Russian Championship: Svidler makes it eight

by Elshan Moradiabadi
12/16/2017 – Both the open and women's Russian Superfinals in St. Petersburg 2017 could not have been more exciting! In the open event, the two St. Petersburgers Peter Svidler and Nikita Vitiugov were in first place with 7 points each after 11 rounds and had to decide the title in rapid chess (two games 15 minutes + 10 seconds). Svidler took his record eighth title, winning both tiebreak games. The same thing happened in the women's tournament: Alexandra Goryachkina and Natalia Pogonina were tied after eleven rounds also on 7 points each and also followed by an exciting rapid playoff, won by the 19-year-old Goryachkina. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

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Excitement, rises and falls!

Those who may have seen our report after five rounds of the Russian superfinal would remember my praise for a godly performance to the point by the young and strong Vladimir Fedoseev and Daniil Dubov. Yet, little I knew that the event would take such drastic turns in the second half. Dubov got back to earth almost immediately after he literary tried to play against a player of Tomashevsky class like a 'hustler'! After a dubious choice of opening ( Vienna defense) from the white side of 1.e4 ( Dubov is a classical 1.d4 and 1.c4 player) he soon found himself in a difficult position or maybe even strategicilaly lost position.

If this was a sad hiccup for Dubov things went rogue for Fedoseev as he scored -2 in round five to eight! Soon, the uncompromising yet unstable young GM found himself in shared first with two other grandmasters: Nikita Vitiugov who ended the tournament as the only undefeated player (at least until the playoff) with three wins with eight draws, and Dubov of course who drew his games after losing to Tomashevsky.

Vladimir Fedoseev

Things went from bad to worse for Fedoseev | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Fedoseev first went down at the hand of highly experienced and solid Malakhov in the sixth round "battle of the Vladimirs". Malakhov, who at the time had also -1 like Tomashevsky, won comfortably with black pieces in a theoretical line in Slav. Let us have a look how things started to go wrong for the leader.

Vladimir Fedoseev 0-1 Vladimir Malakhov (annotated by Elshan Moradiabadi)

An effective way of meeting the 6.Ne5-Slav

After the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 the second most frequent reply is 6.Ne5 (after 6.e3) and it is especially popular with strong players. Danielsen recommends in his suggested repertoire 6...Nbd7, and 7.Nxc4 should be followed by 7...Nb6 (instead of the classical 7...Qc7). After 8.Ne5 a5 we have an important starting position on the board. White now has the alternatives 9.e3, 9.Bg5, 9.g3 and 9.f3, but as has been shown above all by the top Chinese players Wang Yue, Bu Xingzhi and Ni Hua, Black can hold his own in every case.

Earlier I mentioned about three victories by Vitiugov. One of them had in fact a crucial role in the standings as the long-term member of 2700+ club of players won in round seven against Fedoseev to move into a tie for first along with Dubov!

Nikita Vitiugov 1-0 Vladimir Fedoseev (annotated by Elshan Moradiabadi)

The Beasty Botvinnik Variation in the Semi-Slav!

On this DVD you will be taken on a journey through what is arguably the sharpest opening line known to men.

One might think that this could be it — the end of story for Fedoseev but the Russian warrior showed great fighting spirit. After almost winning (with a completely crushing position) against Dubov, Fedoseev fought a long game against experienced underdog Sergey Volkov, and after a long marathon in round nine he managed to once again rejoin the lead, and with only two draws!

Sergey Volkov

Sergey Volkov, one of the countless 2650-ish Russian GMs, many people have never heard of! | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Dubov lost (again with white pieces!) to Malakhov (who seems to know how to handle black against leaders!) and fell completely out of the title contest.

Vladimir Fedoseev ½-½ Daniil Dubov (annotated by Elshan Moradiabadi)

Daniil Dubov

Dubov has yet to have his day | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Enter Svidler

While one could say that Fedoseev "peaked" too soon, Peter Svidler was biding his time in the field. After the second round mishap against Dubov, he picked up a win here and there interspersed with draws, until round ten when it was clearly a now-or-never situation for adding to his seven Russian Championship titles.

