Four Plus One Scheme
Klementy Sychev’s review of rounds 6-7 of the Russian Championship Higher League
The Russian Championships Higher League is about to finish. Not only have both sections of the tournament defined their leaders, but this lead is as wide as one point at that! Shining in the men's section is Pavel Ponkratov. Playing the black pieces, he managed to defeat David Paravyan and take Aleksandra Goryachkina’s position in a positional bind. The tournament leader’s level of preparation is praiseworthy. Put up against difficult problems from the very beginning of the game, his opponents would not manage to solve them over the board.
Paravyan – Ponkratov
Queen's Gambit Accepted
1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4!
Exclamation mark for the right opening choice! Paravyan’s opening strategy is always a mystery, but Ponkratov’s guess proved to the point as he managed to get David into a position in which his insight was less than fundamental.
3.e3 e5 4.Bxc4 Nc6
Although not very popular, this continuation is very tricky. 4...exd4 is the mainline in which both sides strive to prove the pros and cons of the isolani after 5.exd4 Nf6 6.Nf3 Bd6 7.0–0 0–0 8.Nc3 Nc6.
5.Nf3 e4 6.Nfd2 Qg5 7.g3
This is an inaccuracy. Black’s strategy can only be challenged by 7.Nxe4 Qxg2 8.Ng3 Nf6 9.Bf1 Qd5 10.Nc3, when White’s central domination gives him a clear edge.
Black returns the favor: Black shouldn’t have exposed the а2-g8 diagonal for no apparent reason. Black experiences no problems whatsoever after 7...Nf6 8.Nc3 Qg6, which has been proved by the recent Candidate’s participant Kirill Alekseenko.
8.Nc3 Bd6 9.a3
This too slow a move is not representative of the last year Gibraltar Open’s winner. The energetic 9.Bxg8 Rxg8 10.Qb3 or even the more extravagant 9.b4!? looks more interesting, as in the latter case the pawn taking is ill-advised because White generates a powerful initiative after 9...Nxb4 10.Qb3 Nf6 11.Nb5.
9...Nf6 10.b4 h5!
Flibustier is engaging his opponent in a close-range battle!
11.h4 Qg6 12.Ne2
This is a follow-up to the passive strategy. It is hard to keep your nerve when facing Ponkratov, but White should have continued his development and ignore Black’s threats. Thus, after 12.Bb2 underwhelming is 12...Bxg3 due to 13.Rg1 Bxf2+ 14.Kxf2 Ng4+ 15.Ke1 Qf6 16.Qe2 Qxh4+ 17.Kd1, and White ends up consolidating his position.
David is not true to himself in this game. I am confident that being in good shape the native of Moscow would have found something like 13.a4 Nxb4 14.Qb3 a5 15.Ba3 with rich compensation for the sacrificed pawn.
An excellent decision! Now that the c4-square is taken away, White finds it hard to come up with any active idea.
14.Bb2 Ne7 15.Qc2 Bb7 16.Nc3
You want to abandon the hazardous area immediately, but 16.0–0–0 runs into the unpleasant 16...a5.
Black goes for it!
Being clearly worse, White commits a blunder.
17.Ne2 would have kept White in the game. Even if Black’s position is clearly superior, the decisive blow does not lend itself to easy finding.
17...Bxg3 18.fxg3 Nxe3
Black is given a free hand in carrying out his offensive. A player of Ponkratov’s caliber does not take long to finish his opponent.
19.Qb3 Qxg3+ 20.Rf2 Ng4 21.Ncxe4 Qxb3 22.Bxb3 fxe4 23.Rf7
Paravyan does his usual best to muddy the waters, but his position is way too bad to pull it off.
23...e3 24.Nf1 Nd5 25.Rxg7 0–0–0 26.Rc1 Rd7 27.Rxd7 Kxd7 28.Rc5 Nf4 29.Bc2 Bf3 30.Bf5+ Kd8 31.Ng3 Re8 32.Bc3 Ng2+ 33.Kf1 e2+ 34.Nxe2 Rxe2 White resigned.
In round seven the Higher League witnessed an unprecedented event as board one had the world vice-champion Aleksandra Goryachkina paired against the many-seasoned Alexey Dreev! Never before has a female chess player, albeit of such a high caliber, managed to achieve anything similar in the men's competition. The audience was looking forward to a sensation, but the tournament leader came up with a tricky opening line...
Ponkratov – Goryachkina
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.dxe5 Nxb5 7.a4 Nbd4 8.Nxd4 d5 9.c3!
This is the latest trend. This is how Daniil Dubov challenged Anish Giri in one of the Magnus Invitational stages. Even such a seasoned player and brilliant theoretician as Giri failed to oppose this tricky approach.
