20 November 2015

Contrary to the Pushkinian Plot

Dmitry Kryakvin reports on the World Junior Chess Championship.

If we think about cities where Russians play traditionally badly, one of the worst for them is Porto Carras, surpassed only by the notorious Ningbo. It's those cities that saw the greatest failures by adult teams playing under the Russian white, blue, and red flag, and now the national children's team faced a catastrophe in Greece as well.   

Your author has spent the last four years in the very heart of Russian children's chess: I observed young talents' play in Loo, met their parents, and also played versus a vast majority of our young stars in various stages of Russian Cups (which wasn't too good for my rating, by the way). I dare say, the latest Russian delegation was the country's strongest over the last few years. This very team had just won the European Championship with flying colors. And while previously Russians were wiped out of the fight for medals after barely starting to play, this time almost 20 Russian players competed for the pedestal. But only four of them were able to make it to the top three, even though Ilya Makoveev and Andrey Esipenko would only go for the first place, of course...  

Theoretically, the outcome was to be decided by the Russian ― Indian encounter, but unlike our players, the Indians converted all their advantage and gained – just imagine – 11 medals, including five gold ones! Watching the Russians' games online (with a 30-minute delay under the FIDE anti-cheating rules) in the last two rounds was excruciating: Aleksandr Poroshin, who had been performing very well, scored just 0.5 out of 2 before the finish (U8); Volodar Murzin lost in the penultimate round to an Indian, and the latter finished ahead of Makoveev (U10); and Arseniy Nesterov lost his last game in a disappointing way (U12). In the U14 age group both Sergei Lobanov and Timur Fakhrutdinov had a catastrophe at the finishing line: with his 40th move poor Timur both lost the medal and deprived Esipenko of the champion's title. To our great regret, Alexey Sarana's opponent in the last round was the rating favorite Francesko Rambaldi, and in his desperate position Sarana was unable to repeat Mikhail Antipov's Khanty-Mansiysk feat. In the girls' section, Galina Mironenko, Margarita Zvereva (G10), Elizaveta Solozhenkina (G12), and the fantastic four Alexandra Obolentseva, Aleksandra Maltsevskaya, Ekaterina Goltseva and Polina Shuvalova (G14) had good chances for success, but the Russian girls lacked a little bit of luck. It was particularly frustrating for Obolentseva and Shuvalova, who finished 4th and 5th respectively. On the whole, it turned out that the Russians beat each other in the G14 group, allowing their rivals to advance...

Here are some examples of Russians' disasters.

Murzin (Russia) – Praggnanandhaa (India)
Round 10

Volodar Murzin is a very talented boy from Russia's Nizhny Tagil. I saw him for the first time at the team championship of the Urals Federal District of Russia. In one of the rounds, the Tyumen region's team played against Tagil's junior team, and a small fair-haired boy opposed master Oleg Yuzhakov at one of the boards. I won my own game quickly and started watching their game, which surprised me more and more with every move! The young Murzin played very skillfully in the tense positional game and was quite a match for Yuzhakov: the latter could only win in a late endgame stage. Besides, Volodar's mother told me that her son had started playing chess quite recently. He's a real Urals gem faceted by his coach Jaroslav Prizant.    

Even now the Tagil boy outplayed the future champion positionally with ease. It was White's move, and had Murzin played the aggressive 27.Qe2!, the c6 pawn would have been doomed, Makoveev would have been a champion, and Volodar a medal winner, but...

27.Qf4?! Qb2! 28.Qg5 Rd2, the decorations changed, the position became much sharper and switched in Black's favor, and after resisting for 63 moves the Russian resigned.

Nesterov (Russia) - Muradli (Azerbaijan)
Round 11

This game is a real drama. The Nizhny Novgorod player Arseniy Nesterov has recently gained a lot of chess muscle, winning among others the very strong Champions' Tournament held by his father Sergey Nesterov. To consider that just this spring in Loo Arseniy's father was terribly upset with his son's failure and wondered if it was worth playing chess any more. I think that Nesterov Jr. answered this question very convincingly in the recent tournaments.

Arseniy Nesterov played well in Porto Carras too: take his technical win over Armenia's Mamikon Gharibyan, or his forceful victory with an exchange sac against Hans Niemann, a sophisticated American player. The Nizhny Novgorod player shared the 1st to 5th places before the last round, and another win would have brought him a silver.

