1 July 2021

As Straightforward as It Gets

Klementy Sychev’s review of rounds 2-3 of the Russian Championships Higher League

The Russian Championships Higher League among men and women is underway in the capital of the Chuvash Republic.

In the open section, a legendary filibuster Pavel Ponkratov has grabbed the lead. He has succeeded in his two white color games in a row against Alexandr Triapishko and Alexey Sarana.

Ponkratov – Triapishko

The diagram position has emerged out of the complex fashionable line of the Caro-Kann Defense.


19.g4 looks even stronger. White develops strong initiative after 19...hxg4 20.Bxg4 Rc4 21.h5 Bh7 22.Bxf5 Bxf5 23.Rg3 over his numerical superiority on the kingside.

Realizing the gravity of his position, Alexandr Triapishko gives up the exchange in keeping with the best traditions of Tigran Petrosian.


Black attempts to take control of the 4th rank and creates the threat of ...Nхb2 at the same time.


This is too greedy. 20.g4 hxg4 21.Bxg4 is as good as before, when 21...Nxb2 is followed by 22.h5 Bh7 23.h6 with a potent attack.

20...dxc4 21.Nc1 Qxb2

Now Triapishko’s position is clearly for choice.

22.Rd1 Qxd2 23.Rxd2 Ne7 24.Rg3 Nd5 25.Rd4 b5 26.Bd2 Nc5 27.Ne2

Having completely outplayed his opponent, the native of Crimea starts to lose the thread of the game.


27...a5 looks interesting to create the remote passed pawn on the queenside.


White’s intent to take the h5-pawn needs no explanations.


This is the beginning of a faulty plan.

29.Ng3 f6?

This one is a blunder already. 29...Rc8 should have been preferred, and 30.Nxh5 fails to 30...b4.

30.exf6 gxf6



It is this move that Triapishko must have overlooked. Now Ponkratov’s pieces come alive again.

31...exd5 32.Rxd5 Ne5 33.Rd6

Black's position is difficult already, but here follows a blunder.

33...Rf7?? 34.f4!

There is no avoiding the loss of a minor piece.

34...Ng4 35.f5 a5 36.fxg6+ Kxg6 37.Rd5 b4 38.cxb4 Rc7 39.Ne2 axb4 40.Bxb4 Ne5 41.Bc3 Kf5 42.a4 Rb7 43.Kf2 Ke4 44.Rd4+ Kf5 45.Ke3 Rb3 46.Kd2 Ra3 47.Rf4+ Ke6 48.Bxe5 Black resigned.

Ponkratov – Sarana

Sicilian Defense 

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.h3 Nbd7

This is a rare and not very successful continuation. 8...Be6 is the mainline theory.


Stopping Black from ...b5.

9...Qc7 10.g4

10.a5!? Might be even stronger.

10...h6 11.h4 Nb6 12.Rg1 Be6 13.g5 hxg5 14.hxg5 Nfd7 15.g6



Playing with the edge tools. There is nothing wrong for Black after 15...fxg6 16.Rxg6 Bf6.

16.gxf7+ Kxf7 17.Qf3

This is not bad, but 17.Nd2 is even stronger to cover the с4-square.

17...Nc4 18.Bxc4

18.0–0–0!? deserved attention.

18...Qxc4 19.Qg2 Rag8

The engine shows the reckless 19...g5, which defies a human being.

20.Nd2 Qb4?!

More cautious is 20...Qc6 to keep an eye on the d5-square.


This natural-looking move lets the lion’s share of advantage go. The energetic 21.Nd5 Bxd5 22.Qg6+ Kf8 23.exd5 Nxd5 was worth studying as the white rook joins the fray via the cute maneuver 24.Ra3 to give Black massive problems.


Stopping any breakthroughs via the g-file once and for all.




Sarana has improved his position substantially, and now it takes drastic measures to keep up the tension.


This interesting attempt brings a quick success


This is a blunder seemingly caused by some miscalculation. The strongest 23...exf4 24.Bxf4 Rh3 Triapishko would have maintained all pluses of his position.

24.f5 Rxe3 25.fxe6+ Kxe6 26.Qf2!

This double attack of e3 and f5 gives Ponkratov a huge edge.

26...Rxc3 27.Qf5+ Kf7 28.bxc3 Qxc3

The engine points to the subtle 28...Qa3+ 29.Kb1 Qxc3, and Black is still in the game. However, it is not an easy thing to spot.

