Valerij Popov takes gold at the European Rapid Championship

by Iva Videnova
12/10/2018 – A two-day 13-round event finished with the 40th seed as the winner. The European Rapid Championship took place on December 8th and 9th in Skopje and was won by Russian GM Valerij Popov. Three other players scored the same 10½ points, but the 44-year-old took gold on tiebreaks. Andrey Esipenko (Russia) finished second, Vahap Sanal (Turkey) third and Luca Moroni (Italy) fourth. IVA VIDENOVA and PATRICIA CLAROS sent us a report with highlights and plenty of images from the capital of Macedonia. | Photos: Patricia Claros Aguilar

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A 4-way tie

The European Rapid Championship took place in Skopje, FYR of Macedonia, from December 8th to 9th and attracted 409 players, who competed for a prize fund of EUR €20,000. The event was organised by the Gambit Asseco SEE chess club, with the official sponsorship of Asseco SEE Group and under the auspices of the European Chess Union and the Chess Federation of Macedonia. The tournament was a 13-round Swiss open with a time control of 15 minutes plus 10 seconds bonus per move. 

Russian GM Valerij Popov was the sole leader from rounds nine to eleven, but young grandmasters Andrey Esipenko (Russia, 16 y.o.), Vahap Sanal (Turkey, 20 y.o.) and Luca Moroni (Italy, 18 y.o.) caught up with him to tie for the first place with 10½/13 points each. The tiebreak criteria, however, gave the title of European Rapid Champion to the 40th seed GM Valerij Popov. Popov enriched his collection of European Rapid championship medals after winning the silver back in 2008 (Warsaw, Poland) with exactly the same 10½/13 score. His successful performance at the tournament was marked by solid positional play, tactical sharpness when necessary, and virtually no blunders.

In round nine, Popov took down second seed Rauf Mamedov with the black pieces. In the following position, it looks like the black knight is in trouble, but Popov found a cunning tactical idea to use the knight's position to his advantage:


34...Nh3+! was the killer blow. Instead, 34.Nd3? would have been a step in the wrong direction, as the position remains complicated after 35.Rxf6 Qa7+ 36.Kh1 Rxf6 37.Qe8+ Rf8 (38...Kh7?? would be a typical time-scramble blunder, with 38.Be4+ g6 39.Bxg6+ Rxg6 40.Re7++ to follow). In the game, White resigned after 35.Kh1 Rxf1+ 36.Bxf1 Rxf1 37.Kg2 Nf4+.

Azerbaijani Olympic player GM Rauf Mamedov played some of the sharpest games and scored 9 points to come up 16th

16-year-old Andrey Esipenko finished in second place. In round twelve, he finished off Dragisa Blagojevic in style. 


In an already winning position, the young Russian with white went 35.Rc7! — Esipenko threatening the Arabian mate with 36.Nf6+, followed by 37.Rxh7+, therefore, GM Blagojevic tried to exchange queens with 35...Qb1+ and prevent the threat with ...Bg7 or ...Rb6 afterwards. White, however, does not have to comply: 36.Kh2! and Black resigned in view of 36...Qxd3 37.Nf6+ Kh8 38.Rxh7#.

GM Antoaneta Stefanova (Bulgaria) fell against Esipenko but was once again the best female performer with 8 points

The 20-year-old Turkish player Vahap Sanal arrived in Skopje as the 54th seed but managed to tie for first place after drawing only one game during the whole weekend. In round four, he defeated Markus Ragger with the white pieces from a complicated endgame:


Austria's best player GM Markus Ragger scored 9½ points to finish 8th 

Luca Moroni Jr. from Italy also was a surprise winner, as he was the 53rd seed in the initial line-up. In round eight, his win over Daniel Fridman included a queen sacrifice in the middle of the board:


GM Kiril Georgiev, representing Macedonia, had a poor start but finished with an amazing string of seven wins in a row to secure the fifth place with 10 points. GM David Navara had the same score to end up sixth. 

GM Kiril Georgiev scored 7/7 points in the last 7 rounds!

GM David Navara’s games are always in focus

Hungarian young hope WFM Annamaria Marjanovic (17 y.o.) defeated GM Kiril Georgiev and drew against GM Rusev to score 8 points and gain no less than 48 rating points

In a sixth round game with both players in time trouble, we saw Anton Demchenko missing an easy win against Viacheslav Tilicheev. The Russian would later manage to get the full point anyway:


GM David Anton Guijarro (Spain) ended up 10th with 9½ points

GM Marin Bosiocic (Croatia) finished 13th with 9½ points

Polish GM Mateusz Bartel lost this game, but his back-to-back wins in the last two rounds secured him 14th place with 9½ points

Your author, IM and WGM Iva Videnova, finished with 8 points

Bojana Bejatovic is the best Macedonian woman player

Next year's European Rapid & Blitz Championship is set to take place in Tallinn, Estonia from December 11th to 15th, 2019.

Final standings (top 20)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Popov Valerij 10,5 0,0
2 Esipenko Andrey 10,5 0,0
3 Sanal Vahap 10,5 0,0
4 Moroni Luca Jr 10,5 0,0
5 Georgiev Kiril 10,0 0,0
6 Navara David 10,0 0,0
7 Laznicka Viktor 9,5 0,0
8 Ragger Markus 9,5 0,0
9 Stevic Hrvoje 9,5 0,0
10 Anton Guijarro David 9,5 0,0
11 Demidov Mikhail 9,5 0,0
12 Artemiev Vladislav 9,5 0,0
13 Bosiocic Marin 9,5 0,0
14 Bartel Mateusz 9,5 0,0
15 Blagojevic Dragisa 9,5 0,0
16 Mamedov Rauf 9,0 0,0
17 Djukic Nikola 9,0 0,0
18 Demchenko Anton 9,0 0,0
19 Kevlishvili Robby 9,0 0,0
20 Nenezic Marko 9,0 0,0

All available games



WGM Iva Videnova, born in 1987, is from Plovdiv, Bulgaria. She is a qualified chess trainer with a bachelor degree from the Sofia National Sports Academy.


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