28 March 2017

Stormbringers vs Carlsen

Russian internet team members Ilya Dudukin and Evgeny Pristalov answering the questions of Dmitry Kryakvin.

Magnus Carlsen's high rating 
With a strong Norwegian club is secured 
Only a daredevil Stormbringer is freely soaring  
over the sea's roar of fury! 
Maxim Gorky 
(in modern interpretation) 

It is no longer a secret that online chess has been on the rise lately. Alongside the already well-established ICC (Internet Chess Club), playchess.com (play zone of Chess Base) and chessplanet.ru (play zone of Chess Assistant), the world web has been conquered by yet another resource named chess.com. 
With the portal featuring an entire team of qualified managers, chess.com has turned into a very successful commercial project from the get-go. It numbers thousands of fans, who are given access to the wealth of chess news and are able to get in touch with qualified trainers about private lessons or share tournaments with elite players. Among other things, Chess.com has become known for Title Tuesday - a heavily funded event, which not only pulls together a half hundred decent grandmasters, but also such stars as Wesley So, Hikaru Nakamura, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, not to mention Magnus Carlsen. 
The English Internet portal, which has come to feature its Russian-language version as well, has recently launched a new project known as Pro Chess League. This team tournament has not stirred much enthusiasm in Russia since our country's "Chess Planet" also runs blitz team events with extremely strong lineups. However, the new league, which clearly stipulates mandatory participation of not only professional athletes, but amateurs as well, unites a constellation of names that belong to the modern chess elite. 

While conversing with FM Ilya Dudukin and Evgeny Pristalov from "Gorky Stormbringers", the only national team on the tournament, the RCF website correspondent tries to gain insights into the bolts and nuts of the event. 

- Ilya and Evgeny, nice to see you! What has moved you into knocking together a team? 
Evgeny Pristalov: Hello! With over 16 000 000 visitors,  Chess.com has crystallized into the most popular chess website of the English-speaking world. Not only does it enable you to play online, but also view training videos, read up on news, chat, etc. Although this site is not yet popular in Russia, it is definitely not entirely without a certain share of our compatriots. I came to know about the tournament known as Professional Chess League (PRO Chess League) through Yury Solomatin, one of our fellow countrymen from Nizhny Novgorod. He came up with a proposal and I embraced it heartily. 
Rules specify that a team is to be representative of a single city, while the majority of players should be its permanent residents. Only one legionnaire is allowed for match. A team's average Elo rating is not to exceed 2500. It essentially means that a team may carry one or two grandmasters at best. One such player that battled for our team at the pre-qualification stage is Evgeny Shaposhnikov. The natives of Nizhny Novgorod were as follows: candidate master (CM) Anton Yatsenko, FM Mikhail Gorozhanin, CM Evgeny Pristalov and a many-time regional champion, FM Ilya Dudukin. 
The matchups are held to the Scheveningen system on a 4x4 basis (each playing each), so that there are as many as 16 games played between teams per round. This said, the time control featured 15 minutes plus a 2-second increment per move starting from move one.  

Ilya Dudukin: I was somewhat confused by the tournament settings, honestly speaking. It was unclear how the organizers intended to address the cheating issue. I believe there are many players to share my opinion: It is quite a disgust to be faced off with a player who feeds you with "engine" moves. 

- This concern was indeed sounded out by all those who I used to discuss this topic with. This is a rapid internet chess, isn't it? What measures were in place against cheaters, I wonder? 
EP: One is not banned from playing at home, but there is a requirement to comply with in that chess players must be "armed" with webcams to exclude the issue of any potential outside help. Resorting to a computer assistance is an option neither since moderators have long since been equipped with dedicated software to help figure out the "cheating" moves. 

ID: I want to jump ahead of myself by noting that the Chess.com moderators lived up to expectations indeed and even ended up disqualifying one of our opponents at the group stage. 

