Rafael Leitao ties record seventh Brazilian Ch.

by Albert Silver
2/3/2015 – The Brazilian Championship held its 81st edition in Joao Pessoa, Brazil, continuing a tradition that dates back to 1927, and even before that if one counts unofficial matches. The three foremost winners of the title are the legendary Joao de Souza Mendes, Jaime Sunye Neto, and Giovanni Vescovi, now equaled by top Brazilian player Rafael Leitao. Report with analysis by the winner.

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The local legend Joao de Souza Mendes in 1953

The first official Brazilian championship to determine the title was held in 1927 in Rio de Janeiro, the capital then, and was won by Joao de Souza Mendes, who was to be a dominant force in Brazilian chess like no other player in its history. Consider that while his first title was in 1927, his last one was in 1958, 31 years later. It was his seventh title.

GM Jaime Sunye Neto in 1980 at the Chess Olympiad in Malta

The second player to reach seven titles was also Brazil's second grandmaster, Jaime Sunye Neto, winning it almost in succession 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983, the last shared jointly with Marcos Paolozzi.

Giovanni Vescovi was the first to tie the record for seven titles

The third player to repeat this feat was the former prodigy Giovanni Vescovi, who won came within a fraction of winning his first title at age sixteen in 1994 when he tied for first, but his father forebade him from playing the playoff against co-winner Aron Corrêa, who became champion by default. (My thanks to 30-time finalist and three-time champion Herman Claudius van Riemsdijk for setting the author straight). He then won it in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2010, thus equaling the record by Souza Mendes and Jaime Sunye Neto.

Joining the club is top Brazilian player Rafael Leitão

Joining their ranks this year is GM Rafael Leitão, no less a prodigy, winner of the World Youth under-12 and under-18 championship, and now holder of seven national titles. Rafael won his first Brazilian Championship in 1997 at the age of seventeen. This was in fact the 1996 title, but he had to wait until 1997 to win a three-way playoff against Giovanni Vescovi and Darcy Lima. Showing stil great form, he went on to win the 1997 title as well, clear first this time. After settling at four titles by 2010, Vescovi's withdrawal from competition opened the way to opportunity and Leitao took it. In his last three participations, in 2011, 2013, and 2014, he has taken first in all, and announced that he was indeed seeking the record.

This year the Brazilian Championship, which has long kept a fairly low profile in spite of its
national prestige, leveraged the ease of modern technology by providing live video coverage
by GM Darcy Lima, teamed with Juliana Rizo. In national events, this is unheard of, and it was
a big success with fans from ten countries connecting to watch, and over 22 thousand visits.

The event was held in Joao Pessoa, the capital of the state of Paraíba in Brazil. Founded in 1585,
it gained the distinction of being the "second greenest city in the world" after a survey carried out
by the United Nations showed its seven square kilometers of forested land was behind Paris only.

In spite of the clear favoritism of Rafael Leitao as the top seed and highest rated player in
Brazil, he was certainly not without challengers, all seeking their own moment of glory. In
round seven, he faced GM Felipe El Debs, one of his rivals, and won in emphatic fashion.

Rafael Leitao - Felipe El Debs (annotations by GM Rafael Leitão)

[Event "81st Brazilian Championship"] [Site "Joao Pessoa"] [Date "2015.01.22"] [Round "7"] [White "Leitao, Rafael"] [Black "El Debs, Felipe de Cresce"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D23"] [WhiteElo "2636"] [BlackElo "2512"] [Annotator "Rafael Leitao"] [PlyCount "49"] [EventDate "2015.01.22"] [EventCountry "BRA"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Qb3 dxc4 5. Qxc4 Bg4 6. Nc3 Nbd7 7. Bf4 {A move that is not played often that I had prepared some months ago. 7.e4 is more usual.} Qa5 $5 $146 {An immediate surprise! This natural move is a novelty.} 8. Qb3 $1 Qb6 {This move isn't bad in and of itself, but 8.Nb6 was more active.} ({For example, after} 8... Nb6 9. Bd2 Be6 10. Qc2 Nc4 11. e3 Nxd2 12. Nxd2 {the position is close to equal.}) 9. e4 (9. Nd2 Nh5 $1 {was insufficient for White.}) 9... Qxb3 (9... e6 10. Nd2 $1 {with an initiative.}) 10. axb3 Bxf3 11. gxf3 e5 $2 {This attempt at activity was unnecessary.} ({ After the solid} 11... e6 $14 {White had a slightly more comfortable position thanks to their center and bishop pair, but it would be very hard to break Black's position.}) 12. dxe5 (12. Bxe5 $2 {would be a mistake.} Nxe5 13. dxe5 Nd7 14. f4 Nc5 {with the initiative.}) 12... Nh5 13. Be3 Nxe5 14. Ra5 $1 { White had other interesting alternatives, but this is the most unpleasant. My opponent missed this resource. Moves that require a global vision of the board are among the hardest to see.} b5 {A sad necessity.} 15. Be2 Ng6 16. Ra6 $1 Kd7 {Other moves are not really better.} (16... Rc8 17. Nxb5 cxb5 18. Bxb5+ Ke7 19. Rxa7+ Kf6 20. Ra6+ Ke5 21. O-O $16) (16... Bb4 17. Rxc6 a6 (17... O-O 18. Bxb5 $16) 18. Rxa6 $1 {and Black's pawns start to disappear.} Rxa6 19. Bxb5+) 17. O-O Nhf4 18. Rd1+ Kc7 19. Nxb5+ $1 {Taking apart Black's position. All of White's pieces join the attack.} Kb7 ({Taking with} 19... cxb5 {would simply precipitate the fall. The rooks bishops and superior piece presence against the open king are immediately fatal.} 20. Bxb5 Bb4 21. Rc6+ Kb8 (21... Kb7 22. Rd7+ Kb8 23. Ba6) 22. Ba6 {and Black cannot stop the multiple mating patterns such as Rd7-b7, or Rdc1-c8.}) 20. Bc4 cxb5 {Após} ({After} 20... Kxa6 21. Nd6+ Ka5 {White has two ways to mate:} 22. Ra1+ (22. Nb7+ Kb4 23. Bd2#) 22... Kb4 23. Ra4#) 21. Bxb5 Bb4 22. Bc6+ $1 {The most precise.} Kb8 (22... Kxa6 23. Ra1+ Ba5 24. b4 $1 {followed by Rxa5 mate.}) 23. Bxa8 Kxa8 24. Rxa7+ Kb8 25. Rdd7 1-0

The second seed was GM Krikor Mekhitarian who sought to repeat his 2012 win

The three winners: Felipe El Debs (second), Rafael Leitão (first), Krikor Mekhitarian (third)

Final standings


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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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