Russian Superfinals: Leaders on plus one

by Antonio Pereira
8/12/2019 – The strong national tournaments in Russia started on Saturday. Two rounds of the dubbed Superfinals were played both in the Open and Women's categories, with the leaders in the two events currently on 'plus one' (1½ out of 2). Ernesto Inarkiev (pictured) and Kirill Alekseenko are on top in the Open, while Alexandra Kosteniuk, Olga Girya and Natalija Pogonina are sharing the lead amongst the women. Monday is a rest day as the tournament changes venues. Play resumes on Tuesday. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

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A coveted trophy

Winning the Russian national championship has a prestige of its own. For comparison purposes, the 50th highest-rated player in Russia is Pavel Tregubov (2588) — who is, by the way, providing commentary in English. Furthermore, the 'weakest' player in this year's Superfinal is only the 25th highest-rated grandmaster in this month's national ranking. Nonetheless, the average Elo rating in the open event is 2688.

Two former champions are in the field: Evgeny Tomashevsky, winner in 2015, and Alexander Motylev, who got first place in 2001. For Dmitry Jakovenko, meanwhile, this might finally be his year, as he lost the title on play-offs after tying atop the standings 'on regulation' no less than four times, including last year, when he lost a rapid tiebreaker against Dmitry Andreikin.

In the Women's, Valentina Gunina has the strongest record in the Superfinal, as she won the tournament three times (2011, 2013 and 2014). Former women's world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk, current World Championship challenger Alexandra Goryachkina and defending champion Natalija Pogonina will try to catch up with Gunina, as all three of them were crowned national champions twice in the past.

Russian Chess Championship 2019

A big production team is working to broadcast the events | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Open: Fedoseev and Motylev bounce back

Each of the two first rounds in the Open had two decisive results, with both Vladimir Fedoseev and Alexander Motylev losing in round one and recuperating quickly with a win the day after. 

Motylev went for a quick kingside stampede with White out of an Exchange Spanish on opening day. His attack was not unfounded, but he could not find the right continuation in a critical crossroad:

 

White thought long and hard before giving up his knight by opting for 20.f3, when the more natural-looking 20.f3 was the way to go — the game would have probably continued 20...♝d7 21.♘h3 and White would have kept his attacking chances without giving up material. Instead, Inarkiev calmly captured with 20...xf3 and got a winning advantage after 21.f5 (21.♖g1 immediately was called for).

Motylev kept trying to build up some momentum, but ended up suffering in a worse position until move 61. Inarkiev's tournament had kicked off the best possible way — with a black win.

Alexander Motylev

Alexander Motylev won the championship in 2001 | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Alekseenko vs Fedoseev was a Petroff in which White lifted his rook early in the game (in fact, 11.h3 was a novelty) and never let go of the initiative. Black crumbled under pressure in the middlegame and from then on it was a one-sided fight in favour of Superfinal first-timer Alekseenko.

In round one, rating favourite and 2019 sensation Vladislav Artemiev saved a draw against Alexandr Predke, while Dmitry Jakovenko got a rook and knight versus rook endgame against Maxim Matlakov, which ended up drawn after 101 moves.

Kirill Alekseenko

Kirill Alekseenko kicked off his debut in a Superfinal with a win | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Games from Round 1

 

Vladimir Fedoseev rejoined the pack with 50% by taking down 19-year-old Alexey Sarana — the latter won the highly competitive Higher League in 2018 and finished the same event second on tiebreaks this year. Out of a dynamic Gruenfeld, the youngster made a mistake on move 25:

 

Follow the game variations on the diagram above

Black needed to go for exchanges with 25...♜ac6 in order not to get in trouble. Sarana opted for 25...f7 instead, and Fedoseev found the correct 26.c7 in eight minutes. After the long sequence of exchanges 26...c6 27.xe6+ xe6 28.xe6 xc3 29.bxc3 h6 30.xg7 hxg5 31.cxb4 xg7 32.bxa5 White had a better rook endgame, which was duly converted into a win until move 39.

Vladimir Fedoseev

Vladimir Fedoseev | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Motylev also showed his technical strength against a younger opponent to recover from his loss in round one, as he defeated Alexandr Predke in a rook and knight versus rook and bishop endgame a pawn to the good. He needed 83 moves to force his rival's resignation though.

The rest of the games on Sunday were rather balanced, with Tomashevsky missing some slight chances against veteran Alexey Dreev in a technical position.

Russian Chess Championship 2019

The playing hall during round two | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Games from Round 2

 

Standings after Round 2

 

Women's: Five wins with White

One more game per round compared to the Open finished decisively in the 69th women's national championship. No player won twice, which means half the field has collected at least a win in the first two rounds. Three of them remain undefeated though, and are sharing the lead before an early first rest day in Votkinsk — Alexandra Kosteniuk, Natalija Pogonina and Olga Girya.

In round one, Daria Charochkina played the Trompowsky against Margarita Potapova and went for the attack as early as move 11:

 

Black's 10...h7 was incorrect, as it invited White to go for 11.xh5 gxh5 12.xh5+. Charochkina did not shy away from going all-in with 13.g4 and 14.0-0-0. When her h-pawn got the sixth rank, Black's hopes were thinning out irremediably:

 

There followed 18...xh6 19.xh6 xh6 20.xh6 e7 and the black king was never able to escape White's onslaught.

Daria Charochkina

Daria Charochkina won with the Trompowsky | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Pogonina and Gunina also won with White in the first round, except they both had to work hard to defeat their opponents — Pogonina managed to mate Elena Tomilova's king after 69 moves, while Gunina needed 79 moves to take down Zarina Shafigullina.

Russian Women's Chess Championship 2019

The women's national championship | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Games from Round 1

 

On Sunday, Elena Tomilova got back to an even score after taking advantage of a blunder by three-time Russian champion Valentina Gunina. The latter apparently thought she still had some chances to complicate with Black, when she actually needed to look for simplifications in order to avoid getting in trouble:

 

33...♝xd4 was necessary, when after 34.cxd4 Black has 34...♛e7 keeping things under control. Gunina went for 33...a6 instead, allowing White to create a decisive attack after 34.e6. Black's resignation came five moves later.

Elena Tomilova

Elena Tomilova | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Kosteniuk got an important win with Black against Anastasia Bodnaruk after getting the upper hand out of a highly tactical skirmish, while Girya defeated Charochkina with the white pieces in 40 moves.

Alexandra Kosteniuk

Former women's world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk wore black the day she got the only black win of the tournament so far | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Games from Round 2

 

Standings after Round 2

 

Commentary webcast

Commentary by GM Pavel Tregubov

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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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