Young Stars of the World

5/23/2005 – Is Russia still the greatest chess power in the world? It doubtlessly was, but recent events have raised doubts on whether it will last for long. Now all eyes are on the younger boys, and the chess federation is gathering the most talented juniors for training and tournaments. The latest is a Young Stars tournament in Kirishi.

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The special tournament, entitled "Young Stars of the World", is taking place in Kirishi, in the Leningrad (St. Petersburg) region of Russia. It runs from May 13 to 26, and is reserved for the most promising young talents of the region.

Currently the tournament has reached round seven and has the top seed Sergey Karjakin in the lead.


Young Stars of the World

By Misha Savinov

Is Russia still the greatest chess power in the world? According to the average rating of the country's top players, its superiority is apparent. However, the Chess Olympiad 2004 has raised doubts whether it will last for long. The average age of the victorious Ukrainian team is impressively lower than that of the Russian team. Most of the experts agree that there are no young players of Karjakin's and Volokitin's calibre in Russia. Juniors from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Poland and some other countries surpass the Russians in the world and European championships more and more often. However, losing the leading position in chess is something that is not going to be accepted light-heartedly in this country.


Zhigalko, Sjugirov, Andreikin, Alekseev at the Young Stars opening ceremony

One of the beginner's manuals states that a chess student is better off when scoring about 40% against a stronger opposition compared to having a nearly-perfect score against a weaker line-up. This is quite reasonable, as chess players improve faster when facing strong opposition on a regular basis. Still, the task of actually finding a strong tournament for a youngster is often more than challenging. Basically, the market offers just open tournaments, usually not very suitable for making a serious progress.


Young stars Linchevsky, Khairullin, Kuzubov, Negi

A generation of now 20-year-old Russian players had very little chance to break into the denser layers of a chess atmosphere. Who needs more young Russians in invitation tournaments, when there is a wide choice of established grandmasters with higher ratings (usefully contributing to a higher tournament category)? Artyom Timofeev from Kazan made a great breakthrough by narrowly qualifying for the Russian championship 2004, getting an opportunity to face Kasparov, Svidler, Grischuk, Morozevich, Dreev and other country's top players. This wasn't left unnoticed, and now he is invited to Sarajevo 2005. However, the Russian national team trainer Sergey Dolmatov said in an interview that although Artyom will certainly get into the team someday, the time to develop into a player of Kramnik's calibre has run out.


The team of arbiters for the tournament

All eyes are now at younger boys. The chess federation has launched a project of gathering the most talented juniors for training sessions of the recently founded Bareev Chess School. The national under-20 championship this year was a strong round-robin event (1. Timofeev, 2. Alekseev...). However, there is also another round-robin for younger players, founded three years ago in a town Kirishi, Leningrad Region. It is the "Young Stars of the World 2005, Vanja Somov Memorial". Funded by "KINEF" (a local oil company) and managed by honored trainer of Russia Gennady Nesis, this event is very likely the strongest teenagers' tournament in the world. Its status is very high – it is sufficient to say that the Leningrad Region Governor Valery Serdyukov is a Chairman of the Organizing Committee.

This year the organizers gathered the strongest line-up in a tournament's history. The brightest star competing is Sergey Karjakin, who arrived in Kirishi directly from Greece, where he had training sessions with Mr. Nigel D. Short.


Sergey Karjakin, still a little stunned from the car accident?

There was an idea to invite Magnus Carlsen, but after some thought the Norwegian decided to pass on it. So he was replaced by Evgeny Alekseev, the most experienced player of the event, who recently shone in Dagomys, taking the 2nd place on Board 1 in the Russian team championship (surpassed only by Svidler, ahead of Ivanchuk, Morozevich, Grischuk, Gelfand, Malakhov, Volokitin, etc.). The participation of Karjakin, Alekseev and the Internet blitz idol Rauf Mamedov created an opportunity for GM and IM norms – which seems a unique feat to me, considering the age of the players!

