Despite a podium finish, the recent third-place Bronze Medal performance of the Russian national team in the Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan reflects the continued downward spiral of Russian chess since the break-up of the Soviet Union a quarter of a century ago. Still dominant, nevertheless, until 2002 - a decade after the Soviet collapse - the Russians have not won a single Olympiad since.
In the last six Olympiads the Gold Medal has gone to either Ukraine or Armenia - both former Soviet republics - then China, and memorably most recently to the USA. The same scenario is also being played out with the World Championship title - a title the Soviets/Russians (save for Bobby Fischer) once had a hegemony of, but the last Russian to capture the crown was Vladimir Kramnik, who beat countryman Garry Kasparov in 2000 in London.
Kramnik and Sergey Karjakin, respectively the Russian No.1 and No.2, are missing from the ongoing 69th Russian Championship Superfinal in Novosibirsk, but not apparently without good reason. Karjakin is in deep training for his World Championship Match against Magnus Carlsen next month in Manhattan - and the latest title tidbit is that the vast experience of ex-champion Kramnik is the one helping to better guide his fellow countryman in recapturing the chess title that the Russians covet most of all.
With Kramnik, Karjakin - and Ian Nepomanniachtchi, the recent Tal Memorial victor - missing from all the Russian Championship Superfinal action, there’s an inevitable logjam at the top - and therefore everything still very much up for grabs - with Peter Svidler, Alexander Grischuk, Dmitry Jakovenko, Evgeny Tomashevsky, Alexander Riazantsev and Vladimir Fedoseev all tied for first place on 3.5/6.
GM Dmitry Jakovenko - GM Dmitry Bocharov
69th Russian Ch. Superfinal, (5)
Pirc Defence, Classical Variation
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Be2 Very Karpovian! The Classical against the Pirc Defence was all the rage when Anatoly Karpov - who became world champion after Bobby Fischer abdicated his title in 1975 - was in his pomp through the 1970s and 1980s. His approach was less dashing as Tal or Kasparov, but more of a positional squeeze and this simple system suited his style of play. 5...0-0 6.0-0 Nc6 7.d5 Ne5 Adventurous, though very playable. Black can also play 7...Nb8 with the idea of Nb8-d7 and keeping his options open for either ...c5 or ...e5 where play can generally transpose into a King's Indian Defence. 8.Nxe5 dxe5 9.Bg5 h6 10.Bh4 Ne8 11.Na4 g5 12.Bg3 Nd6 13.f3 e6 14.c4 exd5 15.cxd5 f5 16.Qc2 f4 17.Bf2 Now we do have a King's Indian Defence set-up, the difference being that Black does not have his knights on the kingside to help with the kingside attack. If anything, White has got much the better of this KID transposition, as he seems to have a freer hand to attack the queenside with less of the worry over Black's pieces storming his king. 17...b6 18.Rfc1 Rf7 19.Nc3 a6 20.a4 h5 21.Nb1 A nuanced retreat, the reason we will soon discover. 21...g4 22.Ra3! Jakovenko piles on the pressure with his rook lift to a3, which bolsters his kingside defence, but more crucially threatens Ra3-c3 with strong pressure on the weak c7 pawn. 22...Qg5 23.Nd2 Bf8?! Black can't afford to break the tension too quickly with 23...gxf3 24.Bxf3 Bg4 as after 25.Qd3! White defends the kingside and threatens simply Rac3 and Black's queenside will crumble. But perhaps better was the resourceful 23...Bf6!? with the idea of defending c7 with ...Bd8. Although even here, White has a lasting advantage as Black has major issues with developing his rook stuck for now on a8. 24.Rc3 This is basically a KID Mar del Plata with White having total control of the queenside and Black several tempi adrift with his kingside attack as his pieces are awkwardly placed. 24...g3 25.hxg3 fxg3 26.Be3 Qh4 27.Nf1 The Bent Larsen maxim always holds true here: Put a knight on f1 or f8 and you can't mate me! 27...Ne8 With the idea of ...Bd6 protecting c7 and e5, and then Black can concentrate on getting his a8 rook developed to continue his attack. The only snafu is that Jakovenko beats him to the punch. 28.d6!! The pawn sacrifice is simple yet deadly - the threat of Bc4 prevents ...Bxd6. 28...Nxd6 As we said, hopeless was 28...Bxd6 29.Bc4! and Black's position is ripe for a total collapse. 29.Rxc7 The demolition now of Black's queenside is assured. White, with a little care for his king, should easily clean-up all the queenside pawns for an easy win. 29...Be6 30.Rxf7 Bxf7 31.Qd2! Threatening Bg5 winning Black's queen - and defending against it, sees the g3 pawn falling and the exchange of queens for an easy win. 31...Be7 32.Qe1! Bg5 33.Bxg5 Qxg5 34.Qxg3 Qxg3 35.Nxg3 The queens are off the board, White is a pawn up and Black is left with four weak pawns that are difficult to defend. White couldn't have a better endgame advantage than this. 35...h4 36.Nf5 Nxf5 37.exf5 a5 38.Rc6 Rb8 39.Kh2 The king now easily picks off the stranded h-pawn. 39...Be8 40.Rc7 Bxa4 41.Bc4+ Kh8 42.Kh3 1-0 Black resigns, because after the h-pawn falls, he's not just a pawn down in the ensuing ending, there's no way to defend against the simple and unavoidable threat of Kxh4-g5-h6 and Rh7 mate.