40.Nхd5! Na2 41.f4 gхf3 42.Kf2 looks very strong: the black knight is out of game, the white pieces dominate and his passers, unlike Black's, are about to be promoted. The position seemed to be close to a technical win. But the 40th move is a control move, and the game was played in bad mutual time trouble. Arseniy checked with his rook on d8, then started grabbing the b7 pawn... As a result, Black was able to push his pawns to the coveted last rank before his opponent...

Vokhidov (Uzbekistan) – Fakhrutdinov (Russia)
Round 11

Timur Fakhrutdinov, a young star from Verkhnyaya Pyshma, has already proved his worth at international competitions and is rightfully seen as the Sverdlovsk region's hope. Timur and his coach Sergey Zhuravlev often get help from Russia's 2014 champion Igor Lysyj, who generously shares his countless theoretical ideas with the young talent. Fakhrutdinov is a strong-willed guy, a fine close-in tactician, and a good defender, and what happened to the Uzbek prodigy in this game is very unusual for him...

A very strong continuation would have been 40...c5! 41.Qe4 Bd3 42.Qe1 (42.a6+?! Ka7 would only have pushed the pawn closer to its death) 42...Bf5 43.Re2 h4: Black's pieces are located very well, and White's pawns are weak. Vokhidov would have been at the brink of a loss, which would have given the champion's status to Esipenko and the second place to Fakhrutdinov, but for the time trouble, the last few seconds remaining, and the fatal 40th move...

40...Qd8? 41.Rxh5 Qxa5 42.Rh7+ Nc7 43.Qd6! Black was paralized and unable to save the game.

Sarana (Russia) – Martirosian (Armenia)
Round 8

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Ba6 5.Qc2 Bb7 6.Bg2 c5 7.d5 exd5 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.0–0 Be7 10.Qe4 

Alexey Sarana, Vladimir Belov's student, is already a player with almost a grandmaster's strength, and he has collected a lot of GMs' scalps. He is an opening theory expert, and it's difficult to survive the opening with Black against him. And an opening bomb from Belov rarely gives you a chance to save the game. 

In this well-known position of Queen's Indian Gambit Black has three moves: Karjakin's defense 10...Na6 and Anand's defense 10...Bc6. As well as 10…Qc7, which... loses! Aik Martirosian is a gifted Armenian player and one of the heroes of the 2014 Young Stars tournament in Kirishi. He took the third place in Porto Carras. I had talked about Aik with GM Ashot Anastasian, a well-known expert from Armenia. "He is a very strong guy, talented, he already plays like a good master. But he doesn't know the theory at all..." said Anastasian with a little smile. And the game with Sarana confirmed the authoritative coach's feedback.

10…Qc7? 11.Ne5?

Alexey, how come? That White wins here was proven 26 years ago by none other than coach of the Russian youth team Konstantin Sakaev! After 11.Nh4! Bc6 12.Nf5 g6 13.Nc3! gxf5 14.Nxd5 Black has a poor choice between 14…fxe4 15.Nxc7+ and 14...Qd6 15.Qxf5 (Sakaev - Ekstroem, 2009) with a terrible position for Black.


A beautiful tactical resource as if to confirm Anastasian's words! If 12.Qхd5, then 12…Nd8!, and 12.Nхf7 will be followed by 12…Nf6! Sarana had to capture with his queen on d5 and then on d7, with an equal endgame that resulted in a draw.

To be honest, the U16 tournament surprised me the most. So many strong players started the race, but it was Germany's Vogel who won, even though he hadn't been so formidable at previous tournaments.

Beydullayeva (Azerbaijan) – Solozhenkina (Russia)
Round 8

Elizaveta Solozhenkina, a rising star from the Leningrad region, is a European champion in her age group and a prize winner of the Russian rapid and blitz women's championship that was held on the Neva riverside this May. The young player, who has a positional style unusually pure for her age, fought for the medals till the last move, but she was unlucky in two endgames, the one below and the other in the penultimate round versus a Vietnamese player.

Black has kept a healthy extra pawn, which she should have converted after the precise 27…Rd4! Unfortunately, Liza hurried to play 27…a5?! 28.Rc1 c6 29.Rc5, Beydullayeva won the pawn back and defended very tenaciously after that, so a draw ensued.

