Several European countries are currently extending or reintroducing lockdown measures in the run up to Easter as a third wave of the pandemic sweeps the continent fuelled by more contagious new variants of coronavirus such as the B117 mutation first detected in the UK. The variant first found in Britain is spreading significantly in at least 27 European countries and is now dominant in Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal, according to the World Health Organization.
And with it comes the inevitable news that two top-flight Scandinavia tournaments have had to be postponed/cancelled.
By far the biggest casualty is the Altibox Norway Chess in Stavanger, with World Champion Magnus Carlsen heading the field, and now pushed back from May to early September. Also hit is Sweden’s top tournament, the Tepe Sigeman & Co. in Malmo, originally scheduled for April, and now postponed indefinitely, the main attraction there for chess fans being the comeback of ex-world champion Anatoly Karpov.
Despite the setback, the top-flight grandmaster action continues online through the pandemic with 91 teams this week beginning the European Online Club Cup on the tornelo.com platform. With many big-name team sponsors, the event is comparable to European football’s Champions’ league, gathering together as it does the top teams from the previous season’s national leagues.
After three days of frantic action in the various playoff/group sections with the quicker time control (15 minutes plus a 5-second increment per move) the field has now been whittled down to the 10 (9 group winners who will be joined by the winners of the European Women’s Club Cup, Cercle d’Echecs de Monte-Carlo) who will contest the final group on 30-31 May.
One of the early standout group games came from the young Russian star Vladislav Artemiev, who dazzled the chess fans as he destroyed Polish GM Mateusz Bartel’s defences with a stunning attack game that featured a series of gems like 16…f5 17. exf5 Bd5!, a full queen sacrifice with 21…Nxh4!!, and a pirouetting …Nf5.
GM Mateusz Bartel – GM Vladislav Artemiev
European Online Club Cup Playoff A, (3)
Ruy Lopez, Four Knights
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Nc3 By transposition we have a Ruy Lopez (or Spanish) Four Knights Game – an opening that was once thought to be a relic of the past, but then came back into vogue again in 1993 when John Nunn published his groundbreaking book, New Ideas in the Four Knights. Nigel Short added it to his repertoire during his world championship campaign, and several other English players followed suit, including Nunn himself. 5…Bc5 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.d3 Qe7 8.h3 h6 9.Be3 Bd6 10.0-0 c5 Stopping White opening the game up with d4. 11.Nd2 g5 12.Nc4 Be6 13.Nxd6+ cxd6 14.Ne2 It all starts to go wrong for White after this move; and perhaps in hindsight much safer would have been 14.f3 just stalling …g4. You live and learn – well, you live anyway! 14…g4! It’s early doors, but Black is looking to crash through White’s defences – and not only does Artemiev succeed, but he also does so with a devastating sacrifice. 15.h4 The only move – White has to attempt to close down the kingside – but Black is having none of it. 15…Nh5 16.g3? Now admittedly, this is the very natural move defending h4 – but the engine senses the danger in the position, and realises that White has to swiftly seek counter-play, and favours instead 16.Qd2 a5 (What the engine hopes is that 16…Qxh4 17.b4! b6 18.bxc5 bxc5 19.Ng3! with excellent prospects, and Black may well have to seek to bail-out now with 19…Nxg3 20.fxg3 Qxg3 21.Bf2 Qf4 22.Be3 Qg3 and a repetition.) 17.a3 a4 and only now play 18.g3 with a better version than in the game, the reasons for why we’ll soon see! 16…f5! Artemiev isn’t holding back, he’s going straight for the jugular. 17.exf5 Bd5! Also good was 17…Bxf5 – but with the text, Artemiev makes it clear he has only one goal in mind: Mating his opponent on h1! 18.Nc3 Bf3 19.Qd2 Ng7 20.Bxh6? Bartel is all but committing harakiri here by opening the h-file. He’s in dire straits for sure, but he could try mixing things up with 20.b4!? Nxf5 21.bxc5 Nxh4! 22.cxd6 Qxd6 23.Rfe1 Kf7 24.Rab1 with survival chances. 20…Nxf5 21.Bg5 If Bartels was relying on this move, then he’s in for a big shock! 21…Nxh4!! [see diagram] It’s all about blasting open the h-file to deliver that mate on h1 – and no amount of material lost is going to stop Artemiev’s doing this. 22.Bxe7 Nf5 23.Bh4 Nxh4 24.Qg5 Nf5 25.Qg6+ Kd8 26.Qf6+ Kc7 27.Nd5+ Kc6! 0-1 Bartel resigns, as he was hoping for 27…Bxd5 28.f3! and survival with tbe escape via f2 for the king. But now it’s the Black king that simply walks away from all the checks after 28.Ne7+ Kb6 29.Nd5+ Ka7 and White still can’t prevent the mate on h1, even after 30.Qh4 Nxh4 31.Ne3 Nf5 32.Ng2 Rh3! and there’s no stopping …Rah8 followed by the ubiquitous …Rh1 mate!