Inarkiev wins and Shomoev shines

7/3/2013 – The Higher League of the Russian Championship was held from June 19-30 in Yekaterinburg, Russia. It qualified the top five finishers into the Russian Championship, and also seeded the winner into the 2014 Tal Memorial. It was an exciting event through and through with revelations and masterpieces. Read all, see all, in the report with analysis by Shomoev and Nepomniachtchi.

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Inarkiev wins and Shomoev shines

The Higher League of the 66th Russian Championship and 63rd Russian Women Championship was held from June 19-30 in Yekaterinburg, Russia. The event qualifies the top five finishers into the Russian Championship, the strongest national championship in the world, later this year. It brings a prize fund of $75,500 for the men’s event, and $15,000 for the women’s and is a nine-round swiss tournament played at 40 moves in 90 minutes followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game with a 30-second increment as of move one.  

Although there is no question the prizefund is a serious incentive to play, since in the men’s event, with only fifty players, one’s chances for a piece of that pie were not insignificant, the real draw was one of the five qualifying spots for the final Russian Championship. Nevertheless, with six of the participants in the 2700-club and fourteen in the world Top 100 players, it made everyone else’s possibility seem more like a shot at the lottery than a fighting chance.

Chief Arbiter Mikhail Krukov was questioned about the Sofia Rules, "First, the threefold
repetition has not been canceled, and secondly, you can call a referee and tell them
you have exhausted all ways to continue the struggle!"

Perhaps the biggest news and surprise was when Ilya Levitov, president of the Russian Chess Federation, announced that the winner of the Higher League would also earn a spot in next year’s Tal Memorial. If ever there was a reason to play for the win until the bitter end, this was it.

Ilya Levitov's announcement that the winner would earn a spot to next year's Tal
Memorial caused quite a bit of excitement.

Yekaterinburg is often called the Capital of Contemporary Dance for a number of
famous dance companies residing in the city.

The tournament saw a few surprises early on with the most notable being Ian Nepomniatchi’s loss to Anton Demchenko in round two. This not only put a handbreak on his event from the get-go, but seriously compromised his chances to vie for the top spots. Perhaps as a sign of things to come, Ernesto Inarkiev defeated Demchenko in the following round to become one of three players with 3.0/3. The others were Denis Khismatullin (2658) and dark horse Aleksey Goganov (2562)

As the tournament progressed, Inarkiev maintained his lead, sharing it at times, and keeping it to himself at others. By round six, he was the sole leader with 5.0/6 and a 2847 performance, followed by Boris Grachev (2683) and two surprise guests: Aleksey Goganov (2562), still going strong, and Anton Shomoev (2565). As to the 2700 players, they were struggling to shine. Evgeny Tomashevsky (2709) was the best placed at 6th with 4.0/6, while Nepomniachtchi, the 2010 Russian Champion, was in 11th place.

In round seven, a key game was leader Ernesto Inarkiev and Anton Shomoev

An important turning point came in round seven when Inarkiev was paired against Shomoev. The leader and experienced grandmaster came out of the middlegame with three connected pawns for a piece, a situation that is not only volatile but quite scary for the player facing the pawns. A situation came up where Inarkiev spurned the chance for a repetition, seeking a win, except it turned out that his opponent was an expert in this particular situation and everything went wrong.

"To be honest, I do not understand why Anton Shomoev (above), with his encyclopedic
knowledge and excellent calculation of variations isn't already 2650." - Pavel Maletin

Here is the game with comments by Anton Shomoev:

