23 June 2017

Preserving Sergey Karjakin’s Record is a Matter of Life and Death!

Dmitry Kryakvin summarizes the outcome of the Alexander Alekhine Memorial in Voronezh

The Black Earth Region’s capital city marked the end of the 21st international festival, for the past few years known under the proud name of Alekhine Memorial. The rest day had the organizers showing an interesting movie, and those who visited the action could get acquainted with some episodes from Alexander Alexandrovich’s rich biography.

As we mentioned earlier, the tournament has gathered an interesting and “combative” lineup, spiced up by presence of a large Indian delegation, shining in which are the young stars Praggnanandhaa and Nihal Sarin, born in 2005 and 2004 respectively. Russia seems to have some quite decent peer aged fighters as well: the first to come to mind are Stef Pogosyan, Dima Tsoi, Valera Skachkov and Bibisara Assaubayeva. However, the Indian chess players are already looking forward to claiming their grandmaster norms and have arrived in Voronezh with no childish intentions of breaking Sergei Karjakin’s record, written in the Guinness Book of World Records (Sergey became the highest title holder at the age of 12 years and 211 days). We need to catch up urgently, and this tournament had Tsoi taking an important step in the right direction.

The young Hindu players have really come close to the coveted goal (Sarin’s tournament performance is 2587, and his younger friend’s - 2563!), but the Russian chess school has proven its mettle. Coming back to my mind’s eye is Boris Savchenko after having narrowly bailed out from Praggnanandhaa and wondering, “What will it take fighting the guy in a year from now?” Meanwhile, one of the players (who has significantly contributed to the fact that the guests’ performance have stayed below 2600, but who has ended up outside the prize fund nonetheless), would challenge me every time we met with, “Will you ask Zangalis that Alpari gives me a bonus payment, will you? You saw how I fared, did you? It was a matter of life and death to me! It took me a whole night to have myself prepared for the game. Mind you, all this is for Sergey to go on remaining the youngest grandmaster in the world history. Will you talk about me with Kirill? Will you?”

Indeed, the Masters tournament had no shortage of heroes. I remember Vsevolod Ovchinnikov starting with a victory over Ivan Rozum, then fighting fire with fire against other grandmasters, and only the last two-round hiccup would not allow the young chess player from Naberezhnye Chelny to take the highest norm. However, results of certain other players caused sincere surprise of the audience. With so many anti-cheating measures in place in Minsk, playing in Voronezh was far from plain sailing at first... 

Fortunately, it was not for the first time that Alexander Raetsky’s team faced the problem, while arriving as a chief arbiter for the men's Cup was the “Day watch commander” Vladimir Staratorzhsky. Vladimir Yurievich’s first command was: "All cheaters are to leave cover of the Twilight!", and his authority was further promoted by a powerful local artifact, a machine designed to suppress any radio signals. They say that no lesser person than Ashot Vardapetyan was amazed when hearing about existence of such an inexpensive and very effective "devil machine” at the anti-cheating seminar in Voronezh. Besides, Staratorzhsky informed me about special tools for detecting in-ear transmitters without having to resort to tweezers. This device is expected in the Arbiters’ Commission in the near future. 

It should be borne in mind that besides real cheating the "witch-hunting" is known to take place in our life from time to time. However, preventive measures have lead to players with suspect results start losing game after game. Their warrior's might of former times would somehow abandon them. It is true, however, that it has brought no relief to certain well-known chess players that suffered at the start...

The tournament intrigue has followed in the footsteps of a two-year old event, when the first-round defeat was followed by Daniil Lintchevski’s scoring 7 wins in a row to finish first. Even though the grandmaster from Gatchina has shown his fighting qualities this time as well to share second with a talented native of Kemerovo Maxim Chigaev, he could not keep up with the winner nonetheless. Who could believe that following a round-one annihilation from a young Dmitry Tsoi, Sergei Volkov would knock out everyone coming his way afterwards? 


S. Volkov – D. Tsoi


Round 1 

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.f3


This is Sergey’s bread-and-butter line in the Nimzo-Indian Defence. The peak of popularity of the one-square f-pawn move coincides with the period following the Anand - Kramnik match of 2008, in which the line was successfully employed by the Indian champion.

This said, in his autumn article about the boys’ and girls’ World Championships in Khanty-Mansiysk my fellow countryman and older friend Sasha Galkin complained about young people knowing nothing about Sergei Volkov. It suddenly came back to me in between the European Championship in Minsk and the Alekhine Memorial, and I assigned my students to studying the classical heritage so as to not waste time.

And here comes a miracle - not even a day passes when the drawing of lots pits Dmitry against Sergey.

4…d5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 c5 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.dxc5 Qa5 9.e4 Nf6 10.Be3 0–0 11.Kf2 Nfd7 12.Rb1





Three years ago I already assisted an 11-year-old Andrey Esipenko in preparing for his game against Volkov. Back then we had to choose between the text and a modest pawn advance. Andrey made up his mind to follow suit of my friend Pavel Maletin: 12...a6 13.Qd6 Nc6 14.Ne2 e5 15.Qd5 Nf6 16.Qb3 Be6 17.Qb6 Qxa3 18.Ng3 Qxc3 19.Rc1 Qb4 20.Qxb4 Nxb4 21.Nf5 Bxf5 22.exf5 Nbd5, and Black emerged a pawn up (as in Volkov - Maletin, 2009).

