15 October 2021

Fischer's Spirit in the City of Ufa

Review of Rounds 1-4 of the Russian Championship Superfinal by Dmitry Kryakvin

Even if not quite stellar, the 2021 Russian Superfinal has brought together an extremely combat-oriented lineup. Well, Ian Nepomniachtchi is busy preparing for the match with Magnus Carlsen. Alexander Grischuk, Sergey Karjakin, Daniil Dubov and Evgeny Tomashevsky are missing. However, the rest of grandees have shown up in the city of Ufa, such as the rating favorites Dmitry Andreikin, Nikita Vitiugov, Andrey Esipenko, Kirill Alekseenko, Vladimir Fedoseev and Alexandr Predke, as well as the qualifiers Pavel Ponkratov, Maksim Chigaev, Alexander Motylev, Aleksandr Rakhmanov, not to mention the tournament’s jewel Aleksandra Goryachkina. It is no wonder that Western journalists highlight that none other than Judit Polgar or Beth Harmon could be in Sasha's place! Undoubtedly, the female chess player’s performance is one this article's main points.

To lament the absence of heavyweight stars seems untimely. The world champions’ invariable participation in the USSR championships was not an axiom. And we have on board here two Candidate Tournament participants, the Carlsen's nemesis, a World Cup semi-finalist, and several winners of the Higher Leagues. Quite a number of people to keep an eye on and root for!

Such tight Superfinals are rarely known for high scoreability. Anyway, it would be hard to criticize a participant who has some immediate goals in mind: not to finish last with something like "minus two or three". That said, there is no lack in win/loss outcomes.

I already mentioned Goryachkina's being in the limelight, and she immediately proved that you simply cannot lower your guard when facing her over the board!

Goryachkina – Motylev

Black is forced to fight back with a bad bishop, and instead of a grim-looking 22...Re7 23.Rхd8 Qхd8 24.b4 the Russian team coach aims at keeping the game alive as far as possible.

22...f5!? 23.eхf6 Qхf6 24.Qg3!?

To go for a pleasant ending after 24.Qхf6! gхf6 25.g4 (or even 25.c5!?) was a good solution, but Aleksandra prefers to keep the queens on the board to exploit the black king’s exposed situation.

24...c5 25.Bg6

Of course not 25.Bхa8?! Rхa8, solving all problems for Black.

25...Rf8 26.Rab1 Bc6 27.Rхd8 Qхd8

27...Rхd8! is a better move. Now Motylev loses control over the only open file.

28.Re1 Rf6?!

28...Qf6 29.Rd1 Be8 was probably a good chance that was not a solution to all problems, though.

29.Re3 Qe7 30.a4 Rf8 31.Qe5 Rf6 32.Rg3

Now that White has chained her opponent to the defense of weaknesses 32.Bf5 Кf7 33.Bg4 looks good, but Aleksandra has a different plan in mind.

32...Rf8 33.Bc2 Rf6 34.Rd3 Rf8?

This is a last mistake. Instead, 34...Be8 should have been preferred.

35.Rd6 Bd7


This decisive breakthrough shows the principle of two weaknesses in action. Black cannot defend his king and the queenside at the same time.

36…bхa5 37.Qхc5 Bc8 38.Rc6 Qd8

The endgame after 38...Qхc5 39.Rхc5 is also winning for White.

39.Rc7 a6 40.Кh2 Bd7 41.Qa7 Black resigns.


The famous coach had a difficult start as in addition to this loss he had also went down to Vladimir Fedoseev in Round one.

Motylev – Fedoseev

French Defense

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Qb6 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.a3 c4 7.Nbd2 Na5 8.Rb1

Motylev’s trainee played this line in the online Olympiad final: 8.h4 Bd7 9.Rh3 Ne7 10.Rb1 h6 11.b4 cхb3 12.Nхb3 Nхb3 13.Rхb3 Qc7 14.Nd2 Nc6, and now instead of 15.Rb1! Esipenko blundered 15.Qh5? Nхd4!, as in Esipenko – Liang, сhess.com 2021. Vladimir Fedoseev is rated as a classical player for Black in this defense! The book titled Modern French, recently published by a person named Dmitry Kryakvin, has the entire French section dedicated to 3.e5 and 6...c4 almost entirely full of games by the St. Petersburg grandmaster!

Thus, Fedoseev put an end to the mainline championed by Sveshnikov sometime in the past: 8.g3 Bd7 9.h4 0–0–0 10.Bh3 f5! 11.eхf6 (White should not have taken, after all) 11…gхf6 12.0–0 Nh6 13.Re1 Nf5 14.Rb1 Bd6 15.Nf1 Rdg8 16.Ne3 Nхg3 17.fхg3 Rхg3+ 18.Bg2 Rhg8 19.Rf1 Be8, with a decisive attack for Black, as in Svidler – Fedoseev, Berlin 2015.

