29 December 2017

Another Sacrificial Rook of Shakh's

Round one of Nutcracker in the report by Eteri Kublashvili 

Starting in Moscow at last is a beloved Nutcracker, the Christmas match-tournament of the generations. The tournament system, developed by its mastermind and one of organizers, Oleg Skvortsov, has not changed since last year: the prizes are being again contested by the teams of Kings and Princes, as well as by Queens and Princesses.

This year, the senior men’s team has been significantly beefed up by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. You cannot but feel scary for the princes! By the way, the strongest grandmaster of Azerbaijan visited the Russian Chess Federation’s Chess Museum first time during the drawing of lots and was even pictured behind that very chess table.

As shared by Oleg Skvortsov, Shakhriyar was first approached about the tournament participation in May, and the subject was resumed later in summer. Well, here he is.

The team of Kings is also represented by Boris Gelfand, Alexey Shirov and Sergey Rublevsky, who has not frequented the classical tournaments as of recently.  The Princes team is partly lined up of the Nutcracker old-timers Vladislav Artemiev, Grigoriy Oparin, and partly by newcomers Andrey Esipenko and Daniil Yuffa.

In the women’s section the honor of Queens is defended by Ekaterina Kovalevskaya, Galina Strutinskaia, Elena Zaiatz and Tatiana Grabuzova. The Princesses team features Aleksandra Maltsevskaya, Elizaveta Solozhenkina, Ekaterina Goltseva and Aleksandra Dimitrova.

Round one games were commented in Russian by Evgeniy Najer and Daniil Dubov, while the English version is delivered by Evgenij Miroshnichenko on a regular basis.

This year, the strongest participants in both men's and women's tournaments will get a pair of tickets to the Evgeny Plushenko’s ice show Nutcracker-2. “The tickets are to the best seats in the VIP-area,” said Oleg Skvortsov.

The only victory in round one was scored by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov over Grigoriy Oparin. Draws were sealed in Shirov - Esipenko, Gelfand - Artemiev and Yuffa - Rublevsky.

Round one details are shared by Evgeny Najer, a close observer of the game events: “To my mind, in the game Oparin – Mamedyarov, Oparin was overly ambitious in Reti by launching a premature 8.b4. A complicated game that followed rather played into Shakh’s hands. Black was comfortable pretty early in the game, while White needed to go into the defensive, although his position remained reasonable in general. During the press conference Shakh demonstrated a line for White, which he claimed as giving him no ways to strengthen his position further. I suspect that Oparin just missed this opportunity because it is other than obvious indeed”.

Oparin – Mamedyarov

Here Shakhriyar analyzed 21. Qa5, which Black is obliged to meet with many simplifications arising after 21…Bxc4 22. Rxc4 Rxc4 23. dxc4.

Grigoriy opted for 21. Nb6 Qd6 22. Nd5.

Evgeny Najer: “While commenting on the tournament games, Daniil and I highlighted Shakh’s rich selection of games that feature his successful exchange sacrifices. It tends to turn into his trademark tool. This game added to his collection as well: 22…Rc3 23. Rfe1 h6 24. Qd2.

Here Shakhriyar admitted that he overdid it somewhat because he could have transposed the game into a technical phase with 24…Bxd5 25. exd5 Rfc8”.


The game saw 24…Rfc8 25. e5 Bxe5 26. Nxc3 dxe3 27. Qxh6 b5.

Evgeny Najer: “After Black insisted on having the exchange sacrifice accepted, it was either a draw or a position with great chances to make it.


The time control move could see White opting for 40. Rg5, which would have been unpleasant for Black, according to Shakh. 40. Rg5 was difficult to spot in time trouble. During the game we were inclined to believe that a threefold repetition was about to happen, but after move 40 Black found ways to improve his position further, stopping the opponent's initiative and advancing his pawns. It has turned into a bright game in general.

In Yuffa - Rublevsky we first believed Sergey to be superior up a pawn, but after White’s sacrifice of exchange everything became unclear. Daniil’s point of views even differed from mine.  However, White's initiative was substantial, and it turned into a very complicated and interesting game, not an unmistakable one though. In the end, it seemed to us that a draw after time control move would be a logical outcome of this encounter.

A draw in Shirov - Esipenko was a logical one as well. The opening resulted in a position in which White could have exerted slight pressure, but not much beyond that. It all petered out to a reasonable draw.

Boris Gelfand and Vladislav Artemiev commented on their game online from our commentator’s room. It seemed that even if White had anything, it was a single slim moment only. The trades that followed obliged Boris to act more or less precisely. It was a grandmaster draw in the finest sense of the word.

All women’s games, surprisingly, ended in pretty quick draws.

Elizaveta Solozhenkina, playing White against Ekaterina Kovalevskaya, gained an edge out of the opening, but did not go for complications at the key moment, which soon resulted in a draw by repetition.

A sharp game in the Nimzo-Indian Defence was produced by Galina Strutinskaia and Aleksandra Dimitrova. White gave up one of her central pawns out of the opening for a solid compensation and won an exchange soon. Later on Strutinskaya could have launched an offensive against the opponent’s king, but opted for another approach instead. A draw was agreed in a double-edged position on move 34.

Aleksandra Maltsevskaya chose the Benko Gambit as Black against Tatiana Grabuzova, but the opponent proved well prepared, and the "princess" could not claim back the pawn sacrificed in the opening. Nevertheless, with only 5 minutes left on opponents’ clocks by move 24, a draw by repetition was agreed. 

Elena Zaiatz, playing black against Ekaterina Goltseva, was successful out of the opening (with the Bogo-Indian Defence), but at one point White could have carried out a combination to win a pawn; however, with this not happening, Black firmly seized the initiative and gained a substantial positional superiority. Meanwhile, Ekaterina was patient in the defense and posted her pieces to optimal locations, so that a draw was agreed immediately after the time control move.


Pairings of round two:

Men’s section:

Shirov - Oparin, Gelfand - Yuffa, Esipenko - Mamedyarov, Artemiev - Rublevsky. 

Women’s section:

Grabuzova - Goltseva, Strutinskaya - Solozhenkina, Maltsevskaya - Zaiatz, Dimitrova - Kovalevskaya.


Pictures by Eteri Kublashvili