Fighting chess in St Petersburg

11/16/2004 – Just 29% of the 800 games were drawn, and only 3.4% in less than 20 moves. Maybe the Chigorin Memorial in St Petersburg did not have the biggest names, but it showed that a strong open can provide emotions, tragedies, brilliancies and sensations. We bring you the games and an extensive illustrated report by Misha Savinov.

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Chigorin Memorial in St. Petersburg

By Misha Savinov

Once against St. Petersburg hosts a major open tournament! Not as spectacular as the Russian Higher League (took place in May), in which one could meet Khalifman, Dreev, Sakaev, Epishin and other notable players, but quite strong nevertheless. 35 Grandmasters (excluding 2582-rated Andrey Kornev, who has no international title despite his dozen of IM and GM norms) and 31 International Masters represented mostly former USSR countries with only two exceptions: Spanish amateur De Luna (1938) and USA IM Rashid Ziatdinov (2464). The latter, however, is also a former Soviet citizen.

Autumn in St. Petersburg

I wonder why there are so few players from other countries! Moscow "Aeroflot open" attracts incomparably more foreign participants. Is that only because of prize fund? OK, $2000 the first prize in such a strong event doesn't sound too promising. But what about good training? Meeting serious opposition? Opportunity to make norms? Opportunity to explore one of the most beautiful European cities, after all? Well, perhaps if St. Petersburg organizers fix the prize fund part, Russia's Nordic Capital would become more important part of the European chess travel map. There are rumors that they are planning to organize a really good event next year...

An independent tournament with rich history by itself, this year's Chigorin Memorial was also a qualification for Russian Cup Final (a round-robin taking place in December) with top five advancing. As a member of ACP Tour, it also provided the most successful players with some ACP rating points. As you probably know, ACP plans to organize Masters tournament based on these points, and there is a pretty high chance that its winner will challenge Mr. Kramnik. That makes Chigorin's Memorial an integral part of world championship cycle, too!

Onstage in the Chigorin's Club

I am not going to discuss the tournament struggle in every detail. For some reason most readers are ready to observe every ply of a 19-move draw if it bears "Linares" tag on it, but reluctant to spend their time on dramatic course of a good open tournament. Well, maybe this is my fault as well as my colleagues', other chess journalists. A strong open provides its smart spectator with great intrigue, real emotions, time-trouble tragedies, unexplainable blunders and sensational results. A great director like Milos Forman could film an exciting movie at such event – a unique plot, number of distinct characters, extreme tension, love and hate, culmination... and, if you like, the cycle starts over in another country in a couple of days. Chess is greatly undervalued entertainment! But we are too lazy to dig into it, to advertise its excitement. In some sense it is easier and safer to position chess as esoteric game for esoteric people. And it is obviously much more advantageous to switch to more prestigious occasion, where one could easily condemn the no-risk strategy, call someone a "drawnik", suggest three points for a win or another equally unacceptable solution to a short draw problem, and send out habitually angry reports on perennial dull days.

WGM Maria Kursova and one of the youngest spectators. The event location is Chigorin's Chess Club – one of the strongest chess schools in city, and this boy is one of its pupils

The quality of play... Well, those who enjoys football (or soccer for some Western Hemisphere people) like I do, probably can't wait for next Tuesday and Wednesday to turn on a TV for the League of Champions. These titanic struggles produce high quality of play, but would we abandon watching our local championship and local team because it is not of AC Milan caliber? And in chess the situation is quite different to football, because while we have decent local matches, chess version of AC Milan – Internazionale too often ends on 17th minute by mutual agreement.

Only 29% of the games at the Chigorin Memorial were drawn, 3.4% were short draws

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying there were no short draws in Chigorin's Memorial. There were some. Like 3.4% of total number of games ended peacefully before move 20. In open tournament you play for a win, or you don't get your money and norms. And Grandmasters seeking win generate interesting games. Not necessarily of good quality, but it is a really uncompromising chess.

Grandmaster Leonid Yurtaev – not a very good result, but surely several creative games!

