19 December 2020

Home Stretch Surprises

Klementy Sychev reviews two final rounds of the Supefinals

That's it, the national championship superfinal that we have been so looking forward to has come to an end. The intrigue was in the air until the end of the last round.

Just as ten years ago, it was among the Candidates Tournament leader Ian Nepomniachtchi and former runner-up for the world crown Sergey Karjakin. In the penultimate round, they both won, keeping the tension until the very end. Karjakin defeated Vladislav Artemiev in his trademark positional style, and Ian Nepomniachtchi defeated Andrey Esipenko over an extensive opening preparation.


Nepomniachtchi – Esipenko

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4

In round eight, Vitiugov tested 5. Bd3 against Esipenko and this vivid game is analyzed in our previous review.

5...d5 6.Bd3 Bd6

6...Be7 is in the spotlight, but Black is confident about his level of preparedness.

7.0–0 0–0 8.c4 c6 9.Nc3 Nxc3 10.bxc3 dxc4 11.Bxc4 Bf5 12.Bg5 Qa5

They used to play 12...Qc7, but three years ago Ian confidently refuted this plan with 13.Re1 h6 14.Nh4! Bh7 15.Bxh6! Bxh2+ 16.Kh1 Bf4 17.Bxg7 Kxg7 18.Qg4+ Kh8 19.Nf5 Bxf5 20.Qxf5, and White won soon after in Nepomniachtchi  – Li Chao, Sharjah, 2017.

13.d5 Qc7

Esipenko attempts to improve on his game against Karjakin. Let us recall that 13...Qc5 was played back then, and after 14.Bb3 cxd5 15.Be3 Qc7 16.Qxd5 Be6 17.Qh5 Black had no fears to grab the pawn 17...Bxb3 18.axb3 Qxc3 and simplify the position with precise play. A detailed analysis must have shown that White could improve, so a young player sidesteps the beaten track.

Also of interest is 13...Be4, which has been tested in several games. White keeps pressing after 14.dxc6 Bxf3 15.Qxf3 Nxc6 16.Bd5 thanks to the bishop pair, but Black is solid.

14.Re1 h6!

14...Nd7 fails to 15.dxc6 bxc6 16.Be7 Bxe7 17.Rxe7, and the pin along the 7-th rank may prove deadly.


The Candidates Tournament leader keeps performing along the lines of his successful game against the strong Chinese player.

The only game that reached this position saw 15.Bh4 Bg6 16.Bd3. There followed 16...Bh5 17.h3 c5, and White seized the initiative in Kasimdzhanov – Lei Tingjie with 18.g4. However, the more simple 16...Bxd3 17.Qxd3 cxd5 18.Qxd5 Nс6 keeps the position in the realms of equality.



This being a typical sacrifice does not make it any less powerful.

16...gxh6 17.Qg4+ Kh8 18.Nf5 Bxf5 19.Qxf5 f6!

Esipenko keeps his cool in the face of strong pressure and defends his position in the best way possible. Compared to the above-mentioned game, the white pawn's being on d5 suddenly plays into Black's hands thanks to less control over the c5- and e5-squares. What amazing game chess is!

20.Rad1 cxd5 21.Rxd5 Qxc4 22.Rxd6 Qf7 23.h4!

This is clearly a home prep as Nepomniachtchi anticipates queens' trade and tries to weave the mating net.

23...Qh7 24.Qxh7+ Kxh7 25.Re7+


This is the error that White has been so looking forward to!

It is not easy to settle for 25...Kg8 26.Rxb7, but Black could still hope to defend his position successfully after 26...a5! Black threatens to bring the rook into the game via a6, and the analysis shows approximate equality. For example, 27.Re6 (or 27.Rd4 Nc6 28.Rg4+ Kh8 29.Rgg7 Rfe8 30.Rh7+ Kg8, and there is no easy way to improve) 27...Ra6 28.Ree7 Rd8 29.Rg7+ Kf8 30.Rh7 Kg8 31.Rbg7+ Kf8, and the decisive blow is not to be found.

