12 January 2018

Princes Speed Up

Eteri Kublashvili reports about the first rapid day of the Nutcracker generation tournament

And now, Nutcracker has given start to the beloved by many and most spectacular part of the tournament - rapid chess. Round one was over on Saturday, December 23.

That day was also marked by the clash of football heavyweights: Real versus Barcelona. A so early and inconvenient for many start of the El Clásico battle (at 15:00 p.m. Moscow time) was attributed by Boris Gelfand to aligning with the spectating audience of China and India. Therefore, in between the rounds, the Israeli grandmaster had to seek people with laptops to update himself on the score and watch the main moments.

To the delight of Boris and other fans of Barca, the blue-and-garnet literally whitewashed Real in this tough opposition of the ball and boots titans.

This said, the chess field saw the following developments, which we are going to cover round after round.

Round 1

Alexei Shirov outplayed Andrey Esipenko as White in the Paulsen system. The Latvian grandmaster’s performance was very convincing.

Shirov – Esipenko


White embarks on the queenside play, whereas Black’s forces are somewhat discoordinated.

15…Nh6 16.bxc5 Qxc5 17.Rab1 Qc7 18.Nd4 Rg8 19.Bg5 Bc5 20.Rb3 – White got command of the b-file, suppressed Black’s kingside counterplay to win two pawns and get a decisive edge.

Boris Gelfand had an edge as White over Vladislav Artemiev, but in time trouble Black was given momentum, while down to seconds on his clock Boris blundered a checkmate.


Gelfand – Artemiev


White should have assigned defensive duties to the queen instead - 43.Qh1, but one clearly does not feel like making moves like that. Well, what is so bad about the rook move in the first place?


That’s what! The queen joins the king hunt with a decisive effect, and taking it fails to the corridor mate.

44.Qb7+ Kh6 45.Qe4 Qf1+ White resigns.

The Oparin – Mamedyarov and Yuffa – Rublevsky games ended in draws.  

Galina Strutinskaia scored a convincing victory as White over Aleksandra Dimitrova: White won a pawn in the middlegame and marched it up to the penultimate rank without any difficulties.

Aleksandra Maltsevskaya outperformed Tatiana Grabuzova in the endgame.

The setup of the Solozhenkina - Kovalevskaya encounter was reminiscent of what had happened in their classical game, but this time Elizaveta came up with improvements and literally crushed her opponent.

Elena Zaiatz, playing Black against Ekaterina Goltseva, managed to save the endgame down a pawn.


Round 2

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who was White against Daniil Yuffa, launched an early kingside offensive and won a piece for two pawns, but the accurate defense would have allowed Black keeping up dynamic balance.

Mamedyarov – Yuffa

13.g4 Nxe5 14.dxe5 Nxg4 15.h5 Bf5 16.e4 Nxe5?!

Tougher was 16…Bc5 or 16…Qc7 with a very complex type of play.

Meanwhile, the game saw 17.exf5 Nd3+ 18.Kf1 exf5 19.h6, and White confidently converted his extra material edge on move 28.

Boris Gelfand missed an unpleasant blow in round two as well, this time from Grigoriy Oparin. An error in a better position landed the Israeli grandmaster in a rook ending down a pawn, in which the remote passers sealed the fate of the game in prince’s favor.

Playing against Sergei Rublevsky, Andrey Esipenko also converted an extra pawn in the rook ending, “upsetting” the formidable grandmaster for the second time in this tournament already.

Vladislav Artemiev vs Alexei Shirov ended in a draw.  

In the women's tournament, Elena Zaiatz, having survived hard middlegame times, outfoxed Elizaveta Solozhenkina with seconds on her clock and drove the opponent's king into a mating net.

Ekaterina Goltseva, playing Galina Strutinskaya, allowed the opponent to tie her pieces in the ending and, after a series of exchanges, found herself in a lost pawn ending.

Ekaterina Kovalevskaya outperformed Aleksandra Maltsevskaya in a very technical manner, winning a pawn and bringing the point home in the rook ending.

Dimitrova vs Grabuzova ended in a draw.


Round 3

Another masterpiece was delivered by Alexei Shirov, who defeated Grigoriy Oparin as White. It was a vivid display by the Latvian grandmaster of the bishop’s superiority over the knight in the endgame.

Shirov – Oparin


26…Nc5?! gave White’s rook a tempo move to join the action. 27.Rc1!

