European Individual Chess Championship 2014 seen by GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (Round 4)
Round 4 of the European Chess Championship is truly the beginning of serious things. Not that the first three rounds weren't overheating, as many games were already very tough, but today we have witnessed nearly universal confrontation universal.
Firstly, Etienne Bacrot, rated number 1 at the start of the tournament, managed to get a slight advantage over a variation of the 3.g3 Grunfeld which is very familiar to me since I had the opportunity to play this position with two colors, especially with black. If I did not like the reaction of his opponent, the Israeli grandmaster Popilski by 12 ... b6 and 13 ... Bb7 , the black position remained strong despite a persistent advantage for Etienne. But as it must be done in such situations, Etienne opened the play by creating threats on both sides of the board. It is ultimately on the kingside that Etienne managed to penetrate and take the advantage of the exchange. Nevertheless, technical difficulties remained as black have got a lot of compensation - including knights ready to jump here and there. And even after getting two passed pawns and exchanging a pair of knights, other technical difficulties arose with a dangerous black passed pawn on e2. Finally, after a few tactical pirouettes, Etienne managed to convert his advantage, in a fairly convincing way.
Laurent Fressinet had a very good start to the tournament with 2.5 / 3 with convincing games. He even had a very promising position against the young Russian Dubov on round 3, but he couldn't find the winning way. Today he played a good preparation against Fedoseev, another young Russian , by sacrificing a pawn and two for a very good initiative. The critical moment came on the 18th move, when Laurent chose to keep the bishop, after which black has a defense and Laurent was forced to simplify to draw.
Instead 18.Qa4! Bxa3 19.Qxa3 Qe7 and now exchanging queens with 20.Qxe7+ Kxe7 21.a6 was decisive! Even without the queens, the initiative on the queenside is such that black does not have a good defense available, and they will be losing a lot of material or will be forced to accept a strong passed pawn on b7 supported by all his counterparts.
A small disappointment for Laurent that nevertheless remains at 3/4. However, he should not regret his missed opportunities later to stay on the right track.
The young Dubov also had the opportunity to play an interesting game with white against the Ukrainian Kryvoruchko.
The young Polish hope Duda, has meanwhile won with black against the new member of the 2700 + club, Khismatullin ! In a very, as always, complicated Najdorf, he has applied the main themes of the variation and sacrificed a pawn and the exchange for the initiative. Khismatullin did not find how to react in this situation which quickly became difficult. A brilliant game!
Another very complicated Sicilian on table 2 was played between Smirin and Najer. It seemed to me that Najer was better the entire game, but with a good exchange sacrifice, black managed to stay in the game and had good resources thanks to an a4 bishop which had no prospects. The game was finally decided, as it is often the case with this opening, by one tempo difference : when black won the a4 bishop, white succeeded in developing a good initiative on the black king, and exchange the queens to win black weakened pawns. The end of the game was played with rook and three past pawns on the queenside against a bishop, a knight and a passed pawn. But the black king was too far from the white pawns and black passed pawn couldn't really advance enough, hence the white win was pretty trivial. Najer takes sole lead after 4 rounds !
Many enticing games so far, and this even before talking about the game of the day between the Russian Shimanov and Georgian Jobava.
One can also note some miraculous rescues as it is usually the case in any tournament, including the one of the world No. 1 Judit Polgar against Russian Pavel Tregubov. After a poorly played opening, Polgar was found in great difficulties and Tregubov played very accurately for a long time with his favorite pair of bishops. However, Judith Polgar miraculously got away with only a pawn deficit while her king was under the fire of white pieces (without the queens on the board though). Thereafter while Tregubov was accurate at first, he finally let Polgar escape by advancing his passed pawns awkwardly and leaving the black king come back just in time.
And what about the game between Pashikian and Laznicka where after smoothly conducting a very beautiful game, the Armenian left Laznicka escape into a Queen ending with two pawns up ? Difficult to say what he missed, but this game is likely to leave him a bitter taste, and we'll see his reaction in the next sections.
The game between Motylev and Kovalev was a Berlin defense which was very well played by white. This game is the perfect example of issues black should cope with very quickly in cas of slight inaccuracies. Without analyzing in detail, it seems to me that it was a model game of what to do with the white side to create problems to black in this opening.
Finally, things in the game between Goganov and Sjugirov got alive just before the time control, and led in a crazy position after the 42nd move, with the two kings in great danger, the white king suffering on g4 and the black struggling not to get a discovery check on the diagonal.
That's a lot of interesting games and highlights today, and I'm sure I have not been exhaustive. As a good spectator, I expect the same intensity during the next rounds !