22 August 2019

A Ballad of the Rook

Dmitry Kryakvin’s report on Rounds 6-7 of the Superfinals

A recent couple of rounds made me realize that the most important piece in the chess game is the rook. It is this piece that Ian Nepomniachtchi blundered to Viswanathan Anand last night in St. Louis. 

This report will show how the rook had a decisive say in the outcome of rounds 6-7.

The rest day after round seven had guided tours and social events as part of its program. An excellent tour guide with a great sense of humor showed us around the sights of the city, telling us a lot about the history of these places. 

During the guided tour

It was interesting to learn that the Udmurt Republic’s coat of arms depicts an ancient deity of a birdman, whose chest features an eight-pointed cross, that has become a symbol of the Superfinal. You may see it daily at the RCF broadcasts and pictures. 

The Udmurt Republic’s coat of arms

A lunar amulet of this year’s Superfinal

Then the participants were given a tour of the Izhmash plant museum dedicated to the Izhevsk gunsmiths and unique weapons ranging from pistols of the war with Napoleon to modern systems. 

The Izhevsk rifles for biathlon

Sergey Shipov gave a lecture at the House of Peoples' Friendship, which caused a stir among chess fans. The central hall of the building was filled with chess fans, unable to accommodate everyone who wanted to listen to the lecture of the famous grandmaster and commentator ... Sergey shared a lot of chess wisdom, and the Izhevsk chess players, enriched with new knowledge, rushed to challenge the simul givers Vladimir Fedoseev, Dmitry Kryakvin, Daniil Yuffa, and Sergey Zagrebelny! It was not easy, and many of the qualified participants of the simul proved their class by making a draw.

They told me that all strongest players signed up for a simul against Yuffa, him being such an amazing person!

However, it is time we went back to the main subject of this article!

Jakovenko – Alekseenko


I imagine how White was eager to avenge the previous rounds failures, but he should have opted for a modest 34.Rb1 Qxd3 35.Rd1. Meanwhile, after

34.a5? Nxb4 35.a6? (35.Qg1! would have given some chances to bail out) 35...Nxd3 36.Qb1 Nf2+ 37.Kg1 g5! The rook is well placed to inflict a mortal wound: 38.a7 Ne4+ 39.Kh1 Ng3+! 40.hxg3 Rh6+

38.Qa2 Ng4+ 39.Kh1 Qf4 White resigns.

Kirill Alekseenko

Breaking into the plus zone is Nikita Vitiugov after winning an exciting ending from Vladislav Artemiev. Let me add that Nikita sealed his edge by trading the rooks.

Artemiev – Vitiugov

34...Qd8! 35.h5 Ra8 36.hxg6 fxg6 37.Rxa8 Qxa8 38.Kg1 Qa5, and Black is definitely for choice in this position. Artemiev seriously complicated the opponent’s task of converting his edge and “on the hanging flags” got a chance to save the game, which, however, was very difficult to spot.


56.Kg3 h2 57.Kxh2?

If anyone were to take such a pawn, this is definitely not the engine: 57.Kh3! Nh5 (after 57...h1Q+ 58.Bxh1 Qxf4 59.Qf8+! Kh5 60.Qxc5+ g5 61.Qe7 Qf1+ 62.Kg3 Qxd3+ 63.Bf3+ Kg6 64.Kf2 or 57...Qxf4 58.Qf8+ White should escape in one piece) 58.Kg4 Qd8 59.Bb7 Ng7 60.Qd5 with decent chances to make a draw. The text enables Vitiugov to grab White’s pawns in a more convenient way.

57...Qxf4+ 58.Kg2 Nh5 59.Qd5

White is no better than that with the queens off the board: 59.Qxf4+ Nxf4+.

59...Qd2+ 60.Kg1 Qe1+ 61.Kh2 Qf2+ 62.Bg2 Nf4 63.Qa8, and the game transposed into a winning pawn ending: 63…Qxg2+ 64.Qxg2 Nxg2 65.Kxg2 Kg5 66.Kg3 Kf5 White resigns.

