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With this being an Olympiad year, the annual Russian Championship Superfinal was held earlier than its usual late October/early November date, and concluded earlier this week in the mineral-rich town of Satka, Chelyabinsk Oblast, in the Southern Urals, with both the open and women’s tournaments going down to a pair of dramatic two-game rapid tiebreak playoffs, as Dmitry Andreiken and Natalija Pogonina eventually ‘drove off’ with the top titles.

The successor to the magnificent – and very demanding – series of Soviet championships from 1920-91, which at their peak were the strongest annual tournaments, these historic championships have been held more often than not in Moscow and were in the Russian capital every year from 2004, when Garry Kasparov – just ahead of his retirement – won his last national title, to 2012.

But over the past few years they’ve been hitting the road (and in more ways than one!), starting with Nizhny Novgorod on the Volga in 2013, followed by Kazan, also on the Volga; Chita in the far east of Siberia; Novosibirsk, Russia’s third-largest city; and last year, as part of the centenary celebrations for the October Revolution of 1917, in St. Petersburg, the former Russian imperial capital; to now, Satka in the Southern Urals.

Nowadays the Russian championship – despite its added status of being termed as a ‘superfinal’ – has lost much of its allure. However, it is still a formidable contest with the first prize of one million roubles (roughly $14,500) and the big bonus of a major sponsorship deal with a leading car manufacturer seeing each of the winner’s driving home in style in a top-of-the-range Renault Captur SUV.

All 12 GMs in Satka in the top-rated open section had ratings in the 2700s or 2600s and the tournament took an unlikely course. Top seed and pre-tournament favourite, Ian Nepomniachtchi had a nightmare performance, going down in the early rounds to a brace of losses to Vladimir Fedoseev and Dmitry Jakovenko, with the latter going on take the outright lead, which he held going into the final round.

But in the final round, Jakovenko was caught by Andreiken, who beat Fedoseev to force a playoff for the main title. And in the two-game rapid tiebreak playoffs, Andreiken easily beat Jakovenko, 1.5-0.5, to take the 2018 Russian title.

Photo: The 2018 Russian Championship Superfinal winners, Dmitry Andreiken & Natalija Pogonina | © Eteri Kublashvili / Russian Chess Federation

GM Dmitry Jakovenko – GM Ian Nepomniachtchi
71st Russian Championship Superfinal, (6)
Sicilian Defence, Moscow Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Nd7 4.0-0 a6 5.Bd3 While admittedly the bishop looks a little awkwardly placed here, all that’s happened is that we’ve transposed into a hybrid Kopec System, named after the late US coach and author, IM Danny Kopec, who created a whole Anti-Sicilian system in the late 1960s and 1970s based on the set-up of 1.e4 2.Nf3 and 3.Bd3 – the game thereafter basically transposing into a Ruy Lopez-like game, with White playing c3 and retreating the bishop to c2. 5…Ngf6 6.Re1 g6 7.c3 Bg7 8.Bc2 0-0 9.d4 e5 10.a4 cxd4 11.cxd4 exd4 12.Nxd4 Nc5 13.Nc3 d5 14.e5 Nfe4 15.f4 Nxc3?! Trading on c3 just looks wrong as it opens the game up for Jakovenko’s bishop-pair. Better was simply breaking down White’s centre with 15…f6!? 16.bxc3 Re8 17.Be3 Qc7 It’s too late now for 17…f6?! as after 18.Nf3 Ne4 19.c4! Be6 20.Qd4! Black’s position is beginning to creak with the pressure on d5. 18.Qf3 Ne4 19.Bb3! Jakovenko’s strong pressure on d5 and his more active bishop-pair is telling – and this is better than the alternative of 19.Bxe4 dxe4 20.Qxe4 Qxc3 21.Rec1 Qb4 22.Qd5 where White still holds the advantage, but Black, with the bishop-pair and fewer pieces now on the board, has good chances of further simplifying the position. 19…Qd7?! It’s a difficult position, and it looks as if Nepo has plain and simply lost the plot with this ugly move that only hits his own development of his pieces. He had to play 19…Be6 20.Rec1 and take the fight from here – but, objectively, White has the upper-hand. 20.Rad1! Rather than defending c3, Jakovenko – with the better development – just gets on with the job of mobilising his pieces by centralising his rooks, looking to open the game up as quickly as he can now. 20…Nxc3 21.Rd3 Ne4 22.e6! [see diagram] The whole point of Jakovenko’s play, as the x-ray attack from the Bb3 on the Black king proves fatal for Nepo. 22…fxe6 23.Nxe6 Nf6 There’s no hope for Black. If 23…Rxe6 24.Rxd5! Qc7 (If 24…Qe8 25.Rd3! Kh8 26.Bxe6 Bxe6 27.Qxe4 is easily winning.) 25.Rc1 Qe7 26.Qxe4! quickly wins. 24.f5! Ripping a clear path through to Black’s king. 24…gxf5 25.Nxg7 Qxg7 26.Qf1! A winning retreating move in chess with the queen is arguably one of the hardest concepts to understand for club-level players, as it goes against the grain to remove the most dominant piece on the board from the attack. But here, the retreat clears a path for Jakovenko’s rook to come in for the kill with Bd4 followed by Rg3. 26…Be6 27.Bd4 Kf7 Forced, otherwise Rg3 pins the king and queen. 28.Qf4! Now all of White’s forces are joining in on the attack – a Black capitulation will come sooner rather than later. 28…Bd7 29.Rf1 Be6 30.Rg3 It’s total domination now, as Nepo is forced into a humiliating retreat. 30…Qh8 Well, it’s never a good sign when you are reduced to having to retreat your queen to h8. 31.Qh4 Rad8 32.Bc2 All roads lead to Rome in this dominating position, but certainly, the most clinical way to win was with 32.Bxf6! 32…h6 33.Bxf5 1-0 Nepo resigns now, rather than have to play through the pain and ignominy of 33…Bxf5 34.Rxf5 Re1+ 35.Kf2 Re6 36.Rxf6+ Rxf6+ 37.Bxf6 Qxf6+ 38.Rf3

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