21 December 2015

Making it to the Banquet at Any Cost!

Crucial Final Rapid Gran Prix battles in the review of Dmitry Kryakvin.

Every young science fiction writer,
who dreams of reaching the heights of Lukyanenko,
should primarily direct his efforts towards 
learning to write about cooking
rather than inventing fairy-tale characters!

"Science and Life"

Scarce and hard is a life of a mortal being who has never laid his eyes upon the pleasures of a festive Ugra table. "Galina Viktorovna, by all means make sure not to forget about helping yourself to an eel! You do remember about it, don’t’ you?" insisted the chief tournament arbiter Mikhail Kryukov, smiling. The Ugra Chess Academy Director Galina Kovaleva just shrugs her shoulders. The administration of a unique Khanty-Mansiysk chess art temple bears close resemblance to a battlefield commandment. Scurrying around were waiters with trays full of eatables, whereas the organizers used to manage everything at once: monitoring over the banquet preparations, meeting the mayor Vassily Filipenko (without him and the Governor of KMAO-Ugra Natalia Komarova such an incredible chess oasis would have never sprung to life in the first place), collecting documents from the participants, preparing a pile of papers of a greater and lesser importance, and, most importantly, bestowing smiles upon each participant.

The eel ordered by the chief arbiter arrived in large quantities, neatly arranged on plates next to red fish, luring Michael Vitaljevich and other players with their smooth fatty sides. More than enough were not only the volumes of fish, but those of meat as well. Here in the form of delicious juicy circle-shaped slices is a joint of a wild boar, which perhaps only yesterday was happily grunting on his way towards the sun-lit areas out of the dense windbreaks of the ancient Ugra forest, where not even an epic, almost a mystic Vogul has ever set his foot. However, those who want to have fun without becoming subjects to heavy gastronomic coups would remain pleased also because within easy reach on the buffet table are the tartlets of salmon caviar shaped as domed towers. Should the tip of your tongue pierce through an elastic wall of a caviar egg, a blast of an exquisite sweet taste with a slight bitter flavor flowing in your mouth puts the unfortunate losses of the last day into oblivion.

Equally appealing are the rolls, those special chicken rolls peppered with much more fragrant spices than the ones advertised on the uncle’s recipe on the promotional KFC poster! Among other pleasures are green and black olives as huge as the mammoth’s eye as well as the chess cakes, which could be the envy of that very special order placed by Mikhail Botvinnik that used to feature a cream crown, symbolizing his historic victory over Capablanca. Meanwhile, this entire splendor is being richly flavored with the quickly disappearing rivers of a ruby beverage that was highly valued as far back as the Romans, ever so demanding in their tastes. Next to it, although not as abundant as the rivers, but rather like streamlets of meltwater pouring into the liquor glasses, is a liquid of dazzling purity, for which the thankful descendants are indefinitely grateful to Dmitri Mendeleev. The banquet in Khanty-Mansiysk is a true celebration for a human body and soul, for the sake of getting into which an ordinary grandmaster is often willing to undergo the flogging by the leaders of the Russian chess for a number of consecutive days, and will still leave Ugra as a happy person!

On the third playing day the tournament tailenders were doomed to play as many as five games along their way to the banquet! As opposed to this, the distance for the candidates to the medals seemed too short, the price of each single move being extremely high. The "magnificent four" - Khismatullin, Rublevsky, Alekseev, and Ponkratov were fighting to claim the tournament crown, while the hero of the start Pridorozhni slightly ran out of strength for a successful finish. As a result, the grandmaster from Surgut shared 5th place with the winner of the 2014 Grand Prix Final Pavel Maletin.

Ponkratov – Pridorozhni
Round 11

Black mishandled the opening and fell under attack. Pavel’s energetic play accelerates the battle outcome.

27.g5! Qxa3 28.Bxf7+! Kxf7 29.gxf6 gxf6? 

Bad is 29...Bxd2 30.fxg7+ Kxg7 31.Qxd2 Qa2 32.Qf4 Qe6 (32...b4 33.Rb3) 33.Rxb5 or 29...Nxf6 30.e5, therefore Pridorozhni attempts to hold his lines from falling apart.