[Event "66th ch-RUS HL"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2013.06.27"] [Round "7.1"] [White "Inarkiev, Ernesto"] [Black "Shomoev, Anton"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B90"] [WhiteElo "2680"] [BlackElo "2565"] [PlyCount "106"] [EventDate "2013.06.20"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e6 7. Be2 Qc7 8. Qd2 b5 9. f3 Nbd7 10. a3 Ne5 11. O-O-O Be7 12. Ndxb5 axb5 13. Nxb5 Qc6 14. Nxd6+ Kf8 15. Qd4 Ned7 16. Qc4 Qxc4 17. Bxc4 Ba6 18. Bxa6 Rxa6 19. Nc4 {Anton Shomoev: "This looks like a better ending for White, but they still have to figure out a way to march their powerful chain. However, I had studied this endgame and knew exactly what to do. FIrst one must exchange off the bishop on e3, which can support the advance of the pawns, and should try as hard as possible to not let White advance with a4-b3-c2."} Rc6 20. Na5 Ra6 21. Nc4 Rc6 22. Na5 Ra6 23. Nb3 {Ernesto, a real fighter, shuns the repetition. A more pragmatic player would easily have just taken the half-point.} Bd6 24. Nd4 Ke7 25. Nb5 Bc5 26. Bxc5+ Nxc5 27. b3 Rb8 28. a4 Nfd7 29. Kd2 Rc8 30. Ra1 Ne5 31. Rhd1 g5 32. h3 h5 33. Ke3 h4 {Anton Shomoev: "Here I breathed a sigh of relief and realized that Black is not in danger - they fixed the white pawns and have good squares for the knights. I see now that the computer already evaluates the position in favor of Black, but during the game the thought of winning never crossed my mind - White's position is too dangerous. One inaccuracy, and the pawns will go forward."} 34. Rd4 Ncd7 35. Ra2 Ng6 36. a5 Nf4 37. c3 Rc5 38. Rb4 Ne5 39. c4 Nfd3 40. Rba4 Rc8 ({Anton Shomoev: "Here I still considered a draw an acceptable result, and at first was going to secure it with} 40... Nc1 41. Rb2 Nxb3 42. Rxb3 Rxa5 $1 43. Rxa5 Nxc4+ 44. Kd4 Nxa5 45. Kxc5 Nxb3+ 46. Kc4 Nd2+ {etc. But then took myself in hand and mentally said, 'You've got an extra piece!' I then went into a long think and found the perfect setup, after which the white pawns will fall."}) 41. Nd4 Rd8 42. Rc2 Nc5 43. Raa2 ({ Anton Shomoev: "After} 43. Ra3 {Black swings the rook to} Rad6 {with a mating net."}) 43... Nxb3 44. Nxb3 Rd3+ 45. Ke2 Rxb3 46. Ra4 Nc6 47. Rca2 Kd6 48. Rd2+ Kc7 49. Rda2 Rb4 50. Rxb4 Nxb4 51. Rb2 Nc6 52. f4 gxf4 53. Kf3 Ne5+ 0-1

Ian Nepomniachtchi punctuated his comeback with a masterpiece against Grachev

In the same round, another turning point was seen by Ian Nepomniachtchi’s fantastic win over Boris Grachev.

Spellbound spectators watched the great battles

Here is the game with comments by Ian Nepomniachtchi:

