14 December 2017

It's Getting Tighter

Superfinals, round 10. Misha Savinov reports from St. Petersburg

Round 10, men

Fedoseev-Svidler 0-1, Malakhov-Volkov 1-0, Vitiugov-Dubov ½-½, Inarkiev-Tomashevsky ½-½, Matlakov-Romanov ½-½, Sjugirov-Riazantsev 0-1.


Current standings:

Svidler, Fedoseev, Malakhov, and Vitiugov – 6

Tomashevsky, Riazantsev, and Dubov – 5.5

Inarkiev – 5

Sjugirov – 4.5

Matlakov – 4

Volkov and Romanov – 3

Something crazy happened today. Coming into the round, we had a sole leader with a sole chaser behind him. Coming into the final round, four players are tied for first, and the grand total of seven players have a chance of winning the championship! In the case of a tie for first there will be a rapid chess tie-break; or a tournament, if necessary. Complications may arise if more than two players get to finish first: the museum has other plans for Friday, and everybody involved in match organization has return tickets on Friday morning, so everything has to be finished on Thursday regardless of how long it takes. However, the chief arbiter seems to favor allocating an extra day for a bigger tie-break. If this will be the case, it is possible we will not know the name of the champion tomorrow, as the tie-break will be rescheduled. But we will cross this bridge when we get there.


The two people responsible for this mess are Vladimir Fedoseev and Peter Svidler, or, more presicely, Vladimir Fedoseev alone. In their game Svidler was a reactive side, while Fedoseev did all the work. He stubbornly played for a win in a drawn position, which cost him a pawn, but not the game yet. Then he underestimated dangers of passive defense and rejected an opportunity to transpose into a R+B vs R ending, which is a technical draw, and Vladimir knows all the drawing plans. Still, the position that was on the board after 62 moves was probably also a draw, despite scary numbers on the computer screen. The black king must not interpose the f-file, and if he tries to get round the rook, White has time for his counterplan associated with g4 and Kh2-g3. So White could just wait passively, moving his rook back and forth on the first rank. However, the suicidal 63.Ra5+ happened, and after 63...Kf6 the game was lost. Fedoseev blundered that after 64.Rf5+, interposing the f-file and preparing Kf2, Black wins by 64...Kg6, attacking the white rook and threatening to queen the pawn at the same time. Vladimir shook his head in horror and disbelief, but the damage could not be undone.

The logical outcome of this game, with its interesting opening phase and strategically complicated middlegame, would be a draw. This result could be achieved many times, but every time Vladimir keep looking for ways of extending the game and creating move minor problems for his opponent. Prior to the control he got a little bit carried away, basically just giving Black a pawn for nothing. The main result of this demonstration of excessive fighting spirit was that Svidler could now find reasons to decline a draw offer, which he received on the 40th move. For the first time in this game Peter got better chances and could play for a win without risk, even if the expected reward was minimal – White still had ways to hold. You already know the rest of it.

“Give Fedoseev the position after his 32nd move a hundred times, and he will lose it not more than once...”, estimated Peter Svidler afterwards.

With this victory, Svidler got level with Fedoseev, but they are not alone – Nikita Vitiugov and Vladimir Malakhov also have 6 points. Vitiugov drew with Dubov, politely but firmly refusing all the attempts to complicate the game, and Malakhov scored a nice but very one-sided victory over Volkov.


In the latter game, Sergey Volkov decided to explode the center while his pieces were a bit underdeveloped. The position was quite complicated and required a lot of precise calculation. Sometimes a move seems bad on general grounds but solves all the problems splendidly because it works tactically. This was not the case here, and Malakhov found a flaw in his opponent's calculation and utilized it, obtaining a devastating attack. True, White had to sacrifice a rook, but it didn't even look like a sacrifice – the black king was so helpless that White could regain material pretty much at will. Volkov resigned on the 38th move, but he was doomed after White's 21st move.


A nice run by Malakhov, who after a slow start won three games in a row! However, tomorrow he will have the toughest match-up of all – Black against Svidler! They have some history; Malakhov even knocked Svidler out from the World Cup once. It is fair to expect an open fight tomorrow, as a draw will almost never be good enough: both Vitiugov and Fedoseev are playing Black against the tournament underdogs, Volkov and Romanov respectively. Chances are, at least one of the contenders will win.


