The annual European Club Cup is the stage on which the best teams from all the established European leagues vie for supremacy over each other. But “Club” is really a misnomer, for the best teams bear no resemblance whatsoever to the sorts of teams that you would normally see in other major sports, as an influx of big sponsors has allowed them to freely hire mercenaries with no allegiances whatsoever to the team they are playing for, in what’s now become the strongest and richest team chess competition in the world.
The 2017 ECC reached its penultimate round today in Antalya, Turkey, and it includes a dozen or so super-clubs which would, if allowed, fight for the top medals at the biennial Chess Olympiad; and making up the numbers there are also mainly 20 amateur teams battling it out among themselves. Top seeds Globus is sponsored by the Siberian-based Russian airline of the same name, and is largely made-up of the Russian international squad with superstars Vladimir Kramnik, Alexander Grischuk, Sergey Karjakin and Ian Nepomniachtci; and for good measure, they also have hired the services of the Azerbaijani and Dutch top boards, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Anish Giri.
Ex-world champion Kramnik hoped for a good performance at the ECC that would boost his chances of one of the two rating spots for next year’s Candidates’ tournament – but it hasn’t worked out that way with the Russian’s somewhat strange strategy of sitting out the easy games (where he’d be guaranteed to pick up a point or two), playing only three games (and all with black!), and has struggled to draw those three games – and with it, he’s dropped two rating points to fall further back in the Candidates’ year-long rating race that looks all but certain now to be won by the US duo of Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So.
And with a miss-firing Kramnik at the helm, Globus is also struggling to win the title they were the big pre-tournament favourites to win. They went into the penultimate round holding a very slender lead over the Azeri outfit of Odlar Yurdu – but with Globus being held to a draw by Alkaloid Macedonia, the Azeri’s seized their moment to dramatically move into the shock sole lead going into Saturday’s final round. All the heroics for the Azeri’s came from Gadir Guseinov, with his win over Vladimir Fedoseev proving to be the difference in Odlar’s 3.5-2.5 win over Mednyi Vsadnik.
1. Odlar Yurdu 11/12; 2. Globus 10; 3-6. Alkaloid, AVE Novy Bor, Csm Baia Mare, Legacy Square Central 9; 7-11. Medyni Vsadnik, Besiktas Jimnastik Kulubu, Obiettivo Risarcimento Padova, Valerenga Sjakklubb, LSG Leiden 8.
Photo: © David Lada (official site)
GM Gadir Guseinov – GM Vladimir Fedoseev
European Club Cup, (6)
Caro-Kan Defence, Smyslov variation
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 Through the 1950’s and 60’s, this line was popular with Tigran Petrosian, Salo Flohr and Vassily Smyslov, whom this variation is named after. It was popular as it was considered to be a solid drawing line – but then along came Mikhail Tal with some dazzling sacrifices with an early Ng5 to show just how dangerous and double-edged this line can be for Black. 5.c3 The sharpest line by far is 5.Ng5 that became famous – or perhaps infamous – after the IBM super-computer, Deep Blue, sensationally beat Garry Kasparov in their deciding rubber game to win the historic 1997 Man vs Machine match in New York. But Guseinov doesn’t want to go sharp here against his higher-rated opponent but instead looking to nurture a little positional edge with his more timid approach with 5.c3. 5…Ngf6 6.Nxf6+ Nxf6 7.Bc4 Qc7 8.Qf3 e6 9.Bf4 Bd6 10.Ne2 0-0 11.Bxd6 Qxd6 12.Qf4 All Guseinov wants to do is exchange off as many pieces as he can, as he’ll hold onto his little edge – and this clearly frustrates Fedoseev, who cracks trying to make something out of nothing. 12…Qe7 13.0-0-0 b5 14.Bd3 Bb7 15.Qh4 Rae8 16.Ng3 Also worth a punt was the adventurous 16.g4!? g6 17.Rhe1 where White has more space and the better-centralized pieces. 16…c5?! Guseinov’s tactics in the game have paid off, as Fedoseev unwisely lashes out. 17.Bxb5 Rc8 18.Nh5! A finely timed move that takes full advantage of the pin on the queen to force the exchange of more pieces – and being a pawn ahead, this is to White’s advantage. 18…Nd5 19.Qxe7 Nxe7 20.Be2 Bd5 Black can’t play 20…Bxg2? as White has an easy attack with 21.Rhg1 Bd5 22.Rxg7+ Kh8 23.dxc5 Rxc5 24.Rg3 and a big advantage. 21.dxc5 Rxc5 22.Nf4 Bxa2 Fedoseev may well have won back his pawn, but at what cost with White’s rook taking up a dominant post on d7? 23.Rd7 Nc8 24.Kc2 More problematic for Black was 24.b4! Rf5 (Not 24…Rxc3+?? 25.Kb2 winning.) 25.g3 e5 26.Rd2! exf4 27.Rxa2 and White has a big advantage heading to the endgame. 24…Rf5 25.Nd3 Bd5 26.f3 h5 27.h4 a5 28.b3 Stopping …a4 that might have been problematic for White – but with 28.b3, White not only stops this in its tracks but also looks to later pick-off the a-pawn. 28…Nb6 29.Rd6 Nc8 Unfortunately Black can’t play 29…Rb8? as after 30.c4 Ba8 31.Ra1! his pieces are all awkwardly placed, and the a-pawn is beginning to look very vulnerable. 30.Rd7 Nb6 31.Rc7 e5 32.Nc5 Rf6 33.c4 Ra8 Tricky, but not quite as tricky as Fedoseev was hoping for. 34.Ra1! [see diagram] Your immediate reaction here is: why not just take the piece? The problem is that it’s more complicated than the simple win of a piece, as after 34.cxd5 Nxd5 35.Rd7 Nb6! Black can force a repetition by attacking the rook on d7 and c7, as anything else allows …Rc8 winning back the piece with Black having the advantage. 34…Rg6 35.Bf1! The dust has settled, and Black is now forced to move the attacked bishop – so for his troubles, all that Fedoseev has achieved is seeing White’s pieces better than they were, with Ra1 just highlighting how vulnerable Black’s a-pawn is going to be. And if the a5-pawn falls, White’s c- and b-pawns will march up the board to victory. 35…Bc6 36.Re7 Rf6 Fedoseev is resigned to his fate now, his position totally compromised – and he can’t even defend e5 with 36…f6, as 37.Re6 Rc8 38.Rxa5 easily wins. 37.Rxe5 Rf4 38.Nd3 Rxh4 39.Raxa5 The a-pawn won, the rest of the game is now a formality – but Guseinov very clinically goes about converting the win. 39…Rxa5 40.Rxa5 Rh1 41.Be2 Rg1 42.Nf4! h4 43.Ra6 g5 44.Rxb6 Bd7 45.Rd6 Be8 46.Rd1 1-0