15 January 2018

Quick and Smart

Vladimir Barsky reports about the second rapid day of the Nutcracker tournament  

– It's nice that Russia appreciates young people and gives them opportunities to challenge such players as Gelfand, Shirov, Rublevsky," Shakhriyar Mamedyarov highlighted at the closing of the Nutcracker generation tournament, and then, upon a moment's hesitation, added: – Me also! - This pause, coupled with a trademark smile of Shakh’s, provoked a chorus of laughter from the ceremony guests. – Playing us is a wealth of experience for them.

- Our team shined in the classical part, while the young were very rapid in the rapid! - continued No.3 in the world with what seemed a mix of surprise bordering on envy. – I have caught cold during the tournament, and my rapid day one performance was underwhelming. I got a bad position as White in that day’s last game against Artemiev and went down shortly after. He approached me afterwards to inquire why I had not proposed him a draw as White, saying he would have agreed since I was ill. I warmed up to him, thinking that the young man cares for me. Today I offered him a draw as Black, and he declined immediately. Imagine my state of shock! The young people are so different from us, the veterans - I'm also a veteran!

I express my gratitude to organizers and sponsors! We will be back to avenge ourselves on Princes!

Indeed, it is the first time in the history of this event that the young managed to outplay the experienced by bridging the four-point gap after the classical part and then breaking forward. Below is the game that the “veteran” Mamedyarov mentioned before.


Artemiev – Mamedyarov

Round 5

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.Nxd4 Bc5 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bd3 0-0 8.0-0 Re8 9.Bg5 h6 10.Bh4 Rb8 11.Kh1 d5 12.exd5 cxd5

13.Nxd5 Qxd5 14.Bxf6 Bb7 15.Qg4 Qxg2+ 16.Qxg2 Bxg2+ 17.Kxg2 gxf6 18.b3 Rbd8 19.Rad1 Rd4


There is little doubt that Mamedyarov would have kept this position together in the classical chess, but it was a rapid one. “The young play so fast!”

There is no tugging a tiger by the tail, however! In the following round it was the smallest prince who found himself in the angry Shakh’s path. 

Mamedyarov – Esipenko

Round 6


Black failed to complete development and is nearly stalemated. It did not take long to finish Black.

25.Nd6 Bxd6 26.exd6 Rxd6 27.Be5 Nf5 28.Bxd6 Nxd6 29.Rxd5! exd5 30.Qc7. Black resigns.

Completely out of form was the head coach of the women’s national team Sergei Rublevsky. However, Black’s defensive resource is hard to find even when a player is in good form.


Oparin – Rublevsky

Round 5


30.Rxd5!? Nxd5 31.Bxd5 Rd6?

Black is saved by a surprising deflection 31...Be2!! After 32.Rxe2 (bad is 32.Qd4? Rd6, and the e-file, as opposed to what happened in the game, is closed now) 32...exd5 33.Qxd5+ Kh8 White cannot take the rook for the home rank weakness. The final position of this line has White with two pawns for the exchange, and a draw seems the most likely outcome.

32.Bxe6+ Rxe6 33.Rxe6 Rf1 34.Re1 Rxe1 35.Qxe1 Qxh2 36.Nc5 Bc8 37.Qe8+ Kg7 38.Qe7+ Kg8 39.a4 Bxg4 40.Ne4

A queen and knight is a formidable attacking tandem. Black is defenseless.

40…Qh6 41. Nf6+ Kh8 42. Nxg4 Qh1+ 43. Ka2 Qd5+ 44. b3 Black resigns.

Nevertheless, Sergei managed to bang the door towards the finale. It was not without a blunder along the way, though.

Rublevsky – Yuffa

Round 8


In the case of a precise 34.Rcd2 (also possible is 34.Re2) Black, in order not to get checkmated along the h-file, would have had to find 34...Rf8! 35.Kg2 f5 36.gxf6 Rxf6 with an inferior but tenable position. Rublevsky, unwilling to let go of the c-file, opted for 34.Rc6?? only to immediately detect the crushing 34...Rxc6 35.dxc6 Bxf2+! Much to his luck, Yuffa missed this opportunity.

34...Bc5? 35.Rd3

Now the rook takes up a safe position.

35…Qa7 36.Kg2

The engine does not fail to point out that 36.Rxg6! fxg6 37.Bxg6 is an immediate winner.

