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7 December 2017

The Chelyabinsk Chess School’s Last Samurai

Final rounds of the Rapid Grand Prix final in the report by Dmitry Kryakvin 

The final day of the Rapid Grand Prix final had an amazing game intrigue in store for us. The pedestal was besieged by four grandmasters, the majority of whom were yet to face each other over the table. All in all, passions were running high!

In the meantime, your correspondent approached a chief arbiter Mikhail Krjukov to discuss some topical issues. After Khanty-Mansiysk, Mikhail Vitalievich heads to Loo to the Doroshkevich Memorial organized for players rated below 2325. For the first time in the Russian chess history the tournament, carried out by the Beshukov family, is set to test "five Landa rules”, named after its originator, a member of the anti-cheating committee grandmaster Konstantin Landa to counter potential wrongdoers. They include a ban on bringing of electronic devices into the playhall, having to access the playhall through the metal detector (a player is immediately checked if the device is beeping), total control over the playing area, including toilets, post game spot checks and the work of mystery arbiters. The Internet disseminated information about a possibility to check any opponent against a cash deposit, but Krjukov assured that everything would pass to the current FIDE procedure with proper filling out of the application form. However, the checks will be regular and selective, as is standard for any Olympic sport. 

Krjukov reassured that everything in Khanty-Mansiysk is under control, too, and that at the request of the organizing committee the function of this very "mystery" arbiter has been assigned to Roman Lavretsky. The arbiter and the academy teacher keeps low profile, but should players be seen suspiciously crowding in the rest room, eating sandwiches and cakes, the arbiter is immediately there to ensure complete purity of the process. However, the capital of Ugra has gathered honest people, proven through the qualification stages, and there are no reasons for any concerns yet.

The ultimate day had a lot of interesting happening: Pavel Potapov checkmated Semen Khanin's lone king with a bishop and knight (let us recall that a legendary Alexander Morozevich failed to do so at the Russian Blitz Championship when facing witty zigzags of Mikhail Demidov’s king); girls’ play opened up as well as Tatiana Maletina knocked out her countryman Dmitry Bocharov. 

Tatiana Maletina has delivered three deadly blows to her formidable opponents

Pavel Potapov: "Fortunately, I rehearsed this endgame when explaining it to children in Salekhard”

However, everybody's attention was, of course, drawn to confrontation of the Jakovenko-Chigaev-Ponkratov-Kokarev quartet.

Maxim immediately worsened his chances of getting a medal. An athlete from the Kemerovo region got into a militant mood and employed Pirc Defense against Kokarev. In search of a counterplay, he gave up two pawns... Dmitry coldly accepted everything that was invested into his account and went on to get a substantial increase to his pool of points. Jakovenko equalized as Black with Smirnov and was caught up by Ponkratov, who outperformed Maltsevskaya.

In round 12, Chigaev and Kokarev made draws, whereas their competitors broke away - Jakovenko decimated Tsydypov, and Ponkratov was superior to his namesake Smirnov. Immediately after lunchtime, the fate of the tournament seemed to be sealed. The grandmaster from Nizhnevartovsk solved the problem of black color in a duel with Dmitry Kokarev, while Ponkratov also suffered a severe defeat from Zhamsaran. Jakovenko took a sole lead, coupled with possessing the best "berger" due to an individual victory over the rival.

Tsydypov – Ponkratov

Round 13


White is winning, being up two formidable passers, but anything is possible with time trouble looming, the h3-pawn sitting there as a thorn and a filibuster opposing you and ready to do whatever it takes to turn the tables. Nobody is guaranteed against their nerves taking toll in a decisive moment like this, resulting in a misplacement of queen, but never with Tsydypov.   


“How can one doom the queen to a square like this?” sighed Smirnov while standing nearby me. However, it turns out that the "Carlsen queen" is posted ideally. He does a beautiful job of defending the king, supporting the promotion of pawns, while ready to deliver a final blow.   

37…Ng4 38.c6 Rf7 39.c7 Re4, and here White put his cards on the table: 40. Qxe4! fxe4 41.Ne7+ Rxe7 42.Rd8+ Re8 43.Rxc8 Rxc8 44.b6 Bd4 45.b7 Black resigns.

The Buryat Republic’s hope Zhamsaran Tsydypov

“How could you go down as worthless as that?” To Tsydypov!” - was Pavel’s mindset after the game while he was circling the rest room. “Pull yourself together for Kokarev! If worst comes too worst, I will go for broke in the ultimate round battle against Jakovenko. You have to keep fighting!” - was Igor Lysyj’s attempt to bring Ponkratov so senses.  

I think that witnessing a crush like that while sitting in the audience room played a cruel joke on the leader. An over 2700-rated player, exhausted by the recent FIDE Grand Prix leg, staked heavily on reliability, believing that Ponkratov would never defeat both his pursuers on demand. And he was absolutely right in terms of formal logic. However, Pasha’s deeds are known to defy any logic existing. This is why he has so many fans in the Urals.

Jakovenko and Chigaev decided against locking swords

Kokarev and Chigaev, thirsty for medals and prizes, were in a combative mindset. However, they both fell to onslaught of the last Chelyabinsk samurai, who cracked down on his opponents as if he were Kambei Shimada from Kurosawa’s cult movie.

Ponkratov – Kokarev

Round 14


White is up a pawn, but can he bring this advantage home? However, as in Seven Samurai, the problem is tackled by setting up an ambush.  

40.Rd7! Kh8   

Nothing is changed by 40...Kg7 41.Be6 Qf6 42.Bxf7 Rxf7 43.Rxf7+ Kxf7 44.Qxd1. 

41.Rxf7 Rxf7 42.Bxf7 Kg7 43.Bb3 Kh6 44.Qe2 Qd8 45.Qe5! Qf8 46.Qd4, trapping the knight.  

The tournament received two leaders as a result, and in the ultimate round Lysyj drew Jakovenko, thus affording his friend a golden opportunity. Meanwhile, Chigaev had everything to fight for since a victory would land him second. However, Maxim was powerless against Pokratov's "miracle line" in the French Defence, which had brought Pasha dozens of victories over strong players, Vishy Anand among them.

Chigaev – Ponkratov

Round 15

30... Bd1! 31.Reb2 Rc7! 

Not falling victim to a checkmate is above all, and now a well-coordinated offensive of the black pieces brings their commander one of his career’s biggest successes.   

32.Nd2 Be2 33.f3 Ng3+ 34.Kg1 Qf4 35.Nxc4 Bxc4 36.Bxc4 dxc4 White resigns.

Pavel Ponkratov has just played the game of his life

Meanwhile, Kokarev outplayed Yudin to clinch third. Final standings: 1. Ponkratov – 11.5 out of 15; 2. Jakovenko – 11; 3. Kokarev – 10; 4. Chigaev – 9.5; 5-7. Lysyj, Frolyanov, Tsydypov - with 8.5; 8. Pridorozhni - 8, etc.  

Our website will soon come out an interview with Pavel Ponkratov, in which the grandmaster shares the secrets of strong performance in rapid chess, narrates about the life in Chelyabinsk, voices his opinion about counter-cheating measures and resolving the main issue of holding the Rapid and Blitz Championships in Saudi Arabia next year. He will also express his views on the much-spoken about Azmaiparashvili - Kovalyov conflict.  

Let me bid farewell now. They seem to start the classical section of the Russian Cup final. It's time to get working again... 

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