Obolentseva (Russia) ― Grigoryan (Armenia)
Round 9

Russia had the strongest teams in the U14 age both in the boys' and girls' sections. Alas, Alexandra Obolentseva, Polina Shuvalova, and Aleksandra Maltsevskaya shared the third place, but were only the fourth, the fifth, and the seventh according to the tiebreakers, with Ekaterina Goltseva only half a point behind. Moscow's Obolentseva, Vladimir Wulfson's student, came very near getting the medal.

Positionally, Alexandra played a flawless game and outplayed her opponent completely. Now after 45.Rc6! White would have inevitably grabbed on d6, and then on b4, since it's hopeless to play 45…Red8 46.Rхb4 Kf8 47.Rc7! Ke8 48.Rbc4 with the white king marching to the queenside, and the game shouldn't have taken long to finish. But Obolentseva played too fast: 45.Rхb4?, and after 45…Kf8 it turned out that Black had the time to get the king to the dangerous passer. A regrettable loss of half a point, which was so much needed in the end...

Antova (Bulgaria) – Shuvalova (Russia)
Round 11

But it was probably Polina Shuvalova who felt the worst aftertaste following the world championship. The winner of the Antova ― Shuvalova game would have finished second in the tournament, and everyone was expecting a real all-or-nothing carnage. But no off-the-board factors affected the Bulgarian, who played 1.d4, 2.Nf3, 3.Bf4 and then kept swapping the pieces, forcing the inexplicably coveted draw. Which left Polina the fifth, and Antova the sixth... That was very strange, particularly in women's chess, and particularly with an opponent from Topalov and Danailov's country. Shuvalova had only one chance to trap her opponent.

After 29...e4 2.Nb2 Gabriela forced the draw, which was so bad for both opponents, with a hand of steel, which is why Polina should have tried 29...Bh6! 29.Bd2 (29.Bf2 f5 left the pawn b4 unprotected) 29...e4 30.fxe4 Bxe4, and Black would have had a more pleasant position and could have played for a win. Alas, this didn't happen on the board.

Unlike Porec, where Russians scored every goal they were or weren't supposed to score, the Porto Carras championship was much gloomier. Apparently, their entire deposit of luck was exhausted during the Croatian trip. But I think it's too early to pull one's hair out lamenting that the days of Russian youth chess are counted. New names have appeared, and top class players have grown up in most of the ages; FIDE might even allow Crimea's Olexandr Triapishko to play at a world championship one day... 

As you know, the world youth championship will be held in two countries next year. The senior three age groups will compete in Russia's hospitable Yugra, and it's easier to play on one's home turf. The important thing is to keep coaching our little stars as intensively as last year, when grandmasters' centers were opened and well-known coaches came to the Russian Chess Federation's training camp. I would like to use this opportunity to thank once again Mark Gluhovsky, Evgeniy Solozhenkin, and Sergey Janovsky for their efforts that made Andrei's training session with Konstantin Sakaev possible.     

But let's move on to the medalists, after all!

Ruslan, Ratmir and the wizard Chernomor 

The boys' U18 group seemed to be the most formidable. The top three places were contested by GM Kirill Alekseenko, the winner of the Polugaevsky Memorial and the Chigorin Memorial, as well as IM Daniil Yuffa, who was the 10th at the U20 World Championship in Khanty-Mansiysk. Even though the Russian players came behind the magnificent Iranian Mosadeghpour with a demonic appearance, Daniil and Kirill never gave any reason to doubt that they would win the second and the third places.      

Sosa (Argentina) – Yuffa (Russia)
Round 7

Before encountering the Argentinian, Daniil lost to the future winner from Iran in a very disappointing way. He lured the Iranian into a prepared variation, got a better position, but then made a gaffe, became nervous and made another gaffe, and finally failed to defend a worse endgame... Yuffa needed an immediate comeback, so in a game versus the 2400-rated Argentinian player he developed one of his hallmark attacks, which are so loved by older Tyumen players, but made his numerous coaches turn gray and lose hair. Anyway, to each his own: the players are to sacrifice their pawns and pieces, and the coaches are to take tranquilizers while watching the computer screen. 

Black is short of a full exchange, but Tomas Sosa's king is open and his pieces lack coordination. 

An effective geometric technique wins if 32.Qc3 Qh6! 33.Ng2 Re2!, White gets mated after 32.Ng2 Qg3 33.Kh1 Re2! 34.Rxe2 Qh3+ 35.Kg1 Bxd4+!; and 36.d5 is refuted just as beautifully: 36...Qg3+ 37.Rg2 Nxg2 38.Nxg2 Be5 39.f4 Bc3! 40.d6 Bd2! 

