Impressions of the Super Final – Part four

12/14/2004 – In the past weeks Misha Savinov has provided us with a unique insight into the games and players of the Russian Championship. In his final report he takes us through the eleventh round, where contrary to expectations the fighting chess continued. Report with pictures and interviews.

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Russian Superfinal Report, Part four

On the final round, by Misha Savinov

Last rounds are often associated with low voltage of struggle and dull draws in most games. One of my colleagues had a suspicion that at least two games would end peacefully in about two hours. A brave man, he did not hesitate to support his opinion with fair amount of money. This looked like a safe bet from his point of view; however, the reality was cruel to him and perhaps bright for the rest of us. Each of the remaining five games had its own intrigue, and none of the grandmasters with white intended to take a break.


Grischuk vs Kasparov in the final round

For Grischuk, playing Kasparov was a rare challenge. “Shooting the Sheriff” in the ultimate round would no longer give him title chances. But it could certainly add a flavor of dissatisfaction to Kasparov's victory and become a long-term investment for Grischuk's credibility in top level chess, especially among the organizers of various strong tournaments. As for Kasparov, any positive result would allow him to counterbalance his bad performance at the European championship in order to remain above 2800. Remaining undefeated in such dense tournament was also highly regarded by itself.

It is curious to recall that after the opening ceremony all players gathered with the arbiters and organizers to decide that in case of tie for the first place, the fate of the title should be decided not according to a tiebreak of any sort, but in a match. The authors of this initiative were... Kasparov and Grischuk! Perhaps their unwillingness to take chances and confidence in own skill could be seen from that initiative as clearly as from the tournament table...


Boris Spassky listens in on the Kasparov press conference

Kasparov talked about this game at the press conference, so I would just mention that Grischuk obtained a powerful initiative, seemed close to a win, but Garry escaped by sacrificing a pawn and gaining the initiative in return. That was sufficient to make a draw.

As the round developed, I approached some of the experts with set of questions about the championship. First Evgeny Najer, grandmaster and one of Motylev's seconds in this event.

MS: Did you expect such a confident victory by Kasparov?

EN: No. He obviously had good chances to win by definition, but one couldn't guess that both Svidler and Morozevich would be in a poor shape. They played weaker than in Krasnoyarsk 2003 (a previous Russian championship, 1st Svidler, 2nd Morozevich – M.S.) It would be intriguing to see Kasparov, Morozevich and Svidler all in top shape in a tournament.

MS: Kasparov also seemed to start the tournament not in his best form...

EN: There were two different Kasparovs. In the beginning of the tournament it was Garry that we unfortunately are getting used to see in a last couple of years, but after the game against Tseshkovsky it was a completely different, a much stronger and confident one. Although before that transformation he have also played extremely well in certain periods, for example, in a middlegame against Motylev.

Objectively, most favorites approached the championship with somewhat declined strength. Even Grischuk, who showed good results, but played far from his best. Maybe he just recovered a little after the Olympiad, but not more. Dreev looked better than others. Motylev also improved after a very bad start. However, the evaluation of their performances largely depends on this round’s games – both have Black against very tough opposition.

MS: A question for you as one of Motylev's helpers. Did you notice that Alexander receives opponents from Kasparov's hand, so to speak? One plays Kasparov, and on a day after faces Motylev.

EN: Personally I noticed that only towards the end of the event. I have no idea whether it actually helped Alexander or the opposite, but the major factor which affected the outcome was his own play in any case.

MS: Were you impressed by any games played at the championship?

EN: I am trying to recall Kasparov's victories... Against Svidler it was too simple. The game against Bareev deserves attention, although the play was somewhat shaky. Naturally, I was more focused on Motylev's games. I like Dreev-Motylev encounter. The play was interesting until the very end.

In principle, it was an interesting tournament. When there are no short draws, when everybody was fighting and there were always interesting ideas and concepts in games. However, in my opinion, there were no brilliant and flawless wins, no classical masterpieces. For that to happen, both players should be in a great form, showing powerful chess.