26.h5+! Kg5

The greedy 26...Kxh5 fails to 27.Rg7, and checkmate looms on the horizon.


It misses the immediate winner, but to find the winning continuation is a hard nut to crack in this position.

Computer geometry 27.Rd3 is likely to defy a human player, but the black king is absolutely helpless afterward:

1) 27...Nc6 is followed by spectacular checkmate: 28.Rg3+ Kf5 29.Rf3+ Kg5 30.Rg7+ Kxh5 31.Rh3#;

2) 27...f5 28.Re6!!, and there is no saving the game:

2а) 28...Nc6 29.Rg6+ Kxh5 (29...Kf4 30.Re3) 30.Rg7,

2б) 28...Rc8 29.Rg3+ Kxh5 30.Re5! Rf8 31.Re7! Rc8 32.Rf7 Rc5 33.f4 Nc6 34.Rfg7, and there is no stopping Rh3.


Esipenko profits from his opponent's hesitation to bring his queenside into play.


Also of interest is 28.a4 to get a slightly better endgame edition over what happened in the game after 28...Ra6 29.Rxb8 Rxd6 30.Rxf8 Rc6 31.Ra8 Kxh5 32.Rxa5+ Kg6; however, the resulting position gravitates towards a draw.

28...Ra6 29.Rxb8

Nepomniachtchi transposes into the endgame because 29.Rd5+ f5 30.Rg7+ Kf6 promises nothing.

29...Rxd6 30.Rxf8 Rd2 31.a4 Ra2 32.Kg2 f5

The immediate 32...Rxa4 required precise calculation because 33.Rg8+ Kf5 (but not 33...Kxh5?? 34.Kh3 f5 35.f3, and the game is over) 34.Rg6 Rc4 35.Rxh6 Rxc3 36.Rg6 (36.Rh8 runs into 36...Kg5 with equality) takes Black to find the only 36...Rc7 37.g4+ Ke6 38.g5 Kf5 39.gxf6 Rf7 40.Rg8 Rxf6 41.Ra8 Kg4 42.Rxa5 Re6, and the endgame is a draw.


On realizing the loss of advantage, the rating-favorite poses the last obstacle for Black.

33...Rxa4 34.Rc5 Ra2 35.Kf3

Black has fought back superbly, but in severe time trouble the promising Novocherkassk player commits a blunder.


After 35...Kxh5 36.Rxf5+ Kg6 and the subsequent trade of queenside pawns the arising endgame is a theoretical draw, but the stronger side would have likely pressed on.

The computer shows that 35...a4 36.g4 Kh4! 37.Rxf5 (37.gxf5 Kxh5=) 37...Rc2 38.Rc5 a3 saves the game because the pawns drop;


The f3 and Kf4 threat is suddenly in the air.


A decisive error. Only 36...a4 could have allowed staying in the game and, strange as it may seem, there is no way to win: 37.f3 a3 38.Kf4 Rc2 39.Rxf5+ (39.Rc6+ Kg7 40.Kxf5 a2 41.Ra6 Rxc3) 39...Ke7 40.Rc5 Rc1 41.Ra5 Rxc3. White has no clear path to improve his position because his king is tethered to the defense of the f3-pawn.

37.f3 Kxh5 38.Kf4 Kg6 39.Rc6+ Kg7 40.Kxf5

With the white pieces dominating, winning the game is only a matter of time.

40...Rf2 41.Rc7+ Kf8 42.f4 Rf3 43.g4 a4 44.c4 a3 45.Ra7 Rc3 46.Kf6 Ke8 47.c5 Rc4

47...Rxc5 48.Ra8+ Kd7 49.Rxa3 Rc4 50.Rf3 is hopeless as well.

48.f5 Rxg4 49.c6 Kd8 50.Rxa3 Kc7 51.Rh3

Esipenko stopped the clock because the arising endgame is theoretically winning for White.

Nepomniachtchi made a pragmatic draw in the last round with Maksim Chigaev and his calculation paid out because in a difficult fight Daniil Dubov completely destroyed Karjakin's position.


