Russian Superfinals: Six players can still win the Open

by Antonio Pereira
8/22/2019 – The penultimate round of the Russian Championships left two players sharing the lead in the open section, as Nikita Vitiugov and Evgeny Tomashevsky drew their games while former co-leader Ernesto Inarkiev lost against Vladislav Artemiev. In the women's category, Natalija Pogonina got a crucial victory over Valentina Gunina and is now half a point behind sole leader Olga Girya. The final round will be played on Thursday, two hours earlier than usual. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

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No favourites with one round to go

Three players are still undefeated in the open section of the Superfinals — besides co-leaders Evgeny Tomashevsky and Nikita Vitiugov, Maxim Matlakov has not lost thus far in the event. Furthermore, Matlakov is one of four players half a point behind the leaders, and all of them have a chance to reach at least a rapid play-off for first place after Thursday's decisive round. So, if we do the math, half the participants could take home a Renault Arkana and be crowned 2019 Russian champion.

Two games of the final round will have no effect in who gets first place — Fedoseev vs Jakovenko and Artemiev vs Motylev. The rest of the encounters will decide the winner(s):

Aleksey Dreev, A. (5) 
vs
Ernesto Inarkiev (5½)
Nikita Vitiugov (6)
vs
Alexey Sarana (4) 
Evgeny Tomashevsky (6)
vs
Kirill Alekseenko (5½)
Maxim Matlakov (5½)
vs
Alexandr Predke (5½)

Meanwhile, in the women's section, Aleksandra Goryachkina (6½ points) only has an outside chance of tying for first place, as she would need both Olga Girya (7½) and Natalija Pogonina (7) to falter in round eleven to catch up. While Pogonina will be playing tail-ender Zarina Shafigullina (2) with Black, sole leader Girya will have to face Margarita Potapova (5½), who comes from beating Anastasia Bodnaruk and Alina Kashlinskaya in consecutive rounds. 

Everything is set up for a thrilling final day of action! 

Alexander Motylev, Maxim Matlakov

 Alexander Mortylev versus Maxim Matlakov, round ten | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Open: Artemiev beats Inarkiev

It is evident that winning games in this year's Superfinal is a tough endeavour. Thus, it must be distinctly painful to lose a game right after getting a win in the previous round — this is what happened to Ernesto Inarkiev, who got the shared lead on Tuesday only to give it up the very next day. He had the white pieces against rating favourite Vladislav Artemiev and faced the youngster's Sicilian Defence. By move 27, the queens had left the board, but nonetheless both kings were in some danger:

 

Inarkiev went for 38.g6+, giving up a pawn in order to open up a diagonal for his bishop. Artemiev did not hesitate before capturing with 38...xg6 and went on to activate his pieces. When the bishops left the board, White had the weaker king and a more vulnerable structure:

 

After 36.d2 xf4 37.xg1 f2+ White had to choose between giving up his b2-pawn or going for a passive defence with 38.♔c1 — Inarkiev opted for 38.d3, but his position was all but lost after 38...xb2. White continued fighting, but ended up resigning when it was clear Black's passed pawns on the kingside would inevitably promote.

Vladislav Artemiev

Vladislav Artemiev is back on 50% | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Meanwhile, Alexandr Predke won his third game of the tournament, against Vladimir Fedoseev. The latter played an adventurous variant of the Grünfeld Defence and was duly outplayed in 43 moves.

Co-leaders Evgeny Tomashevsky and Nikita Vitiugov drew with the black pieces in round ten, but they reached that result through markedly different paths. While Tomashevsky had no issues holding Dmitry Jakovenko in 37 moves, Vitiugov defended a queen endgame a pawn down against Kirill Alekseenko until move 66.

Evgeny Tomashevsky

Evgeny Tomashevsky | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili


Standings after Round 10

 

All games

 

Women's: Pogonina in the hunt

At last year's Women's Superfinal, Natalija Pogonina and Olga Girya tied for first place with 7½ out of 11, and Pogonina won the tournament via a play-off. In this edition, Girya seemed to be on a mission to show she has what it takes to become the national champion 'in regulation', as she achieved an outstanding 7/8 score before losing against Aleksandra Goryachkina on Tuesday. 

Nonetheless, she has kept the sole lead...except that Pogonina is now half a point behind her with one round to go. Girya has already collected 7½ points (last year's winning score), but it still remains to be seen whether finishing on 8/11 will be enough to win the championship without the need of a play-off.

Olga Girya

Will this be Olga Girya's year? | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Pogonina improved her chances to get a second consecutive title with a white win over Valentina Gunina. As usual, Gunina went for active alternatives when given the chance in an otherwise tranquil position. This led to White getting a clear positional edge:

 

White has her rooks doubled on the d-file, the chance to gain central control with e4 and is currently attacking the b7-pawn — naturally, Gunina rejected defending passively with 22...♜ab8 and went for 22...♜ac8. Pogonina grabbed the pawn and started looking for ways to convert her slight material advantage.

The bishops left the board on move 34, and White was left with the difficult task of looking for a win in an endgame with rooks and knights — the knights are a tricky piece in these situations and the defending side can always threaten to give up her piece for a pawn, as the pure rook and knight versus rook endgame is a draw. Gunina fought on, but things came to a head on move 56:

 

After 56.xc7, Black cannot capture the knight due to the fork on b5. Gunina opted for 56...xa6, but after 57.b5 there were no realistic hopes of holding the draw. Resignation came seventeen moves later.

Natalija Pogonina, Valentina Gunina

Natalija Pogonina started with 1.d4 against Valentina Gunina | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili


Standings after Round 10

 

All games

 

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Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.
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