MS: Could you tell based on championship results, which of the upper leagues was stronger, the one in Tomsk, or the one in St. Petersburg?

EN: Although I played in Petersburg, I never supported the common opinion that it was a stronger tournament. I think the Tomsk qualifier was at least no weaker. Maybe in Petersburg the players were more experienced, more solid, it was more difficult to win a certain game. But in Tomsk there were many aggressive youngsters, and they created a violent feeling.

MS: How did you like Korotylev's performance here?

EN: I was surprised that he did not prepare anything special in the opening. He plays the same lines as usual. The same Sicilian, which, in my opinion, does not suit his style. But Alexey seems to be well-prepared psychologically, which is also important. And, apparently, his general level of play is higher than his rating.

MS: There were some speculation regarding possible quick draws in this round. What do you think?

EN: I think all five games will be fighting. Svidler needs to win to improve his standings. We don't expect a draw offer from Morozevich, either...

I also spoke with Mikhail Ulibin, grandmaster and spectator at the Super Final.

MU: Maybe even Kasparov himself did not expect such a decisive lead! He had a difficult year, not winning more than one game in each of his three competitions. Frankly speaking, I was sure that he would win more than once in Moscow, but such a large winning margin is of course surprising. And yet, we're talking about Kasparov! One should be prepared to any surprise coming from this great player.

MS: What were in your opinion a critical moments in this tournament?

MU: Winning already in round one surely helped Kasparov a great deal. And the turning point were the games against Dreev and especially against Tseshkovsky, which Garry did not play well, but won nevertheless thanks to a good fortune. After that game, Kasparov's +5 could not surprise anybody. His strength is well-known to all, and with confidence and good fortune one could do wonders...

MS: Which games impressed you most?

MU: I would single out Korotylev-Grischuk. Perhaps White did not play the best moves, the whole strategy was too risky. But I think the main reason of Grischuk's defeat was that he simply did not expect such aggressive play by Korotylev. High rated players often expect their much lower rated colleagues playing for a draw from the start, and Alexey's daring play came as an unpleasant surprise. Overall Grischuk had a decent tournament, he is still in the top three and will remain there, but yesterday his play was weak.

MS: What do you think about the formula of the event?

MU: I believe this tournament should be formed differently. As you see, three invited players declined invitations. Such tournaments do not have an absolute value for them, and it is different for those passed through a tough qualification. I think it would be fair to invite the three winners of previous championships plus one highest rated player, and to determine the rest of the field in qualifications. Such system would only improve the championship.

MS: What is your score against Kasparov?

MU: The score is 4:4. +1 =2 –1. However... all games were played in simuls (smiles).


GM Mikhail Ulibin with chess trainer Mark Dvoretsky

Next in line was Mark Dvoretsky, distinguished trainer, international master (a spectator)

MD: Kasparov's lead is so great because his main rival is not in good shape. I mean Morozevich. Kasparov’s play was unconvincing in the beginning, he scored more than his positions suggested. Then he felt a fair wind, which affected both in his own games against Dreev and Tseshkovsky, and in his rivals losing points. He became unstoppable. Grischuk followed Kasparov for a long time, showing rather poor play. Alexey Dreev was in good form, but his loss against Kasparov knocked him down.

The bad start of Sasha Motylev is an explainable surprise. He is a wonderful player, one of the best in a generation. His chess is very deep and interesting, and he is also a very nice person. He is, in my opinion, ready to show top results. Unfortunately, he was unable to complete the required preparation for this championship because of the offer that he could not turn down. I mean playing in Corsica. Alexander performed quite well, earned decent money, but, of course, lost a lot of energy and did not prepare for the Super Final. His play in the beginning was terrible, but his strong character and great potential made the difference as the event proceeded. Today, however, I think he'll lose. But nevertheless he avoided a complete disaster and even will gain some rating points.

MS: What is your assessment of creative results of the Super Final?