The strongest defense would be to cover the vulnerable square d4: 32.Nc2 h5 33.Rh2 Qg3+ 34.Kh1 hxg4 35.fxg4 Qxg4, but even then White is in dire straits after 36.Qb3 Ne6: he can't protect the king and the d4 pawn at the same time.

32.Nd5? Re2! 33.Qxe2

The queen has to be given away, as the line 33.Rxe2 Bxd4+ 34.Rff2 Qg2# loses.


Even stronger is 33...Nxe2+ 34.Rxe2 Bxd4+ 35.Ne3 (35.Re3 c6; 35.Rff2 Qxf3) 35...f5!, but winning the strongest piece is still enough for a win even in this version.

34.Qe3 Bxe3+ 35.Nxe3 Qg3+ 36.Kh1 Qh4+ 37.Rh2 Qg5 38.Rc2 Nd3 39.Ng2 Nxc5, and then the Argentinian's scattered army acknowledged defeat.

Daniil Yuffa is about to deliver the winning blow

Alekseenko (Russia) – Tran Tuan Minh (Vietnam)
Round 10

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be6?! 8.f4 Qc7

The Championship's senior age group would have been even more impressive, had it included Mikhail Antipov, Matthias Bluebaum, Avital Boruchovsky, Grigoriy Oparin, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Vladislav Artemiev, and Alexander Donchenko. But Mikhail, Jan and Matthias already made their mark at the Junior World Championship, so why would they need a children's contest? Avital is allegedly serving in the Israeli army, Vlad hasn't been playing chess for quite a while, and Grigoriy played for Mark Gluhovsky and Artem Pugachev's team at the Moscow team championship. Those in Porto Carras who had crossed the 2500 threshold included Alekseenko, Turkey's Sanal Vahap, and India's GM Suri Vaibhav. The latter two were not lucky, however: Vaibhav finished the 8th, and Sanal only took the 35th place! Which is an evidence of how dense the composition was.

Other favorites were Cemil Can Ali Marandi (Turkey), Ramil Faizrakhmanov and Maksim Vavulin (both from Russia), Tigran Harutyunian (Armenia), and the Vietnamese player who had performed brilliantly at the Junior Championship in Khanty-Mansiysk. But the good performance of the Czech Matyas Marek and the Australians Rishi Sardana and Justin Tan was somewhat unexpected.

Kirill Alekseenko is a very promising and strong player. He is a great tactician, but he can also play the technical stage of a game flawlessly and convert a minimal advantage. He is a strong-willed player who already won two stages of the Russian Men's Cup, and that's not some children's competitions! Kirill has also won at World Junior Championships. But who knew that the Greek winds would blow so strongly into the Iranian newcomer's sails? Anyway, when Alekseenko had to defeat another Eastern rival in a decisive game, he did this with great confidence.

Although Garry Kasparov and other famous authors mentioned the dangers of the c8 bishop's early development on e6 for Black, even fairly strong chess players sometimes play this way nowadays. And the good recipe's for White is well-known since 1972:  it was shown twice by IM Julio Kaplan at the 1972 Olympiad.

9.g4! h6

Tal and other gurus who faced this novelty in the 20th century went for 9...exf4 10.g5 Nfd7 11.Bxf4 Nc6 12.Qd2, but Black has problems even here: the pawn wedge g5-h4 stops the black bishop from heading for f6, so White can carry on with the typical plan of placing the knight on d5. The 9...h6 defense saved Sicilian lovers for another couple of years in the pre-computer 1970s, but the game Gurevich vs. Balashov (1974) made it clear that White's attack is very powerful even here if he doesn't settle for half measures. 

10.g5! hxg5 11.fxg5 Ng8

I was very surprised when I saw this game of Sergei Lobanov vs. my good old friend Farrukh Amonatov in the 2015 Chigorin Memorial: 11...Nh7 12.Bg4 Bc4 13.h4, and the young man finally got the upper hand. And it would seem that no one was better familiar with the Najdorf Variation then Farrukh!

11...Nfd7 12.Bg4 Nb6 13.Bxe6 fxe6 14.Qg4 Qd7 15.g6 can't save Black, Demianjuk ― Trofimovsky, 2013. Tran Tuan tries protecting the g6 square with the knight on e7.

