Super Final: Few draws, no tickets

by ChessBase
11/18/2004 – The final phase of the 2004 Russian Championship is under way, three rounds are over and round four has just begun. Directly from the venue comes a report by someone who walks and talks with the players, hangs out in the pressroom and palavers with the dignitaries. We share with you Misha Savinov's first-hand impressions.

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57th Russian Championship
Super Final

November 14th – December 1st 2004

The Super Final of the 57th Russian is being held in the Festive Hall of the Hotel Rossija (“Rociya”), directly adjacent to the Red Square. The prize sum is US $125,000, to be paid out in rouble equivalent. The winner takes $50,000. The participants of this round robin tournament are Garry Kasparov, Alexander Morozevich, Alexander Grischuk, Peter Svidler, Evgeny Bareev, Alexey Dreev, Vitaly Tseshkovsky, Alexander Motylev, Vladimir Epishin, Artem Timofeev and Alexey Korotylev. Original Vladimir Kramnik and Anatoly Karpov were included, but both withdrew at the last moment.

Wrap-up of the first two rounds

By Misha Savinov

It is much easier to discuss the content of games played in the “Vasilyevsky” than decisions of some players and organizers that influenced the starting lineup. Their moves, considered step-by-step, seem more or less logical, but the overall picture looks really weird. A letter in French received by Russian organizers, knocked out both the recovering Kramnik and the preparing Khalifman. The latter, however, declared that he is not disappointed and quickly found another tournament for himself. In fact, so quickly that when the organizers attempted to persuade him to substitute for fellow ex world champion Karpov at short notice, Khalifman was already not available.

The giant Rossija Hotel, with a banner announcing the event

If Kramnik’s withdrawal was at least explained clearly (excusing his French), the Karpov story sounds like a Cinderella tale. He suddenly recalled that at midnight, November 14th, International Grandmaster Anatoly Karpov suddenly transforms into an irreplaceable businessman, and there is no chance to see his chess incarnation at the championship. For the second time in a row Karpov played an unexpected move, jumping off another Kasparov containing tournament (remember the Botvinnik Memorial?). I guess he is so tired of chess that he simply used this novel approach to refuse all pending offers from organizers all over the world. Any other ideas? If so, then he is inconsistent. In yesterday’s interview Karpov stated that he wants to keep playing chess.

The Kremlin and St Basil's Cathedral, just a stone's throw away from the venue

Seriously, “certain reliable sources” confirm that Karpov’s obligations do indeed exist, and are serious enough to absorb his attention entirely. Anatoly’s fault is that he, knowing about those business obligations, nevertheless agreed to play in the tournament, with a touching hope that the situation would resolve by itself.

Inside the hotel building

Anyway, an all-Russian variation of the Wijk-aan-Zee finally took off (even with 11 participants instead of intended 14), and already in the Round One we witnessed three decisive games and one 70-move draw. Only Dreev-Timofeev lasted about 20 moves, but Timofeev introduced a strong novelty to annihilate any initiative by White.

The view from the playing hall

Prior to the tournament we thought that there are three or four main favorites: Kasparov, who is still number one on the FIDE list, like it or not; Svidler, who showed the best performance in the Russian team at the Olympiad; Morozevich, without a doubt, one of the chess heroes of 2004; and possibly, Grischuk – well-prepared, talented, calm, but maybe not as consistent as other three. And three of these four won their Round One games.

Always the center of the media's attention: Garry Kasparov

Kasparov had white against Bareev – quite easy opponent for Garry, according to the statistics. Evgeny went into the sharp line of Caro-Kann. Kings castled opposite, and the opponents reached a position that was considered very bad for Black some 30 years ago, but turned out playable nowadays. The thing is that Black counter-strikes in the center, trying to exchange pieces, and White’s initiative evaporates – or, in case of poor execution of the plan, Black gets mated.

Let the games begin – Kasparov vs Dreev in round one

What happened in the game is that Kasparov appeared in inferior position by move 23, but Bareev did not find the better continuation (Bxd6 instead of f6?), fixing the advantage, and Garry regained the initiative. However, it wasn’t clear whether White could win or not. According to the recent findings of GM Jakovenko, Black was able to draw a critical pawn ending, which was previously thought to transform into Q+P vs. Q with some winning chances for White. So, the objective evaluation of that sharp endgame is a draw. Bareev’s decisive mistake was 38...Ba3 instead of 38...Kg6! After that, Kasparov did not let victory slip away, although a “pure technique” endgame still contained some tricks.