29.Rdf1 Ke8 30.Qe6 Rf8 31.Rh6 Nd7 32.Rxf8+ Nxf8 33.Qxg4 Kd8 34.Rh3 Qa1+ 35.Nb1 b5 36.axb5 Qa5 37.bxa6 Qxa6 38.Ra3 Qc6 39.Nc3 d5 40.Rb3 Black resigned..

The pack of pursuers includes six participants: Maksim Chigaev, Mikhail Antipov, Alexander Motylev, Mikhail Kobalia, Artyom Timofeev, Evgeny Alekseev. They have 2.5 out of 3. Chigaev — Ponkratov is something to look forward to.

It is absolutely impossible to disregard Maxim Chigaev’s brilliant victory over Ilia Iljiushenok. The game is of considerable theoretical interest, and the final offensive is reminiscent of Mikhail Tal’s masterpieces!

Chigaev – Iljiushenok

Sicilian Defense

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 Nbd7 7.Bc4 Qb6 8.Bb3 e6 9.Qd2 Be7 10.0–0–0 Nc5 11.f3 Qc7 12.g4 b5

The current position is one of the current position is one of trendy lines of the Najdorftrendy lines of the Najdorf Defense, and instead of immediately advancing the kingside pawns the last year's Higher League winner opted for “safety first” measures in this position.

13.a3!? Rb8 14.Ba2

A clever idea: in some lines White is ready to push b4 himself, dislodging the knight from c5 and preventing the queenside play. Therefore, Iljiushenok strikes first.


In the case of 14...0–0 15.h4 Bd7 White can expose his king with 16.b4, the only known game Santos Latasa - Korobov, played in 2020, was a draw after the lengthy and complex battle.

15.axb4 Rxb4 16.h4 Rb8

The only move because after 16...0–0 17.Nd5 exd5 (17...Nxd5 18.exd5 Ra4 19.Kb1 helps neither because White has a ferocious attack) 18.Qxb4 there is not enough compensation for the missing exchange.


This is an excellent idea to block the b–file prior to launching the offensive.


This is an obvious inaccuracy. However, it is a real challenge to spot the computer move 17...Ncd7. Meanwhile, White has no problems here as well.


This is as straightforward as it can be. It is worth testing 18.Bf4 to provoke weakening of the d5-square after ...е5.


Now Black’s position is seriously exposed. Alas, the inspiring 18...Bxf6 would have failed to resolve all problems because after 19.Qxd6 Be7 20.Qe5 0–0 21.Nxc5 Qxb2+ 22.Kd2 Bf6 23.Nd3 Bxe5 24.Nxb2 Rxb2 25.Bb3 Bf4+ 26.Ke1 the b2-rook is trapped and there is no defending against 27.Nа4.

19.Qh6 Bd7

Good advice is beyond price for Black now. Meanwhile, the engine is not discouraged and insists on 19...Qb6 20.g5 fxg5 21.hxg5 Rf8, claiming that White’s edge is not that substantial. Is it not something crazy to find over the board?

20.g5 fxg5 21.hxg5 Rf8 22.Qg7 a5 23.Rxh7 a4 24.Nxc5 dxc5 25.Nxa4

This is not precise from Stockfish's point of view, but Black's defense is incredibly tough anyway.

25.Nd5 exd5 26.Bxd5 Qb6 27.Bxf7+ Kd8 28.Bg6 was an immediate winner; the modest 25.Ne2 is strong as well.


This is a decisive mistake, but to find 25...Qc7 would nowadays be tantamount to cheating. Black is barely alive after 26.g6 Qf4+ 27.Kb1 Bxa4.

26.g6 f6

26...Bg5+ 27.Kb1 changes nothing. There follows a nice finale:

27.Bb3!! Bxb3 28.Qf7+!! Rxf7 29.gxf7+ Kf8 30.Rg1

Black is defenseless against the checkmate. I am sure this vivid attack will not go unnoticed!

Rakhmanov – Shuvalova

Reti Opening


Last year's Russian women’s vice-champion Polina Shuvalova does not lose her nerve in a tough men's competition. She outperformed as Black one of the tournament rating favorites Alexander Rakhmanov in a difficult fight.

1...Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.e3 Be7 5.b3 0–0 6.Bb2 dxc4 7.bxc4 c5 8.Qc2 Nc6 9.a3 b6 10.Be2 Bb7 11.Rg1!

This is a modern treatment of the opening in which White is willing to break through the g-file.