Dubov – Karjakin

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4

Giuoco Piano is a rare guest in the Moscow player's repertoire, but he made an exception for this particular game.

3...Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.b4!?

6.d4 is mainline, but Daniil, as usual, follows his own path.


6...Be7 may be followed by 7.e5 Ne4 8.b5 Na5 9.Bd3 Nxc3 10.Nxc3 dxc3 or 7.b5 Na5 8.Bd3 d5 9.e5 Ne4. Let me highlight that this move's drawback is the lack of the ...d5 idea because the dark-squared bishop will hang at the end of the line.



It is interesting to know Dubov's plan against the natural 7...d5. I cannot but cite the famous Skvortsov – Anand game, which the 15th world champion won in a superb style: 8.exf6 dxc4 9.Qe2+ Be6 10.b5 Nb4! (the most effective, although there was nothing wrong with 10...Na5 11.fxg7 Rg8) 11.fxg7 Rg8 12.cxb4 Qf6 13.0–0 Qxg7 14.g3 0–0–0 15.a4 d3 16.Qb2

Chances are equal in this complex position, but there followed a stunning queen sacrifice: 16...Qxg3+!! 17.hxg3 Rxg3+ 18.Kh2 Rxf3 19.Bg5? (a decisive error, but to find the correct path by plugging the g-file with 19.Qg7 was not easy, and after 19...Rh3+ 20.Kg2 Bd4 21.Qg5 there is no checkmate to be found) 19...Bd4 20.Qd2 Rg8 21.Ra3 h6 22.Rg1 Rh3+ 23.Kg2 Rxg5+ 24.Kf1 Rxg1+ 25.Kxg1 Bd5. Skvortsov resigned in view of the inevitable checkmate. What an amazing finale!


The most energetic. 8.b5 d5 makes little sense.

8...Nxc3 9.Nxc3 dxc3 10.Bg5 Ne7 11.0–0 h6!

In case of the immediate 11...0–0 12.Bb3 h6 instead of the bishop retreat White comes up with 13.Qd3 d6 (13...hxg5 14.Nxg5 wins for White) 14.Bc2 g6 15.Bxh6 dxe5 16.Qxc3, and White keeps pressing.

12.Bh4 0–0

With the hindsight, let me offer the energetic 12...g5 13.Bg3 (13.Nxg5 looks promising, but Black is OK here after 13...Nxd5 14.Nf3 Ne7 or 14.Qh5 Qe7) 13...Nxd5 14.Qxd5 d6 15.exd6 0–0 16.h4 Be6.

12...c2 13.Qd2 g5 14.Bg3 Nxd5 15.Qxd5 d6 16.exd6 0–0 is also possible. The arising complications require painstaking analysis. I am sure that something was home prepared for this occasion as well.

13.Re1 Qe8

It was perhaps more precise to begin with 13...a5 14.Qd3 (14.b5 Qe8 15.Bb3 Nf5 16.Qd3 d5 17.exd6 Qd7 is not that dangerous) 14...axb4 15.Bb3 Qe8 16.Bf6! It seems that Black's defense is about to collapse, but following the precise 16...Ra3!! 17. Nh4 Rxb3 18. axb3 Kh8 there is no decisive continuation of the attack.

14.Bb3 a5

The first but very substantial mistake by Sergey.

14...Ng6 15.Bg3 followed by 16.Qd3 is clearly underwhelming for Black, but of interesting is 14...Nf5, when after 15.Qd3 Black is saved by 15...d5!! 16.exd6 Qd7. Despite the huge advantage in development, White is nonetheless unable to destroy the opponent's defenses, for example, 17.Rad1 cxd6 18.Bc2 Qc6.

It might seem that despite the seemingly menacing appearance, the worst for Karjakin is over, but after a long pause there followed


Exploiting the poor coordination of the opponent's pieces, the 2018 rapid world champion gears up for a crushing blow on the g7-square.

As before, 15.Qd3 runs into the original exchange sacrifice: 15...axb4 16.Bf6 Ra3!!


A good advice is beyond price for Black now.

