27 February 2018

Vul’s Mystery and the Goblet of Fire

Dmitry Kryakvin reports from Kolomna about the Rapid Grand Prix stage  

Stage two of the Russian rapid chess tournaments has finished in the near Moscow region. The competition was hosted by Kolomna, a nice city not new to similar events and known for a variety of time-honored architectural monuments. Not long ago, the team of organizers, led by an indefatigable Igor Kovpak, hosted Belaya Ladya, the Russian team championship among boys and girls, as well as the 2015 Higher League. While in summer of 2015 there was a certain inconvenience created by an abnormal heat, this winter’s event has enjoyed remarkable conditions. The participants played in a huge and famous ice-skating center, where training in in the meanwhile were the ice-skaters, who had not been admitted to the Olympic Games for whatever reasons.

The current tournament, dedicated to memory of international soldiers, is already fifteenth in a row, but it is for the first time that it has been raised to the Grand Prix status. Its organization is actively assisted by the society of Afghan war veterans, especially by Vladimir Beskov - a coach and chess player who once fought on the Afghan land and in the Caucasus.

It is noteworthy that Vladimir Alekseevich and I challenged each other in a correspondence game. When a student, your author lacked time to go out to tournaments, and a crazy idea struck him to join the quarterfinal of the Open Russian Correspondence Chess Championship. It seemed like a decent performance, which had me rated about 2400 from the first go, but Beskov outplayed me completely back then. The opening was handled into one of the Rauzer Defence lines from the famous game Anand - Kasparov (rapid chess), about which Garry Kimovich wrote: "It is dangerous, but playable.” Meanwhile, Beskov managed to reduce Kasparov’s evaluation to powder ... I have been looking it up in the database - no one has ever tried it in the tournament praxis. There are correspondence games, however.

Chief arbiter Mikhail Krjukov and Vladimir Beskov

The opening ceremony started with the documentary, upon which the official part took over. They began to play an imperial march from the Star Wars, to which the special guests entered the hall.

Speeches were given by several military officers, some of whom went on to take part in the tournament. Then the stage was ascended by Sergey Nesterov, who awarded a number of athletes and chess players of the near Moscow region. The tournament has gathered quite a number of strong grandmasters, but, unfortunately, a few favorites have not made it. "Black magic in action", - joked one of the organizers. Indeed, the flight of grandmaster Pridorozhni was delayed, whereas Chigaev with his impressive 2681 failed to make it into the list of favorites that receive conditions from the organizers; a good reason prevented Morozevich from toeing the starting line as well.

And, most importantly, the dark magicians attacked the main trophy of the tournament. At the opening ceremony Nesterov assured that the first place gets a nice cup, but as soon as Sergey Anatolyevich left, a huge cup was cast a spell upon. The closing ceremony saw the cup of much lesser dimensions, but the local white magicians managed to bring it back in the end.

Sergey Nesterov and a valuable trophy

To display his magician's powers has now turned into a matter of habit for Pavel Ponkratov. There is simply no defeating Pavel unless you have graduated from Hogwarts! Judge for yourself. What a pleasure it is to write reports about the rapid chess tournaments when you have Anatoly Pedashenko responsible for the broadcast. All examples, some 20-odd games of each round are always there on the screens for you to choose from. It is as good as it gets!

In round three the filibuster from Chelyabinsk went through a very unpleasant position against Vitaly Shinkevich, while his game against Maxim Lavrov witnessed a real "avada Kedavra" unravelling before your eyes.

Lavrov – Ponkratov 

Round 4

1.e4 c5 2.c3 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.Ne2 g6 6.0–0 Bg7 7.f3 0–0 8.Be3 cxd4 9.cxd4  

Now Black decides to gang up on d4, overestimating his resources somewhat.  

9…Qb6?! 10.Qd2 Nd7? 11.d5 Nd4

Later Pavel confessed to having overlooked the trivial 11...Qxb2 12.dxc6. The d4-knight is now up against it.


12.Kh1 e5 13.dxe6 fxe6 14.Nbc3 e5 15.Nd5 Qd8 16.Nxd4 exd4 17.Bg5 Nf6 18.Bc4  

Black loses a pawn, being left with yet another weakness on d6, which feels like it is time to quit.  