12.Be3 Nd7 13.Bg4 Qc4 14.Nd2 Qc6 15.Qf3 Ne7 16.0–0–0 0–0–0 17.Nb3 Rh4 18.Bxe6 fxe6

Black is chained to his weaknesses, and his knights on d7 and e7 are stalled like in an Ujtelky scheme performed by Mikhail Popov. Nevertheless, he does have some opportunities, which is why it would have been best to make the prophylactic move 19.Kb1. But Kirill immediately takes the bull by the horns.

19.Qf7 Rh3 20.Rd3 d5!?

The last chance: one doesn't want to give away his infantry for free.

21.exd5 exd5 22.Na5! Qg6?

The Vietnamese master didn't have much time left, and he got confused. Much stronger would have been 22...Qc7! 23.Nxd5 Nxd5 24.Qxd5 Be7, and here White would have had to play 25.Kb1 (in the endgame after 25.Bd2 Nc5 26.Qxd8+ Qxd8 27.Rxd8+ Bxd8 28.Nc4 Ne4 the black pieces' activity fully compensates for the pawn ) 25...Nc5 26.Qg2! Rxe3 27.Rxe3 Qxa5 28.Qg4+ Kb8 29.Rxe5, and Alekseenko would have had an edge with a rook and two pawns versus two minor pieces, but the fight is not over yet.

23.Qxg6 Nxg6 24.Nxd5, and the St. Petersburg player brought the point home effortlessly.

Kirill Alekseenko. Another chess tornado from St. Petersburg

Alas, neither of the Russian warriors could defeat the cunning Iranian wizard. The Central Asian player kept complicating the position and balancing on a thin edge, but each time he emerged unscathed, as if some magical power helped him. As we know from the famous poem by Alexander Pushkin, Ruslan and Lyudmila, three knights set out on a mission against the sorcerer Chernomor, and it was the third knight, Ramil Faizrakhmanov representing the mighty Farlaf, who was able to give the chess wizard a killing blow.

Faizrakhmanov (Russia) - Mosadeghpour (Iran)
Round 8

Ramil had been performing very well at the world championship and, like the winner, hadn't lost a single game. Close to the finishing line, the Kazan player had to face Tran Tuan, and in the last round, Vaibhav. The strong opponents prevented the Russian from scoring more than +4. And had Ramil Faizrakhmanov beaten the Iranian, the whole tournament could have taken a different turn. 

30.Rh5 Bg6 31.c5! Rd8 32.cxd6+ Rxd6 33.Rxd6 Kxd6! could have been a unpleasant surprise for Black.

After 33...Bxh5 34.Rf6 Kb6 35.Bc4 Black loses the f7 pawn.

34.Qd4+ Rd5 35.Rxd5+ cxd5 36.Qb4+.

36.Qxa7? Qh4+ with a draw.

36...Ke6 37.Bh3+ f5 38.Qxe7+ Kxe7 39.Kg3, and Black doesn't have to lose this endgame. But even stronger would have been the devastating 30.c5!! Rxc5 (all the lines are very simple: 30...Rxh8 31.cxd6+ Qxd6 32.Rxd6 Kxd6 33.Qd4+ Ke6 34.Bc4+ Kf6 35.f4 or 30...dxc5 31.Rh5) 31.Rh5 Qe6 32.e4 with an extra piece. A good example for your collection, distinguished coaches. But Ramil didn't find the combination at the board, there was a draw, and Mosadeghpour celebrated victory contrary to the Pushkinian plot.

There is something demonic in the Iranian's appearance, and he plays in a Mikhail Tal style

As a result, the Iranian player scored 9.5 points, and Kirill and Daniil were just one step behind; Alekseenko came out second according to the third tiebreaker only! By the way, the following tiebreakers were used at the World Championship: direct encounter, Buchholz Cut, Buchholz, the greater number of wins with Black, the greater number of wins, and only then the opponents' average rating, which, to a great regret, the European Chess Union places on top in European Youth Championships. 

Overcoming oneself is the key

I could probably write a whole saga about Andrey Esipenko's performance. It is well-known that Andrey is a very gifted player. He has won scores of various children's trophies and has defeated players like Igor Kovalenko, Denis Khismatullin, Ernesto Inarkiev, Sanan Sjugirov, and many other famous GMs. In the youth tournaments, however, Esipenko has been suffering from the last-round curse. He competed for the gold at world championships, but lost in the final encounters three times without even getting a bronze. That said, Andrey has usually demonstrated an excellent shape and very strong play at round 9 of Men's Russian Cup stages. But the Novocherkassk player has been unable to withstand the incredible pressure and responsibility of children's world contests.