30.Nf3! Ke6 

Simply bad is 30...Kg7 31.Nh4 or 30...Ra6 31.e5, therefore Alexey boldly plunged with his king into all possible adventures. 

31.e5 Qa7 32.Qg4+ 

From now on and for several moves in a row Ponkratov could have checkmated in a spectacular manner: 32.Ng5+! fxg5 33.Qg4+ Kd5 34.Qf3+ Ke6 35.Qf7#, but ended up winning rather prosaically.

32...Kd5 33.Qe4+ Ke6 34.Rxb5 Qa6 35.Rb7 Ra7 36.Qg4+ Kd5 37.Rxd7 f5 38.Rxa7 Qxa7 39.Qg2, and Pridorozhni stopped the clock.

No impossible moves have been made during the entire tournament, whereas there happened only a single occasion of the time limit being exceeded. 

Belous – Smirnov
Round 11 

63… Nc7 is an easy path to a draw - 64.Bb7 Nxa6, because White fails to get his two bishops versus the Black’s knight rather than the bishop in view of: 65.Bh4+ Ke5 66.Bxd8 Nc5+. Pavel saw and understood it perfectly well, but when his hand placed the knight on c7, the Smirnov’s half of the clock highlighted the evil 0.00…

The last day began with Evgeny Alekseev taking a rush towards the finish line, starting it with not the most logical victory over Olga Girya.

Girya – Alekseev
Round 11 

In an effort to improve her tournament standing, Olga persisted in her winning attempts, having dispensed with a draw more than once. Alekseev put up a stubborn defence and now after 61.Rg8! Rxf4+ 62.Kg6 Re7 63.Rb8! Rxg4 64.Kxf6 Rf4+ 65.Kxg5 Ref7 66.Ra6 R7f5+ 67.Kg6 Rxd5 68.Rb7+ Kc8 69.Raxa7 there would have remained very few chess material on the board, although in a sharp four-rook ending with three versus two pawns White would have still retained her winning chances. Even though the grandmaster from Langepas hurried to stake the pawn acquisitions, the transition into the pawn ending brought her yet another disappointment.

61.Rxf6?? Rxf4+ 62.Kxg5 R4xf6 63.Rxf6 Rxf6 64.Kxf6 b4! 65.g5 bxc3 66.g6 c2 67.g7 c1Q, and now in response to 68.g8Q Black follows by trading off the queens via checking on f4 and then promoting a new queen. The frustrated Olympic Champion had to resign.

Prior to the start of the next round Evgeny was a point behind Khismatullin, and a lot was at stake in their tete-a-tete encounter. The Gran Prix final was performed by Denis in an incredibly powerful fashion, time and again coldly breaking the resistance of his opponents in complicated positions. "Look, he has once again sowed the storm on the board!" the chief secretary Yuri Grachev notes admiringly, and soon the RCF website engine would start evaluating the shares of the Neftekamsk athlete as a couple of "rubles" to his advantage. However, the finish had tough opponents in store for Khismatullin with no easy ride into the victory for him this time around.

Alekseev – Khismatullin
Round 12 

Black is down a pawn and only a direct assault against the enemy’s king can come to his rescue. 

31… f4 32.gxf4 exf4 33.Bd4 Qe7 

33...f3?! 34.Bh3 only helps White in having his piece deployed into a more active square, therefore Khismatullin creates a threat of infiltrating his queen into the opponent’s camp. 


The engine believes 34.Bf1! f3 35.Be3 to be the most precise continuation, using his bishops for limiting the scope of his opponent’s queen.

34...Qe2 35.Raa1 f3 

After 35...Qg4 36.f3 the assault would have stopped then and there without having ever been started.

36.Bf1 Qe4 37.Ba7? 

After 37.Kh1 Bg5 38.Qd7! Alekseev would have kept every chance of success; however, an attempt to win the game right away finished up running into a nice refutation by Denis.

37...Bf6! 38.Bxb8 

It is not yet late to go wrong after 38.Kh1 Qh4.


38...Be5 39.Re1 is just a transposition.