[Event "66th ch-RUS HL"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2013.06.27"] [Round "7.2"] [White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Black "Grachev, Boris"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B46"] [WhiteElo "2717"] [BlackElo "2683"] [PlyCount "77"] [EventDate "2013.06.20"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 d6 7. Be3 Bd7 8. f4 b5 9. a3 Nf6 10. g4 Nxd4 11. Qxd4 Nxg4 12. Bxg4 Qh4+ 13. Kd2 Qxg4 14. Rad1 Qh4 15. Kc1 {Ian Nepomniachtchi: "I had a similar position during training. White has given up a pawn for a very strong initiative, and it is not clear where Black can improve his game."} Qd8 16. Rhg1 Rc8 17. f5 e5 ({Ian Nepomniachtchi: "It was probably not worth moving the e6-pawn forward, and instead was better to play} 17... Qc7 {with the idea ...Qc4, but even then it is hard to defend."} ) 18. Qd3 Bc6 19. Kb1 Qc7 20. Qe2 Bb7 21. Rd3 Qc4 22. Qg2 g6 23. Nd5 Bxd5 24. exd5 Qc7 25. Rc3 Qd7 26. Rxc8+ Qxc8 27. f6 {White has boxed in the bishop on f8 and is effectively playing up a piece.} h5 28. Qd2 h4 29. Ka1 ({Ian Nepomniachtchi: "I wanted to play} 29. c4 {but did not like} Qf5+ {"}) 29... h3 30. c4 bxc4 31. Qb4 Rh4 32. Rc1 Re4 33. Rc3 {Even though White is now down two whole pawns, Black's defense is far from obvious. Ian Nepomniachtchi: "White wants to pick up the a6-pawn, and then exchange queens and play the ending with a bishop imprisoned on f8."} Be7 34. fxe7 Kxe7 35. Qb6 Rg4 36. Bh6 Qc5 37. Qb7+ Ke8 38. Rf3 f5 39. Bf8 $3 (39. Bf8 $3 {and Grachev resigned in view of} Kxf8 40. Rxh3 Kg8 {To prevent Rh8 mate.} 41. Qh7+ Kf8 42. Qh8+ Ke7 43. Rh7# { A beautiful game.}) 1-0

As a result of this dramatic round, the leaderboard was quite surprising: at the top was Anton Shomoev with 5.5/7, and positioned to be the event’s greatest surprise if he could hold it, followed by Motylev, Inarkiev, Goganov, and Nepomniachtchi, who was fast on the comeback trail.

It all came down to the final round, with Inarkiev and Shomoev tied for first with 6.0/8. Ernesto was paired against Motylev with whom he drew fairly quickly, while Shomoev was black against Nepomniachtchi. The game started fine as both players went for a sharp Sicilian, but nerves got the better of Shomoev as he failed to keep pace with his higher-rated opponent, and Nepomniachtchi scored an impressive final victory to share the podium, losing to Inarkiev only on tiebreak.

Ian Nepomniachtchi tweets about his great comeback

For Ernesto Inarkiev, it was more than just a first place, it also made him the first player to ever win the Higher League twice, adding to which he earned a spot in the Russian Final and next year’s Tal Memorial.

Ernesto Inarkiev receives his award with the other prizewinners

Final standings of men's event

The Women tournament was also hard fought but was not contended quite as closely or dramatically as the men’s event. At the top of the Elo ladder was Anastasia Bodnaruk with 2440 Elo, followed by Ekaterina Kovalevskaya (2407) and teen prodigy Aleksandra Goryachkina (2401).

Aleksandra Goryachkina and her father

Goryachkina has been in the spotlight for some time in Russia’s female chess, and was certainly hoping to add yet another feather to her cap, but it was not to be. Bodnaruk set an incredible pace with five straight wins, and although she faltered in round six allowing Goryachkina to catch up with her with 5.0/6, the top-seed showed it was but a minor lapse as she finished with 7.5/9 a full point ahead of her rivals. In second was Alina Kashlinskaya with 6.5/9 and in third Aleksandra Goryachkina, also with 6.5/9.

Anastasia Bodnaruk was unstoppable, and outclassed her rivals

Second-place finisher Alina Kashlinskaya with her mother

The prize ceremony as the women receive theirs

A video report of the final round and closing ceremony (in Russian)

Final standings of women's event


The city of Yekaterinburg had a lovely idea of decorating itself with statues all over, depicting mythical figures, comical, historical, and contemporary. Here are a few:

As relaxed a greeting as they come

Nepomniachtchi against Shomoev in the last round

Bet you didn't expect to see a bronze statue of Michael Jackson, did you?

The inventor of the bicycle gives a young admirer a ride

The atom

This one is understandably very popular with the kids

This spot with the barefoot lovers is a favorite for couples

He was made an offer he could not refuse (you either get it or you don't)

Photos by Dmitry Kryakvin


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