European Teams: Denmark and Austria stun favourites

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/25/2019 – The European Team Championships kicked off Thursday in the coastal city of Batumi, Georgia. Russia were the favourites both in the open and women's categories, but only the female team kicked off with a win, as Denmark held the top seeds to a draw in the open section. The Russians were not the only ones giving up a match point in round one though, as the second seeds from England also drew, against Austria. | Pictured: The Lithuanian team before their match against Romania. | Photo: Official site

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From the Isle of Man to Batumi

Many of the strongest participants in the European Team Championships took a direct trip from the Isle of Man to Batumi. Located at the foot of the Caucasus on the coast of the Black Sea, the Georgian city is a well-known destination for chess players. After all, a number of important events were held there — the last one being the 2018 Olympiad. For some, like Jorden van Foreest and Daniil Dubov, going from IoM to the sea port resulted in a most welcome change of climate.

Batumi, Georgia

Batumi, Georgia | Photo: Uwe Brodrecht

The fact that the gruelling Grand Swiss finished a few days ago might have been a key factor in round one. Russia's Kirill Alekseenko and Maxim Matlakov, England's Gawain Jones and Ukraine's Andrei Volokitin all lost against lower-rated opposition right after playing eleven rounds in Douglas.

Nevertheless, no fewer than fifteen teams in Batumi have a rating average over 2600, which means it is very unlikely that none of the teams will get close to a perfect score. In fact, the defending champions of Azerbaijan kicked off the 2017 edition with a loss against the 22nd seeds of Italy and took home gold medals after collecting 14 out of 18 possible match points.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov from Azerbaijan | Photo: Official site

Betting on a draw between Russia and Denmark prior to round one would have been a long shot...but betting on the draw an hour and a half after the action started would have been even more gutsy. By then, Daniil Dubov was already being interviewed by the commentators, after using a dashing novelty in the opening to get a 23-move win over Jonas Buhl Bjerre.

Out of a familiar Ruy Lopez, the Russian deviated from theory as early as move 8:

 

After being part of the team that helped Magnus Carlsen prepare for the 2018 World Championship match, Dubov has shown stunning ideas in the opening once and again. Now, he quickly challenged White's centre with 8...d5, giving up the e5-pawn right then and there. Naturally, Bjerre — who got his third GM norm last week — started taking his time, while his rival continued to blitz out his moves.

Dubov spent more than a few seconds on one of his decisions for the first time on move 8, when he let his clock run out one minute before sacrificing his dark-squared bishop:

 

The Russian explained that White needed to play 14.d4 in the previous move, as his 14.d3 allowed Black to respond to 14...xf2+ 15.xf2 with 15...d4+. Notice that this would not be a possibility had White put his pawn on d4. 

After the text, however, Bjerre immediately faltered with 16.e3. A devastating attack started with 16...g4+ and led to White's resignation merely seven moves later.

Dmitry Andreikin, Maxim Matlakov, Kirill Alekseenko

Dmitry Andreikin, Maxim Matlakov and Kirill Alekseenko | Photo: Official site

The victims of the upsets by the Danish on boards two and three were Kirill Alekseenko and Maxim Matlakov — the former had an astounding performance at the Grand Swiss, while the latter only was left out of contention after losing against none other than Magnus Carlsen. Alekseenko's ambitious play with Black was punished by Sune Berg Hansen, while Jesper Sondergaard Thybo beat Matlakov in a sharp tactical struggle.

In the end, Russia saved a match point (each team victory is worth two MP) thanks to Dmitry Andreikin's win on board one. The only player of the squad not arriving from the Isle of Man defeated Mads Andersen after making good use of a strong passer on the c-file.


Russia vs. Denmark

 

The other large surprise of the round was given by Austria. Against the second seeded team of England, they drew on the top two boards and traded wins on the rest to get off on the right foot in Batumi. The hero for the Austrians was David Shengelia, who won a rook endgame with 4 v 3 on the same flank against Gawain Jones. Nicholas Pert scored the single English win, also from a rook endgame, against Peter Schreiner. 

Michael Adams

Mickey Adams plays board one for the English team | Photo: Official site

The match could have gone either way though, as the game between David Howell and Felix Blohberger saw both players missing considerable chances. First, Howell — not surprisingly in time trouble — wrongly assessed he could not gain a pawn 'for free':

 

Most likely, the Englishman did see 33.♘xf7, when the king cannot capture with 33...♚xf7 due to 34.♘d6+ and the queen is lost. Howell opted for 33.c4, which creates more threats while apparently keeping the same option in store. However, Black has 33...ce7 and the trick does not work any more.

The game continued 34.c1 d8 35.c5 d7 36.a1 h3+ (infiltrating with the queen) 37.g1, and now Blohberger was the one who missed his chance:

 

The Austrian went for 37...e3, with a perpetual after 38.fxe3 xg3+ 39.h1 h3+, etcetera. Instead, he had the winning 37...♞f6 — the threat is 38...♞g4 with the queen and knight duo ready to harass the king. 


England vs. Austria

 

Other teams drawing higher-rated squads were North Macedonia (against Germany), Montenegro (Israel), Finland (Georgia) and Georgia 2 (Turkey).

Standings after Round 1 (top 14) - Open

Rk. Team Team
1 Spain ESP
  Slovenia SLO
3 Azerbaijan AZE
  Armenia ARM
  France FRA
  Sweden SWE
7 Poland POL
  Czech Republic CZE
  Romania ROU
  Greece GRE
11 Netherlands NED
  Ukraine UKR
  Hungary HUN
  Croatia CRO

...40 teams

All games - Open

 

The top three prevail in the Women's

Unlike what happened in the open section, the top three squads began the event with wins among the women. Russia got a clear-cut 3½:½ victory over Israel, Georgia beat the Czech Republic with a 3:1 score, and Ukraine — without the Muzychuk sisters — defeated Germany — without Elisabeth Paehtz.

Nana Dzagnidze, Lela Javakhishvili

Nana Dzagnidze and Lela Javakhishvili from Georgia | Photo: Official site

The biggest upset of round one was given by Greece, who held Poland to a draw. The Polish do not have a squad as strong rating-wise as the Russians or the Ukrainians, but they barely missed to join the podium in 2017 after surprisingly losing in the last round against Romania. In their match-up against Greece, there were draws on boards one and three, Jolanta Zawadzka defeated Ekaterini Pavlidou on board two, and the surprise came on board four, where Ioulia Makka beat Joanna Majdan:

 

White already has a completely winning position thanks to her strong passed c-pawn combined with the threats against Black's king. The finishing shot was 31.xe7 xe7 32.h3 and resigns. Perfect geometry.

Much like in the Open, none of the underdogs managed to score a win, but two squads did get to 'steal' one match point from their opponents — Croatia drew Hungary and Georgia 3 drew Slovakia.

Standings after Round 1 (top 13) - Women's

Rk. Team Team
1 Azerbaijan AZE
  Romania ROU
  Turkey TUR
4 Russia RUS
  Georgia 2 GEO
  Armenia ARM
  Serbia SRB
8 Georgia GEO
  France FRA
  Italy ITA
  Spain ESP
12 Ukraine UKR
  Netherlands NED

...32 teams

All games - Women's

 

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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