For those that have never had the delights of visiting Saint Petersburg, then the Bronze Horseman is the imposing monument of Peter the Great that stands proud and tall in the heart of the Russian city that was formally its Czarist capital. It has become a symbol of the city, and stands on the enormous “Thunder Stone,” claimed to be the largest stone ever to be moved by humans.
This year the Bronze Horseman continues to stand proud tall as its team – ‘Mednyi Vsadnik’, to give it its official Russian moniker – completely dominated the 2021 Russian Team Championship that ran 1-10 May in Sochi, one of the very few top-level over-the-board competitions taking place.
It wasn’t so much going for gold as everything going for bronze, as the Bronze Horseman team won all eight matches to claim victory in the prestigious annual Russian team title. Their talisman was GM Andrey Esipenko, the young 19-year-old who sensationally claimed Magnus Carlsen’s scalp earlier this year at the Tata Steel Masters in Wijk Ann Zee. Esipenko top-scored in the competition with his undefeated 6.5/7 on first board, and with it he now jumps eleven spots to move into the world’s top 30 on the live ratings for the first time.
Meanwhile online, the FTX Crypto Cup, the sixth leg the $1.5m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour from the Play Magnus Group gets underway on Sunday, that involves a very strong 16-player field that includes the World Champion Magnus Carlsen, his next title challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi – their big clash coming in Monday’s Round 2 – and the entire world top 10 all doing battle for a record $320,000 prize fund, $100,000 of which is set aside in bitcoin, which this week witnessed a very dramatic cryptocurrency mini-crash.
The FTX Crypto Cup starts at 16:00 BST (11:00 EST | 08:00 PST) on Sunday May 23, with three days of all-play-all prelims followed by a knock-out among the top eight. There’s live grandmaster commentaries on Chess24.com, Twitch, YouTube, and linear TV. The knockout stages will also be shown on the Eurosport cable channel.
Photo: Andrey Esipenko rides the Bronze to gold with yet another impressive performance | © Vladimir Barsky/Russian Chess Federation
GM Andrey Esipenko – GM Mikhail Kobalia
Russian Team Ch., (6)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Bb4+ 5.Nc3 dxc4 6.Bg2 Nc6 7.0-0 0-0 8.a3 Be7 9.e4 Rb8 10.Be3 b5 11.Qe2 This is all standard play in the Catalan Open, with White sacrificing a pawn for total control of the center with his pawns and pieces. 11…Na5 12.Rad1 Bb7 13.Ne5 Qc8 14.g4 b4 15.axb4 Bxb4 16.g5 Nd7 17.Ng4 f5 It looks scary but it’s the best option, as it was either this or being rolled over on the kingside with f4-f5 etc. 18.gxf6 Nxf6 19.Nxf6+ Rxf6 20.Bg5 Rf7 21.d5 e5 22.f4 h6 23.fxe5!? Esipenko certainly knows no fear, as he sacrifices his bishop for a speculative attack that throws his opponent into a panic. 23…Rxf1+ 24.Rxf1 hxg5 25.e6 Qd8? Now admittedly this is a very natural human reaction to the piece sacrifice, but the engine soon finds the stubborn defence with the bizarre-looking 25…Bc6!? just to stop the threat of Rf7, where now 26.e7 (The real point though behind 25…Bc6!? is that if White recaptures the piece with 26.dxc6 then 26…Bxc3 27.bxc3 Qxe6 and the trades have removed the danger for Black, who now just needs to play …Rf8 and …Nxc6 for complete equality. ) 26…Qd7! 27.dxc6 Qxe7 28.e5 Qc5+ 29.Kh1 Bxc3 30.Qh5 Qxe5! and White has to bail-out with the perpetual with 31.Qf7+ Kh8 32.Qh5+ etc. 26.Qh5 Qe7 27.Rf7 Qc5+ 28.Kh1 Bxc3 29.Rf3! [see diagram] In playing 25…Qd8, Black must have missed this very clever retreating zwischenzug, as he self-destructs trying to defend against the dual mating threat with Qf7+ and Rh3 or Rh3 and Qh7+/Qh8+. 29…Be1? This just goes down in flames without a fight. For sure Black is in a bad way, but you have to try your best to put up the best defence possible and make your opponent work for the win, and that best hope was 29…g4 30.Qf7+ Kh7 which again looks as if White has to bail-out with the Qf7+/Qh5+ perpetual – but no, the carnage continues with the simply stunning 31.Bh3!! Bxd5 32.Qh5+ Kg8 33.Bxg4 Qe7 (If 33…Rf8 34.e7! Qxe7 35.Qxd5+ and Black can resign.) 34.exd5 Bf6 35.Bf5 g5 36.Be4! Rf8 (There’s no defence. The natural-looking 36…Qg7 gets hit right over the head with 37.d6!! cxd6 38.e7! Qf7 39.Qh6 Nc6 40.Bxc6 Bxe7 41.Be4 and Black can resign.) 37.h4 Qg7 38.Bg6 and the Black isn’t going to survive without the heavy loss of material. 30.Qf7+ Kh8 The …Be1 defence with …Bh4 does indeed stops Rh3 mating, but alas now there’s… 31.e7! Qd6 32.e8Q+ 1-0