23 October 2017

A Territory Devoid of Sofia Rules

Dmitry Kryakvin reports about the European Youth Championship in Mamaia

The European Youth Championship, finished in Mamaia, Romania, has one of the strongest in the modern chess history. It so happened that this year’s youth championship legs are held in Brazil and Uruguay (the tournament in Uruguay has just started), which translates into remote, exotic and expensive trips.

Therefore, many athletes, leaders of their age groups, have opted for the Old World event, skipping the South American one. Haik Martirosyan (Armenia, 2570), Bogdan-Daniel Deac (Romania, 2559), Lucas van Forest (Netherlands, 2485), Aram Hakobyan (Armenia, 2472) in the older youth age groups, an 11-year-old prodigy from Azerbaijan Aydin Suleymanli 2351), Marta Garcia (Spain, 2360), Balajayeva Khanim (Azerbaijan, 2342), Olga Badelka (Belarus, 2335) among teenage girls, Gergana Peycheva (Bulgaria, 2242) among younger girls - this is just a small list of European talents that the Russian players, no weaklings themselves, were up against.

This report is about 11 winners and prize-takers, who contributed to our delegation’s victory in the overall standings. Meanwhile, I would like to start by crediting those whose tiebreakers had a tragic aftermath of stripping them of medals. Only three prizes are contested by hundreds. What a pity it is to end up fourth because your unlucky round one opponent, a chess tourist, engineered a stalemate while up a queen or blundered a checkmate in 1, thus plummeting your "Buchholz" below ground level. Kolesov Gordey (U10), one of our powerhouses in U12: Volodar Murzin, Tsvetkov Andrey, Mochalin Faddey, Shvedova Alexandra (U10 girls), Miroshnik Ekaterina (U14 girls) could have been on the pedestal, had circumstances taken a slightly different turn. Do not take it so much to heart - this championship is not the last one in your careers!


New starlets

Let us start with the youngest heroes. In the boys U8 age group, Sava Vetokhin took bronze, while that of girls had the entire prize podium occupied by the chess players flying the Russian tricolor: Sofya Svergina, Evelina Zavivaeva and Anna Shukhman.

Savva, of course, could have produced a better result, but, trying at all costs to "squeeze" a victory out of an equal ending from a silver medalist from England, bearing a sonorous name Royal (meaning kingly!), Vetokhin misjudged transition into a pawn ending and went down as a result. Being frustrated, he went on to lose yet another encounter to the Turk Camlar, upon which the Russian drew on his will power to take the remaining 7 games.


Vetokhin Hajdu


21.d5!? g5?  

Black lacks confidence to stay calm with 21...Rfe8, but the counterpunches against the white queen only result in his own king shelter’s weakening.

22.Qg3 f4? 23.Qh3! Bxe5 24.Rxe5 Bd7 

The е6-square in Hajdu’s position caves in, although this is not the worst news for Vetokhin’s opponent yet!  

25.Rxg5+! Kh8 26.Rh5 Kg8  

26...Rf7 fails to 27.d6!, whereas the game has Savva delivering a quick checkmate.

27.Bxh7+ Kg7 28.Qg4+ Kf7 29.Qg6#.

Savva Vetokhin is to the right 

In the girls’ tournament Sofya Svergina has scored as many as 8.5 out of 9 to become her age group winner with one round (!) to go. A decisive moment was actually the battle against her prize podium neighbor, which took place as early as round 6.


Zavivaeva Svergina

Black has achieved a very comfortable position, and 18...Nc6 was a way to highlight its pluses even further. However, Sofya rushes to grab an exchange.

18…e5?! 19.Nxf5 Qxd3 20.cxd3 Bxf2 21.Bxf7?!  

Stronger by far is 21.Nd6! Bxg1 22.Nxf7+ Kg7 23.Kxg1 Rf8 24.Rc1, and White’s minimum loss is well compensated by a huge pressure, exerted largely by the “Kasparov” knight, planted on d6. 

21...Rg5 22.Neg3 Bxg1 23.Kxg1 Nd7 24.h4?  

White loses a thread of the game, weakening his king’s cover instead of going for a strong 24.Nd6. 

24...Rg4! 25.Kh2 Nf6 – Black has consolidated and got down to converting her material edge.

Evelina must have been extremely upset about not having exploited such an excellent opportunity, but the failure would not become the Nizhny Novgorod chess player’s undoing as she went on to her deserved second place. In the meanwhile, there was no longer stopping Svergina, who literally whitewashed her opponents.

The Russian trio was closed by Anna Shukhman. Even though Anya’s tournament progress was not as steady as Sofya or Evelina’s, she finished without failures to take a medal.