Sorry for a long introduction, but after this year's Linares, Dortmund and Brissago it very much seems like chess as professional sport is going nowhere, and I honestly don't believe the situation being that desperate.

Local grandmaster Evgeny Alekseev and Ernesto Inarkiev from Elista were the top rated participants with 2604. For those considering 2600 "weak" I should spice it up adding that Inarkiev arrived from European Club championship in Turkey with a 4th board performance of 2794! Unfortunately, Ernesto (his parents named him after Che Guevara) looked very tired after the Turkish event, and suffered three losses in St. Petersburg.

IM Novikov (left) vs. GM Grigoriants (Harley)

Grandmasters won most of their games in 1st and 2nd round, which is natural for the Swiss, so I would just focus on some upsets. Denis Khismatullin (2552) lost to WIM Irina Vasilevich (2277), who splendidly conducted a lethal anti-Sicilian attack. Igor Yagupov (2509) lost with Black to candidate master Alexey Bryndin (2215). Bryndin was down by two pawns on 13th move (obviously there was a compensation), played well in the middlegame, and exploited grandmaster's blunder on 39th move trapping his knight in the endgame. Poor Yagupov did not recover from this defeat, and went down against other under 2300 players twice, but kept playing (his fighting spirit should be praised, because two other GMs dropped out after losing prize-winning chances) and finished with more or less decent "+ 1". The young Ukrainian Andrey Vovk (2243) mated his fellow countryman Alexander Areshchenko (2580). Vovk brothers, Andrey and Yury, were very successful with their ultra-aggressive chess at the early stages of the tournament (note that "Vovk" means "wolf" in Ukrainian), but only tied for 51st-85th in the end.

IM Konstantin Maslak, well-known internet blitz player and teacher. Konstantin turned a winning position into a loss in the last round in his opponent's time trouble – a huge blunder.

After three rounds there were five players with 100% score: Efimenko, Bocharov, Kokarev, Gavliov and Ziyatdinov. Zakhar Efimenko and Dmitry Bocharov were among top ten rated players, so naturally they were considered to be early favorites. However, they failed to confirm their good form in the 4th round, as both quickly reached (although defended) inferior positions against IMs.

Vladimir Belov is reading a bulletin

Round 5 was a turnaround for Inarkiev, who suffered first of his three defeats. His victor, GM Vladimir Belov, took the lead together with Efimenko, Bocharov and Sergey Ivanov. Sergey Ivanov, St. Petersburg grandmaster (need to mention that because there was another Sergey Ivanov, solid 2061 player, who finished with 2S points) drew with yet another Ivanov, Alexey (2281), in the first round, and won four following games. Don't get confused with Ivanovs...

Sergey Ivanov meditates under Chigorin's portrait

Round 6 was a good round to break out of pelothon, as draws were agreed on 9 out of 10 tables onstage. Some of them were extremely bloody draws, like one between Belov and Bocharov. The only decisive game was a blow for Efimenko – he blundered simple tactics and lost his queen to Ivanov.

Ivanov,S (2553) – Efimenko,Z (2594) [E55]
Chigorin Memorial St. Petersburg, 21.10.2004
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd3 d5 6.Nf3 c5 7.0-0 dxc4 8.Bxc4 Nbd7 9.Qe2 b6 10.Rd1 cxd4 11.Nxd4 Bb7 12.e4 Bxc3 13.bxc3 Qe7 14.f3 Rfc8 15.a4 Ne5 16.Ba3 Qc7 17.Bb3 Nc4?? 18.Nb5 Qc6 19.Bxc4 Qxc4 20.Rd8+ Rxd8 21.Qxc4 Rac8 22.Qe2 Black resigns

Uncompromising Dmitry Bocharov had a chance to catch Ivanov in the next round, but his attack wasn't well planned – the initiative evaporated, and Black slowly converted two extra pawns. Sergey Ivanov won his 6th consecutive game! It should be said that such a strike is quite rare in chess, especially if you last name is not Morozevich, but nevertheless possible – in case you are not feared to death by other participants. Sergey Ivanov is a solid GM, good theoretician, he possesses deep endgame knowledge, but is considered to be, you know, "old". 43-year-old Ivanov definitely represents another generation of chess players compared to the majority of participants. No less important is that his primary occupation is not chess – grandmaster, graduated from Economics faculty, works as a chief of marketing department at one of local factories. His chess background surely helps business. Normally, modern young professional tends to overestimate their chances against "old amateurs", but only those able to remain objective do well in chess.