Probably each of the IMs participating has grounds to claim a GM norm. Another Ukrainian Yury Kuzubov, Sergey Zhigalko from Belarus and Luca Lenic from Slovenia are somewhat more experienced than their Russian colleagues Ian Nepomniachtchi, Dmitry Andreikin and Ildar Khairullin, so this tournament is a challenge for the promising Russians. The rating outsider is the Leningrad Region champion in his age group Daniil Linchevsky, who was born in 1990 as well, but did not have much international success yet. There are also two 12-year-old boys who will fight for an IM norm: Sanan Sjugirov from Kalmykia and Parimarjan Negi from India.

The tournament is organized at a very high level. Arbiters, players and trainers (or parents) are accommodated in a four-star hotel "Yunost" ("youth"). The playing venue is a modern "Palace of Culture KINEF", located just across the road from the hotel.

All players except Rauf Mamedov arrived on May, 13th to see the opening ceremony, which was attended by important political persons and attracted a lot of spectators. Local actors performed an Eastern fairy tale with exotic dancers, illusionists and special effects, concluded by players' presentation and fireworks. For someone more accustomed to rather formal opening ceremonies it was quite impressive. The participants were very attentive as well.


The Atrium, where the Alekseev simultaneous exhibition was held

After the performance people moved to a beautiful atrium, where Evgeny Alekseev gave a simul to boys and girls from local chess club.


Andreikin, Nepomniachtchi and Sjugirov enjoying Alekseev's simul

His future rivals in the tournament decided to take a look at his openings (see below). Alekseev allowed only four draws, winning the rest of the games. We were informed that at least two of those draws were more a charity than anything else, including one with the youngest of the simul participants, to ensure that the festive atmosphere would not be spoiled.


Navy cadets and supervisors waiting for Sakaev's simul

Konstantin Sakaev arrived to give another simul to the strongest local players and cadets of St. Petersburg navy colleges. Next day Konstantin returned home to take part in a traditional match against Moscow on 40 boards, so this was a good warm up for him.

It turned out that the organizers made only one blunder that day – they did not notice that Slovenian IM Luka Lenic celebrated his 17th birthday. So, the next day they tried to make amends by presenting him with a TV set. Luka looked flattered, and it is possible that a generous gift also affected his opening play. His position against Sergey Karjakin seemed dangerous already around the move 10...

By the way, Karjakin told me that only at the opening ceremony he found out that he is going to play 11 rounds, not 9! Sergey is obviously tired, not having visited home for more than two months, because of constant playing and travelling. There was also a car accident on a way back to the airport in Greece – Nigel's car was severely damaged, but luckily no one got hurt. Karjakin arrived to Kirishi with his father, a well-disposed and cheerful man, whose optimism and energy noticeably inspire Sergey. However, in the game against Lenic the Ukrainian grandmaster did not look like himself, missing the most energetic continuations and allowing the opponent to escape from a suspicious position. The evening 'tie-break' at the pool table brought the Slovenian a convincing victory.


Young stars at play – but not chess!

Lenic and another Ukrainian, Kuzubov, seem to me the best billiard players in this tournament. Kuzubov apparently plays a lot at home with his father (who is even better specialist) and looks very confident with a cue, while Lenic's attitude to this game could be illustrated by the fact that even when other players have left the hall circa 12:00 AM, he stayed there to practice alone.


Andrey Zhigalko to move...


Sergey Karjakin on the attack

A non-playing program for the participants of the 'World's Youth Stars' is not exhausted by playing pool. Every morning at 10am they can visit sports facilities to play football, basketball or tennis, to swim in a professional swimming pool (one of the best in Europe, by the way – Kirishi’s water polo team is the champion of Russia) or to do weight training. There is also a sauna on every evening, a couple of hours after supper. Saturday this week will be a day off, and the players have a choice of excursions to either St. Petersburg or Novgorod (which is a little bit closer to Kirishi)...

However, let's return to the playing hall. The organizers made a wise choice of moving the play from the stage of a huge main hall to a cosier auditorium at the first floor. There are demonstration boards, and young demonstrators from local chess school constantly shift between the boards and a press centre, brining the moves to six Staunton sets there. Electronic boards are not used, and as a consequence there is no Internet relay – perhaps the only flaw of this tournament judging by modern standards.