This is not a bad move, albeit a slow one. 11...Na5 12.d3 Ne8 13.g4 Nd6 is more energetic, and this is a complex and double-edged fight, as in Malakhov – Movsesian, 2018.

12.g4 Nd7 13.g5 f5 14.gxf6 Bxf6 15.0–0–0 Qe7

The energetic 15...b5 deserved attention as Black is trying to create counterplay without stopping at pawn sacrifices.

16.Rg3 b5 17.Rdg1 Nce5

Rakhmanov's offensive was superb up to around this moment when he started going astray.


This is not yet a mistake, but even more potent is the immediate  18.Ne4 Bxe4 19.Qxe4 Ng6 20.Ng5, and Black is virtually defenseless.

18...Nxe5 19.Ne4

Black's position looks precarious, but Polina managed to come up with the strongest defense:

19...Bxe4! 20.Qxe4 Ng6!

Now the g-line is plugged.

21.Bg4 Rae8 22.f4

22.Bxf6!? Rxf6 (22...Qxf6 23.Kc2) 23.Bh5.

22...Bxb2+ 23.Kxb2 Qf6+

Even stronger is 23...Qd6!, exerting pressure on the d2-square.

24.Kc2 e5

White’s next move is a significant mistake.


Needless to say, it is not so easy to spot and correctly assess the consequences of 25.f5. However, it was here that one should look for success: 25...Ne7 26.Bh5 Nxf5 27.Rf3 g6 28.Bg4, and, thanks to the pin along the f-file, White can restore the material balance and retain all the pluses of his situation.

25...Re7 26.Qd5+ Kh8 27.Rxg6

This is an interesting exchange sacrifice, but Shuvalova is on the alert.

27...hxg6 28.Rg3 Qf7! 29.Bc6 exf4


A decisive mistake. Only 30.Qxf7 Rexf7 31.Rh3+ Kg8 32.exf4 would have allowed staying in the game because the threat of Bd5 maintains tension in the position.


It does not take long to finish White.

31.exf4 bxc4 32.f5 gxf5 33.Qf3 Rd8 34.Qf4 Qe6 35.Re3 Qf6 36.Qxc4+ Qf7 37.Qc3 Rxe3 38.Qxe3 White resigned.

It is also worth noting an extremely exciting tactical faceoff between Artyom Galaktionov and Tamerlan Chyndygyr.

Galaktionov – Chyndygyr

A creative treatment of the opening shaped into the position resembling the Benko Gambit with fianchetto.


Black lashes out, although 15...Ne5 looks more cautious, as was seen in the game Sobek - Wotava.

16.a4 Ne5 17.f4 Ng4

17...c4!? deserves attention. 18.fxe5 Bxb5 with a complex fight in the nature of the Volga Gambit.

18.exf5 gxf5 19.h3 Nf6 20.Ra3 Ne4 21.Qf3

21.Kh2 looks more precise.


An excellent attempt to muddy the waters.


Too timid. It was necessary to pick up the gauntlet with 22.dxe6 d5 23.g4, and Black will find it hard to prove sufficient compensation for two sacrificed pawns.

22...exf4 23.Rxe4

White plays all over the board, not at all expecting his opponent to come up with any defense.

White's position is still for choice after the more simple 23.Bxf4 Bxb2 24.Ra2.

23...fxe4 24.Qxe4 Bd4+!?

24...Rf7 25.Qxh7+ Kf8 26.Bg6 Qe7 27.Bxf7 Qe1+ is a draw by perpet.

25.Nxd4 Bxd3 26.Qe6+ Kh8

Even if Black's position looks scary, there is still no clear way to achieve the edge for White here.


It forces a draw. 27.Rxd3 Re8 28.Qf7 Rf8 does not achieve any more than the text. The engine points to the spectacular 27.b4 cxd4 28.Bb2, but even here Black is out of the woods after: 28...h5!! 29.Rxd3 Kh7 30.Bxd4 (30.a5 Qc7=) 30...Rxa4, and the perpetual check is not far away.

27...Qg5 28.Rxd3 Rae8 29.Bxf4 Rxe6 30.Bxg5 Re1+ 31.Kg2 Re2+ 32.Kg1 Re1+ 33.Kg2 Re2+ 34.Kg1 Re1+ 35.Kg2 Re2+ 36.Kg1 Re1+ 37.Kg2 Re2+ 38.Kg1 Re1+ 39.Kg2 Re2+ 40.Kg1 Re1+ 41.Kg2 Draw. What a sharp game!

