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12 December 2017

A Stretch of Imagination

Superfinals, round 8. Misha Savinov reports from St. Petersburg

Round 8, men

Fedoseev-Dubov ½-½, Malakhov-Vitiugov ½-½, Sjugirov-Svidler ½-½, Tomashevsky-Romanov ½-½, Inarkiev-Riazantsev ½-½, Matlakov-Volkov 0-1.

Current standings: 

Dubov, Vitiugov, and Fedoseev – 5

Svidler and Tomashevsky – 4.5

Riazantsev, Inarkiev, and Malakhov – 4

Sjugirov – 3.5

Volkov and Matlakov – 3

Romanov – 2.5


Before the round I approached our commentators and asked them one question: what general strategy will Fedoseev employ against Dubov? Most players raised on Soviet chess heritage would surely play very safely after suffering two painful defeats. Is Fedoseev different? Both grandmasters agreed he is.

Evgeny Miroshnichenko expected Fedoseev to initiate a conflict as early as possible. “The way he played yesterday is indicative of him being extremely anxious. He simply cannot play patiently – his nerves are too tense for that.”

Sergey Shipov was absolutely sure that Fedoseev will play for a win aggressively, almost at any cost. “He was always like this. He never had anything resembling the instinct of self-preservation. It makes life of his supporters very difficult at times, but Vladimir cannot change – this is just the way he is. Dubov is very different – he can control himself, he is cunning and smart. No question, this will be a key game of the round.”

Fedoseev opened with the queen's pawn immediately after the chief arbiter asked Black to start the clocks and Dubov pressed the button. After Black played his third move, establishing the starting position of the Gruenfeld, Fedoseev grabbed a bishop, placed it on g5 and rose from his seat, clearly not expecting a quick response from his opponent.

This was an invitation to enter the famous “Dubov Gambit” – the name is not official yet, but it stuck. Dubov contemplated for about two minutes, then shrugged and played 4...c5, accepting the challenge.

Fedoseev returned to his seat and quickly played 5.Nf3, declining the offer of a pawn, but offering to enter another sharp line, which is sometimes called the Nepomniachtchi Variation. Dubov did not think twice, and in a couple of minutes White had his pawns on d6 and e5, while Black snatched an extra pawn. It looked like a strange Meran with the black king's bishop somehow landing on g7.

Then Fedoseev played another quick move – 11.a4, and it stuck Dubov like thunder. The Muscovite began to think – 5 minutes, 10, 20... Finally he responded with 11...Qd7, and it was not a good move.

“For the first time in this tournament our preparation worked perfectly”, said Fedoseev after the game. “I studied this move back in 2014, preparing against Wei Yi. A rare continuation, but I think everybody has it written down and analyzed, including Dubov. He just forgot that Black must respond with 11...a6.”

Dubov was in trouble. Fedoseev continued playing strong and logical moves – traded queens, destroyed Black's queenside, protected his extra pawn... His play could possibly be more energetic at times, but both players agreed with White's play up to a certain point deep in the endgame, in which Fedoseev had two pieces and two pawns for a rook, while Dubov's thin hopes were pinned on the passed c-pawn.

“We are probably very different persons – I could never imagine myself spending a bit more than a minute on a move like 33.Ne7. Seeing it played was a big surprise!”, commented Dubov.

“This was just a stretch of imagination”, explained Fedoseev. “I saw this move and felt urge to play it. Such a nice idea!” 

The knight's pirouette was by no means bad, but is was a sign of Fedoseev's mood changing, as if he was no longer satisfied by “just winning” and needed to win spectacularly.

“He could simply bring the knight back to stop my c-pawn, basically forcing my resignation”, commented Dubov. “I would have done that in his shoes without slight hesitation.”

The computer was giving White +4, when the careless 37.h4?? happened. With one move Fedoseev blundered three pawns (!), and his winning chances were gone. Dubov's reply came as a shock. Vladimir started to think, but there was no way out. Black survived.