Last year, GM Evgeny Bareev, Russian teams' former chief coach who left for Canada, wrote me after Andrey's failure in South Africa: "I don't want to offend you, Dmitry, but if Andrey keeps breaking psychologically at the finish, he won't succeed! Chess is a tough game, weak people don't survive there!" We made a greater focus on psychology, and in the following year, 2015, Andrey pulled out several hard-won points at the final rounds of the Dvorkovich Memorial, Moscow Open, and the Young Stars tournament in Kirishi. But history repeated itself at the Loo children's championship and the World Youth Olympiad: in Russia, Andrei lost toothlessly to Artur Gaifullin with White and gave away the first line in the tournament standings, and in Mongolia, he even lost twice after heroically scoring five points out of six... Along with finishing losses, he started to have the so called "inconvenient opponents" gradually.

In Porec, my trainee played great chess and was eager to make up for the less-than-perfect summer, realizing that he could only rely on himself: A Dan Dzo, the company which had done a great deal for the young chess player in the previous years (many thanks to it for that!), faced financial difficulties because of the crisis. In the last round, when Esipenko desperately needed to win with White, his opponent happened to be the strong Belarus player Viachaslau Zarubitski, to whom the Russian had lost in Mongolia and whom he wasn't able to defeat in the last round of Euro 2014 (with the bronze finally going to Zarubitsky). This was a moment of truth, and I saw for the first time that this "stay-at-homer" could actually become a real fighter who can set out for a decisive game confidently and without trembling knees. By move 30, the outcome of the game was already clear. 
The Porto Carras World Championship brought together a whole plethora of prominent players under 14. Two overrated players were missing: Jergus Pechac (Slovenia, 2492) and John Burke (USA, 2603!!!). We should be grateful for those overblown ratings to the FIDE commission thinkers who invented the four-time multiplier. I happened to play a rapid game with Pechac this year at the Pardubice festival. My opponent resigned around move 15, which basically reflected his objective chess strength. The really strong players who were missing included Romania's Bogdan-Daniel Deac (2440), who was playing for his country's men's team in a match versus Germany, and Vladimir Belov's student from Australia, Anton Smirnov (a very strong player rated 2463!), who doesn't come to children's world championships for some reason. 

The others came to find out the strongest: the winner of the Children's Olympiad M.amin Tabatabaei (Iran, 2498); European champion Sergei Lobanov, rated 2460 as of November following his wonderful play at the Chigorin Memorial; prize winner of World and European Championships Nguyen Thai Dai Van (the Czech Republic, 2409); the U.S. Champion Nicholas Checa (2437); Aryan Gholami, another Iranian talent (2400); World Ex-Champion Aram Hakobyan (Armenia); the Uzbek star Shamsiddin Vokhidov; and a dozen of other strong players, including the Russian Champion Artur Gaifullin and Russia's Timur Fakhrutdinov. The tournament proved to be a very strong one: for example, Tabatabaei, who was considered an absolute favorite, could never fight for the top three places. 

Shamsiddin Vokhidov

Andrey was again playing quite aggressively despite the failed encounter with the Ukrainian champion Shevchenko. Interestingly, after that game Mikhail Kobalia reprimanded him severely: "Play more actively!" Following which Esipenko won the next game after sacrificing half the chess set. He had revenge versus Hakobyan for Porec and was able to finish off Fakhrutdinov, who had never been a convenient opponent for the Russian. After a draw in the personal encounter versus Vokhidov, Swiss Master brought the main Russian stars against each other in the final round: Lobanov ― Esipenko. Sergei was half a point behind and needed nothing but victory.    

The Chess Base photographer kept confusing Sergei Lobanov with Kirill Shevchenko for some reason...

Esipenko was equally eager for a fight, however: the guy who had been carefully setting up a defensive position in "the game of his life" in Maribor, Al Ain, and Durban turned into a fighter who sacrificed a pawn and lunged all his pieces forward to give a checkmate! It seems that Konstantin Sakaev wrote after the Emirates championship that success would come as soon as Andrei showed aggression. And it did come.    

Lobanov (Russia) – Esipenko (Russia)
Round 11

This is a very sharp and trendy line of the Ruy Lopez, variation 3...Nge7: Black has sacrificed a pawn and is going to attack the white king. 


