Euro Teams 1: The Isle of Man hangover – chess24

Daniil Dubov may just have refuted the Anti-Marshall, but it
wasn’t enough to stop European Team Chess Championship top seeds Russia being held to
a shock draw by Denmark after losses for Maxim Matlakov and the high-flying Kirill
Alekseenko. 2nd seeds England could also only draw against Austria, and were in
fact close to defeat as David Howell was let off the hook in a dead-lost
position. Elsewhere the favourites largely won, with the likes of Jan-Krzysztof
Duda, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Anish Giri back in action after skipping the
Isle of Man.

The biennial European Team Championship is this year taking
place, like last year’s Olympiad, in the Georgian Black Sea resort of Batumi,
with the Sheraton Hotel housing both the playing hall and many of the participants.

It’s a prestigious 9-round tournament with 40 teams of 5
players in the Open section and 32 teams in the Women’s section, but for many
of the players it’s going to be a test of endurance after the World Cup and the
gruelling 11-round Grand Swiss that only just ended on the Isle of Man.

The top seeds this year are, as usual, Russia, who finished
runners-up to Azerbaijan two years ago. Even though their team is relatively
young and experimental they were expected to brush aside 21st seeds Denmark in
Round 1, but the Danes tore up that script. Here are the
results of the opening round (you can click a game to open it with computer analysis):

The problem facing Russia and some of the other teams is
that there’s no way to rest the players that have rushed straight from the Isle
of Man. 22-year-old Kirill Alekseenko finished in a stunning 3rd place, just
missing out on an automatic Candidates spot, and had managed to gain over 40
rating points in one rating period after going unbeaten for 19 classical games
in the World Cup and on the Isle of Man. That run ended in Batumi, as he
overpressed against 48-year-old 2573-rated Danish player-captain Sune Berg
Hansen and was comprehensively beaten.

That cost Kirill 6.4 rating points, and raised questions
about why he wasn’t rested?

The answer is simple, though! Only Dmitry Andreikin on the
Russian team isn’t coming straight from the Isle of Man, and he did play and
win against Denmark, while the one player who was rested is the oldest man on
the team, 32-year-old Nikita Vitiugov, whose schedule has been even tougher
than Kirill’s.

Maxim Matlakov was right in the running for Candidates
Tournament qualification until he lost to Magnus Carlsen in the penultimate
round of the Grand Swiss, but he also began with a loss after an exchange sacrifice backfired against 20-year-old IM Jesper Thybo. There was an amusing
moment afterwards when Jesper’s interviewer thought she was interviewing Maxim.

So the match ended 2:2, but that had seemed a very distant
possibility when it started with the fastest decisive game of the round. That was a victory
for Daniil Dubov, who dropped 20 rating points on the Isle of Man, against
15-year-old Jonas Buhl Bjerre, who will always remember the Grand Swiss as the
tournament at which he became a grandmaster.

Their game in Batumi is also likely to be remembered, for a stunning near novelty by Daniil Dubov. Jonas played the Anti-Marshall
with 8.a4, but Dubov didn’t reply
with any of the main lines such as the 8…b4 that Sasikiran had played against
Bjerre on the Isle of Man, but 8…d5!!?

He later commented:

First of all it is not team preparation, it’s my
preparation! I think our captain was sort of surprised because they actually
sort of asked me to calm down and not to play some ridiculous line, so after d5
I thought he could have taken it personally – it’s an offence, that I’m trolling
him and playing the worst line possible! But actually it makes sense. I was
going to play it at the Isle of Man against Huschenbeth [Niclas picked the
Giuoco Piano instead and Dubov won their last round encounter]. It really makes
sense. I don’t know if it’s going to change the whole theory, because basically
if it works then it’s like a ground-breaking discovery… a4 was sort of
considered to be the only way for White to get a game, and if d5 works then it
means something.

Dubov wasn’t going to go into all the details, but said what his
opponent did made sense. After 9.exd5
the point was 9…Na5! and after 10.Nxe5 Nxb3! Dubov explained that the
otherwise winning 11.Nc6? runs into 11…Bg4!. Jonas eventually realised that as well and
went for 11.cxb3 and only really
began to go astray when he played 14.d3!?

Here Dubov remembered that the pawn sacrifice 14.d4! was
required by White, and though he couldn’t recall exactly why he was able to
reason it out – he also credited his bad Grand Swiss for the speed with which
he took his decision:

It’s obvious that there can be only one kind of problem in
such a position, probably 14…Bxf2!,
which I played instantly… I was so angry after this Isle of Man event, so I’m
sort of on tilt. It could go either way, but basically when it works, it works.