The emblem of Stormbringers

How many teams were there at the start? 
EP: There were 100 grandmasters out of 400 participants. Pre-qualifications were held to the Swiss system, which lands the qualified teams into the group stage. By the way, an impressive 50 000 USD is at stake in the Pro Chess League. Therefore, the lineups are nothing short of mind-boggling:  various teams sported such top-10 FIDE players as Fabio Caruana, Wesley So, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen. 

It did not hold you back from putting yourselves to test of contesting the legends, did it? 
ID: I am not entirely comfortable with the time control format (rapid chess). I have long since merged with the rank of amateur players. My job has nothing to do with chess and my chess life is mainly confined to participating in blitz tournaments. Meanwhile, it takes an entire evening to be over with one round only. However, willing to lend support to a good initiative, I agreed to go for it. 

Everything changed in no time when the drawing of lots grouped us with Norway Gnomes, headed by a Magnus Carlsen. 

"Is it the Magnus Henrikovich?" I asked with a certain note of disbelief in my voice. "Absolutely!" answered Evgeny. 

This is when a boredom evaporated altogether. This is something to tell your grandchildren. It is not every day that you are given a chance to challenge the World Champion himself! Try to put yourself in the shoes of some ordinary guys, who, frankly speaking, are not the ones to set the Thames on fire. However, here they are opposing a living legend in the person of World Champion himself! Besides, it was an excellent chance to help bring chess into the limelight in the Nizhny Novgorod region. 

Ilya Dudukin at the 2013 Superfinal in Nizhny Novgorod

Well, what did you do to bring it into the limelight after all? 
ID: We played the initial rounds of group stage at our homes. However, when it came to decisive qualification and knockout matchups, the players convened at the chess club accommodated with the "Nikitin" hotel.  

Besides being very convenient in and of itself, it came together with the club organizing an online broadcasting of almost every round. The Norwegian clashes were covered live and chess fans could visit the club to immerse into the festive chess atmosphere. I would like to use the opportunity to express my deep gratitude to the Nikitin Hotel director Evgeni Shishenkov for his overwhelming assistance. 

Online battles on large screen


Do you mean to say that it has also turned into a significant enough PR event of the regional scale? 
ID: We tried to cover the Stormbringer battles for the passionate Russian fans to the best of our abilities. I remembered watching the Russian Championship Superfinal broadcast that took place in Nizhny Novgorod several years ago. Back then I took great pleasure from watching the battles and, while listening to Sergey Shipov's live comments in the conference room, I had a sudden feeling of being part of a theatrical performance. 

And here the Nizhny Novgorod chess players are, including the team's founder Evgeny Pristalov, a sports journalist Aleksey Rokotov and myself not only following in the footsteps of the legendary commentator, but having to play as well! All in all, the audience gave quite a positive shoutout to our efforts. 

"Gorky Stormbringers" and their fans

Who did "Gorky Stormbringers" get the better of on their way to quarter finals prior to be pitted against Calsen's team? 
ID: Of crucial importance were matchups versus "Mumbai Movers" (India), "Budapest Gambit" (Hungary) and "Riga Magicians" (Latvia). I performed well against international masters and grandmasters and would steadily score 2.5 points out of 4. However, my victory over a 2700-rated Riga's leader Igor Kovalenko is something treally unforgettable. 

I heard them saying that I was rooted for by a substantial part of fans in the English broadcast and that a charming commentator Fiona Steil-Anthony was even prepared to wage $10 on the second player. 

Kovalenko - Dudukin


Igor handled the opening in an experimental fashion and after the following underwhelming move he fell victim of a devastating attack by the Nizhny Novgorod master. 

17.h3? fxg3! 18.hxg4 

18.Bxh6 Nxh6 19.fxg3 Rxf3 20.Bxf3 Nd4 would have failed big time for White. 


Although an immediate crusher was 18...Bxc1! 19.Rxc1 Bxg4, White is not to be envied now either. 

19.Kd1 Bxg4 20.Bxh6 Bxf3+ 21.Bxf3 Rxf3 22.Rf1 Qh4 23.Qb2 

There is no saving the bishop: 23.Bd2 Nd4 24.Qa4 Qh3, and it is over for White. 

