28 November 2017

Setting Records across the Old World

Dmitry Kryakvin goes over Alexandra Kosteniuk's performance at the European Championships 

The Greek island Crete has just bid farewell to the European championships, which the Russian teams have shined in yet another time. For lack of its main top players, a relatively fresh lineup of men’s team ceded gold in a tough battle to the Azerbaijani players, headed by a real chess Hulk Rauf Mamedov. However, silver is a very decent result as well, although our players’ desire to win and the team’s togetherness was visible even with a naked eye.

When talking about the women’s team headed by Sergei Rublevsky, we mean a real demolition machine, if such words may at all be applied to representatives of a fragile fair sex. Following the World Cup and the European Championship triumphs, the 2018 Olympic battles will see the Russian women try to hit an absolute record by collecting the three "champion belts" available for grabs in modern chess. This said, the Crete event, lacking the Chinese on the one hand and the Ukrainian team weakened by the Maria Muzychuk versus other than scrupulous sports officials opposition on the other, our "golden girls" won by an overwhelming margin.

As tradition has it, the female players make by far less frequent appearances in periodicals than their male peers. Therefore, let us make up for this injustice somewhat. I once again congratulate Alexandra Kosteniuk, Kateryna Lagno, Valentina Gunina, Olga Girya and Aleksandra Goryachkina! Today’s article is about the European trajectory of the most titled Russian female player - the twelfth World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk. This said, Kosteniuk is a record-holder in terms of the Old-World team championship medals, which makes overtaking her a very hard nut to crack. Meanwhile, Alexandra’s excellent chess shape tells about so much headway ahead of her yet!

Below are the milestones of the team captain’s path.  Kosteniuk has participated in all championships since 2003, which gives us a chance to recall every prize winner throughout the latest decade and a half.

Here is Alexander Kentler’s noteworthy medal statistics.

The following is taken by me as a quote:

The individual achievements performing for the Russian team for the past 25 years are as follows:

A men’s record-holder in terms of medals earned is P.Svidler (3 golds + 2 silvers +1 bronze).

He is followed by A. Grischuk with 3 + 1 + 1, D. Jakovenko (2 + 2 + 0), A. Morozevich (2 + 1 + 1), E.Bareev (2 + 1 + 0), E. Tomashevsky (1 + 1 + 1), E. Alekseev, I. Nepomniachtchi (1 + 1 + 0), one gold with G. Kasparov, V. Kramnik, A. Dreev, A. Vyzhmanavin, A. Khalifman, one silver with V. Zvjaginsev, I. Glek, J. Yakovich, N. Vitiugov, M. Matlakov, D. Dubov, one bronze with D. Andreikin.

Leading among women with seven medals under her belt is A. Kosteniuk (4 + 1 + 2). Gunina has five (4 + 1 + 0), the Kosintseva sisters Nadezhda and Tatiana - four (3 + 0 + 1), A. Goryachkina - three (2 + 1 + 0), two medals are with K. Lagno (2 + 0 + 0), O. Girya, N. Pogonina (1 + 1 + 0), A. Galliamova, E. Kovalevskaya (0 + 0 + 2), one gold is with E. Korbut, M. Guseva (Nechaeva), A. Bodnaruk, one silver is with S. Matveeva. Let's add that K. Lagno, apart from two victories for Russia, has two medals (gold and bronze) when performing for the Ukraine.

Besides, Alexandra’s seven performances have brought her as many as six individual board awards!  I suspect that even storing all these assets takes up so much of her house‘s space, let alone the efforts to earn them. However, first things first!

Plovdiv 2003

Home-grown women players of 1990s and 2000s were not especially lucky with the team events. Not only did the event victories bring little or no wages, the number of such tournaments was rather limited at that. The world championship was gifted to women only in 2007, while in 2001 the Russian teams had missed on the European championship due to financial issues in RCF.

