European Club Cup: Favourites crash through

by Antonio Pereira
10/13/2018 – Less than a month before the World Championship match begins in London, Magnus Carlsen flew to Porto Carras to represent Valerenga Sjakklubb at the European Chess Club Cup. The Norwegian expectedly rested on day one, when all the favourite teams comfortably swept their lower-rated opponents by wide margins. Only in the women's section we saw a surprise, as Caissa Italia Pentole Agnolli had to settle for a draw against the Russian SSHOR. | Photo: Niki Riga /

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Clean sweeps

The strongest chess clubs from Europe gathered at the seaside resort in Porto Carras, Greece. In the open section, sixty-one squads registered to fight for the 22,000 EUR the organisers put up for grabs; a much smaller quorum has shown up in the women's section, with only twelve teams vying to get the most of the 13,000 EUR prize fund.

Out of the thirty matches from round one in the open category, no less than eight finished with clean 6:0 sweeps. In fact, all four favourite teams by rating managed to win all their games to start off on the right foot. The highest rated team to drop points was Magnus' Valerenga, which drew one and even lost one game in the opening day. 

Alkaloid benched Ding Liren but anyway dispatched MuConsult Apeldoorn from the Netherlands with clean wins on all boards. AVE Novy Bor did the same against KC Deloitte — on fifth board, Viktor Laznicka mated his opponent from the black side of a Sicilian:


Laznicka blocked the check with 44...Nc3, giving up the knight. If White takes it with the queen, a completely lost endgame would follow, so White chose 45.Rxc3, and after 45...Qd4 46.Rd3 — trying to force the exchange of queens — 46...Rxc1# was curtains.

David Navara won with Black in round one for the second seeded AVE Novy Bor | Photo: Niki Riga

The Dutch team KC Deloitte will have an easier time in round two | Photo: Niki Riga

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov arrived from having a decent performance in Batumi, although he was probably disappointed with his loss against Caruana and his team's performance in the second half of the event. However, he started with a bang in Porto Carras. Odlar Yurdu's first board did not rest on Friday and defeated Tapani Sammalvuo from the Finnish SK Comeon. 


The open-position battle was settled with 37.e4!, forcing a winning sequence: 37...Bxe4 38.Rf6+ Kg8 39.Bf7+ Kf8 40.Bxc4+ (40.Bg6+ would have forced a mate-in-4) Ke8 41.Nd6+, forking the king and bishop. Black had seen enough and resigned.


It has been a very active and successful year for Mamedyarov | Photo: Niki Riga

The fourth strongest squad in Greece is Mednyi Vsadnik from Saint Petersburg. Their 6:0 included nice wins by their two first boards, Nikita Vitiugov and Vladimir Fedoseev. Nikita, who did not shine in Batumi, put his queen and rook en prise in consecutive moves and won the game immediately afterwards — the computer shows that the first "sacrifice" was actually a mistake, but his English opponent did not find the refutation:


The g4-knight is guarding h2, so White has trouble on the back-rank. After 31...Rxd4, White would have to give up his queen with 32.Qxg4 to keep the game alive (in case of 32.exd4, 33.Qxc6! and White cannot take due to mate on e1). Vitiugov, however, "found" 31...Qxd4?, when 32.Qxg4 actually saves White. Richard Bates went for 32.Nf4 instead, and the Russian continued his central storm with 32...Rxe3! — White resigned after 33.Nxh5+ Kf8:


The entrance on e1 is unavoidable.

The playing hall | Photo: Gert Densing

Meanwhile, Fedoseev accepted his opponent's proposal of going into an all-out battle in a Caro-Kann. With both kings in the centre, Vladimir took the initiative and finished Black off on move 24:


White won with the simple 24.Rxd6+, as a check with the bishop from f4 would be lethal after the king capture.

Another clean sweep was attained by the Italian Obiettivo Risarcimento Padova. Peter Leko and Paco Vallejo performed as expected and won their games, but the flashiest finish was achieved by Daniele Vocaturo on board three:


The white king is clearly in trouble, and Daniele only needed 28 seconds to find 28...Qxe3. The Dannish CM Jakob Rathlev decided to allow Vocaturo to mate with a pawn after 29.fxe3 f2#.

David Alberto also won for the Obiettivo Risarcimento | Photo: Niki Riga

So it was an easy day at the office for the strongest teams, but things will quickly heat up in the seven-round Swiss — in such a short and massive tournament, even the slightest mishap might be decisive. The most expected match from round two probably is Valerenga-Molodezhka, where Magnus Carlsen might make his first appearance against the experienced Russian GM Vladimir Potkin. It will be tough for Carlsen to keep his rating if his team does not do well and he is forced to face much lower opposition during six rounds — this factor makes this event that much interesting when we are so close to the World Championship match!

Round 2 pairings (top 10 boards)

No. No.Ini.   Equipo PM Res. : Res. PM Equipo   No.Ini.
1 25
Rehovot Chess School 2   :   2 Alkaloid
2 2
AVE Novy Bor 2   :   2 SK 1911
3 30
LSG Leiden 2   :   2 Odlar Yurdu
4 4
Mednyi Vsadnik St.Petersburg 2   :   2 Itaka
5 6
Obiettivo Risarcimento Padova 2   :   2 Schachfreunde Berlin 1903
6 8
Beer Sheva Chess Club 2   :   2 Schachgesellschaft Winterthur
7 27
CC Gambit Asseco SEE 2   :   2 E.S. Thessalonikis
8 26
Overtime 2   :   2 Wood Green
9 5
Valerenga Sjakklubb 2   :   2 Molodezhka
10 10
SV Werder Bremen 2   :   2 Schachgesellschaft Solingen

Games from Round 1


SSHOR surprises in the women's section

Unlike the open event, in the women's section each team lines up four players each round. That makes upsets much more likely, and that is precisely what happened in the match SSHOR-Caissa Italia Pentole Agnelli. On board three, Dina Belenkaya defeated Stavroula Tsolakidou with the white pieces. A sequence of checks allowed the Russian to trap Black's queen:


The queen kept pushing the defenceless king around: 33.Qxe5+ Kc8 34. Qe6+ Kc7 35.Qf7+ and Black cannot save her rook with 35...Kc6 due to the knight fork on d4, so Tsolakidou followed with 35.Qd7, when 36.Re7 wins the queen anyway.

The other heroes for SSHOR were Anastasia Bodnaruk and Evgenija Ovod, who held her much higher-rated opponents on boards one and two.

All smiles before the match | Photo: Gert Densing

Round 2 pairings

No. No.Ini.   Equipo PM Res. : Res. PM Equipo   No.Ini.
1 4
Ugra  2   :   2 Kyiv Chess federation
2 9
Beer Sheva Chess Club 0   :   0 Mulhouse Philidor 
3 12
AMO Galaxias Thessaloniki  0   :   2 Nona
4 3
Caissa Italia Pentole Agnelli 1   :   0 ZSK Maribor 
5 2
Cercle d'Echecs de Monte-Carlo 2   :   2 Odlar Yurdu 
6 7
SSHOR  1   :   0 Caissa Italia Banca Alpi Marittime

Games from Round 1



Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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