11 July 2018

Alexey Sarana Goes into the Lead as the Entire Country Goes Wild in Celebrations

Dmitry Kryakvin is sending telegrams from the crowd of fans in Yaroslavl 

I congratulate everyone on our football team’s superb victory! Russia is celebrating a historic victory in the final 16 of the World Cup over the great Red Furia that knew no defeats in 2008-2012. 

Emotions went high in Yaroslavl, just as elsewhere. A happy Dmitry Gordievsky told me that he had been watching a football match for the first time in his life (!), and what a success it was indeed!  The Moscow grandmaster’s appearance testified as to the end of his opening round failures. It is no less important now that Dima not only wins several games, but also watches the quarterfinals! Another chess player from St. Petersburg, who wants to stay anonymous, said that he had made a wish for a series of penalties, and should Russia win it, he promised to hold no grudge against two persons that had done him wrong. Is there something you hold back from the altar of victory? 

Senior-aged players were discussing Sergey Ignashevich over dinner, "Look, being almost 40 he survived 120 minutes of play, toiling like a galley slave! He was depressed neither by own goal nor by dressing down from Akinfeev. He even scored a penalty kick at the end! So, they should not write us off now, should they?” The match had Konstantin Sakaev come to a conclusion that it was not too late for him to achieve the highest results yet. 

Sergey Karjakin’s true prediction was being discussed as well. "You see, when Karjakin won the World Cup and the Candidates afterwards and nearly defeated Carlsen, I thought of him as an incredibly gifted grandmaster. However, after the forecast for the final 16, I see that he is a GENIUS. This is what The Public Chamber stands for!” - delivered someone from the adjacent table. It is true, though, that there was no doing without a skeptic, who voiced his fears about yet another Rodchenkov making it across the border. 

Let's see how this brilliant result of Stanislaw Cherchesov’s squad is going to reshape the course of the event. I well remember 2012, the Higher League in Tyumen, when the final defeat of the Russian football team (the match was broadcast late into the night because of the difference in time zones) led to an incredible kaleidoscope of blunders during the following round. Will it be different this time around? Moreover, a certain limit of blackouts from the exhausted participants must have run out before the rest day. 

Motylev – Oparin

Round 4 


Grigoriy Oparin spent a rest day celebrating his birthday. And here is Alexander almost making a chic gift to the birthday boy!  

38...g4 39.Bxg4?   

Meanwhile, with only seconds on your clock it is hard to assess that the move to play is 39.Be2!! Rxe2 (39...Kf8 40.Bf1) 40.Ne7+ Kh7 41.Nxc8 Rxg2+ 42.Kh1 Rxh2+ 43.Kg1, and Black is to bail out by perpetual.   

39...Rxg2+ 40.Kh1 Rxh2+ 41.Kg1 Rhg2+   

With the time control over, Oparin could give it a good think to take the f6-square under control: 41...Rag2+! 42.Kf1 Rf2+ 43.Kg1 Bxg4 44.Nf6+ Rxf6 45.Kxh2 Rc6, winning. FIFA World Cup had a rest day, and I imagine how nervous was a coach of the young grandmaster, one of our country's most passionate fans, Sergey Shipov...   

42.Kh1 Bb7?   

42...Bxg4?? fails to 43.Nf6+ Kg7 44.Nxg4; however, besides the checks from f2-rook, Black had the following geometry at his disposal: 42...Rxg4 43.Ne7+ Kh7 44.Nxc8 Rxa4 45.Nb6 Ra5 46.Nd5 Rh4+ 47.Kg2 Rc5, with decent winning chances.   

Grigoriy seems to have counted only on 43.c8Q+? Bxc8 44.Bxc8 Rgc2 45.Rxc2 Rxc2 46.Bxa6 c3 47.Bd3 Rb2 48.Nxc3 Rb3 or 43.Ne7+? Kf8, but Motylev was on the alert with a puzzle-like blow.   

43.Bc8!! Bxc8 44.Ne7+ Kh7 45.Nxc8  

With neither black rook in time to cope with the c7-pawn, a draw is inevitable.  

45…Rh2+ 46.Kg1 Rag2+ 47.Kf1 Rb2 48.Kg1 Rhg2+ 49.Kh1 Rh2+ 50.Kg1 Rbg2+ 51.Kf1 Rd2 Draw. 

However, is there any comparing to the shock that befell the Central Federal District’s champion?   


