Russia has received a lot of criticism for failure to deliver in team championships, especially in Olympiads. They are always the rating favourites and they never win gold. The last time they won the Olympiad was in 2002 when Garry Kasparov himself led the team. The last time they won the European Team Championship was in 2007, the year when I first played for the national team (and we had a fantastic success, sharing 11th place).
But in Iceland something clicked for the Russians and they easily dominated the matches from start to finish. The key difference this time was that they didn’t succumb in the crucial matches, either winning them (beating Ukraine 3-1 for example) or drawing them without problems (like Armenia and Hungary in the last round, securing victory). Armenia finished second, another success for their team and Hungary finished third (Judit Polgar’s first outing as a team captain).
With so many interesting games I’ll give a selection of what caught my eye. For starters here’s a relatively unexplored yet convincing way to combat the Exchange Variation of the Spanish. A favourite of GM Solak (he managed to beat Adams in it, who didn’t go for the line we will see below), but in the line chosen by Svidler (and later Wojtaszek and even Carlsen) white had nothing at all.
Alexey Shirov had a crazy tournament on Board 1 for Latvia – he won 3 games, lost 4 and drew 2, but these two draws were actually non-games – very exciting but all seen before. Both games were in the Slav: one in the Botvinnik line and the other in the Meran. Enjoy the look of the modern elite preparation:
Anish Giri looked as solid as ever as he scored +3 on Board 1 without a loss. In the last round he introduced a rarely seen way to play against the Sicilian (that’s me being polite). If this had been played in an open tournament, white would have been classified as “a patzer with no knowledge and understanding of chess.” However, the fact that this kind of play is analysed by the elite guys amuses me and reminds me of Kasparov’s comment when he lost to Svidler in 1997 (Svidler played 3 c3 against Kasparov’s Sicilian) which went something along the lines of, if we spent time analysing c3 and d3 we would get no serious work done. How things have changed – now analysing c3 and d3 is serious work!
And of course, the talk of the tournament was Carlsen’s performance. Another abysmal showing for the World Champion, who started with 2 losses with white. Kasparov said that losses with white can only be attributed to one thing and that is bad play. Here’s an example:
To his credit, Carlsen clawed his way back to 50% by beating Leko with black (never easy) and Wojtaszek with white in the last round. In the meantime he couldn’t beat Hansen (2566), Papaioannou (2638) and Nisipeanu (2683). This lost him a lot of rating points and he’s now dangerously close to 2800, only 34 points above. How easy it is to lose rating and how difficult to gain it!
Ivanchuk is known for his breakdowns and he suffered one in the last round. Here’s a 1-move howler by him:
The next tournament I’m looking forward to is the London Chess Classic. I can’t wait to see Carlsen in action again – the nightmare that started with that loss to Topalov in Stavanger in June doesn’t seem to be over and it’s always an inspiration to see how the best cope with their demons.