Six players lead the Russian Championship

by Julian Wnuck
8/31/2018 – Halftime and a rest day at the Russian Championships, after six of eleven rounds. In the open tournament, six players are in the lead each with 3½ out of 6 points, but the Elo favourites are not among them. Even in the women's tournament, the nominal favorites have had a hard time. Olga Girya and Alina Kashlinskaya lead with 4 out of 6, while Alexandra Kosteniuk (pictured) has scored just 3 out of 6 or fifty percent. JULIAN WNUK breaks down the action so far. | Photo: Russian Chess Federation

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Superfinal in Satka

Hosting the 2018 Russian Championships is the 45,000-inhabitant city of Satka in the Southern Urals. Neither the Open or the Women's Championship has the Elo favourites leading at the mid-way point, but both tournaments have witnessed exciting fights so far and further top chess is expected for the remaining five rounds.

Sergei Karjakin and Alexander Grischuk had to cancel their participation as they had commitments that ended two days ago at the Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis, which also accounts for the absence of defending champion Peter Svidler — but not as a player but as a commentator of the Russian-language live stream. In addition to these three, Vladimir Kramnik also declined to play.

However, Russian chess still has countless other extremely strong players to offer and the Elo average of 2685 speaks volumes. A total of six players with an Elo rating over 2700 take part in this year's championship. Yet, surprisingly, after six rounds, favourites Ian Nepomniachtchi (2768), Dmitry Jakovenko (2748) and Nikita Vitiugov (2730) are all in the lower half of the table. Neither Nepomniachtchi nor Vitiugov has won a game so far — Vitiugov has lost one and Nepomniachtchi has even lost two already.

One of the top seed's losses came at the hands of Vladimir Fedoseev — an important victory for him and at the same time the first surprise of the tournament. Nepo was surprised in the opening by Fedoseev's take on a topical variation and did not find the right answer. His attempt to open the position in his favour was refuted immediately.



Things are not going so well for Nepomniachtchi | Photo: Russian Chess Federation

At the top of the table is a bunch of six players, all of whom have 3½ points to their credit. Daniil Dubov (2691), who was on fire after two consecutive wins (in rounds 3 and 4), was beaten and overtaken in the sixth round by Evgeny Tomashevsky (2702).

Dubov won an interesting game in which he sought out complications. Inarkiev spent a lot of time in a complicated Benoni game and
overlooked a double-rook sacrifice of his opponent, after which his position immediately was lost.

In his next game, he capitalised on the poor form of Dennis Khismatullin to take the lead in the tournament, before being brought back down to Earth by Tomashevsky. 


Replay all three annotated games above — click or tap in the game list to switch

Ernesto Inarkiev (2690) has also recorded two wins and a loss. He is joined in the lead by Dmitry Andreikin (2710), Grigoriy Oparin (2609) and Alexey Sarana (2613).

Dubov has proved in last year's Superfinal that he is one of the hottest contenders for the national championship title. His sharp playing style costs him a game every now and then, but he is not irritated by such trifles.

Not afraid of risk: Daniil Dubov | Photo: Russian Chess Federation

The solid Tomashevsky waits patiently for the opportunities his opponents offer him. Inarkiev is recovering from his recent match loss against Wei Yi and would like to make up for it with an outstanding result in the Superfinal.

Especially curious is the performance of 18-year-old geology student Sarana, who won the Higher League, the qualifying tournament for the Superfinal, in Yaroslavl in early July ahead of Oparin.

Alexey Sarana | Photo: Russian Chess Federation

For the young grandmaster, the Superfinal is a big test — he has never participated in a similarly strong tournament before. As his competitors have discovered, he is not easily beaten. He was able to save worse positions against Andreikin and Fedoseev, who with 3/6 still has every chance of winning first place. In the last round, Sarana played a smooth game against Mikhail Kobalia (2619) and picked up a victory.

An unfortunate game for Kobalia, who surprised Sarana in the opening bust missed two winning tries in a sharp position. The 18-year-old Sarana survived the anxious moments unscathed and then left nothing to chance. It will be interesting to see if the newcomer can remain among those in first place 


The surprising form of the Elo favourites means it's not yet at all clear whose chances to win the tournament are the best. Andreikin may still have the best shot, as he has yet to face most of the leaders against whom he may exploit his depth of experience.

Dmitry Andreikin | Photo: Russian Chess Federation

Although Nepomniachtchi and Vitiugov seem to be out of shape, their normal strength can reappear at any time — and most of the six leaders have yet to compete against them too. It could be a very exciting finish!

Standings after six rounds (Open)


All games Rounds 1-6


Women's Championship

In the women's tournament, the only top player missing is Kateryna Lagno, who cancelled for family reasons. Former World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk (2559), two-time European champion and three-time national champion Valentina Gunina (2528) and defending champion Aleksandra Goryachkina (2535) are therefore the main Elo favourites.

Similar to the men's tournament, however, after six rounds we find other players leading: WGM Olga Girya (2462) and IM Alina Kashlinskaya (2440) are at the top of the table with 4 out of 6. However, the top seeds are close behind and the outcome of the traditionally highly competitive championship among Russian women is still completely open. Gunina has played a surprising number of games to a draw, in contrast to her typically sharp style, and has collected 3½ points, as has Goryachkina; Kosteniuk will probably not stay long at fifty percent.

Also there are WGM Natalija Pogonina (2469) and IM Alisa Galliamova (2424), who have a lot of experience and can certainly also make a run at the title. WFM Oksana Gritsayeva (2391), who is in third place with 3½ points after six laps, has been a positive surprise so far.

Standings after six rounds (Women)


All games Rounds 1-6


Translation from German: Macauley Peterson


Julian plays chess out of passion and deals with chess history.


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