European Champs: Few rating favourites among leaders

by Macauley Peterson
3/23/2018 – In the European Individual Championship in Batumi, after six rounds the top group has increased to seven players. After his victory over Ivan Saric, Radoslaw Wojtaszek is now the only player rated over 2700 in the leading pack. Friday is a rest day, and the tournament resumes on Saturday at 12:15 CET. | Pictured: Musical chairs on the top board. Benjamin Bok (right) is one of the co-leaders. Ivan Saric (left) is now half a point back | Photos: Official facebook page

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Seven lead into the seventh

While the focus of the chess world is on the Candidates Tournament in Berlin, last weekend another major tournament got underway in the Georgian port city of Batumi: this year's European Individual Championship. The tournament is a qualifier for the next World Cup, and will be followed in April by the European Women's Championship to be held in Slovakia. 

Over 300 players embarked on the journey to Batumi, with eight 2700 players among the top seeds, including Dmitry Jakovenko, Radoslaw Wojtaszek and David Navara, and a whopping 72 grandmasters rated over 2600 Elo. Several of the favourites started with setbacks, but after six rounds and heading into the tournament's only rest day, some have climbed back into contention, though most remain behind the leaders. The field is extremely tight, with no less than seven players tied with 5.0 / 6. Of the 2700 players, however, only Wojtaszek is among them.

Radoslaw Wojtaszek

Radoslaw Wojtaszek is tied for first | Photo: Official Facebook page

In round six, Wojtaszek beat Ivan Saric, who had been one of three leaders after five rounds. Saric went for a risky kingside attack at the cost of weakening his own king, and the resulting counter-attack was swift and deadly. 

 

Here, "Radek" sprung 28.d5! — a brutal clearance sacrifice. The idea is after 28...Rxd4 29.Bc4! forces Black to give up the exchange or else the queen will penetrate to e5 with devastating effect. Instead, Saric tried 28...Bxd5, hoping to meet 29.Qe5 with Rh7, but instead 29.Rf6! was just crushing.

In addition to the Polish number one, sharing the lead are three Russians — Ernesto Inarkiev, Evgeny Najer, and Sanan Sjugirov — plus Gawain Jones, Benjamin Bok, and Tamir Nabaty.

Familiar names fade

None of the big favourites was to be found atop the standings for the entire first half of the event. Vassily Ivanchuk, the fifth seed, is a point off the pace now, in 36th place. He tried a rather dubious novelty in the fourth round against Kirill Alekseenko, a twenty-year-old Russian GM who, at 2609, is number 44 nationally, but went on to beat his Ukrainian opponent with black.

 

You can move the pieces on the live diagram!

The move takes away the natural ...c5 advance from Black, but after the straightforward 13...Nd3 14.Rf1 Ng4, only Black can be better. Soon Alekseenko's bishop pair and space advantage were strong enough that he went for a long-term positional piece sacrifice:

 

Black thought for 18 minutes and played 19...Qf6!?, leaving the knight en prise, 20.gxf4 Bxf4 and Ivanchuk already went wrong with 21.Qe1 Rae8 22.Rg1 Qxb2 and now 23.Bb3 was a bridge too far:

 

23...f5! blasted open the centre with a winning position.

Players

Ivanchuk (back right) hovers over the game of Ivan Cheparinov early in the tournament

Top seed Dmitry Jakovenko did not have a dream start to the tournament either, as he gave up two early draws to much lower rated opposition.

The same goes for some other favorites with ratings over 2700. Wojtaszek conceded defeat to the young Romanian Bogdan-Daniel Deac in round two.

 

White's rook is menacing, but Wojtaszek needed to keep the knight at bay with 39...Rd6. Instead his 39.Ra8 allowed 40.Nc6! (note that 40.Nxd5 is no problem due to Bg2, which leads to a draw after 41.f3 Ra1! 42.Rb8+) and now Ne7-f5 is a serious threat. Wojtaszek too desperate measures with 40...f5 but was soon lost.