Round One:

Karjakin - Lenic 1/2
Alekseev - Khairullin 1/2
Sjugirov - Andreikin 1-0
Linchevsky - Negi 1/2
Nepomniachtchi - Zhigalko 0-1
Kuzubov - Mamedov 1-0

One could call a win of 12-year-old Sjugirov over the already very experienced Andreikin a sensation. In 2004 Andreikin participated in the Higher League of Russian championship in St. Petersburg, and deserved Ratmir Kholmov's nickname 'Central defender' for not losing a single game against such an impressive opposition as Dolmatov, Gleizerov, Alekseev, Landa, Shaposhnikov, Najer, Tregubov and Sakaev! However, recently Dmitry seems to have lost his form, and in the game against Sjugirov he blundered away a fairly good position. Yury Kuzubov made a good start, beating a grandmaster in a complicated struggle. Ian Nepomniachtchi (pronounces "Ne-pom-nya-schij") has to blame his memory for the poorly handled opening variation – even a stubborn four-hour defence (the organizers decided in favor of FIDE time control) did not save the game. Linchevsky-Negi was a sharp Sicilian (possibly a fight of preparations, GM Valery Popov vs. GM Evgeny Vladimirov), where White sacrificed a lot of material and gave a perpetual check. Less spectacular but very tense was a draw between Alekseev and Khairullin. In the end Alekseev had a more pleasant endgame, but a mutual time trouble typical for FIDE control inclined him to starting peaceful negotiations.

Round Two results:

Alekseev - Linchevsky 1/2
Negi - Karjakin 0-1
Mamedov - Sjugirov 1-0
Khairullin - Zhigalko 1-0
Lenic - Kuzubov 0-1
Andreikin - Nepomniachtchi 0-1

A great surprise was a draw between Alekseev and Linchevsky. The candidate master was not inferior to the grandmaster in any stage of that encounter – a fair draw! It is possible that Evgeny suffers from lack of motivation – it is not so easy to play 'kids' after the tough struggles with Morozevich and other greats. Evgeny is supported at the event by Nikolay Negra, a grandmaster in... checkers! I am very curious to see how such a tandem works out.

Generally, there were no other surprises that day. Yury Kuzubov won a second game in a row and occupied the top spot. Ian Nepomniachtchi rehabilitated for his 1st round loss, defeating Andreikin, who was a tough opponent for him before (-2 =4). Khairullin sacrificed a pawn for initiative, and converted it into a full point with energetic play. GM Denis Yevseev, who helps Khairullin in this tournament, was quite happy with the play of his protégé. Grandmasters Karjakin and Mamedov registered not unexpected wins against the youngest participants.

Generally, there were no other surprises that day. Yury Kuzubov won a second game in a row and occupied the top spot. Ian Nepomniachtchi rehabilitated for his 1st round loss, defeating Andreikin, who was a tough opponent for him before (-2 =4). Khairullin sacrificed a pawn for initiative, and converted it into a full point with energetic play. GM Denis Yevseev, who helps Khairullin in this tournament, was quite happy with the play of his protégé. Grandmasters Karjakin and Mamedov registered not unexpected wins against the youngest participants.

Round Three results:

Karjakin – Alekseev 0-1
Kuzubov – Negi 1/2
Linchevsky – Khairullin 1/2
Lenic – Sjugirov 0-1
Zhigalko – Andreikin 1-0
Nepomniachtchi – Mamedov 1/2

A game between two rating favourites ended in Alekseev's favour. After a principled opening variation, a very sharp line of the Najdorf, Alekseev took the initiative and outplayed his dangerous opponent. The leader Kuzubov did not get any advantage against Negi, and had to agree to a draw. Linchevsky underestimated his position when accepting a timely draw offer made by Khairullin – White had all reasons to play for a win. Lenic created a serious pressure on his opponent's position, but overreacted at some point, and allowed Sjugirov to turn the tables. Zhigalko did not give a chance Andreikin, who played extremely passively as Black. Andreikin lost a third game in a row. Finally, Nepomniachtchi developed a dangerous initiative at the cost of a pawn against Mamedov, but the Azerbaijani grandmaster managed to hold with resourceful defence.

Pictures from the opening ceremony


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