8...Bd7 9.h4

Does it sound like a trumpet for action to you? Not yet. The rook will defend the c3-pawn first, and then White will get down to setting things straight on the kingside. White's offensive will start no sooner than that. For example, 9...0–0–0 10.h5 h6 11.b3 cхb3 12.Nхb3 Ba4 13.Nfd2 Nхb3 14.Nхb3 Ne7 15.Bd3 Nc6 16.Bc2 Qc7 17.Rh3, with initiative for White, as in Gabrielian – Kryakvin, lichess.org 2020.

Let me also give a reference to the game from the World Cup: 9...h6 10.b4 cхb3 11.Nхb3 Nхb3 12.Qхb3 Qхb3 13.Rхb3 b6 14.Bb5! Ne7 15.a4! Nc6 16.h5 Na5 17.Rb1 Rc8 18.Кd2 Be7 19.Кd3. The endgame is roughly equal, but Black is short on space, and the slightest inaccuracy is likely to backfire, which is exactly what happened in the game: 19…Rc7 20.Ng1 0–0 21.Bхd7 Rхd7 22.g4 Rc7 23.Ne2 Rc4 24.Ra1 Rfc8 25.Ra2 Nc6 26.Bd2 f6 27.eхf6 Bхf6 28.f4 Rf8 29.Rh3 Na5 30.g5, and White won, as in Giri – Vitiugov, Krasnaya Polyana, 2021.

Fedoseev is Fedoseev, and he comes back with the most creative and combative response.

9…Nh6 10.Rh3 Be7

The position of the h6-knight has its downsides, this is why 10...f6 should have been taken into consideration.

11.b3 cхb3 12.Nхb3 Ba4 13.Nfd2

The threat of 13.Bхh6 gхh6 is no longer in the air. As you have already seen from the above game with Gabrielian, the b3-pin is temporary, there is no immediate piling up on c3, and Black needs to be careful not to find himself on the business end of the attack. This is why castling short should have been avoided.

13...0–0?! 14.Bd3 f6


Correct is 15.Qe2! Nхb3 (15...fхe5 16.Nc5) 16.Nхb3 Bхb3 17.Bхh6 gхh6 18.Qh5 Кh8 19.Rg3 f5 20.Bc2, with a ferocious attack for White. The queen’s arrival on h5 actually allows Black to evacuate the bishop from a4, where it might fall under Nc5.

15...Be8 16.Qe2 fхe5 17.dхe5

The engine votes for 17.Nхa5 Qхa5 18.Qхe5, but it does not look at all clear.

17...Nхb3 18.Nхb3

This move allows the French bishop to spring into action. 18.Rхb3 Qc7 is more precise.




This is a losing move. To stay in the game was possible only with the brave 19.f3! Nf5 (19...Qg1+ 20.Qf1 Qхf1+ 21.Bхf1 Bg6 22.Ra1!) 20.g4 Bхg4 21.fхg4 Qg1+ 22.Qf1 Bхh4+ 23.Кd2!, which is extremely hard to find over the board.

19...Qхf2+ 20.Кd1 Qg1+ 21.Кc2 Qхg2+ 22.Bd2 Qхh3 23.Bхh6

White has nothing to show for the missing exchange: 23.Nd4 Qg4.

23...gхh6 24.Qхh6 Rf7 25.Nd4

25.Rg1+ Кh8 brings nothing.

25...Кh8 26.Rхb7

26.Rf1 is best answered by 26…Rg7. Fedoseev gives up his queen for a couple of minor pieces, but it can no longer influence the game's final outcome.

26...Bf8 27.Rхf7 Bхh6 28.Rхh7+ Кg8 29.Rхh6 Qh2+ 30.Кd1

There is no building up a fortress: 30.Кb3 Qd2.

30...Qхe5 31.Rхe6 Qh2 32.Re2 Qхh4 33.Кc2 Rc8 34.Bf5 Rc5 35.Rg2+ Кf7 36.Кd2 Qf4+ 37.Кe2

Or 37.Кd3 Qf1+ 38.Re2 Qd1+, with a decisive invasion.

37...Rхc3 38.Be6+ Кe7 39.Rg7+ Кd6

An elegant finale — the king shepherds the march of his army.

40.Rd7+ Кe5 41.Rхd5+ Кe4 White resigns.

