24 June 2016

So Hard to be a Favorite

Opening ceremony and Round One of the Higher League in the review of Eteri Kublashvili.

After quite a long in-between break, having carried out the Higher Leagues in the most eastern and western endpoints of our country, it is again being played in the central part of Russia - in Kolomna of the Moscow Region. The ancient town has had a long chess history; the festival “Kolomna’s mile” has been organized for a few years in a row here, coupled with a great venue for major events - the skating center.

The chess players stay in the main town hotel bearing the offbeat name “Kolomna”; it takes 7-minutes drive or 20-30 minutes walk to reach the skating center (which, incidentally, is located right next to the Kolomna Kremlin) . The tournament organizers provide the daily return shuttle between the hotel and the venue, but the great walkers are unlikely to be scared off either by heat or by the walking distance.

Male and female chess players perform in different halls, which are quite spacious and well-lit. They say, however, that it feels somewhat hot inside. Nearby there is an area where guests are able to watch games live and enjoy a snack. Numerous linesmen, headed by the international arbiter Mikhail Krjukov, are there to maintain discipline and order.

Game day one began with a press conference, which was attended by the Physical Culture and Sport Minister of the Moscow region Teryushkov Roman, chief executive of the Kolomna urban district Galina Gracheva, Head of the Physical Culture and Sport Department Nikolay Sutormin, Acting President of the Moscow Region Chess Federation Sergey Nesterov, deputy executive director of the Russian Chess Federation and the tournament director Alexander Tkachev, chief arbiter of the tournament Mikhail Krjukov and the municipal budgetary institution “The Kolomna Skating Center” CEO Sergei Orlov.

Immediately after the press conference there took place an opening ceremony, during which the speeches were given by Roman Teryushkov, Galina Gracheva, Sergey Nesterov and Alexander Tkachev, who read out a welcome address from the RCF President Andrey Filatov. It goes without saying that the opening ceremony could not do without creative and dancing events.

Roman Teryushkov is making the first move in the game Gabrielian - Zvjaginsev The admissible coming late time for the round, established as 15 minutes, allowed the rating favorite Maxim Matlakov to show up later due to traffic, so that the start of the ceremony was shifted to board two instead.

As for the lineup of the participants, this event is undoubtedly the most solid one in the history of Higher Leagues since the men’s section is represented by as many as twenty one 2600-rated players. On the other hand, the number of female players --52-- is just sweeping off-scale. It is not to be ruled out that I might be corrected on this subject by the Higher Leagues guru Dmitry Kryakvin, who is also fighting for qualification into the Super Final while training some young promising athletes at that.

Let us keep in mind that the participants taking 1-5th places are entitled to participate in the Superfinal of the 69th Russian men’s and the 66th Russian women’s chess championships respectively.

It should be mentioned that round one has turned out anything but an easy walk in the park for both tournament favorites. Many games ended in draws (especially in the men’s tournament), whereas certain heavyweights ended up going down to their much lower-rated opponents altogether.

Aleksandr Rakhmanov was defeated by Maxim Vavulin, Andrey Esipenko outplayed Ildar Khairullin, Anton Demchenko went down to Dmitriy Khegay, and Miran Oganian was stronger than Sergei Volkov.

Later there will be more focus on bright victories of the younger generation. Dmitriy Khegay is, of course, also part of this generation, but he outperformed Anton Demchenko in a deep ending. 

Rakhmanov – Vavulin

Black first managed to get a promising position out of the opening to later convert it into a winning advantage as White’s far advanced pawns proved a liability to defend, while his pieces were hard to coordinate.

24…Qg7 leads to material gains for Black: 25. Rf4 (25. Nb1 fails to save a pawn in view of 25…fxg4 26. hxg4 Qh6+ or 26. Rxf8+ Qxf8 27. hxg4 Qh6+) 25…g5 26. Rf3 Qxe5+ 27. Kh1 d4, and White is not going to last long.

Andrey Esipenko won his game playing the white pieces: his formidable opponent Ildar Khairullin was likely willing to take his younger opponent by surprise by opting for once fashionable line of the Sicilian Defense, but, apparently, he got something wrong or had something forgotten in a sharp position. 

Esipenko – Khairullin

White is pressing, and Black commits a blunder on move 34.

34…Rxe5? 35. Rxa5 Ne6 36. Qg4 Nc7 37. Rxe5 dxe5 38. Ba7 Nb5 39. Qxb4. Black resigns.

The following games ended in draws: Gabrielian - Zvjaginsev, Dubov - Bocharov, Sjugirov - Novikov, Prizant - Lysyj, Yuffa - Popov, Riazantsev - Predke, Grachev - Iljiushenok, Bezgodov - Kobalia, Savchenko - Goryachkina, Alekseev - Gavrilov, Kozionov - Goganov, Sarana - Oparin, Truskavetsky - Antipov, Alekseenko - Rodin and Suleymanyants - Chigaev.

Aleksandra Goryachkina is again trying her hand at the men’s tournament, and her draw against Boris Savchenko in round one is a decent start of the race.

In the women’s section of the tournament Ekaterina Kovalevskaya lost to Viktoria Chernyak, Margarita Potapova was stronger than Ekaterina Ubiennykh, Dina Belenkaya went down to Surena Samdanova, Maltsevskaya Aleksandra lost to Diana Faizutdinova and Polina Rodionova outperformed Alexandra Makarenko.

Alina Kashlinskaya and Margarita Schepetkova were unable to outplay Ekaterina Diakonova and Alfia Nasybullina respectively.

Tournament's second seed Ekaterina Kovalevskaya was outplayed by Viktoria Chernyak on subtle nuances of the queen ending with opposite-colored bishops. 

Chernyak - Kovalevskaya

As was proved by subsequent events, Black should not have closed a big diagonal, locking up her bishop. In the game White managed to win the a-pawn and advance it all the way to the queening square.

34…d4 35. Qd3 Qxf2+ 36. Kb3 Qg3 37. Bxa6 Qxh3 38. Qxg6 Qxf3+ 39. Bd3 Kg8 40. a5 Qb7+ 41. Ka4 Qd7+ 42. Bb5 Qd5 43. b3 Qf3 44. a6, and Ekaterina recognized her defeat two moves later.

The tournament has just started, and the favorites will undoubtedly make up for their losses. However, we are looking forward to new sensations and suggest watching games and coverages of the event on our website.