Next year sees the centenary of the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia. Back then, the players competing that year in the Russian Chess Championship threatened to go on strike because they demanded - and won - the right to a bigger bread ration. They said the extra bread was needed to fortify them for the demands of playing in one of the notoriously toughest tournaments in the world.
And the 69th Russian Championship Superfinal in Novosibirsk is still regarded as one of the toughest national championships in the world - only nowadays, the “dough” is more meaningful than it was in 1917, because the total prize fund was nine million rubles (roughly €130,000 or $143,000), and this year’s winners, GMs Alexander Riazantsev and Alexandra Kosteniuk, not only won the prestigious titles and the lion’s share of the prize money, they also got to drive home in style with each receiving the bonus prize of a Renault Captur SUV!
Kosteniuk’s victory in the women’s championship wasn’t so unexpected, as she was the top seed and dominated throughout to win with the luxury of a round to spare. But for Riazantsev, the 31-year-old former World U-12 champion, it proved to be the biggest victory of his career - and he first had to qualify to play in the Superfinal, thus arguably making him the biggest surprise winner of the long and storied history of the Soviet/Russian Championship.
And Riazantsev did it with more than just a touch of class, as he impressively outplayed former champion Dmitry Jakovenko in the final round to win the title outright with his remarkable unbeaten +3 score of 7/11, after his overnight co-leader, Vladimir Fedoseev, went down in flames as he tried to force complications in his game with Grigory Oparin to keep pace with the eventual winner.
1. Alexander Riazantsev 7/11; 2-3. Alexander Grischuk, Evgeny Grischuk 6.5; 4-5. Peter Svidler, Vladimir Fedoseev 6; 6-9. Grigory Oparin, Aleksey Goganov, Nikita Vitugov, Dmitry Jakovenko 5.5; 10. Ernesto Inarkiev 5; 11. Dmitry Kokarev 4.5; 12. Dmitry Bocharev 2.5.
GM Dmitry Jakovenko - GM Alexander Riazantsev
69th Russian Ch. Superfinal, (11)
Caro-Kann Defence, Advanced variation
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 As in our previous column, The Big Blitz Battle, yet another Short Variation of the Caro-Kann Advanced, devised and popularised in the early 1990s by British GM and 1993 World Championship finalist Nigel Short. But unlike our previous column game, Riazantsev plays more dynamically with the Black pieces. 4...e6 5.Be2 Ne7 6.0-0 h6 7.Nbd2 Nd7 8.Nb3 Qc7 9.Bd2 g5 Riazantsev stakes his claim for some kingside counterplay. 10.Rc1 a5! Taking advantage of the fact that ...a4 forces the knight to retreat to the awkward a1 square. 11.a4 Bg7 12.Ne1 c5 The comparisons between our two back-to-back Caro-Kann Advanced variations with the Black side is like chalk and cheese - here, it is Riazantsev with Black who is the one making all the running before White can act. 13.c3 c4 14.Na1 Nb6! Forcing a further concession from White, who has to compromise his position to prevent the loss of the a4 pawn. 15.b3 0-0-0 Amazingly, Black can castle safely on the queenside as he has a firm grip of that part of the board. 16.Nec2 White could try to confuse matters with the awkward 16.b4!? axb4 17.cxb4 f6 18.a5 Nd7 - but when the centre collapses, White will face a daunting task of trying to generate sufficient counterplay against Black's king before he's rolled over in the centre. 16...f6 Once the centre breaks down, Black's pieces will spring to life. 17.exf6 Bxf6 18.Na3 Kb8 A purposeful prophylactically move, tucking the king away from any potential mishaps down the c-file. 19.Be3 Nec8 20.Nb5 Qd7 21.Qd2 Jakovenko could try 21.bxc4, but after 21...Nxc4! 22.Bxc4 dxc4 23.Re1 Nd6 24.Nxd6 Qxd6 25.Nc2 Qc6 26.Na3 h5! Black has a firm grip of the position by dominating the white-squares, and also has a pair of active bishops. 21...Nd6 Once White's outpost on b5 goes, Black will have a big advantage with his bishop-pair. 22.Nxd6 Qxd6 23.Qb2 Rc8 24.Nc2 White can try opening the b-file, but with Black's Bf5 stopping any rook getting to b1, it would only serve to give Black's forces more outposts: 24.bxc4 Nxc4 25.Bxc4 Rxc4 26.Nb3 Qb6! 27.Qa2 Rhc8 28.Nc5 Qc6! and with no way to stop ...b6 kicking the knight from c5, Black will emerge with an overwhelming advantage. 24...Be7 Further irking White by stopping for now Na3 - so now, Jakovenko has to waste more time with an awkward shuffle of his pieces. 25.Ra1 cxb3 26.Qxb3 Nc4 27.Bc1 White tries to hold onto his bishops, hoping upon hope that perhaps the game will open up to give him some chances to use them. He could have tried 27.Bxc4 dxc4 28.Qb2 h5 29.Rfb1 but after 29...Qc7! (Not 29...Qc6?! 30.d5! Qxd5 31.Bd4 when suddenly White has good chances.) 30.d5 exd5 31.Bb6 Qd7 White finds himself tied down because of the pin on the rook on b1. 27...Qc7 28.Ra2 Rh7! A good dual purpose move. Firstly, some safety by over-protecting b7; secondly, anticipating a kingside attack where the rooks can double on either the h- or g-files. 29.Re1 Bd6 30.h3 If 30.g3 h5 with ...h4 coming to prise open the h-file. 30...h5 31.Ne3 Nxe3 32.Bxe3 g4 Black's kingside assault is going to be overwhelming. 33.h4 g3! 34.Rb2 If 34.f3 Bf4! and Black is well on the way to winning, because when the dark-squared bishops are exchanged, White has no way to stop the easy winning plan of ...Qf4 followed by ...Qxh4 mating. 34...gxf2+ 35.Bxf2 White may have stopped the winning threat of Black playing for ...Qxh4 mating, but now there emerges another mating threat on g2 - and note how Riazantsev's prophylactic 28...Rh7 doubles up on the cover of b7. 35...Be4 36.Qb6 Rg8! 37.Bf1 If 37.Qxc7+ Rxc7 and White has too many weaknesses to defend against, namely g2 and c3. 37...Bh2+ 38.Kh1 Rhg7 Again, that wonderful dual purpose rook comes into its own now! 39.Qxe6 White can exchange queens and stop the immediate mating attack - but the agony of the position he's left with would see him resigning very shortly: 39.Qxc7+ Bxc7 40.Be3 Rg3! 41.Kg1 Rh3 and Black is simply going to pick-off h4 and g2 while still holding mating threats. 39...Rxg2!! Reducing White to a spite check to at least reaching the time control. 40.Rxb7+ Of course, 40.Bxg2 Bxg2 is mate. 40...Kxb7 0-1 Unfortunately for White, there's no mate after 41.Rb1+, as the bishop has it covered: 41...Bxb1 and the best White can hope for is a big loss of material: 42.Qxd5+ Ka7 43.Bxg2 Rb8 44.Qxh5 Bd3 45.d5+ Ka6 46.Qh6+ Qd6 and as the dust settles, Black will be a whole rook to the better.