8 March 2019

With a Little Help from Opponents

Eteri Kublashvili reports on Round 3 of the World Team Championships in Astana

With the end of snowstorm marking the start of fine weather in Astana, there cropped up an opportunity of visiting the city's center to take some pictures. The taxi driver gave a detailed narrative of city's history and took us around its main places of sightseeing. The name Astana, standing for “capital city”, has caught on since 1998. At various periods of time this populated locality was named either Akmolinsk, Tselinograd or Akmola, but my “guide” claims that the place had absolutely nothing to write home about before it took over its capital city status from Almaty.

The newly-acquired status imparted impetus for further growth and construction. This place lacks nothing nowadays, its residential sector being subject to intensive construction. Its population now over a million people, the capital city still lacks underground railroad and is at the point of massive construction of above-ground transportation lines. The streets are clean, and modern buildings accommodating offices and various ministries in the city's center feature glass surfaces reflecting the sunlight. Skyscrapers and various buildings are designed by foreign designers mostly.

Major places of sightseeing are scattered along the banks of the Ishim River, them being the Bayterek tower, Ak Orda Presidential Palace, Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, Nur-Astana and Hazrat Sultan mosques, Kazakh National University of the Arts Shabyt, buildings accommodating offices, ministries. and business centers, the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev monument, to name a few. Some pictures are given in the photo gallery below. 

It is nevertheless time to go back to the playhall to see what is going on there. There was no doubt about the key matchup of the round being that between rating favorites China and Russia. 

On board two Ian Nepomniachtchi successfully converted his first player advantage over Yu Yangyi. The Russian outperformed the opponent in the Petroff Defense from a seemingly plain setup by unlocking its latent potential. 

Ian Nepomniachtchi, “This is all about home prep, the idea belongs to Alexander Motylev. Strangely enough, the whole plan is based on seemingly logical moves 13...g6 and 14...Rae8, leading to the trade of rooks; however, despite the apparent simplicity 17.c4 gives White a slightly better position due to space superiority. The exposed dark squares only add to Black’s troubles.

Nepomniachtchi – Yu Yangyi


17. с4! Rxe3 18. Bxe3 Be8 19. c5 

Black’s attempt to solve his problems tactically seems erroneous to me. 19…Qe7? 20. Bg5 Qe1+

As far as I see, the text loses the game as though giving me an extra queen. 

21. Bf1 Bf8 22. Be3



Here I was still undecided between 22. Be3 and 22. Qg3, intending Qb8, but 22. Be3 seemed sufficient since after 22…Qa5 23. Bf4 the Black queen is cut off from the rest of his army, unable to make it to his camp. 23…Qe1 is met by 24. Be5. Honestly, I saw no ideas for him after 23. Bf4.”  

White won a queenside pawn, and it cost Black another pawn to bring his pieces together. Following the trade of queens, the Russian had no problems converting two extra pawns in the bishop ending.

However, Ian's victory was no guarantee of an overall success as Sergey Karjakin and Vladislav Artemiev were clearly worse at the moment, while Alexander Grischuk vs Wei Yi was equally level. 

Ding Liren and Sergey Karjakin channeled the opening into the Catalan. Black got an unpleasant position in which White was pressing virtually throughout all the game and could have probably achieved even more with subtler play. However, called a minister of defense not for nothing, Sergey Karjakin managed to save this difficult endgame by timely ditching a pawn to bring his pieces into action. It is worth mentioning that there was an error creeping into the official broadcast due to a technical glitch, giving a false impression of the Chinese player blundering a pawn in one move, which was never the case, though.

Wei Yi and Alexander Grischuk opened the game into the Italian Opening that promised lengthy maneuvering struggle. Playing Black, the Russian player started seizing the initiative and got an edge towards the time trouble. The Chinese player gave up a pawn in a severe time trouble and transposed into the rook ending. Converting extra material was far from easy, but Alexander did his best to find a winning path. The Chinese GM put up a stubborn defense and succeeded in drawing the game. 