Pity for Paco

The biggest casualty is the unfortunate case of Spanish number 1, Paco Vallejo. After losing against Croatian GM Bosiocic in round three, drawing with 2552-rated IM Vadim Moiseenko, and losing once more to GM David Arutinian, Vallejo withdrew from the championship. On Facebook, he explains that this is the first time he has withdrawn from any tournament and that he was simply not prepared to play on account of ongoing financial trouble and litigation related to his brief period of playing online poker several years ago. It's a long story, but the short version is that poker winnings are (or at least were at the time) taxed independently of a player's net earnings — a fact of which Vallejo was evidently unaware — resulting in a six-figure bill from the Spanish tax authorities. He is currently fighting the assessment which, needless to say, can be a significant distraction in championship chess.

Mamedov on the move

Rauf Mamedov, now also over Elo 2700, is clawing his way back from an early stumble against another Spanish GM, 2584-rated Josep Lopez Martinez. Mamedov, with White, had been better throughout much of the middlegame, but allowed his opponent to wriggle out, and as is often the case, he couldn't cope with the new reality that the position was equal and trending black's way.

 

Mamedov went for the speculative pawn sacrifice 35.e6?! but simply had no follow up, and before long, Black's extra centre pawns were rolling down the board.

Hovhanissyan surge stalls

A lesser-known Armenian GM Robert Hovhanissyan was the only player with a perfect four out of four heading into the fifth round but there came up against an in-form Tamir Nabaty from Israel. White's handling of a kingside attack in a London System, including a starring role for Harry the h-pawn would make GM Simon Williams proud.

 

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Hovhanissyan and Nabaty

Robert Hovhanissyan (Armenia) and Tamir Nabaty (Israel) | Photo: Official Facebook page

This win put Nabaty at the top of the table, where he stayed, drawing co-leader Benjamin Bok from the Netherlands.  Nabaty is the number two player in Israel, after Boris Gelfand, and the 2014 and 2016 Israeli Champion.

Bok is having a great tournament so far, with a performance rating over 2800. He'll face one of the top seeds in round seven, David Navara, who is half a point behind.

