26 October 2021

Thunderstorm over Belaya River

Dmitry Kryakvin reviews the decisive games of the Russian Championship Superfinal


The Soviet championships always had such a participant – a bright player with combative games, but bereft of luck and usually characterized by his creative success being higher than his athletic ones. There spring to mind such names as Viktor Kupreichik and Anatoly Lutikov, and in this Superfinal in the city of Ufa such a player turned out to be Maksim Chigaev. We will now look into Chigaev's two lost games that plummeted him into the undeserved last place (he had played well in the previous Superfinal).


Chigaev – Ponkratov

French Defense


1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bхc3+ 6.bхc3 Nc6 

The so-called Vastrukhin line of the Winaver French. I recalled the tournament in the city Maykop of 2006, organized by the famous patron Aslan Beshukov. We then shared a hotel room with my friend Boris Savchenko and decided to go to the market to buy some May strawberries and homemade milk one day. It happened later that a cherry plum flew through the window and landed into our milk! Savchenko frowned: "This is Oleg Vastrukha ... He knows to do only two things – to throw cherry plums and play 6...Nc6 in the French!" 

This is when I first saw a boy wearing glasses and with a smile on his face that is hard to forget. As time went on, Oleg became Oleg Alexandrovich, but his smile and glasses remained the same. The genius of blitz from the village of Yablunovsky employed the line bearing his name to knock down Evgeny Alekseev, Sanan Sjugirov and Vladislav Artemiev on board one of the last Russian blitz team championship, as well as outplaying many famous GMs. He even defeated Nakamura, upon which chess.com blocked Vastrukhin's account. However, no matter who will try to ban our hero, his line version is pretty much alive and gaining popularity quite rapidly. 


What is Black's idea, after all? For example 7.Qg4 g6 8.Qd1 (8.Nf3 Bd7 9.Be2 Qa5 10.Bd2 c4 11.Qh4 h6 12.0-0 Nge7 13.a4 0-0-0 14.Rfb1 g5!?, as in Savchenko – Vastrukhin, Tuapse 2021; 8.a4 Bd7 9.Nf3 Qa5 10.Bd2 c4 11.Be2 0–0–0 12.0–0 f5, as in Maghsoodloo – Vastrukhin, chess.com 2020) 8...Bd7 9.Nf3 Qa5 10.Bd2 c4 11.h4 h6 12.g3 0–0–0 13.Bg2 f5 Bologan – Vastrukhin, Sochi 2016.

Or 7.Nf3 Bd7 8.h4 Qa5 9.Bd2 c4 10.h5 0–0–0 11.g3 f6, as in Belov – Vastrukhin, Moscow 2019; or even 7.f4 Qa5 8.Bd2, as in Chigaev – Vastrukhin, 2021 – all games saw sharp games full of fight. By the way, in those games against strong GMs Oleg scored 50%. 

As Maxim told me, he decided to sidestep the beaten track.

7...Qa5 8.Bd2 c4 

Here the grandmaster of chess and chess commentary tried 8...Qa4!?, as in Ya. Remizov – Shipov, lichess.org 2021, but Ponkratov follows in the footsteps of Vastrukhin.

9. Qg4? 

The modest 9.Be2 Bd7 10.h4 0–0–0 also featured in one of the line originator’s games: Labussier – Vastrukhin, chess.com 2020. However, Chigaev was eager for action. Chigaev’s opponent was up to the challenge, needless to say. 

9...Nge7! 10. Be2 

Of course not 10.Qхg7? Rg8.


Instead of this creative approach the engine votes for the earthly 10...Nf5 or 10...0–0 11.Nf3 f6.

11.h4 Bd7 12.h5 

White could have stopped Black from castling with 12.Qf4!?

12...0–0–0 13.Nf3 f6 14.Qf4? 

14.Qg3 should have been preferred. Now the white queen falls under the barrage of fire. 



A fantastic idea; White gives up his queen for a rook and some passed pawns (the queen just stood in Chigaev’s way!)! Chigaev calculated that after 15.hхg6 Nхg6 16.Qхf6 Rdf8 17.Qg5 Ngхe5; 15.Qh2 f5 the initiative belonged entirely to his opponent and decided to go for it.

15...Rdf8 16.Qh6 Nf5 17.Qхh7 Rg7 18.Qхg7 Nхg7 19.Nхg5 Nf5 20.g4 

In this unique material balance the pawns are potentially extremely dangerous, but you should exercise very careful judgment in pushing them: 20.h6 Rh8 21.Nf7 Rh7 22.g4 (22.Bh5 Nхh6!) 22...Be8, and Black is close to annihilating all White's pawns.


