John Henderson
By John Henderson

Our ongoing coverage of the European Club Cup in Antalya, Turkey, was interrupted as we paid tribute to GM William J. Lombardy, the former chess-playing priest who died last week in Martinez, California. When we last left our coverage, ex-world champion Vladimir Kramnik and his Russian-sponsored all-star team, Globus, were having a hard time of it, as they unexpectedly lost to Azerbaijani underdogs Odlar Yurdu, who surprisingly took the sole lead going into the final round.

But there was no fairy-tale ending for the Azerbaijani team, as Odlar Yurdu hopes were dashed as they fell at the final hurdle by losing to the Czech team of AVE Nový Bor – and this left the door open on the final day for Kramnik and Globus, as the ex-world champion finally managed to produce the goods by winning a game as his team dramatically won the title.

After being held to three draws with Black against weaker opponents, Kramnik finally got the White pieces and easily managed to ruthlessly grind down Ernesto Inarkiev, as the top seeds easily cruised to victory by emphatically defeating SHSM Legacy Square Capital by a score of 4.5-1.5, more than enough to take the title by a single match point.

Although Kramnik ended with a +1 score of 2.5/4 and his rating breaking more or less even for his efforts, it was a major setback for the ex-world champion who was looking to boost his chances of winning a rating qualification spot ahead of American front-runners Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So into the 2018 Candidates, the eight-player event that will decide Magnus Carlsen’s next world title challenger.

Kramnik has more or less confirmed now that Caruana and So have won the year-long rating race, as he announced he wouldn’t be playing for Russia in next week’s European Team Championship, the last major event before the Dec. 1 rating cut-off date – but this doesn’t mean we’ve necessarily heard the last of Kramnik! With next year’s Berlin Candidates again having Russian sponsors, there’s mounting speculation that the ‘wildcard’ spot will go either to Kramnik or his fellow Russian team-mate, Alexander Grischuk.

Final standings (top 10)
1. Globus 12/14; 2-4. Alkaloid, Odlar Yurdu, AVE Novy Bar 11; 5-6. Mednyi Vsadnik, LSG Leiden 6; 7-10. Beer Sheva Chess Club, SHSM Legacy Square Capital, Csm Baia Mare, Sk Dunajska Streda 9.

(Photo) The Globus all-star team of Kramnik, Mamedyarov, Grischuk, Karjakin, Giri, Nepomniachtchi, Korobov, Khismatullin celebrate victory | © David Lada (official site)

