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Posted on 08:43 PM, January 13, 2011

Chess Piece — By Bobby Ang

Under Imperialist Russia, the first Champion was Emanuel Schiffers who in 1874 defeated Andrey Chardin in a match held in St. Petersburg (+5 -4). He held this title until Mikhail Chigorin defeated him in a match also held in St. Petersburg in 1879 (+7 -4 =2).

After the formation of the USSR the USSR Chess Championship was established as the national championship. However the Russian championship continued to exist as the championship of the Russian Soviet Federation Socialist Republic (RSFSR). The first two USSR championships in 1920 and 1923 were also recognized as RSFSR championships — the champions were Alexander Alekhine (1920) and Peter Romanovsky (1923). The powerhouse cities Moscow and Leningrad were considered chess centers in their own right and held their own championships — these players were ineligible to play in the RSFSR championship.

After the Soviet Union broke up in December 1991 the Russian Championship has become the premier national competition in the world (players from Moscow and St. Petersburg were, of course, now allowed to participate

Here are the Champions starting 1992:

1992 Aleksei Gavrilov

1993 Alexei Bezgodov

1994 Peter Svidler

1995 Peter Svidler

1996 Alexander Khalifman

1997 Peter Svidler

1998 Alexander Morozevich

1999 Konstantin Sakaev

2000 Sergey Volkov

2001 Alexander Motylev, on tiebreak over Alexander Lastin

2002 Alexander Lastin

2003 Peter Svidler, on tiebreak over Alexander Morozevich

2004 Garry Kasparov

2005 Sergei Rublevsky

2006 Evgeny Alekseev, after a playoff match with Dmitry Jakovenko

2007 Alexander Morozevich

2008 Peter Svidler, after a play-off with Evgeny Alekseev and Dmitry Jakovenko

2009 Alexander Grischuk

The 2010 edition saw a comeback win by Nepomniachtchi — he was trailing Karjakin by half a point going into the last round but the Ukrainian-turned-Russian Karjakin surprisingly lost to Malakhov and they went into tie-breaks.

The first two tie-break games were played at 25 minutes + 10 seconds per move and they were both drawn, although Karjakin had the better of both games. Now they entered the colorfully titled Armageddon play-off: Karjakin had white and 6 minutes, while Nepomniachtchi black and 5 minutes with draw odds, meaning if the game was drawn then he is considered the winner. Karjakin got a winning game but could not convert and it was ultimately drawn, so Nepo was declared the champion.

Nepomniachtchi was born in 1990, same as Magnus Carlsen (currently the highest rated player in the world with 2814) and Sergey Karjakin (the youngest-ever GM in history — he got the title at the age of 12 years and 7 months. He is also no. 5 in the rating list as of January 2011 with 2776). Around three years ago these three players were hailed as the future of world chess.

Whereas Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin have quickly risen to the top, Nepomniachtchi won the European Youth Chess Championship three times, in 2000 in the U10 class and in 2001 and 2002 in the U12 class. In 2002 he also won the World Youth Chess Championship in the U12 class. However, after that promising start he faded a bit and it is only recently that he has resumed his climb up the rating ladder. He won the powerful Aeroflot Open and is the reigning European Champion. This new victory further bolsters his reputation, and at 2733 is now ranked 15th in the world.

Peter Svidler, a record five-time champion, was leading up to round 8, but this crucial encounter in the 9th round knocked him back and allowed Nepo to grab a share of the lead with Karjakin.

Nepomniachtchi, Ian (2720) — Svidler, Peter (2722) [C45]

63rd ch-RUS Moscow RUS (9), 20.12.2010

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4

Against 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 Ian usually plays the Spanish (3.Bb5) and once in a while the Italian (3.Bc4). For this tournament his secret weapon was the Scotch Game, which he had not previously ever played before. It was quite a success — after Karjakin routed him in round 3, he righted the applecart with a Scotch win over Tomashevsky. Ian used it again in the rapid play-offs vs Karjakin and they drew.

3…exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6

In Nigel Davies’ book on “Play 1.e4 e5!” he advises amateurs to avoid the complications of this line and instead suggests:

“Black’s simplest and most economical answer to the Scotch is 4…Bc5. I’m not the only one to think so, as 1…e5 specialists like Short, Beliavsky and Romanishin also play this way.

