Recently, Russia marked the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution, a coup organized by a small but determined band of Vladimir Lenin’s followers that would forever alter the course of Russian and world history. And during the October Revolution of 1917, the players competing that year in the Russian Chess Championship threatened to go on strike because they demanded – and won – a bigger bread ration.
They said the extra bread was needed to fortify them for the demands of playing in one of the notoriously toughest tournaments in the world. And fittingly in the centenary year, the 70th Russian Championship Superfinal concluded this week at the State Museum of Political History of Russia, in Saint Petersburg – the former Russian imperial capital until 1917 – with the players competing in a room staging a major revolution exhibit. The Russian Championship is still one of the toughest national championships in the world to win – only nowadays, the “bread” is more meaningful than it was a hundred years ago.
The player making the running was the new young Russian hopeful, Vladimir Fedoseev, 22, who got off to a blistering start by winning his first four games, and who led or co-led throughout the tournament. But he pressed the self-destruct button going into the final rounds that opened the race up for the coveted title – and with it, the veteran 7-time champion, Peter Svidler beat co-leader Vladimir Malakhov in a clutch win in the final round to finish tied for first place with Nikita Vitugov, with both top-scoring on 7/11.
And in the ensuing rapid tiebreak, home-crowd favourite Svidler, who won his last title four years ago, easily beat Vitugov, 2-0, to add to his record haul of prestigious Russian titles, now making the universally popular Petersburger an 8-time champion. Not only that, but Svidler, 41, also won 1 million roubles (roughly $17,000) in prize money and took home a new Renault Captur car – and with his rating spike, he ends the year by once again re-entering the world’s top-10!
1-2. Peter Svidler*, Nikita Vitugov 7/11; 3-4. Danill Dubov, Vladimir Fedoseev 6½; 5-7. Vladimir Malakhov, Evgenny Tomashevsky, Alexander Riazantsev 6; 8-9. Sanan Sjugirov, Ernesto Inarkiev 5; 10. Maxim Matlakov 4½; 11. Evgeny Romanov 3½; 12. Sergey Volkov 3.
Photo: “Mr. 8-Time” Peter Svidler | © B. Dolmatovsky (RCF)
GM Peter Svidler – GM Vladimir Malakhov
70th Russian Championship Superfinal, (11)
Spanish Four Knights
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 The dreaded Berlin Defence – but Svidler has a blast from the past that perhaps takes his opponent by surprise. 4.Nc3 The Spanish Four Knights Game is not something you see much at top-level these days, as it was at the height of fashion between the 1890s and not long after the October Revolution of 1917. Though it has a reputation for being drawish, since the pawn formations are rather locked and very balanced, it did have a revival of sorts through the early 1990s thanks to some pioneering work from the English – then – top duo of Nigel Short and John Nunn, the latter writing a very instructive book on it. 4…Bb4 5.0-0 0-0 6.d3 Bxc3 7.bxc3 d6 8.Bg5 Bd7 9.Rb1 a6 10.Ba4 Rb8 11.Bb3 h6 12.Bh4 b5 13.h3 Re8 14.Qc1 An innocuous little queen move that (potentially) contains a lot of venom in it. The idea is to prevent Black playing …g5 (which loses on the spot to Nxg5 and Qxg5+), and leaves him wondering just how to break the annoying pin on the Nf6 without crippling his kingside defenses. 14…Na5 15.Re1 Nxb3 16.cxb3 White has, at the very least, solved the problem about his doubled pawns. 16…Bc6 17.c4! Svidler continues to expand and open new avenues of attack with the strategically-placed Qc1, whilst at the same time maintaining the annoying pin on Black’s Nf6. 17…bxc4 What else is there? If 17…b4 18.a3! and suddenly Black has a big problem of what to do with his queenside. If 18…a5 19.axb4 axb4 20.Ra1 and White is going to dominate the open a-file by infiltrating with his rook(s). 18.Qxc4 Bb5 19.Bxf6 Qxf6 20.Qxc7 Rec8 21.Qa7 Bxd3 22.Rbd1 Bb5 23.a4 Ra8 24.Qb6 Bc6 25.Rc1 There’s a chronic weakness with Black’s pawns on a6 and d6, Not only that, but Black’s pieces are somewhat restricted in their scope. 25…Bd7? This just makes a bad situation worse. Black’s only hope here was to try and mitigate one of his structural weaknesses with 25…d5! 26.Nxe5 Qxe5 27.Rxc6 Re8 28.Rc5 Re6 29.Qa5 Qb2! 30.Rxd5 Qxb3 White is still on top and to be preferred, but at least here Black has his pieces more active with good chances to hold the game if he can find a way to liquidate the queenside pawns. 26.Rxc8+ Bxc8 Now, not only are Black’s a6- and d6-pawns easy targets, but his rook and bishop now become awkward to develop. 27.Qc6 Rb8 28.Qc7 Ra8 29.Qc6 Rb8 30.Qc7 Ra8 Black’s in a bind, and Svidler uses his opponent’s predicament to gain a few moves to get himself closer to the time control. 31.Re3 Qg6 32.Nd2 Qe6 33.Qd8+ Kh7 34.Rd3 Bb7 35.Qc7 Now Black must lose a pawn – but the pawn is critical, as once it falls Black’s position will quickly collapse. 35…Qc8 36.Qxf7! [see diagram] The correct pawn to take, as in the wake of its fall, Black’s king now becomes a big target with White’s pieces moving swiftly in for the kill. 36…Qc6 37.Nc4 Qxe4 38.Rg3! Rg8 39.Nxd6 Qb1+ 40.Kh2 Be4 41.Ne8 1-0 Black resigns, as there’s no way to defend g7 as 41…Bg6 42.Nf6+ is mating quickly.