When playing Esipenko, the grandmaster from Saransk improved on his previous play, but had no success anyway: 15.Ng3 Rd8 16.Nf5 Nf8 17.Ne7+ Nxe7 18.Qxe7 Ng6 19.Qg5 Be6 20.Be2 h6 21.Qg3 Qxa3 22.Rxb7 Rab8 23.Rb6 Rxb6 24.cxb6 Qb2 25.Re1, and, instead of a draw by repetition via 25…Rd3 26.Bd4 Rd2 27.Be3 Rd3, the young opponent of the 2600 player was entitled to continue fighting with 25...a5!, – Black dominates, while the b6-passer has no much say in the position at the moment.

Back then Andrey’s positional understanding was already mature, and a similar game development with good pieces and clear strategic goals was quite acceptable for him. However, Dima is more of a guerilla fighter. Together with Aram Yeritsyan, Tsoi explored a more aggressive line from Volkov’s encounter against Bruzon.


13.Qb3 Qc7 14.Rd1 Rf8 15.Qb5


Sergey scored a memorable victory over Sergey Fedorchuk after 15.Qc4 Ne5 16.Qd4 Nbc6 17.Qa4 Na5 18.Nh3, but the Ukrainian grandmaster's game can be improved.


15...b6 16.cxb6 axb6 17.Ne2


After 17.Qb2 Nc5 18.Bb5 Bd7 19.c4 Bxb5 20.cxb5 Nbd7 21.Bd4 e5! 22.Be3 f5! 23.Qa2+ Kh8 24.exf5 e4 Black launched an assault against the white king’s ramparts to win a nice game (Volkov - Bruzon, 2011). The grandmaster, naturally, had a choice between two moves in this position, which did not stop Tsoi from going into the line anyway.


17...Rxa3 18.Qb2 Qa7! 19.Rd2 Qa5 20.c4?!


Lagging behind in development, White should have brought his pieces into play with 20.Nd4!? even at the cost of c3-pawn. Volkov, however, essays to transpose into the ending with a bishop pair, but a series of Dima’s blows make it clear that White’s forces will never make it out of the home rank.


20...Nc6 21.Qb5 Nde5 22.Qxa5 Nxa5 23.Bxb6?


White should have resigned himself to suffering after 23.Rc2 Ba6.


23...Naxc4 24.Bc5 Ra5 25.Bb4 Ra4 26.Bxf8 Nxd2 27.Bd6?


This is a decisive mistake with no comeback for White any longer. Although 27.Nc3 Ra1 28.Bd6 Nd3+ 29.Ke2 Nc4 30.Kxd3 Nxd6 31.Ke2 looks grim, White still entertains hopes to consolidate his position somehow.




27...Ng4+! 28.Ke1


White loses after 28.fxg4 Nxe4+.


28...Nxe4! 29.Bf4


Or 29.fxe4 Ra1+ 30.Kd2 Nf2 with decisive material losses.


29...Nef2 30.Rg1 Nd3+ 31.Kd2 Nxf4 32.fxg4 Nd5 33.h3 Ra2+, and, being up a pawn and his pieces dominating, Dima’s conversion was impeccable:


34.Ke1 Ne3 35.Nf4 e5 36.Nh5 Bb7 37.Be2 Nxg2+ 38.Kf2 g6 39.Nf6+ Kg7 40.Ne8+ Kf8 41.Nd6 Nf4 42.Nxb7 Nxh3+ White resigns.


Following such a disaster, Sergei Volkov went on to show his courage and mettle. From then on, there was simply no stopping the grandmaster. My previous article had some funny jabs at the national team of Turkey, but look at the performance demonstrated by Mikhail Krasenkow’s trainees! There is just no substituting the experience!

As for Dima, he has made his master norm in the tournament and his post- Voronezh and Minsk rating gravitates towards 2400. Thus, our young people will not surrender the contest to Hindus without a struggle!

The end of the main competition was crowned by a colorful closing ceremony with musical accompaniment. The organizers have prepared many prizes and special awards, including the traditional "luck" medal for the 21st place (being the festival number) and awarded them in each of the tournaments. Besides, the prizewinners were once again happy about the fairest prize division to the Hort system. 13 prizes for some thirty grandmasters sounds like not enough, but Vlastimil’s system saw many more happier people leave the closuring ceremony.

Alexander Raetsky promised a direct transfer flight to Voronezh from the Chinese league in 2018. However, everyone hoped it to be a famous Voronezh sense of humor. We will see that in a year!

P.S. I was approached by Kirill Kozionov's mother, who pointed out that not a few participants out of those who lost chances to hit prize money would not show up for the last rounds, thus preventing their opponents from making their master and candidate master norms. After all, it is for the sake of these norms that tens of thousands of rubles have been spent. Kirill’s mother addresses Alexander Tkachev with a proposal that the revised version of the National Unified Sports Classification be added with the following: should a participant quit the tournament without good reasons, he/she is awarded a defeat and the Russian rating is subject to calculation as if the game was played.

The most martial-spirited mother of Russia also recommends that "yellow cards" be introduced for grandmasters making easy draws, as well as that organizers invite only those players who are seen putting up real fight during the entire chess season. Even though this is an unfledged plan yet, the norm issue is of a pressing nature indeed...