Ceskinler - Shukhman

I happened to watch this game’s broadcast on the Chessbomb. What surprised me was Anna’s having as many as 43 minutes (!!!) in a decisive game! Is it a female version of Anand or young Nepomniachtchi that we see in front of us? 


Sliding the king over towards the pawns is a more refined approach from the technical point of view - 49...Ke7 50.Bc5+ Kf7 51.Bf2 (losing is 51.h5 Nf6?) 51...h5, fixing the opponent’s pawns on dark squares so as to go about uprooting them sooner or later. Now Ceskinler could have drawn immediately via 50.Kf6 Ng6 51.Kg5!, – the active king is White’s guarantee against the worst.

50.Bf2? Ng6+ 51.Kf6 Nxf4, and it turns out that 52.Kg7 Nd3 53.Bb6 fails to 53…Ke7! 54.Kxh7 Kf7 55.Kh6 f4, winning. Shukhman’s opponent played differently, which had no bearing on the game’s outcome, though. 

Evelina Zavivaeva, Sofya Svergina and Anna Shukhman


Girls coming to the rescue again

It so happened that one of my book projects required my rereading all of Sergey Yanovsky and Mikhail Kobalia’s reports from the children’s World and European championships over the past decade. Back then, when there existed neither "Sirius" nor powerful grandmaster centers of the Russian Chess Federation, our overall triumph was sometimes subject to hardly discernible nuances. This said, same phrase would be heard time and again, “Our girls have done it yet another time!” 

Indeed, there is some sort of unshakable tradition – the Russians girls shine at younger ages! In keeping with above, Mamai-2017 has become no exception. Veronika Shubenkova, Galina Mikheeva and the already mentioned Alexander Shvedova contested the victory in the U10 group. The finale took quite an unexpected turn...


Shubenkova Shvedova


Veronika was leading the field, Alexandra and Mikheeva trailing by half a point, the latter being in for a duel against the Hungarian player. Black has outplayed her opponent to drive White into a difficult position. Even the endgame, if it ever comes to that, has Shvedova on the bright side of it with a bishop pair and a passed pawn! Despite above said, the opponents agreed to a draw in this position… 

The Moscow headquarters claims that when asked by a frustrated coach, Sasha replied, "I felt exhausted..." Chess is a hard, demanding game. Since the time when some smart person’s mind clicked with the idea of making good money on children and their escort, even 6-7-year-old kids have been forced into the World and European championships. Thinking back, it all started with the youngest age group being 14 years old...

Alexandra Shvedova, a gifted and capable athlete, has already shined in one of my articles. Just imagine how difficult it is to realize that a draw like this landed you forth, instead of the first place. Alexandra’s choice was not to Caissa’s liking, and the chess goddess’s favor fell on Samra Gasimova (Azerbaijan) and Mikheeva instead, whereas Shvedova was left out of medals on additional tiebreakers. A very difficult and unpleasant lesson, but I hope the native of Moscow will not fail to draw right conclusions from this.

By the way, Mikheeva's game of the ultimate round ended in a similar draw, but here everything was up to Galina's opponent’s.


Mikheeva Markus


I do not claim that 41…b4 is a sure way for Black to break down White’s defenses, but going for it was a must. Moreover, a draw left Markus, trailing by half a point, only on place eight. Nevertheless, a draw was agreed anyway. 

There used to be a cliché about women’s chess according to which the fair sex representatives hate draws to the extent that a three versus three pawns’ clash on same flank with a balance of other pieces can be easily turned into an other-than-draw action.

However, things move in the direction of pragmatism. Despite this, dear girls, even now this incredibly complex and psychologically difficult game requires taking full responsibility and saying, "No, I do not agree to a draw!"

Standing in the middle is Veronika Shubenkova, to the right - Galina Mikheeva

This philosophy voiced out, let us not forget to congratulate Shubenkova and Mikheeva! They gave it a really hard try to remind us of the already classic expression, "Our girls have done it yet another time!" By the way, this classic catch phrase by our coaches was also the case for the U12 age group, which turned into a race between Galina Mironenko and Eva Stepanyan. It is interesting that the blind lot would not pair the rivals in an over the board game!

In the final round, Eva crushed our girls’ main rival from Azerbaijan in a sharp duel.


Allahverdiyeva - Stepanyan

White, being in an aggressive mindset, essays a shot typical for the Ruy Lopez structures. However, this is not enough to have Eva scared! 

24.Nf5!? Bxf5 25.exf5 d5  

A brave decision since a simple 25...Qxf3 26.gxf3 d5 gives Black a very reasonable game. Meanwhile, Stepanyan was playing for a victory and did not shy from a more complex continuation.