Facing Fedoseev with black, Svidler equalised easily, and even had a slight edge at times, but the game veered into a drawish-looking rook and bishop ending, where White's only problem was a pair of doubled g-pawns. Svidler shook loose his e-pawn, which quickly became dangerous, but white's undoing came only in the following position:


Fedoseev erred with 63.Ra5? one of those positions where a natural looking check is bogus. The rook must stay on the first rank guarding the queening square. After 63...Kf6 the rook returns to a1 which proves to be a vital tempo. Replay the whole game to see why:

Vladimir Fedoseev 0-1 Peter Svidler

Fedoseev and Svidler

Maxim Matlakov and Svidler after Round 9 | Photo: Boris Dolmatovsky

This win was absolutely crucial, but Svidler's spurt to the finish was far from over. His last round assignment was white against Malakhov, who had a heck of a tournament as we've already noted.

The game started slowly, with a Four Knights, and Svidler had once been on the white side of the position that appeared after ten moves against Dmitry Jakovenko in the 2009 Russian Team Championship. Svidler accumulated small advantages, until the turning point 30...Ra8, which he points to as the decisive mistake, but it was another Ra8 a few moves later that the advantage really started to show:


31.Re3! Defends the threat of Bxh3, but as importantly queues up a rook lift after 31...Qg6 32.Nd2. It wasn't long before Svidler's queen, knight, and rook were collecting loose pawns and homing in on black's king.

Misha Savinov for the Russian Chess Federation report sums it up best:

Peter basically stalemated his opponent's queenside, improved his own position to the maximum, and then went on to pick weak pawns. A complete domination!

Peter Svidler 1-0 Vladimir Malakhov

Rocket Repertoire: The Four Knights

Like a fine wine, the Four Knights only improves with age, establishing itself as an extremely effective way of meeting 1...e5. On the outside this opening seems deceptively quiet, yet apparently natural moves can often lead to some devastating attacks.


Of the other players who could have reached 7 / 11, only Nikita Vitiugov managed, winning his last round game with black against Volkov. By this point both players were exhausted, but Vitiugov generally has strong nerves, has been a steady 2700 player since 2013 and his last round momentum was equal to Svidler's. It was bound to be tense.

The first tiebreak curiously reached the same material balance as Svidler's eleventh round win, but with colors reversed: Peter had the bishop, and was the one pressing a small advantage. But just when Vitiugov needed to dig in and fight for a draw, he blundered:


Play out your moves on the live diagram!

After 45.Qxe4 Rxe4 46.Rc2, Black is for choice but has a lot of work to do. Instead 45.Nh5+? and it didn't take Svidler more than a few seconds to see there were no tricks. 45...gxh5 46.Qg5+ Kf8. If black's rook were on, say b4, there would be a perpetual, with Qd8+, but instead 47.Qh6+ Ke8 and Vitiugov resigned. There's a nice coup de grâce, by the way, should white play on with 48.Qxh5 Bxg3+! 49.Kxg3 Qe3+ 50.Rf3 Qe1+ when either 51.Kh2 Rh4+ or 51.Rf2 Rd3+ wins one or the other of white's remaining pieces.

The second game, needing a win with black, Vitiugov tried in vain to avoid exchanges but ended up coming out of the opening in such a huge tangle that he was forced to concede on move 18.

After round five we wrote, "one can never underestimate Svidler", and that proved to be true indeed, though as he often does, Peter himself harboured a healthy measure of doubt:

(Incidentally, that midway report is worth a look — if you missed it —purely for the interesting historical context from ChessBase German editor Andre Schulz.)

Among the congratulatory public remarks to be found was this one from GM Peter Heine Nielsen, in a riff off the old World Cup soccer adage from former England striker Gary Lineker, who once said: "Football is a simple game where 22 players play against each other and in the end Germany wins."