Commentary of round six

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Top results of round six

1 51
 
GM Bok Benjamin 2622 ½ - ½ GM Nabaty Tamir 2690
 
11
2 2
 
GM Wojtaszek Radoslaw 2738 4 1 - 0 GM Saric Ivan 2657
 
26
3 15
 
GM Inarkiev Ernesto 2684 4 1 - 0 4 GM Romanov Evgeny 2619
 
54
4 53
 
GM Vocaturo Daniele 2620 4 0 - 1 4 GM Najer Evgeniy 2683
 
16
5 69
 
GM Hovhannisyan Robert 2601 4 ½ - ½ 4 GM Demchenko Anton 2672
 
18
6 27
 
GM Rakhmanov Aleksandr 2655 4 ½ - ½ 4 GM Paravyan David 2613
 
59
7 75
 
GM Predke Alexandr 2595 4 ½ - ½ 4 GM Piorun Kacper 2653
 
28
8 29
 
GM Sjugirov Sanan 2652 4 1 - 0 4 GM Arutinian David 2536
 
114
9 121
 
GM Djukic Nikola 2523 4 0 - 1 4 GM Jones Gawain C B 2651
 
30
10 85
 
GM Martirosyan Haik M. 2586 4 ½ - ½ 4 GM Guseinov Gadir 2646
 
36
11 1
 
GM Jakovenko Dmitry 2746 1 - 0 4 GM Alekseenko Kirill 2609
 
62
12 3
 
GM Navara David 2737 1 - 0 GM Abasov Nijat 2608
 
64
13 5
 
GM Ivanchuk Vassily 2713 ½ - ½ GM Martinovic Sasa 2604
 
66
14 61
 
GM Bosiocic Marin 2611 0 - 1 GM Dubov Daniil 2701
 
8
15 63
 
GM Bartel Mateusz 2609 0 - 1 GM Cheparinov Ivan 2693
 
10

Standings after six rounds

1 11
 
GM Nabaty Tamir ISR 2690 5,0 0,0 20,0 23,0 2830 10 9,6
  16
 
GM Najer Evgeniy RUS 2683 5,0 0,0 20,0 23,0 2841 10 10,8
3 30
 
GM Jones Gawain C B ENG 2651 5,0 0,0 19,5 22,5 2812 10 11,0
4 15
 
GM Inarkiev Ernesto RUS 2684 5,0 0,0 19,0 21,5 2847 10 11,3
5 51
 
GM Bok Benjamin NED 2622 5,0 0,0 19,0 21,0 2803 10 12,7
6 2
 
GM Wojtaszek Radoslaw POL 2738 5,0 0,0 18,5 21,0 2821 10 5,8
7 29
 
GM Sjugirov Sanan RUS 2652 5,0 0,0 18,0 21,0 2813 10 11,0
8 97
 
GM Skoberne Jure SLO 2563 4,5 0,0 21,5 24,0 2770 10 17,0
9 28
 
GM Piorun Kacper POL 2653 4,5 0,0 21,0 24,0 2734 10 6,1
10 75
 
GM Predke Alexandr RUS 2595 4,5 0,0 21,0 23,5 2771 10 14,1
11 18
 
GM Demchenko Anton RUS 2672 4,5 0,0 20,5 22,5 2751 10 5,9
  85
 
GM Martirosyan Haik M. ARM 2586 4,5 0,0 20,5 22,5 2754 10 13,6
13 59
 
GM Paravyan David RUS 2613 4,5 0,0 20,0 22,0 2708 10 7,7
14 35
 
GM Grandelius Nils SWE 2646 4,5 0,0 19,5 22,5 2729 10 6,3
15 26
 
GM Saric Ivan CRO 2657 4,5 0,0 19,5 22,0 2767 10 8,6
16 69
 
GM Hovhannisyan Robert ARM 2601 4,5 0,0 19,5 21,5 2776 10 13,9
17 123
 
GM Yuffa Daniil RUS 2521 4,5 0,0 19,5 21,0 2736 10 18,6
18 146
 
IM Santos Ruiz Miguel ESP 2488 4,5 0,0 19,0 20,5 2658 10 19,0
19 10
 
GM Cheparinov Ivan FID 2693 4,5 0,0 18,5 21,5 2734 10 3,0
20 1
 
GM Jakovenko Dmitry RUS 2746 4,5 0,0 18,5 21,5 2695 10 -0,4
21 34
 
GM McShane Luke J ENG 2647 4,5 0,0 18,5 21,0 2727 10 6,0
22 33
 
GM Anton Guijarro David ESP 2647 4,5 0,0 18,5 21,0 2723 10 5,7
23 27
 
GM Rakhmanov Aleksandr RUS 2655 4,5 0,0 18,0 20,5 2675 10 2,4
24 36
 
GM Guseinov Gadir AZE 2646 4,5 0,0 18,0 20,5 2700 10 4,1
  41
 
GM Volokitin Andrei UKR 2639 4,5 0,0 18,0 20,5 2709 10 5,4
26 8
 
GM Dubov Daniil RUS 2701 4,5 0,0 18,0 20,0 2746 10 3,5
27 99
 
GM Fedorov Alexei BLR 2559 4,5 0,0 17,5 19,5 2708 10 12,6
28 3
 
GM Navara David CZE 2737 4,5 0,0 16,5 19,5 2713 10 -0,6
29 78
 
GM Brkic Ante CRO 2590 4,0 0,0 21,5 24,5 2654 10 5,5

...302 players

All available games

 

Andre Schulz contributed to this story

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Macauley is Editor in Chief of ChessBase News in Hamburg, Germany, and producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast. He was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.
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