Girya and Tomashevsky are the 2019 Russian champions

by Antonio Pereira
8/23/2019 – The 2019 Russian Championships came to an end this Thursday in Izhevsk. Olga Girya won the women's section after defeating Natlija Pogonina in the Armageddon phase of the play-offs, while Evgeny Tomashevsky clinched the open title thanks to a final round victory over Kirill Alekseenko. This was Tomashevsky's second national triumph, while Girya won the championship for the first time. | Photo: Dmitry Kryakvin

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Girya gets her revenge

For a third year in row, Natalija Pogonina was in a play-off to decide the winner of the Women's Superfinal. In 2017, she was defeated by Aleksandra Goryachkina, while last year she took down none other than Olga Girya. For Girya, this was a particularly suspenseful event, as she was caught up by Pogonina in the very last round of regulation, then won the first play-off game...only to be caught up again in the second rapid encounter. The eventual champion got White in the Armageddon, and thanks to a 67-move win she finally got her first national title.

Contrary to what was expected, the open section was the one to finish without the need of a play-off, despite it being such a tight race throughout. In the last round, Evgeny Tomashevsky — who was co-leading with Nikita Vitiugov until round ten — had the white pieces against Kirill Alekseenko. Alekseenko showcased an ambitious approach which backfired quickly, as he found himself in a worse position in the early middlegame. When Tomashevsky got the win after 76 moves, Vitiugov had already signed a draw with Alexey Sarana, which meant Tomashevsky secured first place on 7 out of 11. This was his second triumph in a Russian championship — he had also won the title back in 2015.

Evgeny Tomashevsky, Olga Girya

It was a gruelling tournament — there were plenty of reasons to smile for the champions | Photo: Dmitry Kryakvin

Women's: A thrilling finale

The fact that Pogonina won her last classical game to tie with Girya in the lead was not a huge surprise in itself. After all, the defending champion was paired up against the lowest-rated player in the field, who had been having a bad time during the whole event. Moreover, while Pogonina outplayed her opponent,  Girya pragmatically went for a quick repetition with the black pieces against Margarita Potapova — that way she secured at least a play-off and, if Pogonina won, she would reach the deciding stage better rested.

As it turned out, Pogonina defeated Zarina Shafigullina in 55 moves, setting up the stage for a revenge tiebreak match-up. (Alexandra Kosteniuk, Valentina Gunina and Aleksandra Goryachkina also won in round eleven, with the latter finishing in sole third place).

Valentina Gunina

Valentina Gunina finished the tournament with a win | Photo: Dmitry Kryakvin

Girya had the white pieces in the first 15'+10" rapid encounter (fifteen minutes for the game, with a ten-second increment per move) and chose a set up with opposite side castling — she was clearly in the mood to attack. A critical point was reached on move 12:

 

12...dxc4 was a strategic mistake, as it gave White a chance to easily develop his light-squared bishop to the dangerous c4-square. Girya knew she had a strong attack and gave up a pawn before taking her bishop to the c4-g8 diagonal: 13.g5 hxg5 14.hxg5 xg5+ 15.b1 f5 16.xg5 xg5 17.xc4.

Black was a pawn up, but White put her rooks on the g and h-files, pushing her opponent to watch out for deadly threats at every turn. Pogonina reacted well though, and managed to equalize the position — furthermore, if the game prolonged too much, her extra pawn might become a strong asset. But it is a known fact that it is better to be on the attack in a rapid encounter...Pogonina blundered the game away on move 29:

 

The right way to defend against the check was 29...g6, not Pogonina's 29...f8. White invaded with 30.g6 and after 30...e5 31.g5 c5 Girya captured the loose rook with 32.h8+ f7 33.xd8, provoking Black's resignation.

Olga Girya

Olga Girya won the first rapid tiebreaker | Photo: Dmitry Kryakvin

Girya only needed a draw with Black to get the title, and she made the typical mistake players commit when in this situation: she played too passively. In a slow-moving Catalan, Girya gave her opponent way too many free tempi to build up her position:

 

Black's next three moves were 21...d8, 22...e8 and 23...d8 back. The computer does not think this was wrong, but the sequence of moves portrays the general semblance of the game (in fact, Girya went back and forth with her queen on the same squares with 27...e8 and 30...d8 later on).