23...Qxh6 24.Rcxf2 Rxd3+ Black was absolutely winning in this position, but in the mutual time pressure rally that followed the Latvian grandmaster managed to put up a fierce resistance and even queen his pawn! However, the instant it happened, Kovalenko's clock displayed zeros! 0-1 (notes by D.Kryakvin). 

Fiona Steil-Anthony: Ten dollars on Ilya Dudukin!

Well, the playoff was rather a challenge, wasn't it? 

EP: A real Final 16 sensation was an impressive 10-6 victory by "Buenos Aires Krakens", a very modest team in terms of names and ratings, over "Miami Champions". The most visual episode of this match was a spectacular offensive, although by far not an impeccable one, by the Argentinean team leader Sandro Mareco, who exploited Hikaru Nakamura's blunder by sacrificing a queen to land his formidable opponent's king in a mating net. Even Leinier Dominguez' steady performance could not help Champions out. 

An intriguing rivalry between two super-powerful teams was gone from the Atlantic Division's final as a result. After all, "Montreal ChessBrahs", the tournament's rating-favorite, managed (albeit with great difficulty) to pull off a 9-7 victory over a modest team "Montclair Sopranos". Meanwhile, a winning goal in this tough match was secured by a legionnaire Fabiano Caruana, who managed to scrape a victory on hanging flags (and on what is otherwise known as sheer luck!) from an absolutely hopeless position against Pascal Charbonneau, a much-lower rated grandmaster from the New Jersey team...
The Montreal team followed it up by taking a relatively easy victory over "Krakens" to win their qualification stage and land into the semi-finals.  

What you say essentially means that each division has passed through a similar wall-to-wall fist fighting experience, right? 
EP: In the Pacific Division "Webster Windmills" with Alexander Shimanov and Ilya Nyzhnyk sensationally knocked out "San Jose Hackers" led by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Daniel Naroditsky, so that it was only due to additional tiebreakers that they were later second to "St. Louis Arch Bishops" captained by Wesley So. 

Meanwhile, in the Central (European) division "Marseille Migraines", led by Maxim Vachier-Lagrave and Etienne Bacrot, were stopped by a not especially reknowned team "Stockholm Snowballs". Worthy of noting is the fact that "Norway Gnomes" would not be part of the European Division, but rather joined the Eastern Division to compete with teams from Eastern Europe and countries of the former USSR and Asia. 

Sitting in the middle is Evgeny Pristalov

Has Magnus in fact played in all their matches? 
EP: I think there are not a few who were much surprised by the world champion's regular appearance for the team. This said, Magnus Carlsen would time and again open his games with 1.b2-b3 to have his opponents crushed before long. Having such a reliable leader, it is quite unsurprising that "Gnomes" ended up scoring a confident 9.5-6.5 victory in the Final 16 over Delhi Dynamite, a weakling team by no means. As for us, we have knocked out Budapest Gambit with a 9.5-6.5 score, while our team would recruit a Kazan master Azat Sharafiev for the crucial matches, Azat being a recognized expert in rapid chess. 

ID: It goes without saying that all eyes were glued to the quarterfinal match with "Norway Gnomes" headed by the World Champion. We wondered whether the Nizhny Novgorod players would succeed in taking at least half a point out of three games, especially since the previous stages had the World Champion taking an experimental approach to his openings. 

However, the champion was in a belligerent mood at the final 16 and won the first three games in style, probably without even as much as having to spend any effort along the way. Each champion's move radiated confidence in own strength. However, in game four his confidence grew into self-confidence and, having a sufficient cushion of time at his disposal in a complex position, Carlsen blundered a piece to Andreikin for no reason at all. 

Andreikin - Carlsen


Even though the Ryazan grandmaster has sacrificed a pawn, his two bishops compensate for the minimum material loss both after 25...b5!? 26.axb6 axb6 27.Rab1, as well as after  25...Nc6 26.Bxc5 Nxa5 27.Bd4. At his moment, however, the world champion stunned his opponent with a knight blunder! 