An awkward-looking 26…Nb8 would have maintained the balance.

27…Ne6 28.a4! bxa4 29.Bc4 Nc7 30.Rd1 Ra8 31.Rd7 – and good advice was beyond price for Black with the white rook stationed on the penultimate rank. Then White went on to grab everything he could lay his hands on and won on move 38.

This said, Sergei Rublevsky's play is not going well for him as he suffered a second defeat in a row. Facing Vladislav Artemiev as Black, the senior women’s team coach had to fight back from a problematic position, where he eventually blundered a fork and ended up down an exchange. Artemiev's conversion in the technical phase was precise.

Rapid chess was not going well for Boris Gelfand either: he lost three games in a row. A streak of three wins was further extended by Daniil Yuffa by defeating the Israeli grandmaster as Black. White’s missing Black's idea of giving up a pair of rooks for a queen and a pawn was his downfall in this position. The white pieces’ placement was inferior, whereas Black’s queen and knight, as opposed to this, were very strong, which paved the way for Yuffa’s success.

Andrey Esipenko, playing White against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, sacrificed a piece in the opening and outplayed a formidable opponent in the middlegame, but with only seconds on his clock the Azerbaijani grandmaster started producing tremendous defensive resources and managed to enter the realms of equality for a time being:

Esipenko – Mamedyarov

27…Bc6! 28.Rf7 Qe5! 29.Qd3 Be4! 30.Qd7 Nf4 31.Bf3 Rd8! 32.Qa7


Black needed to come up with an engine-like 37…Kg8!!

33.Re1 Bxf3? 34. Rf8+?? – White returns the favour. Esipenko could have checkmated Mamedyarov's king in two via 34. Rh7+ Kg8 35. Qg7#. The text resulted in a queen and three pawns for White versus a rook and two minor pieces for Black. Many things went astray in time trouble, which petered out to a draw in the end.

In the women’s section Princesses won three games out of four from Queens.

Elena Zaiatz dropped a queen to Aleksandra Maltsevskaya when nothing boded ill, and surrendered weapons a couple of moves later.

Ekaterina Goltseva’s precise play crowned her up a pawn edge in the rook ending.

Galina Strutinskaia, playing White against Elizaveta Solozhenkina, lost a pawn as early as the opening, so that no full-fledged fight was seen in this battle despite all White’s efforts to muddy the waters.

Ekaterina Kovalevskaya and Alexandra Dimitrova signed piece.

Round 4

That day’s final round saw Shakhriyar Mamedyarov suffering his first defeat in the tournament from Vladislav Artemiev.

Mamedyarov – Artemiev

Black opted for a piece sacrifice for three pawns in this double-edged position: 24…hxg3!

Further developments justified this risky approach in full measure.

25.dxc6 gxf2+ 26.Kxf2 Bxc6 27.Re1 Rd3 28.Qc4 Qd6! 29.Re2 Bxf3 30.Bxf3 Qh2+ White resigns.

Alexei Shirov's loss was also his first one in this event. As in their classical encounter, Yuffa – Shirov's opening was handled into the Botvinnik variation. Back then it was a quick draw. This time Daniil sidestepped on move 23, but the ending arising after the trade of queens favored Black. Nevertheless, Yuffa managed to create a dangerous h-passer and win a pawn. The Russian was precise in a mutual time trouble and scored a confident victory.   

Esipenko - Gelfand and Oparin - Rublevsky ended in draws.  

In the women's section, Galina Strutinskaya avenged Queens' past failures by outperforming Alexandra Maltsevskaya. Black managed to gobble up all opponent's pawns and then win a rook ending while up three pawns.

Alexandra Dimitrova defeated Elena Zaiatz in an up a pawn knight ending.

Elizabeth Solozhenkina achieved a substantial edge over Tatiana Grabuzova, but the conversion was a lengthy one. Nevertheless, with flags hanging, White continued to insist on her own and eventually won what was initially a knight ending, then, upon an almost simultaneous queening of two pawns, a queen one and, finally, a pawn ending.

Ekaterina Kovalevskaya vs Ekaterina Goltseva was a draw.


It’s time we summed up this complex game day’s results.

Thus, Princes sealed a confident victory (10:6) to equalize the match score – 24:24.

Princesses also won the rapid chess - 9:7, but the overall score is still in Queen’s favor - 26:22.

Sunday, December 24, schedules Nutcracker’s final games and the closing ceremony.


Pictures by Eteri Kublashvili