15...gxf6? 16.exf6 is underwhelming for Black, of course.

It is impossible to defend the g7-square after  15...axb4 16.Nh4.

15...Nf5 runs into the tough 16.g4! gxf6 17.gxf5, and the black king is in for hurricane bombardment.

16.Bc4 Ng6

16...Nf5 was sufficient earlier, but now White wins after 17.Qd3 d5 18.exd6 because in the line 18...Qd7 (neither 18...Be6 19.Bxe6 fxe6 20.d7+– nor 18...Qc6 19.Be7 Nxe7 20.dxe7 Re8 21.Bxf7++– comes to Black's rescue) 19.Be7 Nxe7 Black runs into 20.dxe7 (the queen is defended on d3) 20...Qxd3 21.exf8Q+ Kxf8 22.Bxd3, and White is  up a rook.


This inaccuracy is quite understandable.

Suddenly, the counterintuitive 17.Qc2 d5 18.exd6 Be6 19.Bxc3 is more precise, and there is no defending: 19...cxd6 20.Qxg6 fxg6 21.Rxe6.

17.Nh4! Nxh4 18.Qg4 Nf5 19.Bd3 g6 20.Bxf5 also looks impressive, but after the typical 20...d5 21.exd6 Bxf5 22.Qh4 Qd8 23.Bxd8 Raxd8 White has many technical challenges to overcome yet.

17...d5! 18.exd6 Be6

It seems the worst is over for Black because 19. Bxe6 is met by 19...Nf4, however …


An inspired queen sacrifice in the spirit of the famous Nezhmetdinov – Chernikov game!

19...fxg6 20.Rxe6 Qf7?

It is not easy to keep cool after a bunch of blows, but it was worth going for the down a pawn endgame after 20...Qc6 21.Re7+ Qxc4 22.Rxg7+ Kh8 23.Rxc7+ Rxf6 24.Rxc4 Rxd6 25.Rxc3. Black is not without chances to save the game thanks to his active pieces.



A crucial mistake, but who could have stopped the inspired Dubov?

 21...Kh7 fails even quicker to the well-known "mill" after 22.Re7 Qxc4 23.Rxg7+ Kh8 24.Rxc7+ Qxc3 25.Rxc3, and now White is up as many as two pawns.

21...Bxf2+!! 22.Kxf2 Kh8 could have prolonged resistance, and White can no longer play as in the game 23.Rе4 Qf5 24.Rе7 in view of 24...Qс2 – this is the point of the queen sacrifice. The offensive should be maintained via 23.Rc1 (there is no winning continuation in sight after 23.Rae1 cxd6 24.R1e4 Qf5 25.Re7 d5 26.Bxg7+ Kg8 27.Bxf8 Kxf8), but so far Black stay miraculously in the game with 23...cxd6 24.Rxd6 Qf5 25.Bd3 Qf4 26.Rxg6 Rf7. White is close to winning, but there are many technical challenges to overcome yet.

22.Re4! Qf5

22...Bxf2+ comes only too late as White is not obliged to accept this gift: 23.Kh1! (let me remind that after 23.Kxf2 Qf5 it would be wrong to play 24.Re7 because of 24...Qc2+) 23...Qf5 24.Re7 Rfe8 (24...Rg8 25.Bxg8 Rxg8 26.dxc7 with a decisive domination) 25.Rf7, and White starts "gathering the harvest."

23.Re7 Rg8

This is underwhelming, but what else instead?

23...Rf6 24.d7 Raf8 25.Rd1 loses, and 23...Rfe8 24.Rf7 is bad as well.

23...Bxf2+ 24.Kh1 Rfe8 25.Rf7 was the most stubborn, intending to "ditch" the queen after  25...cxd6 26.Bxg7+ Kh7 27.Rxf5 gxf5. The white pieces seem hanging, but the precise 28.Bb2 a3 29.Bc1 clarifies the situation completely.

24.Bxg8 Rxg8

Also bad is 24...Kxg8 25.d7 Qf8 26.Rae1+–.