Touch move is not in effect yet – Spartak Vysochin

Spartak Vysochin from Ukraine interrupted Ivanov's strike, taking a draw in the round 8. Former St. Petersburg champion lead the field by a full point, so draw was acceptable for him, and Vysochin improved his prize-winning chances. Of other contenders, only GM Alexey Bezgodov won the 8th round game. He trailed Ivanov by half a point. Everything had to be decided in their personal encounter, Bezgodov playing White.

Last-round Bezgodov – breaking the Magino line?

Both players are strong theoreticians, and this time the opening duel went in Bezgodov's favor. Ivanov decided to go into the line that was considered to equalize easily, but in reality it turned to give Black inferior ending without counterplay. However, in difficult situation Ivanov shoved great awareness and patience to hold, and after 4 1/2 hours of play White lost his last passing pawn – draw due to insufficient material. This result made Sergey Ivanov a sole winner of the event, and brought Bezgodov to the second place ($ 1500).

Vitiugov vs Areshchenko, last round game.

17-year-old candidate master Nikita Vitiugov (2458) surprisingly tied for 2nd-3rd, defeating 18-year-old grandmaster Alex Areshchenko with White in the final round. Vitiugov is refreshingly sharp player, his games are full of original strategic decisions, and he has obvious tactical talent. It is possible that Vitiugov lacks wide chess education, but this time he was able to compensate it with imagination and fighting spirit.

There were 20 main prizes: 1 Ivanov (2553) – 7S; 2 Bezgodov (2546), and 3 Vitiugov (2458) – 7,
4 Efimenko (2594), 5 Vysochin (2582), 6 Bocharov (2574), 7 Belov (2552), 8 Lutsko (2520), 9 Kokarev (2495), 10 Alekseev (2604), 11 Vorobiov (2524), 12 Smikovski (2503), 13 Ovetchkin (2473), 14 Kruppa (2547), 15 Silivanov (2295 – 1st prize under 2300), 16 Khismatullin (2552), and 17 Tunik (2476) – all 6S,
18 Popov (2583), 19 Kuzubov (2530), 20 Geller (2489)... – 6, etc. 14-year-old Russian IM Ildar Khairullin took junior prize. WGM Irina Slavina won women's prize. [Full results and tiebreaks]

One of tournament sponsors offered $500 for a brilliancy prize. I would like to point out that this added a great deal of motivation for many players that could otherwise put little effort in the last round(s) because of earlier failures. The jury did not decide upon the one and only best game, and decided to divide the prize between IM Roman Ovetchkin and Julia Gromova (2156, finished 131st-146th). Ovetchkin sacrificed two minor pieces and crushed violently the kingside of grandmaster Shaposhnikov, while 16-year-old Gromova smothered 2415-rated IM Kurenkov in pure positional style. Roman's last round game is not available at the moment, but I hope you will enjoy lady's effort from round 4.

Two beauty prize winners: Roman Ovetchkin and Julia Gromova

Gromova,I (2156) – Kurenkov,N (2415) [A40]
Chigorin Memorial St. Petersburg, 19.10.2004

1.d4 Nc6 2.c4 e5 3.d5 Nce7 4.Nc3 Ng6 5.Nf3 Bb4. Quite a normal opening for Kurenkov, who does not like mainstream theory. 6.Qb3 a5 (already a novelty) 7.a3 Bc5 8.Ne4 Be7.

