While they may not have faired well in recent times on the international stage, Russia’s team league is by far the strongest in the world, and now can arguably claim to eclipse the venerable German Bundesliga. But those great former Soviet chess metropolises' of Moscow and St. Petersburg are not the perennial victors nowadays - that's because the best teams can often hail from that once notorious frozen tundra of Siberia.
That’s because the area so synonymous in Soviet history is now awash, not with political prisoners but instead oligarchies making multi-million dollar rich pickings from its vast oil and gas revenues, and now sponsor superstar teams. First, it was Tomsk who dominated Russian team chess - now the latest is Siberia-Sirius, who were the emphatic winner’s of the Russian Premier League Championship title (and captured the first prize of 1,000,000 roubles) today in Sochi.
Money talks they say, and Siberia-Sirius could afford a very daunting line-up that included Vladimir Kramnik, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Anish Giri, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alexander Grischuk and Dmitry Andreikin - and such was their strength that they were even able to rest top stars Kramnik and Mamedyarov for a couple of the late rounds, yet still managed to juggernaut their way to big wins!
They overpowered all before them, and even without their top stars playing, Giri and Grischuk turned on the style with two brilliant wins in round six as they won the title with a round to spare. But Kramnik and Mamedyarov returned for the final lap in round seven, and Siberia-Sirius soon overwhelmed and overpowered Central Federal District, 5½-½, to notch up one of the biggest margins of victory ever in the annals of top Russian team competition.
The big “performance” winner proved to Mamedyarov - who arrived in Sochi hot on the heels of his big victory in the Vugar Gashimov Memorial - with a perfect score of 4/4, as the red-hot Azeri further improved his standing on the unofficial live rating list, to now power his way further up the top-10 by leapfrogging Levon Aronian to be the new world No. 6.
1. Siberia-Sirius 14/14 match-points (31/42 board-points); 2. ShSM “Legacy Square Capital” 11 (24½); 3-4. Malakit (23½), Bronze Horseman 22½) 8; 5. Central Federal District (17) 5; 6-7. Sports School (18), Ladya (17) 4; 8. Zhiguli (14½) 2.
GM Alexander Grischuk - GM Kirill Alekseenko
Russian Premier League Ch., (6)
Ruy Lopez, Zaitsev Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Re8 11.Ng5 Rf8 12.Nf3 Re8 In the Zaitsev Lopez, if both players are looking for an early day at the office with a quick "Grandmaster draw", they will repeat this position three times. But Grischuk here is the much stronger player, and has no designs on the early draw, so why repeat moves? Well, truth told, Grischuk's has his habitual time trouble issues, so this way he at least "wastes" a move to get closer to the time control - although I am quite surprised here that he didn't offer to repeat twice before playing Nbd2. 13.Nbd2 exd4 14.cxd4 Nd7 15.Nf1 Na5 16.Bc2 Bf6 17.Ng3 g6 18.Rb1 c5 19.d5 Nc4 If not now, then 20.b3 will close out the scope of the knight - but after ...Nc4, now if 20.b3, Black can centralise his knight to the more active square outpost with 20...Nce5 and an equal game. 20.Nh2 The manoeuvre Nh2, looking to re-route the knight to g4 is a standard Lopez theme - but here, Grischuk plays Nh2 to so much for a future Ng4, but to harass the Black knight with b3 followed by f4 without offering the exchange of knights. 20...Nde5 21.b3 Nb6 22.Bh6 Bc8?! This is simply wrong. Black should have concentrated on further expanding on the queenside with 22...a5 (or even 22...b4), as although the bishop looks as if it is 'locked in' on b7, it actually plays a vital role by hitting d5, as it prevents Grischuk from playing e4-e5 - a move that soon comes back to haunt Alekseenko. 23.Rf1 Grischuk's intentions are clear here - he wants to open the f-file, for his rook to play an active part in the attack. 23...b4 Black can't delay the inevitable with 23...Bh4 as White has 24.Nh1!? and, with f4 coming next, will force Black's pieces further into retreat, before opening the f-file. 24.f4 Ned7 25.Kh1 Ra7 26.Qf3 Nf8? Alekseenko is clearly out of his depth in this position, as the coming forced exchange of the dark-squared bishop proves strategically fatal for him. Instead, he had to try to shore up his weakness on the dark squares by keeping his bishop on, and should have gone for 26...Bd4 27.Ng4 Nf6 28.Nxf6+ Bxf6 29.e5 dxe5 30.f5 Bh4!? (Dodgy looks 30...e4?! 31.Nxe4 Bd4 32.Ng5! and White's kingside attack is gathering pace and looks dangerous.) 31.Be4 where, although White has all the pressure and the better chances, Black is at least still in the game and is not without his own resources here. 27.e5 Ready or not, here comes the thematic breakthrough that brings White's Lopez bishop into the attack by prising open the c2-h7 diagonal. 27...dxe5 28.f5! Bg7 Black has no time for 28...e4 as 29.Bxe4 Bd4 30.Rbd1 followed by Ng4 and the White attack is coming in now like a tsunami. 29.Bxg7 Kxg7 30.f6+ Kh8 31.Rbd1 Rd7 32.Qe3!! This wins by force - but not without Grischuk first having to finely calculate an exchange sacrifice followed by a stunning queen sacrifice. 32...Nxd5 33.Rxd5! There's just no pieces left to defend Black's king. 33...Rxd5 34.Qh6 Ne6 35.Ne4 Rg8 36.Nf3 Qf8 If Black thinks he's just going to get off lightly with having to defend a difficult position, he's in for a big shock. 37.Nfg5!! The queen sacrifice is the final nail in Black's coffin. If he accepts the queen sacrifice, then Nxf7 is mate, while if he doesn't accept the queen sacrifice, how then will he defend the mate on h7? 37...Nxg5 38.Nxg5 Rg7 The only move - not that it helps Black's position any, but it at least helps to prolong the game a couple of moves further to the time control, where I would imagine the flag on Grischuk's digital clock would be metaphorically hanging here.. 39.fxg7+ Qxg7 40.Nxf7+ 1-0