“Kasparov’s preference of 5.Nxc6 should probably be regarded as the main line these days, when I suggest 5…Qf6 6.Qd2 dxc6 7.Nc3 Ne7 8.Qf4 Be6!?”

5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5 Qe7 7.Qe2 Nd5 8.c4 Ba6 9.Nd2 g6 10.Nf3!?

Not a new move but a bit of a sideline. Usually the game goes 10.b3 Bg7 11.Bb2 Nb4 12.Nf3 c5 13.g3 with a full-bodied fight ahead of us.

10…Qb4+ 11.Kd1 Nb6

Does this knight belong on b6 or on e7? Leko, Aronian and Caoili (undestandable, since she is Aronian’s girlfriend) all encountered this position in 2010 and opted for 11…Rb8 followed by Ne7.

12.b3 Bg7 13.Qd2 Qe7

Black’s compensation for his bad pawns is the exposed enemy king, so of course he does not want to exchange queens.

14.Bb2 0 — 0 15.Kc2 c5 16.h4 d5?!

It is not clear why Svidler goes for this, as queens now go off the board and he is faced with a dreary endgame.

17.exd6 Qxd6 18.Bxg7 Qxd2+ 19.Nxd2 Kxg7 20.Ne4 Nd7 21.Rd1

Methinks 21.h5 should also be considered. Later on this pawn on h4 becomes a weakness.

21…Bb7 22.Nc3

Better than 22.Rxd7 Bxe4+ where after Rac8 White can make nothing of his rook on the 7th rank.

22…Nf6 23.f3 Rfe8 24.Bd3 a5 25.Rhe1 Bc6 26.Nb5 Rxe1?

It was imperative to play 26…a4 to remove the a-pawns from the board. Now it becomes a weakness for Black and ultimately causes his downfall.

27.Rxe1 Re8 28.Rxe8 Nxe8 29.Kb2

White has the simple idea of Kc2-b2-a3-a4xa5.

29…Kh6

Svidler’s response to White’s overtures against his a5-pawn is to go against the white h4-pawn.

30.Be2!

In order to be able to reply to …Kh5 with g2-g3.

30…Ng7?

Black goes after the h4-pawn with his knight, but it takes too long. 30…g5! was necessary so that he can make progress against the White king-side pawns.

31.Ka3!

Perhaps Svidler was counting on 31.Nxc7 Nf5 after which he gets the h4-pawn and it is not clear if White still has the advantage. Or maybe he had overlooked White’s 35th move in the game.

31…Nf5 32.Ka4 Nxh4 33.Bf1 Nf5 34.Kxa5 Ne3 D

Position after 34…Ne3

Nepo had to have seen this position when he played Ka3.

35.Nxc7! Nxf1 36.Kb6 Bd7 37.Nd5 Kg7?

After 37…Nd2 38.Kxc5 Kg5 39.b4 Kf5 40.b5 Black is not much better than in the game — the white pawns are hard to stop.

38.a4! Bc8

[Or 38…Nd2 39.a5 Nxb3 40.a6 Nd4 41.a7 Bc6 42.Kxc5 with an easy win]

39.Ne7 1 — 0

So what is Nepomniachtchi doing right? Why the sudden surge of chess strength? Nepo explained this himself in a recent interview:

“Of course even back then it was flattering to hear that I was a gifted guy (laughs). That didn’t do me any good. All the wins came too easily and I was crushing my contemporaries without a struggle. At such an age it’s difficult to control your character. I experienced a long and protracted case of “star illness.” But, having matured, I’ve got over it. And now I’ve begun being tougher on myse
lf and results have followed. During the time I was standing still Carlsen and Karjakin took a solid lead. Particularly Magnus. Now it won’t be easy for me to make up the lost ground, but the desire to play chess, and play it well, has reawoken in me.”

Wise words. To all those Wesley So fans out there, this is the same thing — he zoomed up the chess ratings quickly and crushed everybody in his path, but upon reaching the world elite found that all is not as easy as he had experienced so far. After an adjustment phase which I think is what he is going through right now, he will start overwhelming everybody again.

Reader comments/suggestions are solicited. E-mail address is bangcpa@gmail.com

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