39.Kh1 Be5 40.Re1 Bxh2! 41.Kxh2 Qf4+ 42.Kg1 Qg5+ 43.Kh2 Qf4+ with a perpetual check.

The head coach of the women's national team has also succeeded in breaking his short-lived deadlock of draws.

Shomoev – Rublevsky
Round 12 

Queen and pawns are superior to three minor pieces, but the b6-knight checks the liberty of the black rook, putting Sergei up to a lot of work related to opening the lines on the kingside. Anton’s intention was to prevent this plan ahead of time, allowing his own troop of pawns to be annihilated.

26.h4?? Qg6! 27.Bf3 Qxg3+, and Rublevsky went on to “slay” all White’s pawns shortly after, winning the game in an easy manner.

During one of the lunch breaks, when it already seemed that Khismatullin could be stopped no longer, Pavel Maletin dropped into the referee’s room, where your author was seated at the moment. The native of Novosibirsk unfolded his iron friend on the table and after tossing in the following words, "Now I am going to avenge myself for his having got the better of me in the classical game!" embarked on the preparations against his awesome counterpart. The spark of tournament intrigue has flared with renewed vigor!

Khismatullin – Maletin
Round 13 


Stronger was 24...e3! – Maletin saw this move but was apprehensive of the piece sacrifice that wouldn’t work out anyway: 25.Bxe3 dxe3 26.Qh7+ Kf8 27.Qh8+ Ke7 28.Qh4+ Qf6 29.Rxe3+ Re5. Playing with equal material on the board affords Black with the strongest initiative: 25.Qh7+ Kf8 26.Qh8+ Ke7 27.Qh4+ Qf6! 28.Qxf6+ Kxf6 29.fxe3 Rh8!

It should be noted, however, that there is no immediate invasion along the h-file in view of: 24...Rh5?! 25.Bf4! 

25.Qh7+ Kf8 26.Qh8+? 

White returns the error, whereas exploiting a nice geometrical motif 26.Bxe4! Nxe4 27.Qh8+ Ke7 28.Qh4+ Qf6 29.Rxe4+ Be5 30.Bb2 Rc8 would have allowed to leave the battle outcome still in the vague.

26...Ke7 27.Qh4+ Qf6! 28.Qxf6+ Kxf6 

The queens have been exchanged, and the main defender of the Khismatullin’s monarch has thus disappeared from the board.

29.Bd2 e3 30.fxe3 Rh8 


Even though 31.Bxb7 Rg5+ (31...Rh2? 32.Bg2 Rg5 33.Rf1+! Kxg6 34.Rf2 hits wide of the goal) 32.Kf1 Rh2 33.Bxc3 dxc3 is a more stubborn continuation, it fails to bring any relief either. In the game Pavel ended up being up an exchange with his attack ongoing.

31...Bh2+ 32.Kh1 Bg3+ 33.Bh3 Bxe1 34.Bxd4+ Kxg6 35.Rxe1 Rxh3+ 36.Kg2 Rh4 37.Kg3 Kh5 38.Bxa7 

The greedy hunt after the white infantry wins also, but Maletin finds a shortcut way to give a linear checkmate.

38…Rg4+ 39.Kh3 Rf3+ 40.Kh2 Kh4! White resigns.

The leader was caught up by two pursuers at once – by Pavel Ponkratov and Evgeny Alekseev, trailing a half point behind was Sergei Rublevsky. In order to keep step with his competitors (in the next round Alekseev and Rublevsky were playing against the girls, whereas Ponkratov refrained from locking horns with his friend Riazantsev, a native of Chelyabinsk) Khismatullin sharply played for a win as Black against Shomoev and landed in a very unpleasant position yet another time.

Shomoev – Khismatullin
Round 14 

Despite Anton being up a pawn, the position is of a complex type. The most practical approach was to make the black bishop retreat into a defense stand via 33.Qg3 Be8, followed by evacuating his king into some safe location. Shomoev, on the other hand, was unwilling to wait and maneuver, having made up his mind in favor of delivering an immediate blow against the black king.

33.Rxe6?! Qc5+?! 

