The Russians Are Coming! - First Move Chess -First Move Chess


In the former Soviet Union, chess was a very important factor. A social, cultural, and also political factor. There was a huge investment by the communist state to make sure the great talents were found, and this is what gave them their chess hegemony. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia – with Garry Kasparov at the helm – took over the mantle of the world’s leading chess nation. But it didn’t take long for it all to implode; with it, a lot of the important chess infrastructure and vital trainers and coaching staff were lost to other countries.

Not only that, but with the opening up of different avenues to make money by playing online poker or perhaps moving into high-finance and  the money markets, a lot of the brightest and savviest kids opted for that route rather than chess – and with it, Russia lost its way, and was no longer the mighty force it once was in world chess. A long rebuilding process is in progress – and finally, there’s a chink of light now at the end of the tunnel, with two of a newer generation of ambitious young Russian stars having impressive tournament victories this week.

We already reported in our previous column, Carpe Diem, on 20-year-old Aleksandra Goryachkina’s sensational breakthrough performance to win the FIDE Women’s Candidates’, and now a title shot against reigning champion Ju Wenjun. Now comes a second big win in the same week for another rising Russian star who has made a big breakthrough in 2019: Twenty-one-year-old Vladislav Artemiev. He started the year by winning the very strong Gibraltar Masters, and then went on to become his country’s talismanic performer in the World Team Championship, not only contributing to Russia’s gold medal-winning team victory but also taking the individual gold medal – and that performance propelled the young Russian into the world’s Top Ten for the first time.

Now his latest conquest is the 20th International Anatoly Karpov Tournament that finished yesterday in Poikovsky, Siberia. But Artemiev did it the hard way this time, coming from behind after a bad start (two draws and a spectacular loss to Krishnan Sasikiran), only to recover to go +3 in the remaining rounds, and ending with two impressive must-wins in the final rounds against Vladislav Kovalev and Vladimir Fedoseev respectively, that not only enabled him to catch up with the overnight leader, Dmitry Jakovenko, but also go on to take the title with his superior tiebreak score, as both Russians tied for first place.

Final standings:
1-2. *V. Artemiev (Russia), D. Jakovenko (Russia) 5.5/9; 3-8. *K. Sasikiran (India), Wang Hao (China), I. Saric (Croatia), A. Korobov (Ukraine), V. Fedoseev (Russia), A. Esipenko (Russia) 4.5; 9. R. Mamedov (Azerbaijan) 4; 10. V. Kovalev (Belorussia) 3.

Photo: Vladislav Artemiev turns in yet another heroic performance to win | © Vasily Papin / Russian Chess Federation

GM Vladislav Kovalev – GM Vladislav Artemiev
20th Karpov Poikovsky Tournament, (8)
Sicilian Defence, Moscow variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Bd7 4.Bxd7+ Nxd7 5.c4 In this variation, very often White can easily get a Maroczy Bind formation – but the trouble is, with the trade of the bishops, and White has to play a few preparatory moves in to defend c4 and then play d4, Black has easier play and his piece quickly reach good squares. 5…Ngf6 6.Nc3 Rc8 7.0-0 g6 8.Qe2 Needed to defend c4 after d4 is played. This is one of those concessions in the Maroczy Bind I describe above, as the queen would normally stay on the d-file. 8…Bg7 9.d4 cxd4 10.Nxd4 0-0 11.Be3 a6 12.Rac1 White has to tread very carefully in any Maroczy Bind set-up, as it is easy to err badly with 12.b3? allowing the strike 12…b5! and suddenly Black has the better game. 12…Qa5 Keeping on the pressure by taking full advantage of the fact that White doesn’t have his queen on the more natural, Maroczy Bind square of d2 – where this sort of move can potentially be hit by an Nd5 threat – that once again stops b3 being played, as it will be well-met by …b5 and a double attack on the Nc3. 13.f3 e6 And with no pressure down the d-file, Artemiev now readies the ground for a …d5 central break. 14.a3 Ne5 The double attack on c4 is awkward, as White’s position now gets pulled out of shape trying to defend his queenside pawns. 15.Nb3 Qc7 16.Nd2 Rfe8 17.Kh1 d5!? Some would have prepared this move further (perhaps with …Nfd7, …Nc6-d4), but Artemiev isn’t in a mood to hold back – ready or not, he’s going for it now with his central break, so everyone fasten your seat belts! 18.cxd5 exd5 19.f4 Better than the obvious 19.Nxd5 Qxc1!? 20.Rxc1 Rxc1+ 21.Nf1 Ra1 and an interesting struggle ahead for both sides. It will not be easy for White to defend this – but, equally, it will be no pushover either, as Black will have to work hard to make winning threats with his active pieces. 19…Neg4 20.e5 Nxe3 21.Qxe3 Ng4 22.Qf3 Qd7 Artemiev simply thrives on the adrenalin rush of living on the edge – and in this position, he throws the dice and is rewarded by his double-edged play. 23.Rcd1 d4 24.Nde4?! It looks as though White has blinked. Much better was 24.Nb3! f6 25.Rxd4 Qf5 26.h3 Nh6 27.Qxb7 Rb8 28.Qd5+ Kh8 and despite the position opening up for all his active pieces, it’s doubtful Black has enough compensation for the pawns to be thinking of winning. But then again, it is the sort of chaos position that Artemiev revels in. 24…f5 25.Ng3 Qd8! A very accurate little retreat that sees the queen coming to h4 and hitting h2 – and with it, suddenly White’s in deep trouble. 26.Nce2 Qh4 27.h3 Ne3 28.Nxd4 Offering better resistance was 28.Qxb7!? and again, Black doesn’t look to have enough to win. 28…Nxf1 29.Nxf1 Rcd8 30.Qe3 Far too timid – and perhaps missing Black’s next move. Again, better was 30.Qxb7!? as Black can’t play 30…Qxf4? because of 31.Ne6! turning the tables. 30…Bh6! [see diagram] Suddenly White is in dire straits, as there’s no way to successfully defend f4 with Black having designs of mating ideas on h2. 31.Qb3+ Kh8 32.g3 White’s position was imploding anyway. It was either this way or going down to 32.Nf3 Rxd1! 33.Nxh4 (Hopeless was 33.Qxd1 Qxf4 34.Qd7 Rg8 35.Qxb7 Qc4! 36.Ng3 Bf4 and Black should quickly win.) 33…Rxf1+ 34.Kh2 Bxf4+ 35.g3 Bxe5 36.Ng2 Rf2 37.Qxb7 Rxb2 38.Qf7 Reb8 with Black in full control. 32…Qxh3+ 33.Kg1 Bf8! The winning, strategical retreat, as there’s no way to stop …Bc5 and an eternal pin. 34.e6 Trying to stop the bishop getting to c5 only leaves other weakness to be exploited. After 34.Qb6 Rc8 35.b4 Rc3! will soon be crashing through. 34…Bc5 35.Qe3 Kg8! Just calmly moving the king out of the potential Qe5+ threat. 36.b4 Ba7 37.e7 Rd6 38.Kf2 Qh1! 0-1 A nice final touch – and it is perhaps not so obvious why Kovalev resigned, but there’s really no answer to …Qd5, such as 39.Qb3+ Qd5 40.Qxd5+ Rxd5 and the Nd4 is going to be lost down the pin on the long a7-g1 diagonal.


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