European Club Cup: Magnus and Valerenga lead

by Alex Yermolinsky
10/18/2018 – World Champion Magnus Carlsen kept fans on pins and needles as he appeared to be losing to Ding Liren which would have dropped him to number two in the world behind Fabiano Caruana (at least temporarily). But Carlsen defended hard and salvaged a critical draw that allowed his teammate Nils Grandelius to win the match for the underdog Norwegian squad of Valerenga. They are now in clear first. ALEX YERMOLINSKY shares his outlook. | Photo: Niki Riga /

Master Class Vol.8: Magnus Carlsen Master Class Vol.8: Magnus Carlsen

Scarcely any world champion has managed to captivate chess lovers to the extent Carlsen has. The enormously talented Norwegian hasn't been systematically trained within the structures of a major chess-playing nation such as Russia, the Ukraine or China.


Clutch save from Carlsen, still number one

Once again my own travel plans kept me away from following an exciting event from the beginning. This time it's the 34th European Club Cup held at the Porto Carras Grand Resort in Greece. I'm very excited with an opportunity to chip in with my coverage of Round Six.

With two rounds to go the top of the standings was very tightly packed which in itself is a trademark of this annual event. In the last year's edition the powerhouse of Globus (formerly Siberia), which looked a much-improved version of the Russian Olympiad squad, met with tough competition and was only able to secure victory in the last round. This year, however, there's no Russian team headed by Kramnik, and so the top Russian squad is lead by the St. Petersburg duo of Peter Svidler and Nikita Vitiugov. They narrowly lost to top-ranked Alkaloid in round four, but have a chance for redemption in the final round on Thursday facing the Norwegian club Valerenga.


Valerenga had their toughest test yet and passed with flying colours | Photo: Niki Riga

In the absence of the defending champion, the 2016 winner, Alkaloid (from Skopje), looked the favourite to win. Once again, they're led by the Chinese duo of Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi, followed by a pair of Russians, Andreikin and Jakovenko, and a pair of Ukrainians, Eljanov and Kryvoruchko. Quite an imposing lineup, but all of them, with an exception of Ding, are currently under-performing their rating.

Alkaloid's opponent today was a new addition, Valerenga of Oslo, headed by none other but Magnus Carlsen, who's doing his last moment fine-tuning before the World Champion match. However, Valerenga is anything but a one-man show. David Howell, Nils Grandelius, Borki Predojevic and Evgeny Romanov are playing great, while the young Tari seems to have recovered from a rough start.

It was showtime on board one, where Carlsen had to put at risk his #1 position in live rating list, which he's held since longer than I can remember [since July 2011 -Ed.].


David Howell

After drawing his own game, Carlsen was thrilled to see his teammate do the same | Photo: Niki Riga /

GM Daniel King also had a look at this game for his Power Play Chess channel

On the next board. Yu long held a decisive advantage, but in the end, Howell was able to slip away with a draw.

Not so much luck for the defender on board three:


This game provided the deciding margin of victory for the brave boys of the North. What a tournament they're having!

The match between the other two previously undefeated teams, AVE Novy Bor and Obiettivo (sans their star Nakamura, who chose to go straight to Isle of Man instead), was a tense affair with a lot of decisive games. I particularly enjoy watching my old friend Granda Zuniga beating on people less than half of his age.


Vidit Gujrathi (seen here in round 3) was Granda's young victim in the sixth | Photo: Niki Riga /


It ended in a 3:3 tie, keeping both teams within striking distance of gold medals. They are now joined by The Bronze Horsemen from St. Petersburg that finally got a positive contribution from their struggling leader, Peter Svidler, who had unprecedentedly started the tournament with four losses and only won today thanks to his opponent's mistakes in a drawn rook endgame. However, as noted earlier, the team from my old hometown will have their chances against the leaders in Thursday's decider with Vitiugov, Fedoseev and Matlakov seemingly in good form.


Svidler looks as surprised as anyone to have finally gotten a win! | Photo: Niki Riga /

Another team that got to 10 points is Molodezhka, who managed to shake off a crushing defeat at the hands of Carlsen and Co. back in round two. The "Youngsters" (translating the team name from Russian) will take on Obiettivo tomorrow. Can they produce more games in the style of Antipov vs Vuckovic?


This defensive idea with 23...Rg8 and 24...Bf8 was not best, but now, how can White break through?

25.Nxc5! Antipov found it. 25...Nxc5 26.e6 Qc8 27.Ng5+ and White had a decisive attack.

I can't wait for the last round to start.

Standings after Round 6 (top 10)

Rk. Team  TB1 
1 Valerenga Sjakklubb 11
2 Obiettivo Risarcimento Padova 10
3 AVE Novy Bor 10
4 Mednyi Vsadnik St.Petersburg 10
5 Molodezhka 10
6 Odlar Yurdu 9
7 Alkaloid 9
8 Beer Sheva Chess Club 9
9 Eynatten 9
10 Itaka 8

All games from Round 6


Round 7 pairings (top 10 boards)

Team MP Res. : Res. MP Team
Mednyi Vsadnik St.Petersburg 10   :   11 Valerenga Sjakklubb
Obiettivo Risarcimento Padova 10   :   10 Molodezhka
Odlar Yurdu 9   :   10 AVE Novy Bor
Alkaloid 9   :   9 Beer Sheva Chess Club
Itaka 8   :   9 Eynatten

Women's section

In the semi-final matches the rating favourites Nona and Monte Carlo prevailed and will play each other in the final round to decide the tournament.

Pia Cramling converted a rook ending against the Russian Champion Natalia Pogonina in the decisive win for the top seeds. 


Cramling found the decisive 67.Rf7 which freezes the white rook and prepares to shelter the black king from a check once it clears a path for the b-pawn. 1-0 (77 moves)


Natalia Pogonina (seen here earlier in the week) suffered her first loss as her team Ugra went down in the semi-final match | Photo: Niki Riga /


Team MP Res. : Res. MP Team
SSHOR 6 1 : 3 9 Nona *)
Monte-Carlo 10 : 8 Ugra *)

Round 7 pairings

(Board 1 is the final match.)

Team MP Res. : Res. MP Team
Cercle d'Echecs de Monte-Carlo 12   :   11 Nona *)
SSHOR 6   :   8 Ugra *)
Kyiv Chess Federation *) 9   :   8 Odlar Yurdu
Beer Sheva Chess Club *) 3   :   5 Caissa Italia Pentole Agnelli
ZSK Maribor *) 4   :   5 Mulhouse Philidor
AMO Galaxias Thessaloniki *) 0   :   1 Caissa Italia Banca Alpi Marittime

Games from Round 6



Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.


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