Ivan Saric is 2018 European Champion

by Albert Silver
3/29/2018 – Overshadowed by the Candidates tournament held in Berlin, the European Championship was still the fascinating event it has always been, with a field that is absurdly rich in grandmasters and titled players. This hard-fought affair brought many famous names, but it all went down to the wire with Ivan Saric emerging the sole victor in a huge win over David Navara in the last round. | Photo: Sophie Nikoladze

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Seven a half point behind

There have certainly been editions in which one player has dominated the proceedings from end to end, such as Alexander Motylev’s record win a few years ago, and there have been others with large groups crowded on the podium that could only be decided by a playoff. For a while it rather seemed like this would be one of the latter.

In the previous report, there was nothing strange about having seven players splitting the top spot with 5.0/6, and a nearly endless number a half-point behind. The very first leader came the very next round when Englishman GM Gawain Jones beat Russian GM Ernesto Inarkiev and emerged with 6.0/7. Unfortunately for his fans, the rejoicing was shortlived as he was caught up the very next round by Nabaty, Wojtaszek, and McShane. It was anyone’s guess what would happen next.

Gawain Jones had a strong campaign and was in the lead until the very end | photo: Sophie Nikoladze


37. Qxe3!! and after 37...Nxe3, White has a cute epaulette mate with 38. Rxe8+ Kf7 39. Rf8! 

The names continued to change a bit with Ukrainian Anton Korobov joining the top in round nine, as well as the previous winner Maxim Matlakov. The problem was that while these players were certainly having excellent results, many in the 2800 Elo performance range, none of them seemed able to build any momentum, which was the only way anyone was going to really stand above the rest, even with the help of their opponents.

Take a look at this next position from round ten between Ernesto Inarkiev and Spanish GM Manuel Lopez Martinez.


Black played 37…Rxe4 to which White uncorked the very strong tactical counterstroke 38. Nd6!! Take a moment to look at it, since it deserves a diagram of its own:


The point is that White’s queen is untouchable due to the threat of Nf7 mate! If the knight is captured, then the black queen on b5 falls, so he plays 38...Qb3, covering f7 and protecting the queen. White replied now with 39. Qb5! Again tempting Black to take (and get mated with Nf7). Black’s reply was 39...Re1+! Curiously, here is where the game ends with a full point for …. White!


One can only assume that Black’s time was up and he missed the time control. However, it still leaves one question for you the readers: With White to play now, how does he stand here? Is he winning, equal, or lost? Answer below.

Magic of Chess Tactics 2

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It all came down to the last round, with a massive eight players sharing first with 7.5/10. The eight players were all paired against one another, so they had their fates in their hands. Would any of them rise to the occasion? One player managed to do so.

Ivan Saric pulled off the biggest win of his career in the last round | Photo: Sophie Nikoladze