9.d6. A key move that shaped the course of events. 9...cxd6. Knowing the outcome, one could suggest 9...Bxd6 – Black had huge problems with his dark-squared bishop in the game. 10.Be3! (threatening Be3-b6) 10...Ra6 11.g4! (aimed against f7-f5) 11…Nf6 12.Nxf6+ Bxf6 13.g5 Be7 14.h4 (forcing the black knight to a passive position) 14...Nf8 15.0-0-0 a4 16.Qc3 Rc6. Kurenkov's only active plan is to play b7-b5, but White has a defense.

17.Bg2! (now 17...b5 loses exchange to 18.Nd2) 17...Ne6 18.Ne1! It might be easy to play good moves in good position, but the jury members nevertheless were impressed by energetic and precise play of St. Petersburg girls-under-16 champion. White knight goes to d5.

18...Ra6 19.Nd3 b6 20.Nb4 Ra5 21.Nd5 Nc5 22.Qb4 Bb7 (indirectly protecting pawn on b6) 23.Rhg1 (the threat is renewed) 23...Bxd5 24.Bxd5 f5. Black is desperate to create a counterplay at all costs, but he never gets a chance. 25.Bxc5 dxc5 26.Qc3 Qc7.

27.f4!! Very patient and deadly. 27.g6 allows 27...Bf6, but now g5-g6 is irresistible. 27...Bd6 28.g6 h6 29.Bf7+ Ke7 30.Rd5. Julia obviously foresaw this position when executing her pawn sacrifice on move 9. Yes, I know I like reading KingPin, though rarely have a chance...

30...Kd8 31.Rgd1 Bf8 32.Rxd7+ Qxd7 33.Rxd7+ Kxd7 34.Qxe5 and Black resigned 1-0.

Picture gallery

17-year-old student Maria Fominykh (2309). She is going to become a journalist

Sergey Ivanov being interviewed by Russian press

Great time between the end of the last game and prize-awarding ceremony. Chess players suddenly change their appearance. They look like gypsies in Emir Kusturica movies – friendly, charming, humorous and spontaneous: wholeheartedly enjoying their special way of life and ready to take off soon...

Representing St. Petersburg: Anna Dushenok and Evgeny Alekseev

Nikita Vitiugov (left) receives 3rd prize from IM Andrey Petelin, vice-president of St. Petersburg chess federation

Reconstructing the games

The book shop

...and a coffee corner – don't underestimate the coffee factor in chess!

Misha Savinov is a journalist, chess columnist,
and PhD student in marine ecology in St. Petersburg

Previous articles by Misha Savinov

White nights in St. Petersburg
29.05.2004 The Russian Championship qualifiers are in full swing, with Alexey Dreev still in the lead. The games are exciting, with some spectacular accidents. Oh, yes, and it is advisable to have dark glasses at the end of the games, to protect your eyes from the 10 p.m. sun. Here's Misha Savinov's beautiful pictorial report.

St Petersburg wrap-up – part 1
02.06.2004 The preliminaries for the Russian Championship in St Petersburg and Tomsk are completed. The former was won by Alexei Dreev, ahead of Tseshkovsky and Epishin. The quality of play was very high, and we return – by popular demand – to this exciting tournament with a new two-part pictorial report by Misha Savinov.

St Petersburg wrap-up – part 2
05.06.2004 The last two rounds of the preliminaries for the Russian Championship in St Petersburg decided it all. Of special importance was the question: who would get a ticket to the super-final with Kasparov and Kramnik, planned for November? Misha Savinov tells us in part two of his pictorial report.

White nights revisited, four hundred years of Tomsk
30.05.2004 The preliminaries for the Russian Championship are under way in St Petersburg and Tomsk. We have all the results and games, but also some background on the bright nights in the former Russian capital and on the four-hundred-year old city of Tomsk. New pictorial report...

Alexander Morozevich wins Moscow Blitz
09.09.2004 Every year there is a Moscow Blitz championship, sponsored by a local newspaper. The first prize is a beautiful samovar. The legendary Mikhail Tal took twelve of them home with him to Riga. This year, under the watchful eyes of some famous player, it was another magician of the chess board

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