First blood: Tseshkovsky vs Svidler in round one

Svidler is supposedly quite tired after the match in Brissago and the Olympiad, but his overall class does not allow him to perform below certain (high) level. In Round One he played in very professional style: strong opening, early equality, building the advantage upon opponent’s mistakes, achieving a decisive edge. Tseshkovsky resisted bravely in lost position, constantly posing problems for Black, but the St. Petersburg grandmaster proceeded to win the game.

The two Alexanders: Motylev vs Grischuk

Grischuk had black vs. his friend Motylev. Ultra-sharp English attack of the Sicilian occurred, which is could be regarded as Grischuk’s pet opening, especially when he plays White. After the thematic exchange sacrifice on c3 Black fully equalized, and in complicated middlegame without queens White misplayed badly and lost his knight. Not an excuse but a partial reason is that Motylev was in bad time trouble. The time increment does not help to eliminate Zeitnot blunders in complex positions.

Alexander Grischuk showing his game on the demo board

Curiously, Grischuk and Motylev were declared two most elegant participants of that Moscow FIDE knockout championship. This time all grandmasters come to the tournament in suits and ties – the organizers introduced a dress-code. So far, nobody seems to object, and photographers are obviously happy. Chess is a sport for intellectuals, therefore a ban on training suits is just and fair.

Epishin vs Morozevich in round one

Alexander Morozevich

Morozevich was close to a win as Black against Epishin. The Muscovite got the initiative early after a harmless (or rather harmful to White) opening by his opponent. But then Epishin started to defend like Petrosian. According to Alexander’s second, IM Vladimir Barsky, it is possible that black had a winning advantage, but there was no such thing as missed winning move. Epishin was finally rewarded with half a point, and pale-looking Morozevich left the playing hall deeply disappointed. And the next day brought him even more serious trouble.

Dreev already had +2 against Moro before their Round Two encounter, however, one could think the score is distorted as Alexey had White is an overwhelming majority of their games. Well, maybe Dreev is really a nemesis of Morozevich. On Tuesday the rating favorite had the privilege to open the game, but the result was a crushing defeat. Those who expect Morozevich only to lose by pressing too hard and overstepping the usual degree of risk in some Caro-Kann or French, saw another possibility. Dreev went for the Sicilian, delayed castling to develop initiative against the white king, and started to deliver blow after blow to a disconcerted opponent. It was all Dreev for the entire game. Poor Alexander was simply swept off the board. I am sure he will recover over the course of the tournament, as Morozevich is one who usually wins a lot and loses more than other top grandmasters, but November 16th was definitely not his day.

Dreev demonstrating his win against Morozevich in round two

The Round One leaders slowed down their pace, but all did so for good reasons. Svidler had the best reason of all – a rest day. Garry Kasparov’s reason is that he is still number one in the rating list, and his opponent Korotylev, who had white, played extremely cautiously and solidly. Kasparov’s Queen’s Indian proved ineffective in creating winning chances for Black. Maybe Garry should believe in taking risks again and to go for his old-time favorite, Benoni or KID, against vastly less experienced opponents.

Alexey Korotylev vs Garry Kasparov in round two (photo Kohlmeyer)

Grischuk approached Epishin’s Hedgehog with great care and respect. It is a common knowledge that in this structure Black has nothing to do until White creates some imbalances. So Grischuk simply maneuvered, waiting for his opponent to show impatience or ignorance to White’s various possible attacking plans. However, Epishin did not lose his attentiveness until the time control was reached, and this was enough to pass Grischuk’s test with at least a B+. A draw was agreed on move 43.

Former world champion Vassily Smyslov and wife in the audience

Two days have passed, and the tournament already produced a number of valuable games. We have three actual leaders, Kasparov, Grischuk, Dreev, and one potential leader, Svidler. The organization of the super-championship is quite good, as is the quality of Internet relay – the first day’s problems were generally resolved by turning the webcam off, as it generated most of the bandwidth problems.

Manning the press center: GM Dmitry Jakovenko and Oxsana Kosteniuk

The press-center is well organized, thanks to its chief Alexander Roshal and supporting team consisting of Evgeny Atarov, Oxsana Kosteniuk and two titled players: GM Dmitry Jakovenko and IM Maxim Notkin. It is marvelous to see Russia’s top players drop by to share their impressions of their just-ended games.

Older sister Alexandra Kosteniuk, now a (male) GM

I found the only serious problem was that there are no regular spectators here yet. The problem is that the tickets have not appeared yet, and chess fans who try to get into the playing hall are being stopped by security (but not in a Spanish way, I assure you).

Problems with the tickets – the spectators could not get in

However, the tournament director said that this problem would be fixed during the week as well. We will keep you informed on future development of the situation – as well as on chess content of the Russia’s 57th chess championship.

Pictures by Misha Savinov and Eugene Atarov

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