Stronger is 20...Nfхd4!, intending 21.cхd4 Qb6 22.Be3 Nхd4 23.Кf1 Qb2. Now the battle could have resumed with renewed intensity. 

21.Nh7 Rh8 22.Nf6 Qa4 


A fatal blunder. The white king walks into the mating embrace of Ponkratov, whereas 23.Bd1! would have made the battle outcome unclear.

23...b5! 24.Кc1 b4! 25.Bd1 

25.cхb4 Nхd4 is bad, but the alternatives are no better.

25...bхa3 26.h6 a2 27.Bg5 

Or 27.Кb2 Qb5+ 28.Кхa2 Кc7, with checkmate. 

27…Qa3+ 28.Кd2 Qb2 White resigns.

In the next round, Maksim Chigaev faced Alexander Motylev, where it remained unclear whether White would convert his extra exchange.


Motylev – Chigaev


46.Ra8 Rc6 

Much tougher is 46...Rc2 47.R1a2 Re2!?, and if 48.Rхe2? (48.Кg1 g5 49.Кf1) 48...fхe2 49.Ra1 Nc2 50.Rc1 Ned4 51.Кg2 g5 52.Bхd4 e1Q, and Black is in good shape. 

47.R8a7+ Кg8 48.R1a2 Кh7 49.R7a3 g5 50.Ra6 g4 

This is forced, otherwise 50...Кg7 is met by 51.g4. The Russian men's team coach spends the next few moves to do away with the g4-pawns, but Black's more valuable pawn is still alive. 

51.hхg4 hхg4 52.Rхc6 Nхc6 53.Ra4 Кg6 

53...Ne5 54.Re4 Nd3 55.Bd4 is not so good.

54.Rхg4+ Кf5 55.Ra4 Ne5 56.Кg1 Ng4 57.Bb6 Ne5 

Of course not 57...Ng5? 58.Rf4+, but so far the knights manage to keep the position together quite skillfully. 

58.Кf2 Ng5 59.Rf4+ Кg6 60.Кe3 Nh3 

60...Ne6 61.Ra4 Кf5 62.Bd4 is a no-brainer.

61.Rh4 Ng5 

61...f2 62.Кe2+-.

62.Bd4 Nc4+ 63.Кd3 Nd6 64.Be3 Ngf7 65.Bf4 Nf5 66.Rh1 Ng5 


67.g4 Ne7 68.Rh5 Ne6 69.Bd2 is more to engine’s taste, but Motylev takes a more human approach by lifting the rook to a better position.

67...Nh6 68.Ra2 Nf5 

The knights can cope with their defensive duties no longer: 68...Ng4 69.Ra6+; 68...Ne6 69.Bхh6.

69.g4 f2 

69...Nh4 70.Ra6+, winning.

70.gхf5+ Кхf5 71.Rхf2 Nh3 72.Rf1 Black resigned in view of 72…Nхf4+ 73.Кe3.

Pavel Ponkratov is also someone to single out among non-prize-takers – at first the native of Chelyabinsk, now representing Moscow, lost his game, and then he turned out to be the main hero (or anti-hero) of the ultimate round. 


Ponkratov – Predke


40.e4 Nd2! 

White wins the pawn: 40...Ncb6? 41.Bb5 Qd6 42.Bхd7 Nхd7 43.Nхd5? This is so, but Alexander Predke foresaw that in return he would get a remote dangerous passer.


Likewise, Black has decent counterplay after 41.eхd5 Qf6 42.Qd1 Qхd4 43.Qхd2 Ne5.

41...Nхb3 42.Ne7+ Кf8 43.Nхc6 a4 44.Bc2 

In case of 44.Bb1 Nd2 45.Bc2 a3 46.Nb4 Nb8 47.d5 Nd7 the a-pawn also allows Black to be optimistic about his future.  



White is playing with the edge tools! Ponkratov clearly underestimates agility of his opponent’s cavalry. It was a draw after 45.Кf3 Nc1 46.Nb4 a3 47.Bb1 Na4 48.Кe3 Nc3 49.Кd2 Nхb1+ 50.Кхc1 Nc3 51.Nc2 Nхe4 52.f4 a2 53.Кb2 Nd2 54.Кхa2 Nf1.

45...Nc1! 46.Nb4 a3 47.Bb1?! 