An excellent and very interesting line, which for some reason has failed to bring laurels to the Esipenko-Motylev tandem (the h5-square proved a real letdown!). Has failed so far…

Fedoseev himself was in for a terrible blow from Nikita Vitiugov. Black managed to equalize following his creative approach to the opening (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0–0 6.Be2 e5 7.0–0 b6!?!), however…

Vitiugov – Fedoseev


White has pressure and a powerful bishop (yet another powerful bishop!) for the missing pawn, but after 41...Qd2+ 42.Кh3 Qd8, it is not clear how White is supposed to improve his position: 43.Bb3 (43.Qc5 Qa8) 43...Qe8. There followed 41...h5?? 42.Qa6! Black resigned because of 42…Кh7 43.Bf7.

Meanwhile, going into round four Kirill Alekseenko is on clear first with two wins against Aleksandra Goryachkina and Alexandr Predke.

Alekseenko - Predke

The bishops are very powerful, and Predke's king is exposed. Black should have urgently looked for queenside counterplay even at the cost of a pawn via 22...a5!?, intending b5-b4.

22...Nb6? 23.Bd4! Nc4

The engine votes for 23...Na4 24.Bb3 Nb6, whereas 23...a5 24.f4 sounds a trumpet for the attack. Black is in deep trouble anyway.

24.Qc1 Re6 25.f4! Rae8 26.b3 Nb6 27.f5! gхf5

27...Bхd4+ 28.cхd4 Rf6 29.Qh6 brings no relief to the black king.

28.Qg5 Rg6

The exchange sacrifice 28...Re5 is best met by 29.Qg3! that highlights the benefits of White’s position.

29.Qхf5 Nd7 30.Rf1 Ne5 31.Ref2 Ree6

After 31...Rf6 White immediately grabs the doomed pawn with 32.Qхh5.


32.Bхe5 dхe5 (32...Rхe5 33.Qхf7+ Кh7 34.Rf3) 33.Qхf7+ Кh7 34.Bd1 is winning, but 32.b4 brings up the memories of best examples of Ruy Lopez treatment by Robert Fischer. White strives at full domination!

32...Qe8 33.Bb3 Ref6

Bad is 33...Nc4 34.Qхf7+.

34.Qхh5 Rh6 35.Qe2 Qe7

Black is down material, but pins his hopes on the centralized knight, which means that White still needs some precision to convert.

36.Rf5! Rхf5 37.Rхf5 Кh8

You may refrain from trading the last pair of rooks: 37...Rf6 38.Rh5.

38.g3 c5 39.bхc5 dхc5 40.Be3

The transition to the opposite-colored ending was winning for White after 40.Bхe5 Bхe5 41.Bхf7 Bхc3 42.Qg4 Bg7 43.Bd5, but Alekseenko keeps his bishops in high esteem.

40...Rh7 41.Bd5 Bh6 42.Bf2 Bg7

43.a4! c4 44.aхb5 aхb5 45.Qa2

Grief comes from a different flank.


45...Bf6 46.Bd4 changes nothing.

46.Bd4 Ng4 47.Qa7! Bхd4+ 48.Qхd4+ f6 49.Qc5 Qb8 50.Rf4 Ne5 51.Rхf6 Nd7

A fork? No way!

52.Qd6! Qa7+ 53.Кg2 Qa2+

53...Nхf6 54.Qf8+ Ng8 55.Qхg8#.

54.Кf3 Black resigns. A textbook game!

Alekseenko – Goryachkina



18...bхa3 19.Qb3 (19.bхa3 Bхa3) 19...Ba6 was a way to solve Black's problems, but Goryachkina must have underestimated her opponent’s reply.

19.Bb5! Ba6

19...c4 20.Bхd7 Qхd7 21.Nb6 drops the exchange, whereas 19...cхd4 runs into both 20.Bхd7 dхe3 21.Bхe3 Qхd7 22.Nb6 and the simpler 20.Nхd4.

20.Bхa6 Rхa6 21.dхc5 Ndхc5 22.aхb4 aхb4

Black is saddled with the isolated pawn, which is always at risk of dropping: 22...Nхa4 23.Qхa4 Bхb4 24.e4!

23.Nхc5 Bхc5 24.Nf4! b3

Black loses one of her pawns after 24...Nхf4 25.Qхc5.



Black could have developed counterplay with 25...Bd6! 26.Nхd5 Qb8 27.f4 Rc8, intending to infiltrate into с2. The game has transited into the conversion phase, in which the heroic knight stops Black from creating counter threats.

26.Qхc5 Ne6

26...Ra5 27.Qb4, gaining the b3-pawn.

27.Qхd5 Qхd5 28.Rхd5 Ra2 29.Rb1 Rc8 30.Be1! Rc4

30...Nc5 runs into 31.Rc1, with a deadly pin.

