In Russia, the big highlight of the traditional ‘May Day’ holiday period comes each year on May 9, as the nation celebrates ‘Victory Day’ that commemorates the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945. The holiday also coincides with the crucial closing rounds of the Russian Team Championship Premier League, taking place in the Black Sea coastal resort of Sochi – but there, ‘victory day’ was only assured a day later on May 10, as the pre-tournament favourites, Miedny Vsadnik, from St. Petersburg, once again re-claimed the title.
Last year, Peter Svidler’s Bronze Horseman, the 2016 champions, finished a disappointing 4th place. But with reigning champion’s Sibir believed to have lost their sponsorship deal, and turning up minus their “Siberian” all-stars – Kramnik, Giri, Mamedyarov, Nepomniachtchi, Grischuk and Andreikin – it was Svidler’s Miedny Vsadnik who made all the running this year.
Headed by their talismanic eight-time national champion, the Bronze Horseman team also included in their line-up Nikita Vitiugov, Vladimir Fedoseev, Maxim Matlakov, Maxim Rodshtein, Kirill Alekseenko and Aleksey Goganov. They started with five wins and a draw to take the lead, and never looked back as they eased to victory, edging out their Moscow rivals, Legacy Square Capital, with Alekseenko’s crucial last round win – over Sergey Rublevsky – sealing the deal, as they took the title with their unbeaten score of 17/18.
And for those wondering about the name of the winning team, it refers to a highly-symbolic statue in the city. The Bronze Horseman (“Miedny Vsadnik”) is the impressive, equestrian monument commissioned by Catherine the Great, and dedicated to the founder of St. Petersburg, Peter the Great, that stands on Senatskaia Ploschad (Square), facing the Neva River and surrounded by the Admiralty and St Isaac’s Cathedral.
1. Miedny Vsadnik 17/18 (36/45 board points); 2. Legacy Square Capital 16 (33.5); 3. Molodezhka 14 (33.5); 4. Sibir 10 (29); 5. SShOR 9 (28); 6. Moskovskaya Oblast 9 (27); 7. Ladya 7 (25); 8. Sima-Land 6 (27); 9. Yuzhny Ural 4 (22); 10. Zhiguli 0 (9).
Photo: Peter Svidler – playing Boris Gelfand in the final round – leads his Bronze Horseman team to victory | © Russian Chess Federation
GM Sergey Rublevsky – GM Kirill Alekseenko
Russian Team Championship Premier League, (9)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 A more positional way to battle the Najdorf – and one that was championed and popularised through the 1970s by the successor to Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, with many memorable, python-like positional squeeze’s. 6…e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Re1 Be6 10.Bf3 In Karpov’s day, the idea was to play a4 and f4 – but this is a newer, less committal idea, that simply attempts to not weaken white’s e-pawn whilst at the same time doubling down on the hold of the d5 square. 10…Nbd7 11.a4 Qb8 A typical Sicilian queen move that keeps an eye on the backward d6-pawn, the idea being not to play immediately …b5, but to re-route his pieces with …Rfc8, and then …Be7-d8-b6 and better prospects down the a7-g1 diagonal. 12.h3 Rc8 13.Nd2 Bd8 14.Nf1 Bb6 15.a5 Bd4 16.Ne2 Bc5 17.Be3 b6 18.axb6 Qxb6 19.b3 a5 20.Neg3 g6 Black could have tried – and perhaps should have played – the enterprising pawn sacrifice with 20…a4!? 21.bxa4 (Trading off a set of rooks first makes no difference. After 21.Rxa4 Rxa4 22.bxa4 Ra8 23.c3 Qc6! and black will soon reclaim his pawn with equality and an easy game.) 21…Ra5 and black will regain the pawn with a nice game. 21.Nf5! Such tactical shots with an offer of a knight sacrifice on f5 or d5 is always a possibility against the Sicilian – and there’s a neat reason why the knight can’t be captured. 21…Rd8 The knight is taboo. If 21…gxf5? 22.exf5 Bxf5 23.Bxa8 Rxa8 24.Qf3! where the that best black can hope for is being on the wrong side of a bad ending, after 24…Be4 25.Bxc5 Qc6 26.Rxe4! Qxe4 (If 26…Nxe4? 27.Bxd6! leaves white easily winning.) 27.Bxd6 Qxf3 28.gxf3 Ra6 29.Rd1 a4 30.bxa4 Rxa4 31.Ne3 leaving white with the better pieces and a clear pawn up in the ending – and that extra pawn is also the c-pawn, which will quickly now push up the board. 22.g4 The obvious follow-up to expand on the kingside whilst supporting the Nf5 – but white could also play 22.Nh6+ Kg7 23.Ng4!? and claim a little positional edge, due to the potential long-term black pawn weaknesses on a5 and d6. 22…Kh8 23.N1g3?! It’s here that Rublevsky begins to lose his way in the game. It’s not an easy position to asses, and Rublevsky’s 23.N1g3 seems a good fit, but he should perhaps have looked towards heading for d5 with 23.Ne7 Re8 24.Nd5 Bxd5 25.exd5 and equality, as black can’t risk 25…e4 as 26.Bg2 Re5 as 27.Nd2! Rxd5 28.Qc1 Re8 29.Nc4 Qc7 30.Bf4 and white’s pieces are well-placed, tying black in a bit of a knot – and it is not easy to see what black does against the coming hidden threat of Ra2! and Qa1, piling on the pressure on the vulnerable a5-pawn, whilst threatening to win the Nf6 with g5. 23…Bxe3 Black misses a good shot to seize the advantage, with 23…a4! 24.bxa4 and now capturing the knight 24…gxf5, as now 25.exf5 Bc4 26.g5 Bxe3 27.Rxe3 d5! 28.gxf6 Ra5! black dominates with his central pawns, has the better-placed pieces, and will quickly and easily pick off the crippled and vulnerable white pawns. 24.Nxe3 Nc5 25.g5 Ng8 26.Bg4 f6! 27.Bxe6 The alternative of 27.h4 is problematic for white, as it opens the way for 27…fxg5 28.hxg5 Rf8! and white is in trouble on the kingside, with the queen retreat …Qd8 threatening to pile on further pressure there. 27…Nxe6 28.Nd5 Qa7 29.gxf6 Rf8 Black has managed to successfully transition for being on the back-foot to being on the attack – once the f6-pawn falls, white will be vulnerable down the semi-open f-file. 30.Re3 Qf7 31.Ne2 Ng5! The f6-pawn is going nowhere, so black takes advantage of this by repositioning his knight over to the kingside, that throws Rublevsky into a panic. 32.Nb6 Rad8 33.f4 There’s no difference with 33.Rxa5 as now 33…Nxf6 34.f4 Nfxe4! and black is threatening to come in for the kill. 33…Nxf6! 34.fxg5? This quickly capitulates. The best hope for trying to survive this was 34.Rxa5 – but that just transposes into the above note. 34…Ng4!! [see diagram] A killer blow, as Alekseenko takes full advantage down the open f-file. 35.hxg4 Qf2+ 36.Kh1 Qxe3 37.Nc4 There’s no real prospects of defending this, as there’s too much hanging and the white king has no cover from the queen and rook. 37…Qh3+ 38.Kg1 Qxg4+ 39.Kh1 Rf2! 0-1 Rublevsky resigns, as there’s no way to prevent the twin threats of …Qg2 mate and …Qh3 mating.