Nevertheless, it did not help the Chinese team from escaping the worst as Bu Xiangzhi got nothing from Vladislav Artemiev, who was defending no less tenaciously. In the middlegame the Chinese player outplayed the Russian, who had to give up his knight for a pair of pawns with only a grievous defense in a joyless ending in store for him. This said, Bu Xiangzhi chose a wrong path and walked into a prearranged trap. He had to give back the knight, and a draw was later agreed in a pawn ending.

This is how the Russians overwhelmed their major opponent and advanced into clear first.

India ended up defeating Egypt 3.5:0.5 to advance into the second by the number of individual points gained. In terms of match points, the Indian players are sharing 2-4 with England and USA, the latter teams having just drawn each other. Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan also drew their match, while Iran defeated Sweden 3.5:0.5.

Tournament standings after round 3:

1. Russia - 6; 2-4. India, USA, England - 5; 5-6. Iran, Kazakhstan - 3; 7. China - 2; 8. Azerbaijan - 1; 9-10. Egypt, Sweden - 0.

Pairings of round four: 

Sweden - Azerbaijan, USA - Kazakhstan, Russia - England, India - China, Iran - Egypt.


As for the women's championship, the Russians had no visible problems overcoming the Egyptians, the 4:0 score speaking for itself. 

On board one Alexandra Kosteniuk and Shahenda Wafa opened the game to the 2.с3 Sicilian. White sacrificed two pawn for active piece play and won a knight in a clever way shortly after. Black’s attempts to win back a piece only resulted in having own queen trapped. The Egyptian player resigned without seeing her queen executed.


Kosteniuk – Wafa


After 23. Qxe7 Black resigns. 23…Qh6 is refuted by 24. g5 Qh5 25. Rh4.

Valentina Gunina was methodically testing the strength of Shrook Wafa’s Berlin formations. Lengthy siege and maneuvering resulted in the Egyptian player committing a blunder and going down.  

Aleksandra Goryachkina gave Eman Elansary not as much as a single opportunity to bail out from the Alekhine Defense. Black opted for the exchange sacrifice in the middlegame, but that only left White with a minor for three pawns. There was no escaping for the Egyptian player as the knight ended up superior in the endgame arising after all major pieces were exchanged off. 

Olga Girya was Black against Tasneem Ehab and solved her opening problems, winning a pawn in the middlegame and converting it confidently.

Team China defeated the host team with a narrow margin.  

Shining with an extremely splendid queen sacrifice was Lei Tingjie on board three against Bibisara Assaubayeva. 

Lei Tingjie – Assaubayeva 


White’s 17.g5 sets a trap that Black walks into. I am not aware if the Chinese player did as much as resort to her trademark facial expressions to mimic being scared, but the Kazakh player opted for 17...Bf5?, which was followed by 18. Qxf5!, and Black is in bad shape whatever her answer. 

The game saw 18…Nfe4 19. Qxe4! Nxe4 20. Ndxe4 Rfd8 21. Nb5.

Despite having a queen on the board, Black is paralyzed, whereas White's initiative is about to gear up. Lei Tintsze did not fail to generate deadly offensive against Black’s king to bring the point home. 

Other games of the matchup saw Ding Yixin outperforming Guliskhan Nakhbayeva, Tan Zhongyi - Abdumalik ending in a draw, and Shen Yang going down to Dinara Saduakassova. 

The Russian and Chinese teams are sharing 6 match points. 

Having outplayed Hungary 3:1, Ukraine is trailing a point behind. Team Georgia has defeated USA 3.5:0.5. Team India has scored a narrow victory over Armenia.  

Tournament standings after round 3:

1-2. Russia, China - 6; 3. Ukraine - 5; 4. India - 4; 5-6. Georgia, USA - 3; 7. Armenia - 2; 8. Kazakhstan - 1; 9-10. Hungary, Egypt - 0.

Pairings of round four: 

Egypt - Hungary, Georgia - Ukraine, Kazakhstan - USA, Armenia - China, Russia - India.