18…Kh8 19.Nxf6 Bxf6 20.Bxf6+ Qxf6 21.Rad1 Bd7 22.Qxd4 Rac8 23.Bb3 Bb5 24.Rfe1 b6

It is clear that any other grandmaster, playing Black, would have faced the trade of queens in 95% to find himself in a hopeless ending. However, Lavrov seems to have played even stronger...  

25.Qxd6 Qxb2 26.e5 Bc6 27.Rc1 Qf2 28.Rf1 Qe2 29.e6 Rfd8 30.Qf4 Kg7 31.Rce1 Qd2 32.Qe5+ Kh6 33.e7 Rd3 34.Rd1 Qe3 35.Qf6 Be8 36.Qf8+ Kh5  

Not only the white passer is one step from queening, White has a forced checkmate at that: 37.Rxd3 Qxd3 38.g4+ Kg5 39.h4+ Kxh4 40.Qh6+ Kg3 41.Qh2#. Meanwhile, Maxim's not finding it escalates the struggle.  

37.Qg7 Rxd1 38.Qxh7+ Kg5 39.h4+?!

Now winning the game takes the only continuation 39.Rxd1 Rc1 40.h4+ Kf6 (40...Kf5 41.g4+ Ke5 42.Qg7+ Kf4 43.Qh6+) 41.Qh8+ Kf5 42.g4+.  

39...Kf4 40.Bxd1??

Or the spectacular 40.Kh2!!, threatening a check from h6. The blunder allows the black king to run as far as g3 to create decisive threats!  


Black is now set to plug his rook into the offensive along the fourth rank, while the White’s last cartridge fires blank.


41.f4 Qe4 42.Rf3+

Following 42.Rg1 Qxf4 43.Qh8 Rc1 White is stalemated and is unable to prevent the black bishop from appearing decisively on с6! Now the game sees an incredibly spectacular end!  


White resigns in view of an inevitable checkmate after 43.gхf3 Rc1. How on earth does he pull it off? There is definitely no doing it without a certain measure of magic!  

There was no stopping Ponkratov after that! The future winner defeated Alexey Sarana, who started off with six wins, then took a convincing "French" revenge from Sergey Volkov for what had happened in the Voronezh tournament. He even took the ultimate round game, when other prize-takers quietly drew their own ones. Pavel's current rating in rapid chess is around 2750, which places him something like No.20 in the world. The above-mentioned Garry Kimovich is that far off any longer!

Alexey Sarana, Pavel Ponkratov, Aleksey Goganov and the Goblet of Fire

Second place went to Aleksey Goganov, the third - to day one hero Alexey Sarana, while the fourth was sensationally taken by the master Vitaly Shinkevich. Being a U16 Olympic team member, Vitaly used to be a very promising junior player, but living in Perm, far away from the chess centers, could not but have taken its toll. Now Shinkevich has played a real "tournament of his life", having taken down many strong grandmasters and given hard time to Ponkratov, and if it were not for going down to a certain photographer, he could have landed even higher!  

As Vitaly told me, the whole point was that in the evening Grandmaster Vul had set a tricky puzzle for him. White is up a knight, but it is trapped. There are many ways to save it, but neither one works out for him. Neighbors spent the whole night deliberating on the puzzle, and in the morning the native of Perm’s player’s chakras opened, and he began to whitewash everyone!  

Shining in the youngster’s section were Dmitry Tsoi and Volodar Murzin, while Sandugach Shaydullina had no equals among women. The next station on our rapid chess route is the city of Serpukhov!  

Tournament standings for the Rapid Grand Prix in Kolomna: 1st. P. Ponkratov - with 9.5 points out of 11; 2nd. A. Goganov - 8.5; 3rd. A. Sarana; 4th. V. Shinkevich; 5th. S. Volkov; 6th. I. Iljiushenok - with 8 points; 7th. M. Kobalia, 8th. D. Kryakvin, 9th. B. Savchenko, 10th. D. Panchenko, 11th. V. Moiseenko, 12th. A. Triapishko, 13th. D. Kokarev, 14th. V. Zakhartsov, 15th. V. Sviridov, 16th. A. Danin, 17th. P. Potapov, 18th. D. Paravyan - with 7.5, etc.