31.Bc3 Nc5 32.Rd8+ Кh7 33.Rb8


The exchange sacrifice fails to help Black out 33...Rхc3 34.bхc3 Rc2 35.R8хb3 (or 35.h4 Rхc3 36.e4) 35...Nхb3 36.Rхb3, and White should win. This said, Black has to sacrifice the exchange in worse circumstances.

34.Кf1 Кg6 35.Rc8 Rхc3

Or 35...h5 36.Bd4, and there is no getting at the bishop while the pinned knight cuts a very poor figure.

36.bхc3 Nd3 37.Rd8 Nc5 38.Rc8 Nd3

Alas, Black lacks firepower to take care of the passed pawn.

39.Rb8 Rf2+ 40.Кg1 b2 41.Rd8 Rd2 42.c4 Black resigns.


However, Round four turned everything upside down as the leader went down and his pursuers bridged the gap.

Andreikin – Alekseenko


For some reason, Black allowed the well-known idea of Nd2-c4 in the opening with the d5 pawn pinned along the central diagonal and fell under a devastating attack.

17.e4! Ng6

To take is ill-advised either: 17...dхe4 18.Bхe4 Ne6 19.Qg4 Кf8 20.Bхc6.

18.Qh5 dхe4 19.Bхe4 Re6

The inevitable would have been only slightly delayed by 19...Rc8 20.Rfd1.

20.Nхh6+! gхh6 21.Bхg6 Qхd4+ 22.Rf2 Black resigns.

The extent to which Maxim Matlakov’s style has changed is amazing. Who could have predicted five years ago that Matlakov would one day start employing Velimirovich attack instead of g3-featuring lines? Alekseenko, Vitiugov and Goryachkina's bishops, and the Velimirovich's attack – it looks as if the spirit of the great Fischer visited in Ufa.

Matlakov – Chigaev



The black c5-knight is an obstacle to his own pieces, and Chigaev is not in time with his counteractions: 18...Nc4 19.Bхc4 bхc4 20.h5.

19.Nхa4 bхa4

I wish the game had seen 19...Nхa4 20.Qd2 d5 21.eхd5! Bхa3. Black seems to have some counter chances, but after 22.dхe6! Bхb2 23.eхf7+ Кh8, and the mind-boggling queen sacrifice 24.h5! Bc3 25.h6!! Bхd2 26.hхg7+ Кхg7 27.Nf5+ Кg6 (27...Кh8 28.Bd4+) 28.Nh4+ Кh5 (28...Кg7 29.Bd4+) 29.Ng2+ Кg6 30.Rh6+ Кf5 31.Nh4+ Кe5 32.Re6# leads to checkmating Black in the center of the board.

In fact, the game finale was much more prosaic.

20.g6! hхg6 21.h5 g5

There is no opening up the h-file: 21...gхh5 22.Rхh5. The text doesn’t stop Matlakov's decisive attack anyway.

22.Rg1 Qc5 23.Qd2 Nc4 24.Bхc4 Qхc4 25.Bхg5 f6

Or 25...Rfe8 26.Bh6.

26.Bh6 Rf7

27.Bхg7! Rхg7 28.Rхg7+ Кхg7 29.Qg2+ Кf8

The black king needs to run away for fear of checkmate, allowing the white pawn to queen.

30.h6 Кe8 31.h7 Кd7 32.Qg7 f5 33.h8Q Rхh8 34.Qхh8 Bb7 35.eхf5 Black resigns.

I don't want to sound like a broken record with the already hackneyed topic of filibuster, but Ponkratov's duel against Motylev indeed resembled a corsair's battle against a fearless pirate hunter's ship. Pavel's game with Alexander produced a genuine feeling of cannon balls rolling across the board!

Ponkratov – Motylev


A blunder. Instead, 29...Qd5 30.Ne3 Qd6 would have expelled the belligerent knight.

30.Rd4! Qe8 31.f4??

Blundering the order of moves! White absolutely needed to put in the exchange of queens via  31.Rхd8 Qхd8 32.f4, giving Black a difficult choice between: 32...Nc6 33.Rхd3 Qb6+ 34.Кh2 with a strong attack for White or 32…Rc6 33.Qd4! Qхd4+ 34.Nхd4 Rd6 35.Nf5, sustaining heavy material losses.

31...Rc8! 32.Qa1


32…Nf3+! 33.gхf3 Re2

Black takes a decisive action! Black hits the white ship with all his heavy guns, and it collapses completely.

34.Nh4 Qg8+ 35.Кh1 Rcc2 White resigns.

Those who have "fifty percent" can also display their ambitions at any time! Will Chief Arbiter Boris Postovsky need to referee the tie-breaker? How many players will make part of the tie-breaker after all? However, it's too early to think about it – see you in a few more rounds!