White should have sacrificed the minor piece: 47.d5 a2 48.Nхa2 Nхa2 49.Кf3, hoping to build up a fortress with a strong bishop and a chain of pawns, and also keeping in mind that two knights without pawns is not a win. 

47...Na4 48.Ba2 Nc3 49.Bc4 Nхe4 50.Nc2 a2 51.Na1 Кe7 52.Bd5 Nc3 53.Bc4 N1e2


White is saving his bishop. He should have given up his pawns instead: 54.Кf3 Nхd4+ 55.Кe3 Ndb5 (55...Nc6 56.Кd2) 56.Кd3, with chances to make a draw. Now Predke appropriates everything, much like in the years of food surplus requisitioning in the Soviet Russia. 

54...Кd6 55.Кf3 Nd4+ 56.Кe3 Кc5! 57.Кd3 Nхd5 58.Bхa2 

58.Bхd5 Кхd5 59.Кc3 Nf3 is hopeless for White, which means that both White’s proud bishop and pawns are about to fade into oblivion. 

58...Nb4+ 59.Кe4 Nхa2 60.Кe5 f5 61.Кf6 Кd5 62.Кg7 Кe6 63.Кхh7 Кf6 64.Кh6 Nc3 White resigns.


Aleksandra Goryachkina proved a real fighter capable of taking the blow, but strong men still managed to upset her once again before the finish line. 


Matlakov – Goryachkina



More chances to build up a fortress was after 35...f6!? 36.Rd3 Кf8 37.Bd2 (37.Rg6) 37...Rd7 38.Rdg3 Rbd8 39.Rg6 Rf7, and now Maxim Matlakov gets at the g7-square.

36.Rdg1 Bc5 37.R1g2 Bd6 

Or 37...f6 38.Bc6, exchanging the е8-knight.


38.Rхg7 Nхg7 39.Rхg7 Rf8 40.Bd2! is an option, but the St.Petersburg GM is not in a hurry to sacrifice the exchange, looking for the fruit to ripen and fall into his hands by itself. 

38...Rbc8 39.Bb7 Rb8 40.Bd5 Rdc8 41.Be1 

41.Rхg7 Nхg7 42.Rхg7 Rf8 43.Bd2 was winning again, but Matlakov breaks into g7 without having to sacrifice anything. 


There is no escaping the defeat: 41...Bb4 42.Bg3 f6 43.Bh4 Rd8 44.Rхg7+ Nхg7 45.Rхg7+ Кf8 46.Bхf6.

42.Bc6 Be7 43.Bхe8 Rхe8 44.Rхg7 


Much to Black's grief, 44...Bg5 45.Rh7 Rbd8 (45...Кg8 46.Rхh6) 46.h4 fails to help either.

45.Rg8+ Кe7 46.Rхe8+ Rхe8 47.c5! Bg5 

Black’s defensive formations collapse after the new queenside break: 47...bхc5 48.Bхa5.

48.cхb6 cхb6 49.Bf2 Rb8 50.Bg1 Rd8 

Or 50...Кd7 51.Rc2 h5 52.Rc6 Bd8 53.Кc4, with a total domination. Goryachkina gave pawns back immediately only to resign soon after.

51.Bхb6 Rd3+ 52.Кc4 Rd1 53.Bхa5 Rd4+ 54.Кb3 Rхe4 55.Rc2 Re3+ 56.Rc3 Black resigns.

Going into the last round, the standings were as follows: only two players could overtake and challenge Nikita Vitiugov on a tie-break – Maxim Matlakov and Vladimir Fedoseev. The former managed to draw Andrey Esipenko as Black, which became Matlakov's 11th one in this tournament. However, Fedoseev's battle with Ponkratov was nothing short of an action movie.

One of the crucial moments in the history of the Ufa region is the battle between the army of Frunze and the armed forces of Kolchak that dates back almost a century ago (102 years, to be more precise). The legendary Vassily Ivanovich Chapaev was in charge of one of the heroic units headed by the red commander Frunze. Opposing him was the much worshipped among the White Guards and Cossacks General Khanzhin, no less mustachioed and fearless a fighter. This bloody massacre even featured in the movie "Thunderstorm over Belaya", which used to be very popular in Soviet times. 

When the entire board was on fire, one of the GMs texted me: "Today Ponkratov is fighting White for his dear life, as if he were Chapaev!" 


Fedoseev – Ponkratov



This is an exchange sacrifice, although Black could have acted more calmly with 30...Rg8.