Pogonina created threat after threat until her rival's position crumbled. A sudden-death encounter would decide the winner.

Natalija Pogonina

Defending champion Natalija won twice on demand | Photo: Dmitry Kryakvin

The drawing of colours took place immediately afterwards, and Girya was set to play with White — only a win would make her champion. Pogonina decided to play calmly, keeping the tension, perhaps waiting for her opponent to go overboard looking for winning chances. But Girya kept her cool and got a favourable position in the middlegame — on move 26, however, she blundered a whole piece...

 

...but Pogonina missed a basic tactic! In the diagrammed position, Girya played 26.g3, allowing Black to gain a piece with 26...♛xc3 due to the pin on the b-file. Instead, Pogonina went for 26...b7, and the struggle continued after 27.c1

It was all about nerves from that point on. White had a better position, but in such situations mistakes can always turn the game on its head. When Girya was already two pawns up, however, Pogonina completely forgot about her knight, thus easing her rival's task decisively:

 

Black played 62...d4 and there was no doubting the result of the game after 63.xb4. Pogonina resigned five moves later, making Girya the 2019 national champion. Girya's first Russian championship triumph will certainly be one to remember!

Natalija Pogonina, Olga Girya, Aleksandra Goryachkina

Pogonina, Girya and Aleksandra Goryachkina receiving their prizes | Photo: Dmitry Kryakvin


Final standings

 

All games

 

Open: A clear-cut winner

As we pointed out after the penultimate round, a host of potential tiebreak scenarios were on the cards in the open section. Six players still had chances to win the event and, given the large amount of draws seen from the start, a 6½ score could have easily been enough to reach the play-offs.

Moreover, two players that were on 5½ won their games in no more than 30 moves! Maxim Matlakov beat Alexandr Predke after the latter failed to realize his opponent could develop a strong attack with a forced sequence of exchanges in the early middlegame, while for the other early winner of the day, Ernesto Inarkiev, things were not so straightforward — he played a wild variation of the Nimzo-Indian with Black against Aleksey Dreev and was in deep trouble after 22 moves:

 

Dreev spent around five minutes on 23.a2, when 23.f5 was a winning alternative — the veteran was probably afraid of 23...♛xb2, but 24.♖a3 is sufficient to keep things under control. The game continued 23...xd3 (obviously not possible after f5) 24.xd3 b3, and Dreev faltered with 25.xa7. Black started pushing his b-pawn down the board and the white king fell prey to a vicious attack which finished the game only four moves later.

Ernesto Inarkiev

Ernesto Inarkiev played in 6 of the 23 games that finished decisively at this year's Superfinal | Photo: Dmitry Kryakvin

Only if Vitiugov or Tomashevsky managed to win, a play-off would not be necessary. Matlakov and Inarkiev could do nothing but wait.

The position was closed in Nikita Vitiugov vs Alexey Sarana (which ended in a 59-move draw eventually), but Evgeny Tomashevsky vs Kirill Alekseenko was increasingly heating up. Out of a Fianchetto Grünfeld, Alekseenko — with Black — quickly mobilized his kingside pawns, creating threats but also leaving his king's position irremediably weakened. Tomashevsky started to take over thanks to well-calculated tactical sequences and had an all but winning position on move 31:

 

32.xd5 is a killer shot. After 32...exd5, 33.♕e3 is the most accurate to demolish Black's position, but Tomashevsky's 33.b1+ is also good. Eventually, White returned the piece, and Alekseenko did all he could to stop the attack and simplify into an endgame, but White's advantage never evaporated completely, despite Tomashevsky failing to find winning shots more than once.

Nevertheless, when all the other games had come to an end, Alekseenko resigned on move 76, and Tomashevsky's strong play throughout the event was rewarded with a second national title. The 32-year-old from Saratov will be returning home in a Renault Arkana — or most likely will have it sent to his preferred location...

Maxim Matlakov, Evgeny Tomashevsky, Nikita Vitiugov

Matlakov, Tomashevsky and Vitiugov with their prizes | Photo: Dmitry Kryakvin


Final standings

 

All games

 

Commentary webcast

Commentary by GM Daniil Yuffa


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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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