9...Be7 10.f4 g6!?
An interesting attempt to stop White’s kingside expansion.
The straightforward 10...f6 11.exf6 Bxf6 12.Nxc6 bxc6 13.Re1+ Kf7 14.Be3 was not good enough to help out, and White went on to achieve a decisive edge in Grebenshchikova – Dolukhanova.
Dubov – Giri saw 10...0–0 11.Be3 f6 (11...a5, seen in Ehlvest - Onischuk, is also of high interest) 12.Nxc6 bxc6 13.Nd2 fxe5 14.fxe5, and now 14...Qе8 looks good instead of 14...Bа6 with a complex play to follow.
11.a5 is also worth testing with the idea of taking Black's queenside in a bind.
This is a positional error. It was imperative to play 12...c5 so as to meet 13.Nd2 with 13...d4. 13.Qd2 is stronger for White, but Black is capable of maintaining dynamic balance after 13...0–0 14.Qf2 Rb8 15.Bxc5 Bxc5 16.Qxc5 Rxb2.
Now Ponkratov is in time to take control of the dark squares.
13...f6 14.a5 Ba6 15.Rf2 fxe5 16.fxe5 Rxf2 17.Bxf2 Qd7 18.Nb3
Taking full control over с5 via 18.b4 looks even stronger.
Goryachkina’s position is lost strategically. She should have escalated no matter the consequences. The reigning Russian champion must have correctly evaluated the inferior consequences of winning the queen with the tactical resource 19...c5 after 20.Nxc5 Bxc5 21.Bxc5 Rf1+ 22.Qxf1 Bxf1 23.Rxf1. However, she should have looked into the central break 19...d4 to breathe life into her pieces: 20.Nxd4 (20.cxd4 Qd5 with a sort of blockage along the light-squares) 20...c5 21.Nf3 Qe6. Black’s pressure along the а8-h1 diagonal gives her decent compensation for the sacrificed pawn.
It gives White full control of the situation, which Ponkratov does not fail to convert with the technical performance to achieve such an important victory.
20...Qf4 21.Nd4 Qe4 22.Qd2 Bc5 23.b4 Bxd4 24.Bxd4 Qf5 25.Re1 Qe6 26.Bxa7 Rf5 27.Bd4 g5 28.Qd1 h6 29.Qg4 Kf7 30.Kh2 Ke7 31.Re3 Rf4 32.Qg3 Ke8 33.Rf3 Rxf3 34.Qxf3 Kd7 35.Qf8 Bb5 36.Kg1 Bc4 37.Qg7+ Kd8 38.Bc5 Kc8 39.Bb6 Qd7 40.Qf8+ Kb7 41.Bd4 h5 42.Qf6 g4 43.e6 Qh7 44.e7 Qb1+ 45.Kh2 Qe1 46.Be5 c5 47.hxg4 Bb5 48.a6+ Ka8 49.Bxc7 Be8 50.Bg3 Black resigned.
Trailing a point behind the leader are as many as four athletes: Aleksandr Rakhmanov (he is paired with Ponkratov as White), Alexey Sarana, Alexander Motylev and Maksim Chigaev.
Among other games, it is worth mentioning Alexandr Predke’s victory over Evgeny Alekseev in the popular line of the English Opening.
Predke – Alekseev
1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e6 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.g3 Qb6 7.Ndb5 Ne5 8.Bf4 Nfg4 9.e3
Aronian's gambit 9.Qa4 used to be in the limelight a while ago, but then they found a way to neutralize White's initiative.
9...Qc6 is strongly opposed by the fearless 10.h3, and Black needs to go 10...a6 anyway.
As mentioned before, 10...Qc6 leads to an interesting and complex play after: 11.Nc7+ Qxc7 12.hxg4 d6.
11.hxg4 Nxc4 12.Rc1!
This key idea was introduced at the high level in the Candidates Tournament of 2020-2021, in which Ian Nepomniachtchi managed to navigate the difficulties over the board to outplay Anish Giri — one of the most dangerous competitors of that event.
A positional blunder. The misplaced knight will be a helpless observer of Black’s getting annihilated.
The better retreat of the knight fails to solve all problems either: after 13...Nd6 4.g5 Bd7 15.Bd3 White retained the initiative in Giri – Svidler, Magnus Carlsen Invitational 2020; however, it was Black to celebrate victory in the end. This line looks like a disaster for the Netherlands player!
In a complex struggle arising after the only correct 13...Bb4 14.bxc4 Ra3 15.Be5 f6 16.Bd4 Qa5 17.Be2 Bxc3+ 18.Rxc3 Rxc3 19.Kf1 b4 20.g5 e5 Nepomniachtchi scored what seems to rate as one of the most crucial victories of his chess career.