White fails right in the midst of a battle. A direct hunt for the black king yields nothing: 26.fxg6+ fxg6 27.Rd1 Ndb6 (bad is 27...e4? 28.Qf7) 28.Nxh6 Rf8 (28...Bxh6? loses to 29.Qh5!) 29.Qh5 e4 30.Qh4, and now Black has 30…Bf6 31.Bg5 Bxg5 32.Qxg5 Nxb2, which only marks the start of further developments. Even so, this is how White should have gone about this position. As opposed to this, the text results in a crush of White’s setup by the Russian player. 

26...e4 27.Qh4  

27.fxg6+ fxg6 28.Rd1 Nde5 looks grim as well.

27...gxf5 28.Ne3 Qe6 29.Qh5 Nxe3 30.Bxe3 Be5 31.f4?  

Taking a final step into the abyss, while 31.Bb3 would have afforded counterplay against the d5-pawn.

31...Bc7 32.g4 (despair) 32…Rg8 33.Kh1 fxg4 34.f5 Qd6 35.hxg4 Rxg4!

Since taking the rook results in a checkmate, the game's fate is sealed.  

Despite this success, Stepanyan would not take first. Mironenko displayed great resourcefulness in a difficult position against her compatriot Zhurova and eventually became first by additional tiebreakers.

Mironenko Zhurova


Black is superb out of the opening and is about to create the connected passed pawns. However, Mironenko notices the c5-square weakness to reroute her knight there.

20.Nd2! Bd3  

This is where this bishop’s life ended after all. Meanwhile, Black’s chances are higher following 20...b5! 21.axb5 axb5 22.Nd5 (22.Nde4 Be7) 22...Bg5!? 23.h4 Bd8, although the position remains double-edged. 

21.Rfd1 b5 22.axb5 axb5 23.Nd5 Be7 24.Nxe7+ Rxe7  

More precise is 24...Nxe7 25.Nb3 Bg6 26.Nc5 Qd6, removing the pieces from en prize without delay. 

25.Nb3 Qd6?  

It was not yet to go for 25...Bg6 26.d5 Ne5 27.d6 Ree8 28.Nc5 Qf5, with a double-edged struggle. Now Zhurova ends up losing material. 


26.Rxd3 was an option as well, but Galina prefers remaining up a pawn dominating with her pieces. 

26...Qxc6 27.Rxd3 Qg6 28.Rdc3 cxb3 29.Qxb3 Qa6 30.Qb4 Ra7 31.Rc5 Kh7 32.Rb1 Rab7 33.d5, and White had no difficulties converting her edge. 

Eva and Galina had a similar progress throughout the tournament, scoring same number of points and facing rivals of about equal level. However, Mironenko’s additional tiebreakers proved better.

To the left is Eva Stepanyan, Galina Mironenko – in the middle.


Not by rating alone

The Russian 2003-2004 age has quite a number of promising children. It is a pity that neither Stefan Pogosyan, Dmitry Tsoi, Valery Skachkov nor the national championship’s winner Arseniy Nesterov could participate in Mamaia. Artur Avalyan became out “senior” in the starting list, who had surprised everyone in Loo (within the period of two years Avalyan covered the bridge between the First and the Higher Leagues), as well as a highly seeded Kirill Shubin.

It is no less pleasant that some other Russians joined the fight for medals either: Aram Yeritsyan, Yaroslav Remizov and Rudik Markaryan. After seven rounds Yeritsyan was on the tope line of the overall standings, but then lost to the future winner from Denmark. It was necessary for Aram to pull together for the last battle against one of the Armenia’s favorites.


Yeritsyan Gharibyan

Yeritsyan has caught his opponent on a home-prepared line, but after 25...Kh8 his position is a hard nut to crack yet with the e6-knight doing an excellent job of central blockading. However, being in a terrible time pressure, Gharibyan decides to engineer a trap only to walk into it himself instead. 

25... h5? 26.Rh3 Rxe3?  

After 26...g6 27.Qe2 Black is in bad shape, but now it looks like Mamikon deflects the rook from the h5-pawn. 

27.Rxh5+ Kg8 28.Qh4!

Black stopped the clock since there is no avoiding a checkmate or losing a queen, landing Aram on the second place.

The award found Aram Yeritsyan as far away as in Moscow 

An unfortunate drawing of lots paired Shubin against Avalyan in the ultimate round; Arthur was pressing and Kirill defending so that both ended up only in the top ten... However, the native of Chelyabinsk Remizov is with the bronze medal! Yaroslav has covered a challenging distance undefeated, and should he have taken down a rating-favorite from Spain in the last round, he could have shared first.

As claimed in the good American family movie It, being shown in Russia on big screens, it is not necessary to be on everybody’s lips to gradually accomplish a grand feat. Yeritsyan and Remizov have had this claim reaffirmed.


Remizov Henderson


Yaroslav has completely outplayed his formidable opponent and is up a pawn following his next move.