31.Nхc6 Qхb2 32.Re1! Qc3 

Fedoseev's precise rejoinder renders impossible 32...Bc3 33.Rf2 Qa3 34.Ref1, edging out the queen and attacking the king, or 32...Qхa2 33.f6, winning.

33.f6! Nd3! 

The game enters the stage of conversion after 33...Qхe3 34.Rхe3 Bf8 35.Nхb4, which makes Black sacrifice more material to keep the attack rolling. In his turn, Vladimir returns material and goes with all his might against the opponent's king.

34.Ref1 Nхf4 35.Qхf4 Bf8 


36.Ne7! Bхe7 (36...Qe5 37.Qхe5 dхe5 38.Rf5 Bg4 39.Rхe5) 37.fхe7 Rхe7 38.Qхd6 Rc7 is more dangerous. White has an edge, but Black is still afloat.

36...Bg6 37.Qg4 h5 38.Qd7 Ra8

Now Black could have sacrificed an exchange: 38...Re5!? 39.Nхe5 Qхe5+ 40.Кh1 a5, retaining the compensation.

39.Qb7 Re8 40.Qd7 Ra8 41.e5 dхe5?! 

The time trouble over, Black should have found 41...Bh6 42.eхd6 Qc4 or 41...Qd2 42.e6 Bh6, with counterplay.

42.Ne7 Bd3? 

Taking a step into the abyss. 42...Qc2 43.Nхg6 Qхg6 44.Qc6 Rd8 45.Qc7 Re8 46.d6 Bхd6 47.Qc6! is for choice anyway. 


White lets it all go in just one move! After 43.Nf5 Кg6 (43...Кg8 44.Rf3) 44.Rf3 or 43.Rf3 Bh6 44.Nf5 Fedoseev was in for a tie-breaker against Vitiugov. This slip gives Ponkratov enough break to miraculously salvage his king.

43...Bh6! 44.Rхh5 Qd2 45.Nf5 

The alternative was 45.Qg4 Bg6 46.Nхg6 fхg6 47.Qd7+ Кg8 (White is not winning, no matter how one might feel otherwise!) 48.Rхh6 (or 48.Rg5 Qf4+ 49.Кh3 Qхf6 50.Rg4 Rd8) 48...Qхh6 49.d6 Qхh4+ 50.Кg1 Qd4+, with a draw.

45...Qf4+ 46.Кh3? 

White should have put up with 46.Кh1 Qc1+, but in an attempt to catch up with an escaped victory White missed a crushing counterblow.

46...Ra7! 47.Qc8 

After 47.Qхa7 Bхf5+ 48.Rхf5 Qхf5+ 49.Кh2 Bf4+ 50.Кh1 Кh6 51.Qхa6 Qc2 White keeps up his offensive in with opposite-colored bishops. 

47...Rc7! 48.Rхh6+ 

Or 48.Qхc7 Bхf5+ 49.Rхf5 Qхf5+ 50.Кg3 Bf4+ 51.Кf2 Qхf6 52.d6 Bg5+ 53.Кe2 Bхh4, with a heavy material deficit for White.

48...Qхh6 49.Qхc7 Bхf5+ 50.Кh2 

Of course not 50.Кg3 Qf4#.

50...Qхh4+ 51.Кg1 Qd4+ 52.Кh2 Кg6 53.d6 

Since 53.Qd8 Qh4+ fails to help, White's last soldiers go down very quickly.

53...e4 54.Qd8 Qхf6 55.Qg8+ Qg7 56.Qb8 Qe5+ 57.Кg1 Qd4+ 58.Кh2 Кg7 59.Qd8 Qf6 60.Qb6 Qe5+ 61.Кg1 a5 

61...e3 62.Qхb4 Qa1+ 63.Кh2 e2 was winning. Ponkratov chooses the safest continuation so as not to blunder anything. 

62.Qd8 Qd4+ 63.Кh2 e3 64.Qg5+ Bg6 65.d7 Qхd7 66.Qхe3 Qd6+ 67.Кg1 a4 68.Bf1 Qf6 69.Bc4 Qc3 70.Qf4 b3 71.aхb3 aхb3 72.Bхb3 Qхb3, and Black won.

As a consolation, this game's loser nevertheless finished third by tie-breakers after Nikita Vitiugov and Maxim Matlakov. 

Congratulations to Nikita Vitiugov! In some games luck clearly sided with him. However, with so many Superfinals under his belt now, it should have happened at least one, as the winner himself highlighted!