Nikita Vitiugov

Motylev - Dreev, Matlakov - Tomashevsky, Inarkiev - Fedoseev and Predke – Sarana were interesting battles that ended in a draw.

The number of decisive games in the women's section was outstanding, as usual, with only Anastasia Bodnaruk and Elena Tomilova repeating the moves after having transposed into an equal ending. The second draw between Margarita Potapova and Zarina Shafigullina took as many as 110 moves, Potapova missing her chances towards the and Zarina eventually transposing the game to the knight and rook vs. rook ending. The title of this article gives you the notion that the number of rooks was equal; therefore, a draw agreed.

A real tragedy happened in Valentina Gunina’s game, and again involved in it was a heavy piece resembling a tower.

Girya – Gunina


White is up a pawn, but the black pieces are active and eyeballing the f2-pawn. Therefore, a smooth draw was both after 29...Qf5, and 29...Qxb7 30.Rxb7 Kg6. However, what happened is hard to call anything but a tragedy.

29... Rxf2?? 30.Qxe4+! This is taking with a check! And Gunina stopped the clock.

Always in a proper mindset for the game.

Olga Girya maintained the lead, and it was Valentina Gunina’s turn in the next round to act as a rook hunter.

Alina Kashlinskaya misplayed the opening against Aleksandra Goryachkina by not securing the safety of the light-squared bishop. Kashlinskaya's fundamental insight into the opening defies the idea of her not knowing something. Getting an edge, Goryachkina went for her opponent's king without delay.

Kashlinskaya – Goryachkina

White should have secured her king's safety with 28.h3, followed by activating her knight. A pair of bishops clearly gives Black a risk-free play for as long as it takes. Much to her grief, Kashlinskaya misses a tactical blow.

28.Qb5? Qh4 29.h3 Bxf3! 30.Kg1

There is no saving the king: 30.gxf3 Qxh3+ 31.Kg1 Bh2+.

30...Bh2+ 31.Kxh2 Qf4+ 32.g3 Rd2+ Here goes yet another rook! White resigns as there is no stopping the checkmate.

Aleksandra Goryachkina

Shuvalova – Kosteniuk

The g3-rook is instrumental to both the defensive and the offensive. With this in mind, Black had no option but disturb it with 29...h5! 30.Be3 (30.Kg2 Qe4+ 31.Kh3 Qf5+ 32.Kh2 Qf4) 30...Qc7 31.Kg2 h4 32.Rf3 Rd3, and the ex-world champion would have got decent compensation for the sacrificed material. This delay affords White enough time to consolidate her position.

29...Qh4+? 30.Kg2 Qe4+ 31.Kh3 Rd5 32.Qd1! Rd6

After 32...g6 33.Qf3 White should gradually convert her edge, while now the rook deals a decisive blow.

33.Rxg7+ Kf8 34.Rg4 Rh6+ 35.Kg3 Rg6 36.Qf3, and Shuvalova won shortly after.

Polina Shuvalova

That evening, fortune sided with Natalia Pogonina, who also won and did not allow Girya to increase the gap further.

Charochkina – Pogonina

Pogonina vs. Charochkina was a taut battle full of mind-boggling lines. It is not clear who is doing what after 40.Bh4 Qxe5 41.Qf7+ Kh7 42.Bxe7 Nd7? Meanwhile, the engine evaluates the position as completely equal!

40.Qxe7 Qxh5+ 41.Bh4?

White could have resorted to the rook's pendulum to secure a draw 41.Rh4 Qf5 (41...Qg6 42.Rf4) 42.Rf4, which Black would have nothing to say against. However, Charochkina underestimated the opponent's threats and went for the b4-pawn, upon which Pogonina's rook was back in business.

41...Ng6 42.Qf7+ Kh7 43.Rxb4 d4! 44.g3

Alas, 44.Rxd4 fails to 44...Qxe5+

44...Qd1! 45.Qb7 Qg1+ 46.Kh3 Qxf2

Black has a clear numerical superiority in the attack, which he did not take much to convert.