25.dxc7 Qc2 26.Be5 Bxf2+ 27.Kh1 Bb6 28.h3

His pieces paralyzed, Black's fate is sealed.

28...Kh7 29.Re1 a3

29...Qxa2 is refuted by 30.c8Q Rxc8 31.Rxg7+ Kh8 32.Nh4 with inevitable checkmate.


Once again highlighting the hopelessness of the opponent's position. The game ended as follows:

30...g5 31.Nd4 Qc4

After 31...Bxd4 32.Bxd4 Black inevitably shipwrecks on g7.

32.Nf5 Qxb4

32...Kg6 33.Nxg7.

33.Rc1 Kg6 34.Rxg7+ Kxf5 35.Rxg8 Bxc7 36.Bxc7 Qb2 37.Rc5+ Ke4 38.Rd8 Black resigned. This is Daniil Dubov's yet another brilliant victory! The native of Moscow was close to "bronze", but Vladimir Fedoseev saved the hardest position against Esipenko, and tiebreakers were in his favor.

We congratulate Ian Nepomniachtchi and also praise Sergey Karjakin's performance, who did his best and demonstrated high class in all games. 


In the women's championship, the finale was dramatic. In the penultimate round there was a long-awaited game between Polina Shuvalova and Aleksandra Goryachkina. Using the advantage of half a point and remembering the last two unsuccessful games, Shuvalova quickly fixed a draw. In the last round, there happened no upsets: Goryachkina defeated Tatiana Getman, who eventually closed the tournament standings, and Shuvalova confidently neutralized Olga Girya's pressure, who did not have a good tournament, frankly speaking. As a result, the fight continued in a fascinating tie-break.

In game one, Polina once again refused the white color and was nearly defeated in the second game, but there happened a miracle.


Goryachkina – Shuvalova

 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.e4

A trendy continuation.


4...Bc5 is followed by 5.Nxe5 Nxe5 6.d4 Bb4 7.dxe5 Nxe4 8.Qf3 with a complex game. Polina's approach is more safer.

5.d3 d6 6.a3 Bc5 7.b4 Bb6 8.Na4 Bd4 9.Rb1 Bg4 10.Be2 Bxf3 11.Bxf3 a5

11...a6 should have been preferred instead.

12.b5 Ne7

12...Nb8 to reroute the knight to с5 was better.

13.0–0 Nd7 14.Bg4 0–0 15.Bd2

White got pleasant pressure, but after 15...b6 the real advantage is not to be found. There followed, however


Alexandra immediately exploits her chance.

16.Bh6! Re8

The native of Moscow must have overlooked White's move 17. Black should have opted for the exchange sacrifice with 16...Nf6 17.Bxf8 Qxf8, retaining some chances to draw thanks to exercising control over the dark squares.


The f6-square turns out to be Black's real soft spot.


Finding herself in a hopeless situation, Polina keeps fighting to the last bullet!

18.exf5 gxf5 19.Bxf5 Nxf5 20.Qxf5 Nf8 21.Be3 Ne6 22.Bxd4 Nxd4 23.Qe4 Ne6

Black gives up the second pawn to stop f4.

24.Qxb7 Kh8 25.b6 c5 26.Nc3 Rb8 27.Qf7 Nf4 28.Nd5 Rf8 29.Qe7 Qxe7 30.Nxe7 Rb7 31.Nd5

31.Nc6 Ra8 is more precise if you spot that  32.g3, intending to trap the knight 32...Nxd3 with 33.Rfd1.

31...Nxd5 32.cxd5 Rfb8 33.Rb5 Rxb6 34.Rxa5 Rb3 35.Ra6 Rxd3 36.Rxd6 Rxa3 37.Rc6 Rc3 38.d6 Kg7

White is still winning. To make the luft for the king with 39.h3 was the easiest, but Aleksandra overlooks the tricky blow.



The rook is not to be touched due to the backrank checkmate.


40.Rc1 would have given more chances to win, although the d6-pawn is doomed in this line as well: 40...Rd5 41.g3 Rd8 42.R1xc5 R8xd6.