Standings after Round 11

Rk. Title Name FED ELO 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Pts. Perf. Wtg.
1 GM Peter Svidler
2760   ½ 1 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 7.0 / 11 2782 0.00
2 GM Nikita Vitiugov
2728 ½   1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 7.0 / 11 2785 0.00
3 GM Vladimir Fedoseev
2733 0 0   ½ 1 0 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 1 6.5 / 11 2751 0.00
4 GM Daniil Dubov
2677 1 ½ ½   0 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 6.5 / 11 2756 0.00
5 GM Evgeny Tomashevsky
2702 ½ ½ 0 1   ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 6.0 / 11 2721 0.00
6 GM Vladimir Malakhov
2691 0 ½ 1 1 ½   ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 6.0 / 11 2722 0.00
7 GM Alexander Riazantsev
2666 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½   ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 6.0 / 11 2725 0.00
8 GM Ernesto Inarkiev
2693 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½   ½ ½ ½ ½ 5.0 / 11 2660 0.00
9 GM Sanan Sjugirov
2650 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 0 ½   ½ 1 0 5.0 / 11 2663 0.00
10 GM Maxim Matlakov
2730 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½   ½ 0 4.5 / 11 2624  
11 GM Evgeny Romanov
2626 0 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½   ½ 3.5 / 11 2565  
12 GM Sergey Volkov
2638 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 1 1 ½   3.0 / 11 2526  

Games and commentary


All games (Rounds 1-11)


Goryachkina's second first

In August 2015, Aleksandra Goryachkina, a month shy of her 17th birthday, won the Russian Women's Championship in Chita with 8 / 11. This time her 7 / 11 was only enough for a playoff with Natalia Pogonina. But the end result was the same (and the same as Svidler's — 2 : 0. Interestingly, Svidler, at 41 is easily old enough to be her father. With her youth, and experience, one could imaging her one day gunning for eight Russian Championships among women, or, perhaps even one in the open section.

Aleksandra Goryachkina | Photo: Boris Dolmatovsky

Standings after Round 11

Rk. Title Name FED ELO 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Pts. Perf. Wtg.
1 WGM Aleksandra Goryachkina
2478   ½  ½  ½  ½  7.0 / 11 2532 0.00
2 WGM Natalija Pogonina
2466 ½    ½  ½  ½  ½  ½  7.0 / 11 2533 0.00
3 WGM Olga Girya
2505 ½    ½  ½  ½  ½  ½  ½  6.5 / 11 2497 0.00
4 IM Alina Kashlinskaya
2455 ½  ½    ½  ½  ½  6.5 / 11 2500 0.00
5 IM Anastasia Bodnaruk
2432 ½    ½  ½  ½½ ½  ½  6.5 / 12 2463 0.00
6 GM Valentina Gunina
2502 ½    ½  ½  ½  6.0 / 11 2465  
7 IM Marina Nechaeva
2431 ½  ½  ½  ½    ½  ½  ½  ½  5.0 / 11 2408 0.00
8 WIM Polina Shuvalova
2386 ½  ½  ½  ½  ½  ½    5.0 / 11 2411 0.00
9 IM Evgenija Ovod
2379 ½  ½  ½½ ½    ½  ½  ½  5.0 / 12 2384 0.00
10 WFM Oksana Gritsayeva
2373 ½  ½  ½  ½    ½  ½  5.0 / 11 2412 0.00
11 IM Ekaterina Kovalevskaya
2411 ½  ½  ½  ½  ½  ½    4.0 / 11 2344  
12 IM Alisa Galliamova
2443 ½  ½  ½  ½  ½    3.5 / 11 2306  

Tiebreak games


Natalia Pogonina and Aleksandra Goryachkina

Natalia Pogonina and Aleksandra Goryachkina | Photo: Boris Dolmatovsky

All games (Rounds 1-11)


Prize winners

Players (L to R): Alina Kashlinskaya, Natalia Pogonina, Aleksandra Goryachkina, Daniil Dubov, Nikita Vitiugov, Peter Svidler | Photo: Boris Dolmatovsky

Press officer and photographer Eteri Kublashvili, seen here before a life sized Russian historical photo, reports for the RCF

Macauley Peterson contributed to this report

Correction December 16: An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified Maxim Matlakov as Vladimir Fedoseev in a photo caption.


Elshan Moradiabadi is a GM born and raised in Tehran, Iran. He moved to the US in 2012. Ever since, he has been active in US college chess scenes and in US chess. is a veteran instructor and teaches chess to every level, with students ranging from beginners to IM. He can be contacted for projects or teaching.


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