It was back in 2001 that Alexandra Kosteniuk had qualified into the individual knockout world championship, but her debut for the team took place only in the 2002 Olympiad. Accordingly, her European debut fell to Plovdiv 2003. Back then women’s teams featured only two players with a single reserve. Not was it because of FIDE’s dislike for women at that particular moment.  It was just that the fair sex’s representatives on the chess arena were not that many on the one hand, while the developing countries were willing to cut on expenses to a certain degree on the other.

Alexandra was part of team Russia along with two outstanding players of the older generation - Svetlana Matveeva and Alisa Galliamova. The Russian team, coached by a strong grandmaster and theoretician Yuri Yakovich, was seeded as No.1. Its main rivals were the strong teams of the Ukraine (Zhukova, T. Vasilevich, Gaponenko), Georgia (Khurtsidze, Dzagnidze, Lomineishvili), Bulgaria (Stefanova, Voiska, Djingarova), Poland (Radziewicz, Zielinska, Socko), Serbia and Montenegro (Maric, Bojkovic, Prudnikova), Armenia (Danielian, Mkrtchian, Aginian). The average rating of all these teams exceeded 2400.

The Russian women won four matches out of the first five and drew one with Bulgaria, while Alexandra Kosteniuk won all her games. There followed a draw with Armenia and a victory over Poland, but the home stretch had Russia going down to Hungary and not taking the upper hand over Lithuania, which later on (albeit not quite justifiably) turned into a point of dissatisfaction from the mass media.

Armenia and Hungary (Dembo, Vajda, Gara) scored 14 points each, while the Russians finished only a point behind. While Svetlana Matveeva’s performance was the tournament’s best, Alexandra triumphed among reserve players.

Alisa Galliamova, Svetlana Matveeva, Alexandra Kosteniuk and Yuri Yakovich

Goteborg 2005

The women players’ rights were at last placed on a par with those of men, and Sweden saw an impressive delegation of the Russian female players: the merited Galliamova and Ekaterina Kovalevskaya were shored up by the super-trio "Kos" - Alexandra and the Kosintseva sisters Tatiana and Nadezhda. The Georgian team was led by the Georgian chess symbol Maia Chiburdanidze, while standing out among the Ukrainians was the rising star Katya Lagno. This time Kosteniuk was board one, which pitted her against a really tough opposition. She didn’t fail her board, scoring 3.5 out of 7.

The rating favorites won three matches in a row, but then unexpectedly went down to Romania (for your information: Mihaela Sandu was not a participant of that match). The Russians came back by defeating France and drawing the leading Poland. The matchup against the Ukraine was decided by Galliamova’s victory over Vasilevich - the Russian team’s leading scorers were Tatiana Kosintseva and Alisa Galliamova. Alas, the finish was screwed up yet another time, a loss to Georgia and a draw with Bulgaria left Russia with the bronze, as in the previous event. Despite the toughest level of rivalry and a relative team’s youthfulness, the outcome was evaluated as unsuccessful, and Yakovich was soon replaced by the Kosintseva sisters’ coach, a many-year assistant to Garry Kasparov, Yuri Dokhoian.

Yury Yakovich, Alisa Galliamova, Galina Strutinskaya, Ekaterina Kovalevskaya, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Nadezhda and Tatiana Kosintsevas and Maxim Sorokin

    Heraklion 2007

"Hellas’s Golden Rain" - was the title given to his article about the team championship in Greece by a popular journalist Evgeny Atarov; for some reason a vigilant editorship of the 64 magazine asked the author to reconsider the title. It really was a real triumph of the Russian teams, and unprecedented at that time as being the first golden double in the Russian chess history.

The women's team once again had the highest average rating of the competition - playing this time were Kosteniuk, Kosintseva, Kovalevskaya, a reserve being yet another young gifted athlete Ekaterina Korbut. This team literally steamrolled their opponents, defeating Georgia, Bulgaria, Armenia and drawing Hungary and Poland. With one round to go, Dokhoian’s trainees were ahead of their pursuers by 2 points, finishing first following an explosive draw with the Ukraine.