40...Rd5 41.h3 Rd8 42.Rc1 R8xd6 43.Rxd6 Rxd6 44.Rxc5 Kf6, and Shuvalova stood her ground despite the time pressure.

In order to single out the winner, the exhausted chess players had to play the so-called Armageddon game, in which the more experienced player's nerves proved stronger.


Goryachkina – Shuvalova

 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3

As in the critical situation in her match against Ju Wenjun, Goryachkina turns to the Veresov Opening.

2...d5 3.Bf4 e6 4.Nb5 Na6 5.e3 Be7

In the world championship match the Chinese opted for 5...Bb4+, but after 6.c3 Be7 7.a4 0–0 8.Bd3 c6 9.Na3 c5 10.Nf3 Ne4 11.h3 f5 12.Nb5 c4 13.Bxe4 fxe4 14.Ne5 Alexandra got the upper hand in the opening battle.

6.Nf3 0–0 7.Be2 c6 8.Nc3 c5 9.0–0 Bd7 10.Ne5 Rc8 11.a3 Nc7

The knight is misplaced here, 11...Nb8 to plant the knight on с6 was more precise.

12.dxc5! Bxc5 13.Bd3 a6 14.Qf3!

Dark clouds gather over the black king's position.

14...Nb5 15.Bg5?

Carried away with tactical ideas, the world vice-champion misses 15.Nxd7 Qxd7 16.Nxb5 axb5 17.c3 and the b5-pawn is doomed.

15...Nxc3 16.Bxf6!

This is the best practical chance. Black is out of the woods after 16.bxc3 Be7.


This move is a disaster. The exhausted Shuvalova trips on flat ground. All attempts to checkmate the black king after 16...gxf6 are doomed to failure, and White is strategically on the backfoot already.

17.Nxd7 Qxf3 18.gxf3 Rfd8

It would not have been as easy as in the game for White after 18...Na4 19.Nxf8 Kxf8, but it looks like Polina ran completely out of strength by that moment.

19.Nxc5 Rxc5 20.bxc3 Rxc3 21.a4 Rd7 22.Rfb1 g6 23.Rb6 Kg7 24.f4 Kf6 25.Rab1 Rcc7 26.Kg2 h5 27.Kf3 Black stopped the clock, and Aleksandra Goryachkina has again become the national champion! Polina has demonstrated her talent scale, and I am confident that her future success is not far away.

The third place was shared by as many four players – Alexandra Kosteniuk, Marina Guseva, Alina Kashlinskaya, and the tournament revelation – a young Leia Garifullina. Tiebreakers favored the former world champion, who managed to turn the tides in the tournament that otherwise started poorly for her.

The tournament unfolded in a sharp struggle and gave us a lot of interesting opening ideas and mind-boggling, exciting games! Let's hope that next year chess life in Russia will come back to normal, and we are looking forward to new events! Be healthy and take care of yourselves!

Men. 1. Ian Nepomniachtchi – 7.5 points out of 11; 2. Sergey Karjakin – 7; 3. Vladimir Fedoseev, 4. Daniil Dubov – 6.5 each; 5. Vladislav Artemiev, 6. Maksim Chigaev – 6 each; 7. Nikita Vitiugov, 8. Peter Svidler – 5.5 each; 9. Aandrey Esipenko, 10. Maxim Matlakov - 5 each; 11. Aleksey Goganov – 3.5; 12. Mikhail Antipov – 2 (played only 6 games).

Women. 1. Aleksandra Goryachkina, 2. Polina Shuvalova – with 8 points out of 11 each; 3. Alexandra Kosteniuk, 4. Marina Guseva, 5. Alina Kashlinskaya, 6. Leya Garifullina – 6.5 each; 7. Alisa Galliamova, 8. Natalija Pogonina – 6; 9. Olga Girya – 4; 10. Valentina Gunina – 3.5; 11. Yulia Grigorieva – 2.5; 12. Tatyana Getman – 2. 

Tie-break results: Goryachkina – Shuvalova 1/2; 1/2; 1-0.