MD: When the top players fight, there are always interesting games... I have a theory, which I explained in one of my books. Games of chess are as interesting, brilliant and outstanding, as an annotator them! There are always deep and beautiful moves, but showing their depth and brilliance is quite a challenge, it requires mastery. For example, the Candidates Tournament in Zurich 1953 was hardly a more brilliant competition than the Candidates Tournament of 1959 in Yugoslavia. But the tournament book on the latter event was written colorlessly, standardly and overall failed to impress in spite of the fact that there were true masterpieces among the games. Zurich 1953 is a classic known to everybody. This championship is the same story – the impression would depend on annotator.

MS: Books about tournaments became rare nowadays...

MD: Unfortunately, public interest in now over focused on openings, therefore most books published are about the initial stage of the game. As a consequence, almost everyone now plays the opening like a grandmaster, but afterwards many begin to perform like candidate masters.

MS: Do you think the formula of the championship needs a correction?

MD: This is not a principled matter. The essence of the formula is a compromise between invited and qualified participants, and the number of both could be argued. I only don't understand why there was no list of candidates? The absence of it led to a messy situation before the event. There should definitely be a candidates list, and in this case no withdrawals would affect the tournament. Also the invitations should be based on certain sporting principle – it's either rating, or membership in the national team, or something else. We should avoid inviting "a name" for no apparent reason. The principle of inviting should be announced far in advance.

Personally I would like to see more people participating. In Soviet times there were 16, 18 participants, and nobody complained about the length of event.

Return of the Jedi

That is what we could call round eleven. The top players finally struck back: Bareev, Svidler and Morozevich won their games to return to the 50% mark. Neither the solid Dreev, nor the talented Motylev or the aggressive Korotylev managed to hold them back.


Morozevich outplayed Motylev's King's Indian

A draw against Svidler could have made Dreev equal second with Grischuk, but Peter defeated his teammate in crushing style, leaving a strong impression that Rauzer Sicilian is not playable at all.

The modern plan with 11.Ne2 and 13.Nd4 leaves Black without any threats for Q-side counterplay, while White simply advances his K-side pawns. Curiously, a structure after Black's 20th move called for a joke by Nikitin: “There is an old saying that no matter what a Russian constructs, there will always be a tank in the end. Well, no matter what opening Dreev plays, it is always a Caro-Kann!”

Alexander Sergeyevich Nikitin returned to the tournament for the first time since round six. He missed that round for some personal reason, and did not come to rounds 7-10, saying "Kasparov wins without me, I better stay home!"


Peter Svidler analysing his final round game

Svidler also managed to underscore his tiredness by missing relatively simple mating continuations twice during the final stage of the game. It was easy to notice his relief about this tournament finally being over.


Evgeny Bareev ready to outplay Alexey Korotylev in round 11

Evgeny Bareev could not leave the tournament without classical win à la Bareev. He caught his opponent in the opening, and it was not some devilish tactical trap, but rather a superior positional understanding. Converting structural advantage requires a lot of patience, together with precise calculation in the critical moments of the struggle. Bareev was never in a hurry, and sacrificed an exchange when it was appropriate. Black resigned on 58th move in view of White's powerful passed pawns.

Final standings

Anatoly Karpov presented his historic rival Garry Kasparov with a unique chess set from his collection – a special gift for new champion of Russia! Vitaly Tseshkovsky got the best game prize for his Round three effort against Morozevich. Morozevich-Dreev was called the most beautiful game, and Dreev received his trophy as well. Those left without main prizes were compensated with equivalent of $500 for each point.

After the closing ceremony there was a dinner. Everybody relaxed and chatted, while only some remote journalists were busy finishing and sending their reports, interviewing the players and chess politics. Let's pretend we don't know the recent developments of FIDE Championship match and just return to the Vasilyevsky Restaurant in Hotel Rossija to enjoy the party and hope best...


Alexey Korotylev and his girlfriend


Alexey Dreev and his shining bronze medal


Tseshkovsky and Spassky


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