GM Vladimir Kramnik – GM Ernesto Inarkiev
33rd ECC Open, (7)
English Opening
1.c4 e5 2.d3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Bb4+ 4.Nbd2 Qe7 5.a3 Bd6 6.d4 exd4 7.Nxd4 Bc5 8.N2f3 d5 Inarkiev is intent on sacrificing a pawn for active piece-play – a risky strategy against Kramnik because, with the white-pieces, the former world champion is usually good at navigating through complications to ruthlessly hold onto the extra material. 9.cxd5 0-0 10.Bg5 h6 11.Bxf6 Qxf6 12.e3 c6 13.Rc1 Bb6 14.Bc4 Bg4 15.0-0 Rd8 16.dxc6 Nxc6 17.Qb3 Kramnik has easily dealt with Black’s active pieces, and now with the dust settling, he’s emerged with a solid pawn to the good, and now systematically begins to exchange off pieces for a winning endgame advantage. 17…Rd7 18.h3 Bxf3 No better was 18…Bh5 as after 19.Qb5! Black will be forced into 19…Bxf3 20.Nxf3 anyway – the difference being that White will have his queen on the better b5 square. 19.Nxf3 Rad8 20.Bb5 Rd6 21.Bxc6 Rxc6 22.Rxc6 Qxc6 23.Rd1 Rc8 If the pawn count were equal, then Inarkiev would have no hesitation here in swapping rooks. But being a pawn down, he has to try to keep as many pieces on the board as long as possible – a thankless task against Kramnik, intent on further liquidating the position down for the ending. 24.Ne5! It’s often said that winning a won game is one of the hardest things to do in chess. But here, Kramnik makes it all look so, so easy with his knight now not just hitting f7, but also heading to d7 forcing the exchange of minor pieces. 24…Qe8 25.Nd7 Rc6 26.Nxb6 Rxb6 27.Qc3 Qe4 28.Rd4 Qb1+ 29.Kh2 Rc6 Inarkiev can take on b2 in two different ways – but unfortunately, both lose very quickly! If 29…Rxb2? 30.Rg4 g5 31.Rd4! and there’s no way to stop Rd4-d8+ and Qh8+ leading to mate. And if 29…Qxb2 30.Qc8+! Kh7 31.Qf5+ Rg6 32.h4! 30.Qb4 Rf6 31.f4 b6 32.Qd2! Rc6 33.Rd8+ Kh7 34.Qd5 Kramnik’s queen and rook are simply too powerful here – Inarkiev is going to have to actively seek the exchange of queens to try saving the game in the rook and pawn ending. 34…Re6 35.f5 Re7 36.f6! [see diagram] Forcing Black to accept an ending where his kingside pawns are crippled – he’s now either going to get mated or face the prospects of being saddled with a bad ending. 36…gxf6 37.Qa8 Qe4 38.Rh8+ Kg6 39.Qg8+ Kf5 40.Qh7+ Ke5 41.Qxh6 Ke6 42.Rd8 Qe5+ 43.Qf4 Qxf4+ 44.exf4 Kf5 At elite level or equally basic club-player level, the rule of thumb is that rook and pawn endings are usually the best endings to try to save the draw if you are a pawn down – but here, Kramnik very clinically converts this to a simple win. 45.Rd4 Re2 46.Rb4 Kg6 47.Rb3 Rf2 48.Kg3 Rf1 49.Rd3 f5 50.Rd6+ f6 51.Rd2 Kh5 52.Rd5 Kg6 53.Rb5 Rd1 54.Kf2 Rd3 55.g3 Rd2+ 56.Ke3 Rh2 57.h4 Rg2 58.Kf3 Rd2 59.Rb3 Kh5 60.Ke3 Rd1 61.Rd3 Rb1 62.b3 Kramnik very carefully starts the process of moving his queenside pawns up the board. Meanwhile, Inarkiev’s king has to stay on the kingside to stop Whites pawns, so Kramnik is going to use them as a decoy to hold Black’s king on that side of the board while he sets the trap for the opposite side of the board! 62…Ra1 63.a4 Re1+ 64.Kd4 Re4+ 65.Kd5 The difference in the position will be the two kings – Kramnik’s king marches uncontested over to the queenside, while Inarkiev’s king has to stay on the kingside stopping the h-pawn pushing up the board. 65…Kg4 66.Kc6 Rb4 The only hope of saving a lost rook and pawn ending is to keep your rook as active as you can – and here if 66…Re7 67.Kb5! all Black will have done is make his rook passive, and White will win by pushing his queenside pawns up the board. 67.Kb7 a5 68.Ka6! It’s Zugswang, as Inarkiev runs out of ‘passable’ moves now. 68…Kh5 69.Rd6 The forced liquidation leaves Kramnik with a technically won rook and pawn ending – the key to the win being Black’s king marooned over on the kingside. 69…Rxb3 70.Rxf6 Rxg3 71.Rxf5+ Kxh4 72.Kxb6 Rg8 73.Kxa5 Ra8+ Such endings two pawns down are not always lost, as there are many ways to draw – but the key for such scenarios is to have your king as active as you can. But here, Inarkiev’s king is left stranded on the wrong side of the board. 74.Kb5 Rb8+ 75.Kc6 Kg4 76.Rb5 Ra8 77.a5 The a-pawn will run up the board protected by White’s rook and king – and the king also uses the rook and pawn to shield from the checks. The rest of the game is simply now a formality. 77…Kxf4 78.Kb7 Rh8 79.a6 Rh7+ 80.Kb6 Rh6+ 81.Ka5 Rh7 82.Rc5 Ke4 83.Kb6 Kd4 84.Rc7 Rh1 85.a7 Rb1+ 86.Kc6 Ra1 87.Kb7 Rb1+ 88.Kc8 1-0

 

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