In an unlikely event of neither of the four winning a game, they can be joined by the defending champion Riazantsev, former champion Tomashevsky, or the young star Dubov. They all will play White against lower-placed opponents who don't have much motivation except pride and rating. One extra bit of motivation comes from Ernesto Inarkiev, arguably the most uncompromising player in the Superfinal, who somehow managed to draw all his games to date! Ernesto holds a personal record of 22 classical games without draws (!), so such drawing streak is unbelievable, to say the least. His last round opponent in Dubov, and I am looking forward to fireworks.


It is impossible to predict who will win. Being a dedicated fan of Peter Svidler, I am rooting for him, of course, but objectively must admit that Fedoseev created the most action and probably deserves the title most. Vitiugov was too peaceful to my taste. Malakhov was almost as hard-working as Fedoseev, and his win would be in line with the Superfinal trend of crowning non-glamorous players, but he would need to beat Svidler with Black pieces, which is a tall order and not something I anticipate eagerly. Yet, winning titles in sport does not correlate with being the most deserving, hard-working, talented, or lucky. It is always a mix.


Round 10, women

Pogonina-Shuvalova ½-½, Goryachkina-Ovod 1-0, Gunina-Gritsayeva 0-1, Girya-Kovalevskaya ½-½, Bodnaruk-Kashlinskaya 1-0, Galliamova-Nechaeva ½-½.

Current standings:

Pogonina and Goryachkina – 6.5

Girya – 6

Kashlinskaya, Gunina, and Bodnaruk – 5.5

Shuvalova, Nechaeva, and Gritsayeva – 4.5

Ovod – 4

Kovalevskaya and Galliamova – 3.5

Natalija Pogonina was first to finish her game. She had White against Shuvalova, but the junior played a surprising opening line, taking Pogonina out of her book.

“I burnt myself out preparing to this game”, said Natalija. “Worked too much, but still did not know what to do against her 8...Bd7”.

Looking for best responses, Pogonina got more than an hour behind on the clock and decided to be satisfied with a little. A draw was not great, but not a disaster either.


The skill of being satisfied with a little is not something Valentina Gunina can brag about. She had a rather favorable pairing, White against Gritsayeva, but the Crimean proved a tough customer. Gunina's wildly aggressive moves lacked justification. Gritsayeva calmly collected the offered material, then returned part of it and simplified the position to an ending with an extra pawn. Gunina fought until the 46th move, but was unable to survive.

After this loss, Valentina is basically out of contention, which is a surprise, considering that Kosteniuk and Lagno are not even present. It seems Gunina needs to work on her mental game first and foremost – her play in St. Petersburg was too uneven.


Aleksandra Goryachkina caught up with Pogonina after squeezing out a victory in a queen's ending against Ovod. Black held the balance well for a long time, but she did not know how to handle an endgame of that kind and lost slowly, but surely.


Another potential contender, Alina Kashlinskaya, played a sharp game against Anastasia Bodnaruk. The middlegame struggle was very complicated – Alina sacrificed a pawn, but did not create problems of sufficient magnitude, and White gradually consolidated, keeping the material. I felt the game could go either way, as neither Alina nor Anastasia had full control of the events on the board, but I may be wrong about it.

All in all, with a round to go we have Pogonina and Goryachkina sitting on top, and Girya lurking half a point behind them. All three are playing Black, facing (in the same order) Gritsayeva, Shuvalova, and Ovod. I am almost positive about at least one of the two leaders winning her game, so Olga Girya is likely to settle for third place, which secures participation in the superfinal next year. Choosing between Pogonina and Goryachkina is difficult. Whoever wins the title, her victory will be fair and just. I am very fond of Pogonina's dynamic style of play and cheerful personality, but Goryachkina's positional mastery at such a tender age is also impressive.

Now let's have some sleep, as the last round begins two hours earlier than we got used to. Don't miss it!

Photos by Boris Dolmatovsky