19.h3 Bxh3! 20.gxh3 Qxh3 21.Re1 Nh4 22.Nxh4 Bh2+ 23.Kh1 Bg3+ 24.Kg1 Rxe3 loses, but Lobanov has planned an in-between "thrust" demonstrated by the line 19...Bf4 20.g3 Bxe3 21.fxe3 Rxe3 22.Ng5+! Kg8 23.Qb3+, forcing Black to exchange his powerful light-squared bishop.


Esipenko is at his best! Black has calculated precisely that he isn't losing a piece and will get a strong compensation for the sacrificed pawns in the opposite-colored bishops endgame.


20.cxd6? Bxf3 21.gxf3 Qh3 loses.

20...Be6 21.d5

21.Qc2 Nxf3+ 22.gxf3 is possible, but here the destroyed kingside more than enough compensates for the minimal lack of material.

21...Nxf3+ 22.gxf3 cxd5 23.cxd6 d4!

The piece is won back, and here the culminating point of the game comes. By now the opponents have been playing strong and creative chess, but the tournament standings factor now comes to the foreground: a draw is unacceptable for Sergei. Otherwise Lobanov could have chosen 24.Qb5!? dxc3 25.Qxd7+ Bxd7 26.bxc3 cxd6: Black's position is more agreeable, but the objective result is a draw. However, there are no important reasons so far to sound the retreat.

24.Qb7 dxc3 25.dxc7 Rac8!

A strong resource: Andrei has left another pawn under attack, but it is poisoned.


White has to dodge the line 26.Rfd1 Qxc7 27.Qxc7+ Rxc7 28.bxc3 Rxc3 29.Bxa7 Rxf3 or 29...Ra8 30.Be3 Rxa2 31.Rxa2 Bxa2, where the position would be drawish even though Black remained the stronger side. But restraining the passer while at the same time protecting the king turns out to be an overwhelming task. 

26...c2 27.Qxa7?!

Another step towards the abyss: Lobanov underestimates the strong resource g7-g5. He should have centralized his forces immediately: 27.Qe4 Bf5 28.Qc4+ Re6 29.Rfe1 g5 30.Bg3, but White is in great trouble even in the endgame 30…Qc6 31.Qxc6 Rxc6 32.Kg2 h5 33.h3 h4 34.Bh2 Re8, since his h2 bishop is held captive and can't join the passed pawns' race.


Another very strong line is 27...Bd5! 28.Bg3 Qf5.


The last chance was 28.Qc5! Bxf1 29.Rxf1 Qd3 30.Rc1 Re2 31.Qc3! Qxc3 32.bxc3 Re6 (32...g5? 33.Be3! – the rook is arrested), even though the bishop's poor position prevents White from having equal play: 33.Rxc2 g5 34.Bg3 f5!

And now an attack against the white "clergy" brings forward an immediate win.

28...g5! 29.Bg3

Alas, there is no place to run: 29.Be3 Qd5 wouldn't allow the white queen to defend the f3 point.

29...Qc6! 30.Qb8

Checkmate is inevitable if 30.Rxe8 Qxf3, and the game is over.

30...Rxe1+ 31.Rxe1 c1Q White resigns.

Andrei Esipenko versus his Uzbek opponent

Unfortunately, Fakhrutdinov's time trouble gaffe didn't allow Russians to monopolize the pedestal, and Vokhidov's Buchholz Cut tiebreaker was greater than Andrei's by a single point. Anyway, there is no reason to be upset (over the past few years, Esipenko has shared the first and second places but remained second): Vachier-Lagrave seems to have written somewhere that he had always been losing in children's competitions due to tiebreakers as well. But he didn't regret about it at all.  

Another medal on the conveyor

The most stable and reliable member of the Russian delegation is Ilya Makoveev. Last year, the young talent from Gelendzhik conquered Europe and the entire world, but it was harder for him in 2015 because he played with kids a year older than himself. Objectively, the tournament was a hard one for the Russian champion: as early as in round 3, Armenia's Arsen Davtyan drew against him in a position with a major edge. But the opponents were unable to stop the pushy young man, and in every round Ilya kept clutching and gnawing out points by sheer willpower. Makoveev's play stands out by the in-depth opening knowledge (many thanks to his coach Jaroslav Prizant!) and the refined endgame technique.

Makoveev (Russia) – Ponomarev (Russia)
Round 5

Grigori Ponomarev has been playing well till this moment. Black's pieces are very active, but his queenside pawns are weak, and Makoveev heads for the endgame.