Alexandra Kosteniuk, Tatiana and Nadezhda Kosintsevas, Ekaterina Kovalevskaya, Ekaterina Korbut and Yury Dokhoian

Almost every member of the winning team shined in the individual standings including Alexandra, despite her misfire against Lagno.

Danielian – Kosteniuk

Kosteniuk's victory over Elina Danielian paved the way for the Russian’s victory over Armenia.

24...a4! 25.f3

25.f4 Ng6 fails to help out as well.

25...axb3 26.Bxb3 Ba6 27.Qe2

There is no saving the pawn with 27.Qc2 Nxc4, whereas the text results in an immediate disaster. -

27...Nxf3+! 28.Qxf3 Qxe1+ 29.Qf1 Qc3 30.Ba2 Qc2 White resigns.

Novi Sad 2009

Heading to Serbia was the entire generation NEXT - the board next to Alexandra, Tatiana and Nadezhda was occupied by Marina Nechaeva (who then performed under the name of Romanko), and a reserve player was Valentina Gunina. The 2009 championship was by far a harder challenge than its predecessor since the Russians went down to Georgia in round two and had to resign to a role of catchers-up. It was followed by nail-biting wins over Hungary and Poland.

Then, however, the reigning champions showed their mettle by scoring three landslides in a row. Team points were scored against the Ukraine, Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic, with the Russian team leader taking all of her games. A narrow victory over Armenia in the ultimate round allowed overtaking their Georgian “offenders” by additional tie-breakers.

Yury Dokhoian, Nadezhda and Tatiana Kosintsevas, Marina Nechaeva (Romanko), Valentina Gunina and Alexandra Kosteniuk

Alexandra Kosteniuk went undefeated with 6 out of 8 to take yet another gold medal, an individual one at that!

Porto Carras 2011

While far from smoothy with the men’s team, the women, as opposed to that, displayed togetherness and the highest class.  The next “campaign against Byzantium” featured the Kosintseva sisters, Gunina, Kosteniuk and another strong Russian player, a future World Vice-Champion Natalia Pogonina. That period marked the slump in Alexandra’s career - she was only board four.

The Russian team starts with five victories, taking crucial matches from the Ukraine and Georgia. Especially piquant was the latter, in which the decisive victory was by Kosteniuk over Nazi Paikidze. A membership of Paikidze, a resident of Moscow, in the team Georgia was a source of great criticism from the Russian Chess Federation back then, because Nazi had been a participant of the recent Russian Superfinal...

Paikidze – Kosteniuk

With almost a complete symmetry on the board, White is failed by the lack of a "luft".

25... b6! 26.Nb7

After 26.Nb3 Ne2 27.Rxc8 Rxc8 28.Re1 Rc3 Black has everything to play for as well, but now Alexandra simply gangs up on the prodigal knight.

26...Rd3 27.Rfe1 Kf7! 28.f3 Ke6 29.fxe4 Rc4 30.Rf1 Rxe4, winning shortly after.

Following a draw against a traditionally inconvenient opponent, Poland, there followed victories over Armenia, France and Austria - the main competitors ended up three team points behind the winning team. A domination of the Russian women was such that they all ended up as their boards’ top three. Kosteniuk triumphed on board four with 5.5 out of 7.

Yury Dokhoian, Natalia Pogonina, Nadezhda and Tatiana Kosintsevas, Alexandra Kosteniuk and Valentina Gunina

Warsaw 2013

The Russian team experienced a change of generations, which happened to take shocking developments for fans, players and the federation in equal measures. Yury Dokhoian moved from the women's over to the men's team, replaced by the Russian champion, many-time Olympic champion and participant of the Candidates tournament Sergey Rublevsky. Unfortunately, a new nominee to the senior coach’s position was not to the Kosintseva sisters’ liking, which refused to perform for the national team under his authority. Alas, the Russian chess soon lost their team’s leaders entirely as Nadya and Tatiana practically disappeared from the chess life. Years have passed, but there has happened no return - Nadezhda trains and lectures in the US, while Tatiana’s comeback into the headlines is not about chess... I want to hope that the truth upheld by Tatiana is going to prevail.

