European Ch: Four at the top

by Siegfried Hornecker
3/23/2019 – Prior to the fifth round 19 players were tied for the first place, all with 3½/4 points and all willing to fight for the title. Maxim Rodshtein (pictured) is the new frontrunner. Boris Gelfand was the only one of those 19 top players in the 50+ category. On the other end of the age spectrum are Semyon Lomasov, Benjamin Gledura and Bogdan-Daniel Deac recently seen fighting for youth titles. Many players with three points were also eager to win, promising an exciting round, though not in all games. SIEGFRIED HORNECKER presents the highlights. | Photo: Patricia Claros Aguilar

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EUR €20,000 for the first place and a total prize fund of €100,000 are convincing arguments for 366 chess players to visit Skopje in the Republic of North Macedonia,[1] to participate in a championship open to all players registered in the European Chess Union. Additionally, a spot at the 2019 World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, awaits the top 22 players. The organizers decided to have the boards 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 at one table (see below). The friendly handshake prior to the game was repeated within the next hour on two of the boards on this table.

As only the first ten boards featured the players with 3½ points, we give a short summary of those games and point out some of their highlights as well as two from other games.

top boards

The start of Round 5, Russians Chigaev and Artemiev shake hands | Photo: Patricia Claros Aguilar

Maksim Chigaev and Vladislav Artemiev quickly drew on board 1. How quickly? Ten moves and one of the most common opening repetitions:


6...g4 7.c1 f6 8.e3 g4, etc. This position has over tens of thousands of games in chess history. 

Viktor Erdos against Ivan Cheparinov similarly reached an endgame quickly on board 2 where they agreed to a draw. But at least they played a few original moves. Board 7 saw Aleksej Alexandrov and Vadim Zvjagintsev agreeing to a draw also in under an hour. So, let's turn to some of the more interesting games.

On board 3, Maxim Rodshtein played a novelty on the 12th move. With the kings on opposite wings, Deac, with White, eschewed pursuing an attack and instead exchanged pieces into an endgame in which he was slightly worse. Rodshtein kept on pressing and eventually found a way to breakthrough and win a pawn: 


37...xc3 38.xc3 b4 39.d1 xe4 and Rodshtein held the extra pawn and gradually won the rook and knight ending.

Board 4 saw Ferenc Berkes against Levan Pantsulaia reach a promising position. The opponents exchanged inaccuracies until Pantsulaia sought salvation in an opposite-coloured bishops ending. But two passed pawns was one too many, allowing Berkes to take home the full point.


With 21...b5!! Pantsulaia could have defended against the kingside threats, as the possible piece exchange would make his game easier and White also has no other good moves. Instead, 21...xg5 22.d3 f7 23.f3 kept White’s advantage, but 23...f4 24.h4? gave it away while 24.h7+ f8 25.h4 would have threatened a smothered mate to win material. The game continued with small mistakes on both sides. After reaching an equal endgame time trouble decided as Pantsulaia exchanged pieces into an opposite bishops ending where he got into zugzwang.


Levan Pantsulaia faced a difficult game that ultimately was decided by zugzwang | Photo: Patricia Claros Aguilar

On board 5, Sergei Azarov dared to challenge Boris Gelfand’s Sveshnikov Sicilian. Gelfand’s novelty on the 14th move allowed for an easy equalization, as would other lines also have done. Azarov fought to get some advantage but the best he could get was a passed pawn in a queen endgame. As there was nothing better than to trade the majesties into a completely drawn pawn endgame, the few moves afterwards did not shake the position any more.



Boris Gelfand’s Sveshnikov Sicilian remained firm | Photo: Patricia Claros Aguilar

More danger for both sides loomed in Kirill Alekseenko’s bishop sacrifice against Rasmus Svane. Prior to this, Svane had sacrificed a pawn to seize the initiative and just won it back.


Play the moves on the live diagram!

Alekseenko sacrificed his bishop with 20.xh6. First, Svane correctly defended with 20...xd3! 21.xd3 g6 and instead of forcing a draw with 22.h5, Alekseenko invested his piece with 22.xg7 xg7 23.g4 h8 24.h4. Svane defended relatively well at first (24...h5 25.e1 e6 26.ee4 c8 27.g3 f5 28.g2 c1 29.g5 c6 30.e6) but eventually collapsed under the ongoing pressure with 30...e5? and allowed a winning combination instead of reaching a promising position himself with 30...♛c2. Alekseenko reached an easily won rook endgame and Svane resigned after the time control.

Here's the full game:


Board 8 saw probably the most unusual opening of the day. Kacper Piorun weakened his kingside and had to play e8-f7 to defend his g6-pawn when Tal Baron attacked it. Piorun, member of the Polish composition solving team which won the World Chess Solving Championship in Ohrid 2018, might have used those skills to see that the Israeli GM made a problem-like mistake.


Baron offered his bishop with 11.ge2!? e5 12.d5! xd5 13.xd5+ f8 and now immediately 14.e4! instead of 14.dxe5? dxe5 15.e4 exf4 16.xf4 e5 would have offered good chances for White, as in the text the 14th move freed e5 for the black knight — in problem terms, Baron fell for the thematic try. Now Piorun fought to consolidate his advantage, a task accomplished just shortly afterwards leading to Baron’s resignation after only 23 moves.