26.Rfe1 Re2

Black needs to seek the queen+knight tandem, for example, 26...Qd6 27.Rad1 Qa3 28.Rxe4 Nxe4, but the move in the game doesn't spoil anything.

27.Rxe2 Qxe2 28.Re1

The computer votes for 28.Qxe2!? Rxe2 29.Kf3 Rc2 30.h3, but what human of sound mind would allow an enemy rook on the second rank with his own on a1?

29...Qxf3+ ?

And this is a bad strategic blunder that led Black to a loss. He shouldn't have traded the queens: 29...Qxa2! 30.Rxe8+ Nxe8 31.Qxc6 Qe2 32.Qxa6 Qe4+ with a probable draw. Now the black knight has to protect the weak pawns, and the white king gains foothold in the center.

30.Kxf3 Rxe1 31.Bxe1 Kf8 32.Ba5 Ne8 33.Bb4+ Nd6 34.Ba5 Ne8 35.Ke4 Ke7 36.Kd4 Kd7 37.g4

White has strengthened his ranks on the queenside to the limit and is now creating a second weakness on the kingside.

37…Nd6 38.f5 h5 39.h3 hxg4 40.hxg4 


More resilient is 40...f6 41.Bb4 Ke8, but even then it's not easy for Black: 42.Bd2! (the pawn endgame is drawish: 42.Bxd6 cxd6 43.b4 Kd7 44.a4 Kc7 45.b5 Kb6) 42...Nf7 43.Bf4 Kd7 44.Kc5 Nd8 45.Kb4 Kc8 46.g5 – the pawns а6 and g7 can't be defended at the same time, but this line would have required precise technical solutions from Makoveev. And now everything is simple.

41.fxg6 fxg6 42.Ke5 Nb7 43.Be1

43.Bb4! c5 44.Bd2 Nd6 45.Be3 also wins.

43...Ke7 44.Bf2

The knight could be blocked at once: 45.Bh4+ Kf7 46.Kd4 Ke6 47.c5, but Ilya decided to threaten with the intrusion Ba7-b8 for a while.


A losing move, but even 44...Kf7 45.Be3 Nd6 46.Bg5 Nb7 47.Kd4 Ke6 48.c5 would have led to a position with a trapped knight.

45.Bh4+ Kd7 46.Bxd8 Kxd8 47.Kf6 Ke8 48.Kxg6 Kf8 49.Kh7 Black resigns.

Ilya Makoveev, Russia's big hope in the junior age group

Makoveev's competitors were India's R. Praggnanandhaa and Poland's Oscar Oglaza. The Russian did away with the European in the penultimate round, following which the gold's fate was decided in a game with the player from the country where chess originally came from. Oglaza was half a point behind, and his game affected the leaders' game to a certain extent. If Oscar won, a draw on the first table would make Makoveev the champion (who would share the first place and win by direct encounter as he had defeated Oglaza), and if the Polish player lost, a draw between the Russian and the Indian would bring the gold to the latter (by Buchholz Cut).

This complex situation seemed to affect the opponents. The Indian player and Ilya spent a lot of time squinting at the next board. At some point Praggnanandhaa could have tried a dangerous piece sacrifice, but he got cold feet, and Makoveev finished with a steady positional edge. Alas, as Jaroslav Prizant told me, the European champion thought at some moment that Oglaza was winning, and that turned out to be a mistake. The first board opponents shook hands, and the Polish player eventually lost, which made Makoveev the second...  

The Indian champ: one of the five champions from India 

I am certain that both the coach and the student will draw proper conclusions from this regretful episode. Ilya has a great potential, and in 2016 we will only be expecting the first places from our little star from Southern Russia. 

And now I would like to take your leave, my dear friends. I hope that our young players will have a fruitful year and prepare well for the 2016 tournaments. If you play video games every waking hour instead of playing chess, you will hardly be in shape to repeat Makoveev's and Esipenko's achievements...

Kirill Alekseenko, Andrei Esipenko and Daniil Yuffa with awards

Final standings. U18 boys: 1. Mosadeghpour (Iran) ― 9.5/11, 2. Alekseenko, 3. Yuffa (Both from Russia) ― 8.5 each; U14 boys: Vokhidov (Uzbekistan), Esipenko (Russia) ― 9 each, Gholami (Iran) ― 8.5; U10 boys: Praggnanandhaa (India), Makoveev (Russia) ― 9 each, Wang (USA) ― 8.5.