27.Qxb4 Qxb4 28.Nxb4 a5 29.Bb5! Reg8 30.Nd3 g5 

White is up material with a good coordination of his pieces, and a self-suggestive 31.Nc5 Bc8 32.Rf7 would have given Henderson a hard time. Alas, a stressful situation of the ultimate round found Remizov in a state of hesitation.

31.Rh3 Rc7 32.c4 Kg7 33.Rg3 Rf8 34.Kg1 Be7, Black has consolidated his position and offered a draw. Henderson's Buchholz was rather high with one round to go, and it is probably this factor that was the proposal’s underlying reason.

The native of Chelyabinsk agreed, and in vain so. He should have essayed 35.h4! Rxf1+ (35...h6? fails to a decisive 36.Nf4!, with neither checks from c5 nor home rank issues coming to Black’s rescue any longer) 36.Kxf1; now Black needs to come up with something like 36…Kg6!? 37.hxg5 dxc4 38.Bxc4 Kf5!?, otherwise he is going to find himself in a very grim-looking situation. 

Henderson ended up sharing 2-4 with Yeritsyan and Remizov, but the final tournament day had all his opponents from previous rounds losing their games to strip a poor Spaniard of any medals. We have already covered the topic of the ultimate round draws. All in all, it is not for nothing that a 40-move rule is in force in Russia. Being such a challenge for the experienced on the one hand, it is so beneficial for the youngster players on the other!

To the right is Yaroslav Remizov. Yeritsyan's place is empty as the native of Moscow was being late for the plane 


Finishing first, at last!

Our older age groups have many athletes capable of contesting medals. There was no luck for Ekaterina Miroshnik (D-14), whereas our string of talents in the U16 group, represented by Zarina Shafigullina, Ekaterina Goltseva, Alexandra Maltsevskaya and Anna Afonasieva, ended up taking places from fifth to eighth... Finally, failing to find a strong maneuver in the decisive game was Alena Korchagina (girls U18), which would have given her both an edge as well as chances to ascend the pedestal. The play was getting out of hand with the Russian U20 champion Aleksey Sorokin.

Our only medalist here is a mighty Andrei Esipenko (U16), a holder of an impressive 2540-point Elo rating. It was not an easy walk in the park for him as Andrey was bogged down in bitter draws first, scoring strong-willed victories in the last four games. It was preceded by an almost mystical episode as one of closest relatives had a dream of Esipenko gaining everything at the finish and landing first by winning the ultimate battle from his old rival Victor Matviishen (from the Ukraine)!

Just imagine how surprised the rising star of the Russian chess was when the last round came with Matviishen facing him. However, it's easy to play when you already know the result, and Esipenko played his best chess that we have come to know him for.


Esipenko Matviishen

All White’s pieces seem to be hanging. Not quite so as the Russian has a refutation prepared for this occasion in advance! 

16.Bf4 Qe7?  

The correct 16...cxb5! 17.Bxb7 Bxd4 18.e3 Qe7 19.Bxa8 a4! 20.Qa3 Bc5 21.Bf3 Nxf2!? 22.Kxf2 g5 or 17…Nхf2!? gives rise to mind-boggling complications. Victor’s continuation was less strong and he failed to get enough compensation for the exchange. 

17.Nc7 g5 18.Nxe8 Rxe8 

It seems as though the consequences are not so easy to evaluate, but Esipenko’s several tough moves put everything in place! Dreams are not enough in themselves, you need to play as strong as Andrey.  

19.a3! Nd5 20.Bxd5 cxd5 21.Qf3! h5 22.Be3 Nxe3 23.Qxe3 Qxe3 24.fxe3 Rxe3 25.Kf2 Re4 26.e3 – with the queens off the board, the position has consolidated and the d4-knight restricts Black’s activity. The technical conversion phase saw the near Moscow region chessplayer from Novocherkassk giving his opponent not a single chance to bail out. 

Having shared first, Andrey Esipenko has at last broken his unlucky streak to become champion.

However, following his triumph in the Prague-2011, Andrey clinched into sharing first on some 5-6 occasions in the European and World championships, staying behind by additional tiebreakers that sometimes seemed completely illogical and strange... Taking this opportunity, I would like to thank the current ECU management for having introduced order into the controversy of additional tiebreakers.

Standing in the middle is Andrey Esipenko 


We congratulate all athletes, parents, and coaches - both personal and from the training centers of the Russian Chess Federation! And let us keep track of the Uruguay event, which has gathered many heroes from Mamaia and their peers, who have preferred it to participation in the European Cup.

Sergey Yanovsky (to the right) - head of the winning delegation 


The young Russians press forward!

Pictures by Svetlana Tsvetkova