47.Qe4 Re1 48.Qg2 Qf5+ 49.g4 Qd3+ White resigns.

Natalija Pogonina

All battles were fierce in men's round seven, but almost all games ended in a draw - Inarkiev missed his chance vs. Alekseenko, and Vitiugov could, but did not defeat Motylev (Fedoseev - Matlakov and Sarana - Jakovenko also ended in a draw).

Vitiugov – Motylev


A nice touché of a beautiful rook was decisive in this mutual time trouble position: 29.Rc4! Qd6 (29...Qxc4 30.Qa3+ Ke8 31.Qa8+ Kd7 32.Ne5+ is losing immediately) 30.Rd4 Rxc6 (30...Qc5 31.Qb8+) 31.Rxd6 Rxd6 32.Qb4 Ke7 33.e4 Nd7 34.d4 f6 35.Kf2, and there is not enough compensation for the missing queen, while the pinned rook is a highly unpleasant issue to deal with that will eventually doom Black's defensive.

29.Qb8+? Ne8 30.Nd4 Qd6 31.Rf1 Bd3

The black pieces have become active, and Motylev managed to hold a four vs. three ending that arose after the time control.

A national team player is facing a national team coach

Having caught Vladislav Artemiev in deeply analyzed home prep, Evgeny Tomashevsky has grabbed a tournament lead. Tomashevsky told the journalists after the game about remembering 12…Nac4 as not a very good move, and after 17.Ng5 and 18.Ne6 White is for choice already.

Tomashevsky – Artemiev

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.g3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bg2 Nb6 7.0–0 Nc6 8.e3 0–0 9.Nc3 Re8 10.h3 e5 11.d5 Na5 12.Qc2 Nac4

Following the 2013 Candidates Tournament 12...c6 13.b4 Nac4 14.dxc6 bxc6 15.Rd1 Qe7 16.Nd2 emerged as a mainline, as in Kramnik – Grischuk, in which the second player managed to stand his ground. Artemiev transfers the knight to a blockading square, which is also not a new plan in this position.

13.e4 Bd7

White should better go about undermining White's center without delay: 13...Nd6 14.b3 f5, as in Santosh – Sutovsky, 2018; the text gives Tomashevsky time to prepare for f7-f5.

14.b3 Nd6 15.a4 a5 16.Rd1 f5

17.Ng5! Qf6 18.Ne6 Bxe6 19.dxe6 Qxe6

Black is up a pawn, but the white bishops dominate the board.

20.exf5 Nxf5

If 20...gxf5, then 21.Nd5. At a press conference with Sergey Shipov, Tomashevsky discussed many Black's moves that had not occurred in the game, but each time the conclusions were disappointing.

21.Nb5! Nd4 22.Qxc7 Nxb5

White is also for choice after 22...Re7 23.Nxd4 exd4 24.Qc5. Artemiev is essaying to activate his pieces, but the greedy white queen gets the best of his intentions.

23.axb5 e4 24.Rb1 Nd5

Black's last chance was in 24...Rac8!? 25.Qd6 (25.Qxb7 Re7) 25...a4!?, whereas the black knight’s sortie to с3 is fended off in a forceful manner.

25.Qxb7 Nc3 26.Bb2 Rab8 27.Qa7 Qxb3

There is no haunting the White’s strongest piece: 27...Ra8 28.Qd7 Qxd7 29.Rxd7 Nxb1 30.Rxg7+ Kf8 31.Rxh7 – and the white rook, supported by a bishop pair, is superior to her Black's passive counterparts. 


28.Bxe4! Bf6

28...Rbd8 29.Rxd8 Rxd8 30.Qxa5 looks grim, and the text drops the queen.

29.Bd5+ Nxd5 30.Bxf6 Qxd1+ 31.Rxd1 Nxf6 32.Rd6, and Evgeny Tomashevsky has grabbed the lead in the tournament.

Evgeny Tomashevsky is at +2 now.