Iskusnyh – Rodin 

Round 4 



The Voronezh chess player was consistent in bringing his edge home, his watch displaying 20 minutes yet... However, White’s last bullet proved deadly for Black.  

70...a1Q?? 71.Re5#. 

A duel of leaders in the women’s section took a similar trajectory.  


Ovod – Tomilova

Round 4 


Black’s opening has been quite a failure. Were Evgenija Ovod to make a self-suggestive 16.Qh5, intending 16…g6 (16...h6 17.Bxh6) 17.Bxg6 hxg6 18.Qxg6+ Kh8 19.Qh5+ Kg8 20.Bh6, Elena Tomilova would have had to place the rook on f8 en prise of the white bishop so as not to go down immediately. 

16.Bg5?! Rf7, and Black is not losing immediately now. Well, Black ended up winning, as you may know by now. 

As for force majeure, one of the rounds saw a "toilet" problem. Not in vain did Botvinnik even before the matches with Smyslov (long before the Kramnik-Topalov and various other issues of modern days) claim that the issue was not to be underestimated. Let me remind you that specifically for the needs of "patriarch" the second floor was equipped with a special room as the sixth world champion did not feel like descending to the first. Evil tongues, according to Gennady Sosonko, claimed that Mikhail Moiseevich also made use of the Hamilton-Russell Cup. By the way, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the last battle between Botvinnik and Smyslov, so we believe the Russian men's team will finally return the honorable trophy to the Gogol Boulevard.   

This toilet accident was a lot more trivial: in the heat of fight one of the young players broke the door handle in the men's WC. There arose an immediate tension between the linesman and other participants who attempted to get access into this very toilet. However, the situation was taken under control by the chief arbiter Alexey Moskvin, who reassured everyone, fixed the handle, provided access, etc.   

Let me build up on the issue of sensitive problems. Tournament Director Alexander Tkachev shared about the Higher League’s unprecedented anti-cheating measures. It features a broadcast delay, as well as the entire game area being under supervision of most reliable arbiters. Tkachev pointed out that he had long been looking forward to having things run this way (a WC in a close proximity to the playhall, and every other facility located not far from each other), which was difficult at previous Higher Leagues due to venues’ interior configuration. Alexander Vasilevich also reassured our chess players that Russia’s leading international arbiters would stand guard over proper playing conditions that contribute to the integrity of the process.  

However, let us go back to chess and football. The Germans are out of the World Cup, but problems keep haunting all German in chess as well. A young leader of ProfChessClub and hero of the matchup against China, Alexey Sarana, has crushed the Berlin line of Ruy Lopez on two occasions. Not only that, but he did it in completely different fashions. 


Sarana – Khismatullin

Round 4 

 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.dxe5 Nxb5 7.a4 d6 8.e6 fxe6 9.axb5 


It's a shame to admit, but the last time Berlin was seen in your author’s praxis was this day 10 years ago (thanks to Valery Popov). My students, playing it on a regular basis, claim that 9 ... Nb4 is the move and that it has been studied far and wide by now.   

Home prep is one thing, but what about a tournament game? Denis Khismatullin probably intended to use this rare continuation to take his young opponent by surprise, but found himself jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.   

10.Nc3 Nf5 11.Nd4 Qf6  

Forty years ago Nunn underplayed it against Romanishin by trading knights on f5, and ended up going down miserably. In general, this game is for those who believe that they knew how to play then, but not so nowadays. As opponents burned up a lot of clock in the opening, this is unlikely part of Alexey’s home prep.  

12.b6! cxb6   

The knight is immune, as it turns out: 12...Qxd4 13.Qxd4 Nxd4 14.Rxa7 or 12...Nxd4 13.Rxa7, and White is winning.   

13.Ndb5 Qd8 14.g4! Nh4 15.Ne4 d5 16.Bf4 e5 

All White’s pieces have joined the fray, and the knight is not to be touched yet another time. 16...dxe4 17.Nc7+.   



Black’s idea lies in 17.Bxe5 dxe4 18.Nc7+ Ke7, and there is no deadly bishop check.   

17...Qd7 18.Bxh4 dxe4   

Things are looking grim for Black after 18...Qxb5 19.Nc3 Qc4 20.Qxd5, but it was not losing immediately, at least. Now Sarana wins an exchange.   

19.Qxd7+ Kxd7 20.Rfd1+ Kc6 21.Nxa7+ Rxa7   

21...Kc5 22.Rd8 is simply too bad for Black.   

22.Rxa7, and White won.   