Marina Guseva is in the lead in the women’s section and with the unblemished score at that. She managed to crush her opponent Elizaveta Solozhenkina in a spectacular mini-game in round two.

Guseva – Solozhenkina

Queen's Indian Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.a3 Bb7 5.Nc3 d5 6.cxd5 Nxd5 7.Qc2 Nxc3 8.bxc3 c5 9.e4 Nd7 10.Bf4

Solozhenkina commits a serious mistake in this well-known theoretical position.


Correct is 10...cxd4 11.cxd4 Rc8, but I am sure Marina was well prepared for this position in which Black has many problems to solve after 12.Qb3.


An excellent decision from White! White sacrifices the pawn to open up the game to her advantage.


In the case of 11...exd5 12.exd5 c4 (to take the pawn via 12...Bxd5 is ill-advised because White’s attack is unstoppable after 13.0–0–0) 13.d6 Bxf3 14.gxf3 Qf6 15.Qe4+ White is clearly for choice in this position.

12.dxe6 fxe6 13.Rd1



This decisive error allows a cute combination. Only 13...b5 14.a4 a6 was good enough to stay in the game, although 15.g3 highlights Black’s being in bad shape as well.

14.Rxd7! Kxd7 15.Bg5!

The black queen is suddenly short of squares to retreat due to the fork, while 15...Bxe4 runs into the intermediate  16.Qd1+

Surely 16.Qxe4 Qxc3+ should be avoided as allowing Black to survive.

16...Bd6 17.Bxf6 gxf6 18.Be2 Ke7 19.0–0 e5 20.Nd2 Bd5 21.Bg4 Rc7 22.Nf3 Be4 23.Nh4 Rd8 24.Nf5+ Bxf5 25.Bxf5 Bxa3 26.Qh5 Rf8 27.Qxh7+ Rf7 28.Qg8 Black resigned..

In round three Guseva fended off an interesting-looking but ill-prepared offensive by Dina Belenkaya.

Belenkaya – Guseva

Sicilian Defense

 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 Nf6 5.e5

White goes all out. They usually prefer 5.Nc3 here.

5...Nc6 6.Qa4

This is yet another creative decision. 6.Bb5 would be a usual choice, although Black is completely OK in the complications arising after 6...Qa5+ 7.Nc3 Qxb5 8.Nxb5 Nxd4.

6...Ng4 7.Bb5 Qb6

Black is safe after the simpler 7...Ngxe5 8.Nxe5 dxe5 9.Bxc6+ bxc6 10.Qxc6+ Bd7 11.Qe4 f6.

8.0–0 Ngxe5 9.Nxe5 dxe5 10.Na3

The more straightforward 10.Be3 Qc7 11.Nc3 is worth attention.

10...Bd7 11.Nc4

This is an inaccuracy. 11.Rd1 is stronger as it gives Black a hard time in terms of development completion; for example, 11...e6 12.Be3 Qc7 13.Nc4 with a huge compensation.

11...Qc7 12.Be3 a6


This is one more inaccuracy that hands the initiative over to Black.

The counter-intuitive 13.Qa3 is hard to spot and its aftermath to evaluate. For example, 13...e6 14.Bc5 Bxc5 (14...Nd4 15.Bxd7+ Kxd7 16.Qa4+ b5 17.Nxe5+ Qxe5 18.Qxd4+ Qxd4 19.Bxd4 with equality in the endgame) 15.Qxc5 0–0–0 (the principled line 15...axb5 16.Nd6+ Kd8 17.Nxf7+ Ke8 18.Nxh8 (White will find it hard to improve his position after 18.Nd6+ Kd8) 18...b6 19.Qxb5 Ke7 with a very complex play) 16.Bxc6 Bxc6 17.Qa7 Kd7.

13...Rd8 14.Bc4 e6

Later Guseva managed to complete development, consolidate her position and convert her extra pawn into a victory.

Going into round four, there are as many as 6 players trailing half a point behind the leader: Anastasia Bodnaruk, Leya Garifullina, Alexandra Zherebtsova, Alina Bivol, Anastasiya Protopopova and the reigning Moscow champion Daria Charochkina. Guseva – Bodnaruk will be the pivotal game of round four.

In this exciting tournament, the participants delight us with combative and creative performance. The following review will show us the developments as we cross the tournament midline!