36...Qa5 37.Rd1 Qb5 38.Rxc8 Rxc8 39.Rh1 Black resigns.

Daniil was not especially lucky that day, having missed yet another golden opportunity.


Yuffa – Gelfand

Round 6


28.Rxb7! Rxb7 29.Bf5 Qb5 30.Bxh7! Kxh7 31.Qe4+ Kh8 32.Qxb7 d3 33.Qe4 Rd8 34.Rd1 Qd5 35.Qxd5 Rxd5 36.Kf1


A nice combination has brought White a pawn; besides, the d3-passer looks like a goner. Despite this, Gelfand managed to sell its life dear: having demonstrated a fantastic tenacity in the defense, he captured the f2-pawn in his turn, made his pieces active and salvaged a half point.

Smooth and strong performance throughout the entire distance was shown by Alexei Shirov, who stood at the sources of the Nutcracker: after all, it was his match against Daniil Dubov that had given start to the now popular tournament. Alexei scored "+1" in the classical chess and "+2" in the rapid, and at the same time made a valuable contribution to our column "Position of the day.”

Esipenko – Shirov

Round 8


21…Nxe4! 22.fxe4 Qe5

The e4-pawn and f5-knight are hanging, which forces White’s next move. Although preserving his extra piece, White falls under the strongest attack, which is not such a big surprise when taking into consideration an underdeveloped queenside and a recluse a4-knight.

23.Bd5 Bxd5 24.exd5 Qxd5+ 25.Kh3 Qf3 26.Qd3 Qh5+ 27.Kg2 Rfe8 28.Be3 Ne5 29.Qf1 Ng4 30.Bxd4 cxd4 31.h3


31…Qxf5! 32.hxg4 Qc2+ 33.Kh3 Re2 34.Qg1 Qg6 White resigns..

Individual standings (12 games - 4 classical and 8 rapid, with 2 points for a victory and 1 for a draw in the classical section, whereas the rapid’ traditional system is 1 and 0.5 respectively):

Kings: Sh. Mamedyarov - 11 (7+4); A. Shirov - 10 (5+5); B. Gelfand - 7.5 (5 + 2.5); S. Rublevsky - 3 (1+2).

Princes: V. Artemiev - 11.5 (5+6.5), G. Oparin - 7.5 (3+4.5), A. Esipenko - 7.5 (4+3.5), D. Yuffa - 6 (2+4).

As you see, the Nutcracker first-timers Andrey Esipenko and Daniil Yuffa managed to raise to the occasion. Vladislav Artemiev's performance was the tournament's best after he literally whitewashed his opponents in the rapid. A decent performance was displayed by the winner of the previous Nutcracker edition Grigoriy Oparin (who had earned the ticket to the Zürich tournament back then).

In the women’s section, Queens went down to their younger opponents in the rapid, but managed to end up victorious nonetheless.

Individual standings:

Queens: E. Kovalevskaya - 12 (7+5), E. Zaiatz - 8 (5+3), T. Grabuzova - 7 (5+2), G. Strutinskaya - 6.5 (2+4.5).

Princesses: A. Maltsevskaya - 9 (4+5), E. Goltseva - 8 (5+3), E. Solozhenkina - 7 (2+5), A. Dimitrova - 6.5 (2+4.5).

Let's highlight a brilliant result by Ekaterina Kovalevskaya - a good warm-up in the Superfinal has taken its toll! She received tickets for the ice show Nutcracker at the closing ceremony; in the team Princesses same prize went to Aleksandra Maltsevskaya. The girls performed fairly smoothly, but their classical play is clearly not yet as high as that of the rapid format

During the closing ceremony the honors were paid not only to the Nutcracker participants, but also the U16 World Olympiad winners: our team’s performance in India was brilliant, taking "gold" with one round to go and shining in Moscow with a huge beautiful cup. You will read an interview with the senior Russian youth team coach Mikhail Kobalia on our website in a short while.

We thank a great chess enthusiast Oleg Skvortsov for giving us this fascinating tournament with a fairy tale-like name.

We thank Arkady Dvorkovich and the Chess Support Fund for the help in carrying out this popular world-wide competition (the English broadcast gathered even more audience than the Russian one).

Thanks to Renault Russia for awarding its set of prizes for the second year in a row.

We wish everyone happy New Year, and see you again at the next edition of the Nutcracker generation tournament!

Pictures by Vladimir Barsky