[Event "19th EICC 2018"] [Site "Batumi"] [Date "2018.03.28"] [Round "11"] [White "Saric, Ivan"] [Black "Navara, David"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B39"] [WhiteElo "2657"] [BlackElo "2737"] [Annotator "Albert Silver"] [PlyCount "133"] [EventDate "2018.??.??"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 g6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Bg7 5. c4 Nc6 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Nc3 Ng4 8. Qxg4 Nxd4 9. Qd1 e5 10. Bd3 d6 11. O-O O-O 12. a4 Be6 {So far, so theory in this well-trodden line in the Maroczy.} ({Black has also tried to prevent White's idea by playing} 12... a5 {himself, but this just left too many concessions on the light squares.} 13. Nb5 Bd7 14. Bxd4 Bxb5 15. Be3 Bc6 16. f3 f5 17. Qc2 Qf6 18. Rad1 Qe6 19. Rd2 Kh8 20. Rfd1 {1-0 (35) Van Wely,L (2663) -Edouard,R (2640) Chartres 2017}) 13. a5 $146 Qd7 {[#] If you ask the engines, there are plenty of choices here. Personally 13...f5 seemed like the natural choice.} 14. Qa4 {An interesting choice. White clearly feels the endgame favors him enough to invite it. This was by no means an unspoken draw offer.} Qxa4 {White is slightly better.} 15. Rxa4 Rfc8 16. Nd5 Bxd5 17. exd5 $5 { White's plan is now made clear: he wishes to use his rook and bishop pair to push forth his new 4 vs 3 pawn majority on the queenside.} Re8 18. Re1 f5 19. Kf1 Kf7 20. b4 Rac8 21. Rc1 e4 22. Be2 Be5 23. g3 {Though there is nothing decisive yet, Black is having trouble drumming up counterplay. His logical means would be to push his own center and kingside pawns, but they are all tied down due to threats.} Rc7 {[#] Black overlooks white's next shot.} 24. c5 $1 Rec8 (24... dxc5 {is just a disaster for Black.} 25. bxc5 Nxe2 (25... Nb3 $2 26. Rcc4 {and instead of becoming a threat, the knight has become a liability.} ) 26. Kxe2 Rd8 27. d6 Rcd7 28. Rb4 {followed by Rcb1 is decisive.}) 25. Bxd4 Bxd4 26. c6 {A clever move that becomes clear with White's follow-up.} bxc6 27. b5 $1 c5 ({Black's best chance was to grab as many pawns with} 27... Bxf2 $5 28. Kxf2 cxb5 29. Rxc7+ Rxc7 30. Bxb5 Rc2+ 31. Be2 Kf6 $14 32. Rc4 Rxc4 33. Bxc4 Ke5 34. Ke3 g5 {and Black can hold since the White's bishop alone cannot create a passed pawn, and Black's two passers, supported by his king, are too strong for just the king or just the bishop.} 35. Bb3 f4+ 36. gxf4+ gxf4+ 37. Ke2 Kd4 38. a6 Ke5 39. h3 Kd4 40. Kf2 Kd3 41. Ba4 $11) 28. b6 axb6 29. axb6 Rb7 $1 {The point of White's line: the Bd4 will be lost.} 30. Rxd4 $1 cxd4 31. Rxc8 Rxb6 {This endgame is better for White, bu not at all obvious to covert.} 32. Ke1 g5 33. Bd1 Rb1 {[#]} 34. g4 $1 $16 {Attacking Black's pawns, since the rook is on the 8th, trying to keep White's bishop pinned, which leaves White's rook free rein.} fxg4 (34... f4 35. Rc4 Kf6 36. Rxd4) 35. Rc4 $1 Kf6 36. Rxd4 Ke5 37. Ra4 h5 38. Kd2 Kxd5 $2 39. Bc2 $2 (39. Ra5+ {and the rest is easy.} Kd4 40. Rxg5) 39... Rg1 $2 (39... Rf1 $16 {was necessary.}) 40. Ra5+ $1 $18 ({ Less strong is} 40. Bxe4+ Ke5 $16) ({Also, if} 40. Rxe4 $2 Rh1 $11) 40... Kd4 41. Bb3 e3+ 42. fxe3+ Ke4 43. Bc2+ Kf3 {intending ...Rg2+.} 44. Rf5+ Kg2 45. Rxg5 Kxh2 46. Rxh5+ Kg3 47. Bd1 Rg2+ 48. Be2 Rf2 49. Ke1 Rg2 50. Rd5 Rg1+ 51. Kd2 Ra1 52. Rd4 Ra2+ 53. Ke1 $1 Ra1+ {[#]} 54. Bd1 $1 Kh3 55. Rxd6 g3 56. Kf1 g2+ 57. Kg1 Rb1 58. Rd2 Rc1 59. e4 Kg3 {[#]} 60. e5 $1 Rc6 61. Rd4 Rc5 62. Rg4+ Kh3 63. Re4 Rc3 64. e6 Rd3 65. Re1 Rd4 66. e7 Rh4 67. Re3# 1-0

A huge win for the Croatian grandmaster, who managed to bring down an opponent rated 80 Elo more and did so with ambitious play, never content to take the easy draw.

Antoaneta Stefanova

GM Antoaneta Stefanova was the best placed among the female players, though none really had a memorable event | photo: Sophie Nikoladze

One might think that with the top spots spoken for, the players out of the running for a prize would not press too hard in the last round, but as a matter of fact, no fewer than 17 out of the top 32 boards ended in a decisive result. One such example was Ruslan Ponomariov’s lightning strike over his compatriot IM Petro Golubka (2503 Elo).


White played the superb 24.Rxe6!! with the point being that if 24...Qxe6, White wins the queen with 25.Bxg7+ Kxg7 26.Bxf5+

Finally, among the top results, a special mention must be made of Spanish IM Miguel Santos Ruiz, rated 2488, who finished in 19th place with 7½/11, undefeated against ten grandmasters, and a 2678 performance. With the two GM norms this is worth, and the 34 Elo he gained, it seems certain he will become Spain’s newest grandmaster.

With a relatively quick draw in the last round, IM Miguel Santos Ruiz (left) crowned a fantastic campaign | Photo: Sophie Nikoladze

Solution: If White plays the knee-jerk response Rxe1, then he is dead lost, but if he instead plays Bc1!!, the game is about equal since the threats of Nf7 and Qxb3 are still on the board.

Final standings

The top 23 places qualify to the next FIDE World Cup.

Rk. Name Pts.
1 Saric Ivan 8,5
2 Wojtaszek Radoslaw 8,0
3 Sjugirov Sanan 8,0
4 Jones Gawain C B 8,0
5 Matlakov Maxim 8,0
6 McShane Luke J 8,0
7 Korobov Anton 8,0
8 Safarli Eltaj 8,0
9 Nabaty Tamir 7,5
10 Najer Evgeniy 7,5
  Demchenko Anton 7,5
12 Grandelius Nils 7,5
13 Yuffa Daniil 7,5
14 Navara David 7,5
15 Inarkiev Ernesto 7,5
16 Hovhannisyan Robert 7,5
17 Cheparinov Ivan 7,5
18 Bok Benjamin 7,5
19 Santos Ruiz Miguel 7,5
20 Abasov Nijat 7,5
21 Pashikian Arman 7,5
22 Sarana Alexey 7,5
23 Anton Guijarro David 7,5
  Parligras Mircea-Emilian 7,5
25 Melkumyan Hrant 7,5
26 Mamedov Rauf 7,5
27 Guseinov Gadir 7,5
28 Kobalia Mikhail 7,5
29 Savchenko Boris 7,5
30 Ferreira Jorge Viterbo 7,5
31 Fridman Daniel 7,5
32 Shevchenko Kirill 7,5


Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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