The situation after round eight is as follows:

1. Evgeny Tomashevsky - 4.5; 2-6. Ernesto Inarkiev, Maxim Matlakov, Alexandr Predke, Kirill Alekseenko, Nikita Vitiugov - 4; 7-8. Alexander Motylev, Alexey Dreev - 3.5; 9-10. Vladimir Fedoseev, Alexey Sarana - 3; 11. Vladislav Artemiev - 2.5; 12. Dmitry Jakovenko – 2.

Tomilova - Potapova and Goryachkina - Bodnaruk ended in a draw. However, blood ran in torrents in other games, and the white and black rooks are to blame for that.

Shafigullina – Girya


1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 Ne7 6.0–0 c5 7.c4 Nbc6 8.dxc5 dxc4

The offbeat continuation 8…d4 is a famous line that starred in as many as two games of the Russia - Romania matchup. Later on it was picked up by the young GM Andrey Esipenko. Exchanging the queens off is also Esipenko’s idea.

9.Bxc4 Qxd1 10.Rxd1 Rd8 


Inarkiev – Esipenko of 2018 saw 11.Rxd8+ Kxd8 12.Nc3 Ng6 13.Be3 Ngxe5 14.Nxe5 Nxe5 15.Be2 Be7 16.f4 Nc6 17.g4 Bg6 18.Rd1+ Kc8 19.a3 Bc2 20.Rd2 Bb3, and Black’s precise play secured him a draw.

Shafigullina’s approach is way more principled, but later Girya revealed to the reporters about having analyzed the exchange sac at home and being not taken by surprise over the board for that reason.

11...Ng6 12.Bb5 Bxd6 13.exd6 e5 14.Bxc6+?

A step into the abyss. 14.Nc3 0–0 15.Be3 would have given excellent compensation. Shafigullina rushed with the capture, fully justifying Black's idea.

14...bxc6 15.b4 Rb8

Now the black rooks are infiltrating via the opened lines, and the white pieces are simply not in time to support the passed pawn.

16.a3 a5! 17.Nc3 axb4 18.axb4 0–0 19.Ba3 Ra8 20.b5

This move fails forcefully, but 20.Nd2 Nf4 is not a cup of tea either.

20...cxb5 21.Nd5 


The most precise as the knight is forced out and the white passed pawns are eliminated.

22.Nxb4 Rfb8 23.c6 Rxb4 24.d7 Bxd7! 25.cxd7 Rb7 26.Re1 Rxd7, and White resigned soon after.

Pogonina – Shuvalova

White is slightly better, but it was just a grave day for both white and black rooks.

21...Rxa2? 22.Qb3, and converting the exchange was a walk in the park.

Alina Kashlinskaya defeated Alexandra Kosteniuk – in a very promising position, Kosteniuk missed a stab in the center, dropping her queen as a result. However, even here there was nothing doing without the rooks as Alina gave the piece back to transpose into a won rook ending.

Alina Kashlinskaya and Olga Girya

Valentina Gunina vs. Daria Charochkina was the last to finish. Charochkina’s defense was superb as she managed to build a fortress, but going into the sixth hour of the game, Charochkina committed a grave blunder.

Gunina – Charochkina


Black only needs to be on the alert not to blunder the transposition into the pawn ending. There followed

85...Re4+? 86.Qxe4, and it turned out that 86…f5+ drops a poor bishop to 87.Kf3 fxe4+ 88.Kxe3.


Valentina Gunina 

Participants’ individual standings:

1. Olga Girya - 6; 2.  Natalija Pogonina - 5.5; 3-4. Aleksandra Goryachkina, Alina Kashlinskaya - 4.5; 5. Valentina Gunina - 4; 6-7. Margarita Potapova, Anastasia Bodnaruk - 3; 8-10. Alexandra Kosteniuk, Polina Shuvalova, Elena Tomilova - 2.5; 11-12. Daria Charochkina, Zarina Shafigullina - 2. 

Olga Girya is at full speed to her first champion title, and round eight only blew more wind into her sail.

Well, what can I say as a farewell word? Take care of your rooks!

Photo credit: Eteri Kublashvili