That rocked the 15-year-old, with Daniil adding:

It was quite clear after Bxf2 that he was shocked. It even took
him a few minutes to take on f2. Obviously you don’t have an alternative here – you take first and if it’s mate it’s mate, but you don’t have an alternative.

After 15.Kxf2 Qd4+
the decisive mistake of the game took Jonas another 17 minutes. He needed to
play 16.Kg3, as suggested by Dubov, or in fact 16.Kf1 or 16.Kf3 as well, when
Black looks to have nothing more than a draw against best play. Instead 16.Be3? was losing after 16…Ng4+! 17.Kf3 Nxe3 18.Rxe3 Rae8 19.Re2
Qf6+! 20.Kg3 g5!
and Black has constructed a mating net:

The game ended 21.Rf2
Qd6+ 22.Kh3 Qh6+ 23.Kg4 Qh4+
and White resigned with mate-in-6 on the
board. Daniil, who ended with more time than he started, summed up, “Not the
worst day in the office indeed!” Don’t miss his post-game interview (and the
rest of the day’s live commentary from WGM Keti Tsatsalashvili and GM Valeriane

England are surprisingly the second seeds for the tournament, in the absence of Teimour Radjabov for Azerbaijan, but they also
suffered in Round 1. 

Once again you could blame Grand Swiss fatigue as Luke
McShane was rested and Gawain Jones lost what should have been a drawn 3 vs. 2
rook ending against Austria’s David Shengelia. In the end England were saved by
5th board Nicholas Pert, who won the same ending with the extra pawn despite
some shaky technique and less than a vote of confidence from a player who could
have boosted England’s strength still further:

So with draws for Mickey Adams and David Howell the match
ended in a 2:2 tie, but David, who had endured the most gut-wrenching of final
rounds on the Isle of Man, should really have been put to the sword by
17-year-old IM Felix Blohberger:

The problem here was that the players were both playing on
increment, and with 40 seconds left Felix forced a draw with 37…Ne3 38.fxe3
and perpetual check. With more time to think he would surely have played
for the win, with Black’s most powerful option simply to play 37…Nf6! with the
idea of Ng4 and giving mate next. It turns out there’s no good way to stop that

As we saw there, Russia and England have the rested Dmitry
Andreikin and Mickey Adams on top board, and many of the teams in Batumi have
been able to draw on fresh players. Poland have Jan-Krzysztof Duda, whose
victory over Vladislav Kovalev helped Poland to a comfortable win over Belarus.
For Azerbaijan there’s Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, while for the Netherlands it’s
Anish Giri, though operation “preserve rating, qualify for the Candidates” didn’t
get off to the best of starts as Giri drew against Moldova’s 2426-rated Andrei
Macovei at the cost of 4 rating points. There was good news for the team
captained by Jan Gustafsson, however, since Jorden van Foreest, who had drawn
all 11 games on the Isle of Man, got the only win of the match.

The favourites largely cruised to victory, with Spain
showing that you can perform well in two events in a row as they crushed Italy
4:0 with wins for Grand Swiss high-performers David Anton and Alexei Shirov on
the top boards. France this year are without the likes of Maxime
Vachier-Lagrave and Laurent Fressinet but their bold decision to play
12-year-old IM Marc Maurizzi paid off as he won an impressive game on the way
to France beating Iceland 3.5:0.5.

Some other higher seeds were held to draws, however, including
2011 European Team Champions Germany after the Republic of North Macedonia’s
Nikola Nikolovski beat Rasmus Svane on the bottom board. Israel, who are
playing without Boris Gelfand, could only draw against Montenegro, while hosts
Georgia dropped Baadur Jobava and failed to beat Finland. There was better news
for their 2nd team (as hosts they get that privilege – in fact they have 3
women’s teams!), who held Turkey to a draw and play the first team in Round 2.

Round 1 in the women’s section went much more smoothly, with
favourites Russia, Georgia and Ukraine (despite the missing Muzychuk sisters)
all getting off to a winning start. The one shock was Greece holding 4th seeds
Poland to a draw after WIM Ioulia Makka scored a thumping win over WGM Joanna

There was also a curiosity!

Round 2 sees the first appearance for players such as Levon
Aronian, Paco Vallejo and Baadur Jobava, with some top clashes to look forward

There was also some top trolling from a Danish hero of
Round 1:

You can follow all the action here on chess24 from 13:15 CEST
each day (unfortunately the moves are delayed 15 minutes as an anti-cheating
measure, which created a lot of problems on Day 1 with the undelayed video
stream): Open | Women

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