As the players were walking to the press-conference, Fedoseev was smiling peacefully, while Dubov looked unhappy and almost angry.

“An opening disaster for Black gave White a winning position, and he handled it very well until the 37th move, then he blundered, and it was a draw”, was Dubov's conclusion. He was kicking himself hard for such handling of the opening.

“Such an irresponsible play”, said Fedoseev reflectively, walking outside to catch the minivan. “Got carried away by imagination and missed an elementary win...” 

He did not look or sound angry at all. It was like he discovered something about himself he was not especially excited about, but was ready to live with. He was at peace with himself. 

After this draw, Dubov and Fedoseev remained on top of the tournament table, as well as Nikita Vitiugov, who played a dull game against Malakhov. The players kept each other at the distance, not willing to tolerate the slightest risk, and it led to a predictable draw on the 34th move in a lifeless rook ending.


Evgeny Tomashevsky and Peter Svidler also remained where they were – half a point behind the leading trio. Tomashevsky had an easier pairing – he was White against Evgeny Romanov. Despite that, he never had a chance to play for a win. Tomashevsky's moves were to academic, they lacked punch, lacked aggression. He wasn't creating problems for Black, and Romanov was not willing to lose all by himself. The slow maneuvering game proceeded to an ending with White's bishop pair against Black's bishop and knight, and the position was completely even. The queens were still on the board, but it did not affect the evaluation. A draw was agreed on the 47th move.

Peter Svidler faced Sanan Sjugirov and played Black. Predictably, the Gruenfeld arose, and then Sjugirov made a rather innocent move (11.Be2), opting for trading the queens. Svidler went for the endgame, but then played something strange – 14...Bd7 instead of the natural and planned 14...e6 break. The break would give Black an equal if not a slightly better game, while the text gave White a pleasant edge. Defending a passive position is not something Svidler excels at – it is quite possible that he does not even make the World's top-100 in that department. Today the disaster was averted, and the game ended peacefully on the 35th move, but its course had a profoundly depressing effect on Peter. 

“You are still just half a point behind the leaders”, was the reminder.

“I do not even look in that direction”, he replied. “I play my own tournament and I do not do well...”

In other games of the round, the European Champion Maxim Matlakov suffered a distressing defeat against Sergey Volkov, and Alexander Riazantsev probably missed an endgame victory against Ernesto Inarkiev.


Round 8, women

Galliamova-Gunina ½-½, Goryachkina-Kashlinskaya 0-1, Pogonina-Ovod 1-0, Girya-Nechaeva ½-½, Shuvalova-Kovalevskaya 1-0, Bodnaruk-Gritsayeva ½-½.

Current standings:

Gunina – 5.5

Kashlinskaya, Pogonina, and Girya – 5

Goryachkina – 4.5

Shuvalova and Bodnaruk – 4

Nechaeva – 3.5

Kovalevskaya, Ovod, and Gritsayeva – 3

Galliamova – 2.5

As many of us expected, Alisa Galliamova, despite suffering from a cold, played a strong game against Valentina Gunina. White got an advantage in the opening and preserved it throughout the early middlegame until Gunina got desperate and went for complications that were not objectively favorable but offered a practical chance. Galliamova accepted the piece sacrifice on the 15th move and continued strongly, but her 24th move was a small mistake, which allowed Gunina to escape with a draw after another sacrifice.

After the game Gunina looked pale as if she had seen a ghost. I have no idea why winning this game was so important for her, and she was not in a mood to talk. From the sporting point of view, Valentina is still in great position to win it all.

Natalia Pogonina won her second game in a row and is now tied for second place with Girya (who drew a surprisingly balanced game with Nechaeva) and Kashlinskaya (who defeated Goryachkina in a sharp battle). All three players are half a point behind Gunina.

Everybody is looking forward to the big round tomorrow: Gunina vs. Pogonina and Kashlinskaya vs. Girya. The men's round looks much less exciting.

Photos by Eteri Kublashvili 

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