14.g5 Bd7 15.Be5
This is not bad, but even stronger is the crushing 15.g6 fxg6 16.Bd3, and Black’s position falls apart.
15...Rc8 16.Bd3 h6
Alekseenko is known to be an excellent defender capable of fighting back cold-bloodedly even from such an unpleasant position as this one.
17.Ne2 Rxc1 18.Qxc1
This seemingly logical move is an excellent opportunity for Black. The counter-intuitive 18.Nxc1 is a much stronger move.
All of a sudden, 18...Qc6 equalizes because White finds it hard to avoid the trade of queens, whereas 19.Qd2 is refuted by the crushing 19...Nc4!!
White’s position is close to winning, but Predke comes up with unnecessary creativity.
Better is 20.gxh6 gxh6 21.Qb2 with complete domination.
20...hxg5 21.Bh7 Rh8 22.Ng6 Rxh7?
Needless to say, Black loses after 22...fxg6 23.Bxg6+ Ke7 24.Qc5#.
However, Alekseev lets his golden opportunity go. Black can capture the piece following the crucial intermezzo check 22...Bb4+ 23.Ke2 fxg6 24.Bxg6+ Ke7 25.Rxg5 Qc8, and it is only Black to win thanks to his material superiority.
23.Rxh7 fxg6 24.Rh8 Qe7 25.Qc7 Bc6
A fatal blunder. Only 25...Kf7 26.Rxf8+ Qxf8 27.Qxd7+ Qe7 was the way to stay in the game even if White is clearly for choice after 28.Qc8.
A simple but nice finale.
26...Qxf8 is refuted by 27.Bd6, whereas after 27...Qf6 Black is checkmated nicely with 28.Qc8+ Kf7 (or 28...Qd8 29.Qxe6+) 29.Qf8#.
27.Bd6 Black resigned. What a vivid victory!
Polina Shuvalova’s performance is also worthy of praise. The native of Moscow has assimilated into the harsh male environment to the degree of defeating Artyom Timofeev with the black pieces.
Timofeev – Shuvalova
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 e6 3.Bg5 h6
So much for Polina’s combative mindset!
4.Bxf6 Qxf6 5.Nbd2
Timofeev clearly wants to catch his opponent off guard by sidestepping the main theory. 5.e4 is the theoretical mainline.
A creative approach! The simple 5...c5 lacks nothing, but the text adds more combative content to the game.
6.e3 Bg7 7.Bd3
This is an inaccuracy. The immediate 7.h4 should have been preferred to probe into Black’s plans. Thus, in the case of 7...g4 8.Ne5 h5 the white knight can retreat to d3 to keep an eye on the beautiful pasture on f4.
This is no longer as timely as a move ago.
8...g4 9.Ne5 h5
The d3-square is no longer available, and the retreat to с4 is clearly inferior if compared to d3. On realizing this, Timofeev opens up the game.
Not fearing any ghosts!
11.Bb5+ does not change anything because Black can simply move his king 11...Kf8 with no problems whatsoever after 12.Nd3 Qf5 13.Bc4 Nc6. Meanwhile, this position offers more opportunities to go wrong for both sides.
11...gxf3 12.Nxf3 Bb7 13.Ng5 Qe7 14.0–0 Bf6
This is a turning point of the battle. White has opened up the f-file, but the f6-bishop is Black’s reliable safeguard. Timofeev presses forward to the extend of committing a blunder.
White ends up winning a pawn, but its price is too high! Black completes development and launches attack along the g-file. Besides, the h4-pawn will be an easy target.
White should have delved into complications via 15.Be4 Bxe4 16.Nxe4 Bxh4 17.Qf3 d5 18.Ne5 or sacrifice the exchange by 15.Rxf6 Qxf6 16.Qe2 Qg7 17.Rf1 Rf8. Because Black has managed to put off White’s offensive, it makes sense to repeat moves via 18.Nh7 (White may reconsider the repetition by 18.Nd2 Nd7 19.Nde4, but it may backfire) 18...Rh8 19.Ng5 Rf8, etc.
15...Nd7 16.Qxh5 Rg8
The immediate 16...0–0–0!? is also a good plan.
17.g4 Bxh4 18.Nd2 0–0–0 19.Rxf7 Rxg4+! 20.Kh2 Rg2+ 21.Kh3
One may think the position is unclear, but Shuvalova has the queen sacrifice under her sleeve.
Let us add, for the sake of fairness, that 21...Rg3+ 22.Kh2 Qe8 was also a winner, but the text is way more aesthetical!
22.Rxe7 Bxe7 23.Nf1 Rg1
White is defenceless despite being up a queen.