What a catch for Maxim Notkin’s game of the month for June or July!  

Going into round five, Sarana was sharing the lead with Artyom Timofeev, yet another hero of the starting rounds. In his second Berlin game Sarana opted for a modest 5.Re1 to get an endgame with a slight pressure. Timofeev was defending well over a long period of time, but then caved in. 


Sarana – Timofeev

Round 5 

The black pawns occupy the squares on which the bishop operates, but after 52...Kd8 53.a5 Ke7 his weaknesses on b7 and g6 are reliably covered, while White is also tied to protecting his own pawns. After all, when the black king shows up on f6, g6-g5 is going to be a threat. Artem lashed out with another pawn break, a lot more inferior than g6-g5.  

52...b6?53.Kc3! bxc5 54.dxc5 Rh8 55.Kd4 Rb8 56.Rb3 Re8 57.Bd3 

White has consolidated his position, which features a remote passer, a pressure against the g6-pawn, and a threat to break into the enemy’s camp with his king. It was enough for a victory. It bears resemblance to a classical example from the book of Panchenko, it's a pity, though, that this time it was Alexander Nikolayevich’s student who turned into a victim...  

Not only does a young leader of the Higher League radiate an inexhaustible energy of youth, but a versatile type of game as well. With another 4 rounds to go, let us wait and see who and how is going to challenge Alexey’s lead. 


Ovechkin – Ponkratov

Round 5 

Elbowing his way into the group of pursuers is the Chelyabinsk filibuster, who has capitalized on a fatal blunder of his blogging countryman.   

26... Rxc5! 27.Rxc5 Nd4 28.Qe3 Bxe5  

Black is well compensated for the missing exchange, and29.Bd1 was a must for White. What happened to Roman at his moment can only be classified as a temporary blackout. 

29.fxe5?? Nf3+ 30.Qxf3 Qxf3 and Black is winning. What was it indeed? It turns out that Ovechkin thought 29...Qg4+ 30.Kh1 Nf3 to be mandatory, in which case White is in time to deal with a threat of checkmate.  

In a group of +1 participants, Kirill Alekseenko defeated Semen Lomasov, and Mikhail Kobalia upset Klementy Sychev. 


Sychev – Kobalia

Round 5 


A Moscow champion has also sacrificed an exchange to get a decent compensation. Now it was worth defending the b2-square, while bringing the knight into the game: 31.Nd4, 31.Nf4 or 31.Nc1. Ponkratov, for one, is constantly employing this knight trick. Klementy hesitated, and Kobalia took advantage of this.   

31.a4? Rb4 32.Nf4 c5! 33.Nd3 Qg3! – the queen showing up on g3 spelled White’s downfall.The pieces of the Russian junior team's tutor gained momentum, and Kobalia gradually brought his material edge home.  

Now, as many as 11 participants are trailing behind Sarana by a whole point. Who will be first to conquer the +3 summit? By the way, the upcoming game has Sarana faced off with Alexander Motylev. A press conference had national team coaches say that potential team candidates must show their best if it comes to individual matchups. This is something to look forward to! 


Top table players in the women's section agreed to draws. Tomilova retains her lead, and the Crimean duet Vasilevich-Gritsayeva has been joined by Ovod upon defeating Kovalevskaya. The main upset is that the game does not go well for the rating favorite. 


Protopopova – Bodnaruk

Round 5 



Black has got insufficient compensation for his handling of the Benko gambit. Troubles do not travel alone - once Bodnaruk rerouted her d7-knight to the desired outpost, Protopopova marched her passer all the way down to the queening square! 

24...Ne5 25.a5! Ne8 26.a6 Rbb8 27.a7 Ra8 28.Ra6 Qf6 29.Rfa1 Kg7 30.Rb6 Nc7 31.Rb8! Raxb8 32.axb8Q Rxb8 33.Nxc7, and Black is down a piece.  

A sightseeing tour took place on a rest day (I do thank Vladimir Makhnev for the picture he shared with me!), as well as a lecture by Vladimir Potkin with Evgeniy Najer. The evening saw a downpour promised by weather forecasters long ago. A happy sky seemed like crying with joy over the national football team’s triumph. While Yaroslavl sees out the final 4 rounds, Stanislav Salamovich (Cherchesov) will be busy unraveling the inner workings of the Croatian team. It means no football worries over chess games. 

 Besides, during one of my walks I discovered a vivid confirmation of Yaroslavl being a chess city! 

What an elegant design solution! Or is it rather a chess.com promotion?