A literally beheaded team, devoid of two key boards, recruited Olga Girya and Aleksandra Goryachkina for the European competition. However, it turned out that Russia had a decent shift growing, and in the subsequent tournaments the team was deep enough to afford Sergey Rublevsky a choice of who to draft. However, the Polish event gave the national team first-timers a hard time because of the incredible responsibility that came with it. The Russian women demonstrated a decent result thanks in no small part to Alexandra Kosteniuk’s phenomenal 7.5 out of 8! By the way, the Russians were seeded second to the mighty Ukrainians.

In round two Alexandra had a rest day, and it ended in a shocking defeat from the Israeli team. Despite this, Alexandra and her teammates didn’t lose heart. Kosteniuk saved matches from Germany and Poland, upon which the team gear up after a sluggish start to crush Hungary, Georgia and the Ukraine! The Ukrainians ended up first anyway, despite their last round defeat owing to Gunina and Kosteniuk winning over Lagno and Mariya Muzychuk respectively. The Russians took silver.

Coaches Evgenij Najer, Alexander Riazantsev, Sergei Rublevsky, Olga Girya, Valentina Gunina, Alexandra Goryachkina, Natalija Pogonina and Alexandra Kosteniuk

M. Muzychuk – Kosteniuk

Is there no converting an extra pawn in the ending with the opposite-colored bishops? Black has a spectacular solution in store for her opponent.


Muzychuk’s king is in the mating net with no way out.

45.Rd4 Bd5+ White resigns.


Reykjavik 2015 and Crete 2017

Not only did 2015 have the immediate reserves turn into full-fledged regulars, displaying great practical strength, but one of the strongest world chess players, Kateryna Lagno, moved into Moscow at that. Despite this, the Russians were again seeded second since Georgia put up all her strongest players -- Dzagnidze, Khotenashvili, Javakhishvili, Batsiashvili, Arabidze – who were at the peak of their forms.

This time the Russian women’s team was represented by Kosteniuk, Lagno, Gunina, Goryachkina, and the strongest player of St.Petersburg Anastasia Bodnaruk. Once again, as in Heraklion and Porto Carras, the machine flying the tricolor flag swept all its opponents in a confident manner. While a principled match with the Ukraine ended in a drawless 2:2, all other matches were taken by Rublevsky's trainees. Meanwhile, they defeated Georgia 3.5:0.5 and succeeded in “unspelling” the team of Poland. Even though Alexandra gave way to the world champion Maria Muzychuk in a contest of leaders, she took a bronze medal on the first board anyway.

Kateryna Lagno, Anastasia Bodnaruk, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Aleksandra Goryachkina, Valentina Gunina at the training session with Sergei Rublevsky

As we know already, the Russians again dominated in Crete and finished first with one round to go. Alexandra Kosteniuk, Ekaterina Lagno, Valentina Gunina, Olga Girya, Alexandra Goryachkina have taken the next set of gold medals. Our national team’s leader again earned an additional incentive on board one by scoring 6 of 8, which turned out to be the best result.

ECU President Zurab Azmaiparashvili, Kateryna Lagno, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Aleksandra Goryachkina, Valentina Gunina, Olga Girya and Sergei Rublevsky

All in all, Alexandra Kosteniuk's participation in just seven European championships has brought 31 wins, 22 draws and only 5 losses! This said, the majority of games were played by her on board one.

Long live the twelfth world champion and her teammates, and we keep looking forward to the 2018 Olympiad, the European and World Cups of 2019. Let Alexandra’s professional attitude, love of chess and sport serve as example for dozen of millions of young girls!

Photo credit: Evgeny Atarov, Evgeny Surov, Vladimir Barsky, Maria Emeljanova and from Alexandra Kosteniuk's personal archive.