24.d5 Ne5 25.Rd1 Kd8 26.Qe2 Bxd5 27.e4 Bc6 28.Kh2 R1g7 29.Qh5 Rxh7!! White resigned without waiting for 30.Qxh7 Nf3+ 31.Kh3 Ng5+.
An impressive achievement of the Russian Vice-champion! Even though Shuvalova went down to Chigaev in the next game, she enjoyed stable advantage throughout that game, and I will not be surprised to see her play at the top board one day.
Marina Guseva has consolidated her lead in the women’s section. In round six she defeated Daria Voit as White and in round seven the Moscow champion Daria Charochkina as Black.
Guseva – Voit
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.g3 c6 5.Bg2 d5 6.cxd5
Guseva opts for the exchange line as she did against Bodnaruk, and her choice of opening was to the point!
6...cxd5 7.Nc3 0–0 8.Ne5 e6 9.0–0 Nfd7 10.f4 Nc6 11.Be3 Ne7 12.Bf2 Nb6 13.a4 a5 14.Qb3 Bd7 15.Rfd1 Bc6 16.Rac1 Nd7 17.Nb5
Marina got some edge in a difficult struggle, but Black's position is still very robust. Daria Voit’s next move is a blunder.
17...Qb6? 18.Rxc6! bxc6 19.Nxd7 Qd8
A fatal blunder. Only 19...Qb7 20.Nc5 Qb6 21.Na3 (21.Nd6 Qxb3 22.Nxb3 Rfb8 23.Rd3 Rb4 24.Nc5 is also worth testing) 21...Qxb3 22.Nxb3 Rfb8 23.Rd3 Rb6 24.Nc2 Rab8 25.Nca1 Rb4 allowed to stay in the game when the active rooks give Black certain chances.
20.Nxf8 cxb5 21.Nxe6 fxe6 22.axb5
To win the game for White is only a matter of time.
22...Rb8 23.e4 Qd7 24.exd5 exd5 25.Bf1 Nc8 26.Ra1 Nb6 27.Rxa5 Rc8 28.Ra1 Bf6 29.Ra6 Bd8 30.Qe3 Rc2 31.b3 Rc8 32.Be1 Bc7 33.Ba5 Re8 34.Qc3 Qd6 35.Qc5 Qe6 36.Qc3 Bd8 37.Qd2 Kh8 38.Bb4 Qe4 39.Bd6 Nd7 40.Ra8 Bb6 41.Rxe8+ Qxe8 42.b4 Qe4 43.Bc5 Bd8 44.Qe2 Nxc5 45.dxc5 Qd4+ 46.Kg2 Bf6 47.c6 Kg7 48.c7 Qc3 49.b6 h5 50.Qe6 Black resigned.
Charochkina – Guseva
An interesting treatment of the opening (Caro-Kann with 3.f3 transposing into a sort of Nimzovich Defense) gave Charochkina a better position, but she loses control in the battle that follows.
21.Qxd7 Rxd7 22.Bxe7 Rxe7 23.Rc8+ Kh7 24.Kf2 is a tougher way to give White a very unpleasant endgame.
Guseva gradually consolidates her position.
22.h5 a6 23.Qb2 Nec6 24.Rc2 Qd7 25.Qxb6 Nxd4 26.Nxd4 Qxd4+ 27.Qxd4 Rxd4 28.Rc8+ Kh7
The game is equal, but Charochkina loses the thread of the game.
This is White’s start in the wrong direction. 29.Rc7 Rxa4 30.Bb2 Kg8 31.Rc8+ Kh7 32.Rc7 was the easiest way to make a draw.
This is wide off the mark. White is still out of the woods after 30.Rc7.
30...Nc4 31.Kf2 Ra2+ 32.Kg3 Nd2 33.Kf4
A decisive error. Only 33.Bd6 allowed staying in the game.
The game is over.
34.Kxe5 Nxf3+ 35.Kf4 Ng5 36.Ke3 Rg2 37.Kf4 Rf2+ 38.Ke5 Rg2 39.Kf4 Rf2+ 40.Ke5 f6+ 41.Kd4 Rf4 White resigned.
If anyone can stop the player on the roll, it is a strong-willed Evgenija Ovod; however, she plays Guseva as Black. The second place is co-shared by Anastasia Bodnaruk, who is to play Black against Tatyana Getman, the last year's superfinal finalist.
If the fate of one ticket in both tournaments has virtually been sealed, the remaining four promise to see a fierce struggle. Let's see whose nerves prove stronger and who Lady Fortune is going to side with!
I bid you farewell now — GM Dmitry Kryakvin will prepare the tournament wrap-up.