Benjamin Gledura took just 25 moves against Mateusz Bartel as well, but those two opponents offered no chances to each other, leading to a threefold repetition after a relatively closed game. The purely optical advantage left no way to pressure Bartel’s fortified position in a game without notable events.

Events however were stirred up by Daniil Dubov who was the “three-pointer” to challenge Semyon Lomasov. The theoretical novelty 13.a4 in a game with opposite side-castling started a mutual pawn storm. Previously 13.b4 had been tried, but Dubov postponed this by two moves. Curiously, moving the c-pawn might have been more dangerous. We join below to show the climax of the attack.


Although looking very dangerous, 18...a6!! would have been the correct response. If White takes on a6, Black can play 19.xa6 f6 and survives the onslaught after the sacrifice on b7. Lomasov might have thought he can win a piece but after 18...f6 19.bxa7 c7 20.c3!! he had to think for a while on what to do after 20...fxe5 21.Qb2 and eventually took the bitter pill of 20...xe5 21.dxe5 xe5 22.xg4. Crushing the hopes of his countryman, Dubov did not let his decisive advantage slip away and even allowed his opponent an attack against his king, seeing that he would checkmate first. Being a rook down, Lomasov sacrificed his other rook to give some more checks, then resigned. (Replay the game.)

Emre Can was among the players with 3 points who demonstrated their fighting spirit already in the opening. His game on board 16 posed the question if Alexey Dreev should accept a gambit on the 8th move. Dreev eventually accepted and when Can regained the pawn two moves later, an equal position arose quickly. While the move was not a theoretical novelty, it got the Russian master thinking.


With 9.dxe5 g4 10.a3 gxe5 11.xe5 xe5 12.axb4 xc4 an equal position was reached. The game ended in a draw later.

Korobov vs Nasuta

Beginning their game, Korobov and Nasuta explore the English opening | Photo: Patricia Claros Aguilar

The players with 2½ points played some interesting games as well. As just one example this back rank checkmate idea by Anton Korobov shall serve as an illustration. 


Certainly Grzegorz Nasuta’s two rooks on the second rank look dangerous, but with 36.e6! Korobov remained fearless. As 36...fxe6 37.xa7 gives White a won position thanks to the back rank mate threat, the continuation 36...xf2 37.xa7 g2+ 38.f1 g7 39.exf7 bf2+ 40.e1 e2+ 41.d1 xe3 42.c8 1-0 only confirmed that Black was without a defense.

As this round has separated the top field again, the leading players with 4½ points now are Kacper Piorun, Kirill Alekseenko, Maxim Rodshtein and Ferenc Berkes.

Results of Round 5 (top 10)

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Chigaev Maksim ½ - ½ Artemiev Vladislav
Erdos Viktor ½ - ½ Cheparinov Ivan
Deac Bogdan-Daniel 0 - 1 Rodshtein Maxim
Berkes Ferenc 1 - 0 Pantsulaia Levan
Azarov Sergei ½ - ½ Gelfand Boris
Alekseenko Kirill 1 - 0 Svane Rasmus
Aleksandrov Aleksej ½ - ½ Zvjaginsev Vadim
Baron Tal 0 - 1 Piorun Kacper
Gledura Benjamin ½ - ½ Bartel Mateusz
Dubov Daniil 3 1 - 0 Lomasov Semyon

Standings after Round 5 (top 25)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Rodshtein Maxim 4,5 2577
2 Berkes Ferenc 4,5 2575
3 Alekseenko Kirill 4,5 2568
4 Piorun Kacper 4,5 2535
5 Azarov Sergei 4,0 2611
6 Chigaev Maksim 4,0 2596
7 Christiansen Johan-Sebastian 4,0 2588
8 Cheparinov Ivan 4,0 2585
9 Artemiev Vladislav 4,0 2566
10 Gelfand Boris 4,0 2562
11 Grandelius Nils 4,0 2556
12 Bartel Mateusz 4,0 2551
13 Hracek Zbynek 4,0 2547
14 Erdos Viktor 4,0 2543
15 Lysyj Igor 4,0 2539
16 Rakhmanov Aleksandr 4,0 2537
17 Paravyan David 4,0 2533
18 Kovalenko Igor 4,0 2532
19 Aleksandrov Aleksej 4,0 2532
20 Dubov Daniil 4,0 2523
21 Anton Guijarro David 4,0 2522
  Sychev Klementy 4,0 2522
23 Zvjaginsev Vadim 4,0 2518
24 Gledura Benjamin 4,0 2516
25 Kovalev Vladislav 4,0 2514

... 361 Players

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[1] The Republic of North Macedonia is one of the successor states of Yugoslavia, independent since 1991. Resolving a long dispute with Greece it was renamed from “Macedonia” to “North Macedonia” in 2019, drawing a distinction to the Greek geographic region Macedonia.


Siegfried (*1986) is a German chess composer and member of the World Federation for Chess Composition, subcommitee for endgame studies. His autobiographical book "Weltenfern" (in English only) can be found on the ARVES website. He presents an interesting endgame study with detailed explanation each month.


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