh4 34.Rh6# 28...Kg5 29.Rd4 1-0 Now White is attacking the queen and there's the little matter also of Qh4 mate. Black resigns, as despite having two rooks for the queen, White has too many pawns (and more to come) and will still have threats towards his opponent's now wandering-in-the-wilderness king.