The return counterstrike 33...Be4! 34.Qxe4 Qxd2+ 35.Kf3 Qd7 36.Rxg6+ fxg6 37.Qxg6+ Qg7 38.Qxh5 would have resulted in a position featuring a very unusual type of material balance when a bishop and five pawns compete against a pair of rooks! Objectively speaking, Black should be better, but anything could have happened in the subsequent game. 


The black queen should have been kept out of g1 at any cost! After 34.Kf1! Ra1+ 35.Bd1 fxe6 36.Qxg6+ Kf8 37.Qf6+ Kg8 38.Qxe6+ Kg7 39.Qf6+ Kg8 40.Qg5+ Kf8 41.Qf5+ Kg7 White could not only rely on the perpetual check available to him, but could also adventure into 42.Rd3 Rxd1+ 43.Rxd1 Qe3! 

34...Qg1 35.Rd6 Ra1 36.Qd4?? 

36.Bd1 was a way to ward off the mating threats.

36...Qf1+ 37.Ke3 Qf3# - Khismatullin has retained his share of the first place with the grandmaster from St. Petersburg.

Even though the Berger is never easy to calculate with utmost precision, out of all other leaders Alekseev sported the best tie-breakers prior to the start of the last round, leaving the fate of the prizes to be made clear in the Khismatullin - Rublevsky and Ponkratov - Alekseev derbies. Following the turmoil of the past rounds, Denis took a practical approach to resort to the exchange variation of the Slav Defense against Sergei, and the game was quickly steered into the drawish realms. Now the draw would have brought the overall victory in the competition to Evgeny, but Khismatullin did not lose by placing the stake on the triumph of the national rapid chess champion, the youngest grandmaster of the UFO Okrug!

Ponkratov – Alekseev
Round 15 

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 0–0 5.e4 d5 6.e5 Ne4 7.Bd3 c5 8.Nf3 cxd4 9.Nxd4 Nd7 10.Bf4 Ndc5 11.0–0 Bxc3 12.bxc3 Bd7 13.Be2 Na4 14.cxd5 exd5 15.c4 Rc8 

This sharp line dates back to the Ushenina – Hou Yifan match, in which Anna lost an opening duel to the Chinese player after 16.Qb3?! dxc4 17.Bxc4 Nac3. Ponkratov plays a stronger move, although by now the rook shift must have been put to test in the correspondence games. 

16.Rac1! Re8?! 

White's idea is to meet 16...Nb6 by 17.Qb1, whereas after 16...Nec3 17.Bd3!? dxc4 18.Bxh7+ Kh8 19.e6! fxe6 20.Bg3 a brain-taxing position would have occurred in which a pair of white bishops provides enough compensation for the missing pawn. Alekseev placed his stake on getting rid of the e5-infantryman, which proved tricky.

17.Qb3 g5 

17...Nac5 18.Qa3! works out poorly for Black.

18.Be3 Rxe5 19.cxd5 Nac3 20.Bd3 Ba4? 

The tension was to be maintained by 20...Qa5, while the bishop lunge allowed Ponkratov winning the exchange.

21.Qa3 Rxd5 22.Bxe4 Rxd4 23.Bxd4 Qxd4 24.Bf3 b5 

24...g4 is refuted not only by 25.Bd1, but also by a frontal blow 25.Bxg4.

25.Qe7, and Pavel went on to easily prove the rook-over-mustang superiority in the open types of positions.

Khismatullin’s tie-breakers proved higher than those of Ponkratov, landing him the winner of the final (I would like to add that during the last round there resulted a couple of changes in the middle of the table that were in Denis’s favor). Both grandmasters performed remarkably and uncompromisingly, but the national rapid champion failed to repeat the last year's double of Maletin. Alekseev overtook Rublevsky by the Berger tiebreaker as well and finished in the third place, highlighting this year as a "bronze" one for him in the whole. 

Thus, one of the most interesting events carried out to the new format came to an end, making it time for us to tell goodbye. In 2016 the Khanty-Mansiysk hosts not only the Russian Cup finals and the Top-16, but the Children’s World Championship as well, so we are going to meet with hospitable natives of Ugra very soon!