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At the very height of the Soviet dominance of chess, the legendary USSR team championship was called the ‘Spartakiad’ – (and yes, after the fabled Thracian gladiator, Spartacus) – that proved to be the big highlight of the chess year, by being the most demanding and strongest team event outside of the biennial Chess Olympiad (and arguably stronger!), where even the world champion of the day and his title challengers had to attend.

The Soviet Union may well be gone, as has the wonderful Spartakiad name, but the strong team competition tradition continues today in the form of the ongoing Russian Team Championship Premier League, an elite 10-team single round-robin taking place in the Black Sea coastal resort of Sochi, that will run through the traditional Russian ‘May Day’ holiday period of 1-10 May.

However, unlike the Spartakiad of the past, the Russian Team Championship is modelled more nowadays on the first professional chess league, the German Bundesliga, with financial support coming from oligarchies, banks and utility companies, with players jetting in from all over the world and being paid to play for one of the many rich, company-named and sponsored teams.

Back in the good-old-bad-old Soviet days, the biggest and most intense Sparatakiad battles often proved to be between the two main metropolises’ of Moscow and Leningrad (which has now reverted back again to St. Petersburg). This year, with the many sponsorship deals, the names may very well be unfamiliar to most, but the intense battle between Miedny Vsadnik (St. Petersburg) and Legacy Square Capital (Moscow) proved to be just as intriguing nevertheless.

The match ended in a narrow 3.5-2.5 win to give Peter Svidler’s “Bronze Horseman” team from St. Petersburg the lead – but it should really have been a narrow win for Legacy Square Capital, as the Moscow team suffered a cruel reversal of fortunes during a very dramatic time scramble, with Evgeny Najer losing a totally won game.

Photo: Peter Svidler’s St. Petersburg team are fortunate to hold a narrow lead at the top | © Russian Chess Federation

GM Vladimir Fedoseev – GM Evgeny Najer
Russian Team Championship Premier League, (2)
Anti-Sicilian
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 Nc6 5.Qd2 Nf6 6.b3 This off-beat Anti-Sicilian is trending a little after Magnus Carlsen successfully deployed it last month to beat Radoslaw Wojtaszek, en route to winning the 5th Vugar Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan. 6…e5 In the aforementioned game, Wojtaszek played 6…e6 and later followed up with 9…h5 – and his plan quickly backfired. Najer’s more aggressive approach with 6…e5 looks to control the d4 square, but it will come at the price of the backward d-pawn; but something which ever Sicilian aficionado should at least know how to deal with. 7.Bb2 Be7 8.g3 0-0 9.Bg2 Nd4 10.Nge2 Nxe2 11.Qxe2 Bg4! Najer has reacted much more energetically than Wojtaszek did against Carlsen – and with it, he’s assured of a more dynamic game, as he’s cut across white’s plan of castling queenside to put pressure down the d-file on the d6 pawn. 12.Qd3 The alternative was 12.f3 but after 12…Bd7 Black has ‘semi-gained’ a move, and will quickly be following up with …Rc8 with strong pressure down the semi-open c-file. 12…Rc8 13.0-0 Qc7 14.a4 Qc5 15.Rfc1 Rfd8 Black has won the battle of the offbeat opening, with the better and more natural development of his pieces – but the game now goes for a big walk on the wild side. 16.a5 a6 17.Qd2 Qc6 18.h3 Bd7 19.Kh2 h5 This attempts to stop white expanding on the queenside with g4 and f4. 20.f4 b5 21.Nd5 Nxd5 22.exd5 Qc7 23.Qe2 h4! A thematic thrust, crippling white’s kingside defenses and opening lines towards the enemy king. 24.gxh4 Re8 25.Qf2?! Not the best, as Black gains valuable time in moving his queen over to the kingside. Better was the immediate 25.Be4. 25…Qd8 26.Be4 f5 27.Bf3 Bxh4 Black certainly has the advantage – but he unwisely goes for the jugular by bursting open lines, and the game goes “random” in a time scramble with both kings at risk. 28.Qg2 g5?! Either very brave or very foolish – but without it, we don’t get to enjoy the coming fun! Najer could have built on his obvious advantage with the solid 28…Qe7! 29.Rg1 Bf6 where everything on black’s kingside is defended, and he can look at targeting white’s queenside pawn weaknesses on c2 and a5. 29.fxe5 dxe5 30.Bh5 Black’s attack certainly looks – and is – the stronger.  But with the time scramble looming large now, and lines being blown open around both kings, it only takes a minor slip for the evaluation to take a dramatic swing. 30…Re7 31.c4!?! There is no subtle niceties now, as Fedoseev gambles everything to confuse his opponent – and it pays off! 31…Rh7 32.Be2 f4?? This self-inflicted blunder, giving white hope by voluntarily opening up the b1-h7 diagonal, allows Fedoseev a remarkable turnaround in the outcome of the game. The way to force home the victory for black was the obvious 32…g4! and follow up with …Bg5, after which white can’t escape the coming carnage looming over his king. 33.Qe4 Qf6 34.cxb5 Bg3+ Black goes all-in on with his kingside attack – and while it looks like a winning attack, unbelievable, somehow it isn’t. Oh, all the “joys” of the time scramble and thinking you have a sure-fire winning attack! 35.Kg1 Bxh3 36.Bd3! The pendulum starts to swing dramatically now in the opposite direction. 36…Bh2+ 37.Kh1 Rh4 38.Bxe5 Qh6 [see diagram] With all the ‘weight’ bearing down the h-file on the head of the white king, you would never believe that black was on the verge of a dramatic reversal of fortunes here, would you? 39.Bd4 f3? Black was in a bad way anyway now, but this swiftly hastens his demise. The only way to stave off the coming mate was with 39…Kf7! 40.Rxc8 Bxc8 but after 41.d6! black doesn’t have the time to exploit the h-file, as he’s now forced into 41…Qxd6 (There’s no salvation in 41…Bg3+ as the white king walks to freedom with 42.Kg1 Bh2+ 43.Kf1! Bh3+ 44.Ke1 Bg3+ 45.Kd2 forcing 45…Qxd6 46.Be5 f3 47.Qxf3+ Bf4+ 48.Qxf4+ and a won ending.) 42.Bc4+ Kf8 43.Rd1 f3 44.Qxf3+ Bf4+ 45.Kg2 Rh2+ 46.Kg1 Rh3 47.Qd5! Qxd5 48.Bxd5 and white will eventually win the ending with his strong passed a-pawn and black’s b5-pawn being vulnerable. 40.Rxc8+ Bxc8 41.Qe8+ 1-0 Black resigns, as mate follows after 41…Qf8 42.Qg6+ etc.

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