25...Nd3?? 26.Rxd3, and White had no difficulties converting his material advantage. 

"It is surprising how a half-hour victory over Carlsen is likely to make you into a hero more than winning a strong open! I was asked to help in the quarterfinals against strong rivals led by Magnus. 

The curiosity took the better of me as I had never played online chess in front of a web camera. As for our game, the champion committed a one-move knight blunder in a complex position and it took me a couple dozen moves to have my edge converted. That's it! I definitely made one strong move in the game - 26.Rxd3!" as was commented on his victory for our website by the European blitz champion Dmitry Andreikin (notes by D.Kryakvin). 

Another duel between Dmitry Andreikin and Magnus Carlsen ended in the champion's failure

EP: The match pace was dictated by the more distinguished players, although an excellent performance by board one Dmitry Andreikin against Magnus Carlsen in an over-the-board encounter made the final result 6.5-9.5 quite acceptable, even if somewhat disappointing nonetheless. After all, Dmitry Andreikin's enrollment was meant to buttress our team precisely because it was essential that we give fight to such a formidable opponent. 

Thus, the tournament semifinals scheduled on March 25 will see "Norway Gnomes" and "Montreal ChessBrahs" facing "Stockholm Snowballs" and "St Louis Arch Bishops" respectively.     

By the way, the group stage had us pitted against "Gnomes" already, whereupon of crucial importance was the encounter between Evgeny Shaposhnikov and Jon-Ludwig Hammer, which Chess.com nominated as the week's most spectacular. 

Hammer - Shaposhnikov


Who is going to have the last say - a bishop or three pawns? While Hammer was in time trouble, Shaposhnikov had enough time left on his clock to be precise in his actions. 


After 44...Kf7?! 45.Nd4! one of the black pawns drops. 

45.Kg1 Kf7 46.Kf1 Ke6 47.Nc5+? 

Despite the transparency of the Norwegian player's desire to trade knights, it backfires after a sequence of forced moves. A tougher continuation is 47.Ke2 Kd6 48.h4 c5 49.Nc1 Kc6 50.Nd3 d4, but the winning chances are there with Black nonetheless. 

47...Nxc5 48.Bxc5 b3 49.Ba3 d4 50.Ke2 Kd5 51.Bc1 c5 52.Kd1 c4 

The black pawns have materialized as if out of nowhere! With each half point being worthy of gold in a team event, Jon fought to the last bullet. 

53.Bxf4 c3 54.Bh6 d3  

55.Bg7 Kc4 56.Kc1 b2+ 57.Kb1 d2 58.Kc2 b1Q+ 59.Kxb1 Kb3 60.Bxc3 d1Q# What an impressive game finish! (notes by D.Kryakvin). 

Grandmaster Evgeny Shaposhnikov - a modern Internet blitz Labourdonnais


Is the tournament about to bring any changes into lives of the Nizhny Novgorod chess players? 
ID: We will go back into harsh reality, most obviously. Any dizziness with success issue is completely out of the question, however. It is as soon as this week that the Volga Federal District championship starts out in Nizhny Novgorod, which will gather almost all "Gorky Stormbringers" teammates. Their low-rated young and talented rivals may well start giving a hard time to the freshly baked heroes, repeating time and again: forget about Carlsens, Hummers and Kovalenkos! Do not be mistaken, even though we are young and not yet rated 2650, we are definitely after you! 

In general, I hope that the Nizhny Novgorod chess players did pretty much what Peter the Great achieved in terms of chopping a window to Europe. Unfortunately, the tournament has not created much stir in Russia. 

Meanwhile, the final 16, among other things, embraced such Elo-favorites as Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Therefore, it gives ordinary chess fans almost an exclusive opportunity to challenge the chess world's vanguard. 

I am sure that season two battles will feature a bunch of Russian teams already, while "Gorky Stormbringers" will forever remain the Russian pioneer of the unofficial online World Cities Championship. 
Pictures taken from ChessPro, Chess Base, Chess.com