The European team championships concluded in Crete on Monday in victories for Azerbaijan in the open (this time uniformly male) section and the Russian women. The latter won at a canter, starting the final round with an unassailable three match point lead and finishing with 17/18 match points ahead of Georgia 14 and Ukraine 13. But the open section went right to the wire with great uncertainty about the (arguably) unneccessarily complicated Sonneborn-Berger tiebreak. The live broadcast by German grandmaster Jan Gustafsson and women’s international master Fiona Steil-Antoni from Luxembourg took a break just before the end of the round to try to sort it out. But when they resumed and Steil-Antoni announced that “Azerbaijan has won”, it was still only a tentative conclusion.
The drama was precipitated when Russia, who went into the penultimate round with a one match point lead over Azerbaijan, were demolished by them 3-1. This put the Azeris in pole position but in the final round they had a difficult pairing against Ukraine, which ended in four draws, while Russia faced the rather less formidable Germans whom they beat 3-1.
The final scores were Azerbaijan 14/18 match points and 230.0 Sonneborn-Berger and Russia 14 (217.5) while Ukraine took the bronze on 13 match points with a better tiebreak than the midway leaders, Croatia. Neither of the English teams fired fully and sadly we had the worst day in living memory in the final round, making a combined total of 0.5/8 – a draw for Michael Adams. The open team finished 12th equal on 10/18 while my women’s team made 7/18, which put us 24th equal, just below our seeding of 23rd.
Azerbaijan had begun the tournament with a disastrous loss to Italy and after slaughtering Austria 4-0 dropped a 2-all draw against Spain, but thereafter their only draw was in the final round against Ukraine. The crucial moment was, of course, the 3-1 victory against Russia including this fine game on top board.
Alexander Grischuk v Shakhriyar Mamedyarov Crete 2017 (round 7) Ruy Lopez Delayed Steinitz Defence
1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 d6 This is the Steinitz Defence Deferred, as compared to Wilhelm Steinitz’s original idea of 3... d6 without the interpolation of a6 Ba4. It looks unambitious but can easily lead to activity later.
5 0-0 Bd7 6 Re1 6 c3 is more common. 6... g5! Strange looking at first sight but actually very logical, this move fights for the d4 square while preparing to fianchetto the bishop. It was introduced by the normally super solid Hungarian Lajos Portisch
against Viktor Korchnoi in Wijk aan Zee 1968 and led to a quick victory for Portisch after Korchnoi blundered a piece. 7 Bxc6 bxc6 8 d4 Korchnoi v Portisch had gone 7 d4 g4 8 Bxc6 Bxc6 9 Nfd2 Qh4 10 Nc4 Bg7 11 dxe5 dxe5 12 Nc3 Rd8 13 Nd5?? Bxd5 14 exd5 g3! 15 hxg3 Qxc4 and Portisch won on move 32.
8... g4 9 Nfd2 exd4 10 Nb3 Ne7 10... c5 would be too greedy after 11 c3 dxc3 12 e5! blasting it open before Black is ready. 11 Nxd4 Bg7 12 Nc3 0-0 13 Bg5 f6 14 Be3
Qe8 15 Qd3 Qf7 16 Qd2 Qg6 Black wants to free himself with... f5 but shouldn’t rush. If 16... f5 immediately 17 exf5 Nxf5 18 Nxf5 Bxf5 19 Bd4 looks OK for White. 17 Bf4 h5 18 b4 h4 19 a4 Qh5 20 Be3 h3
21 Nce2 White’s king is safer with the black pawn as a shield than if he plays 21 g3 f5 when he must watch out for a fatal Qf3. 21... hxg2 22 Nf4 Qh7 23 Nfe6 Bxe6 24 Nxe6 Ng6 25 Nxf8 Rxf8 26 Bf4 f5 27 exf5 Nh4 28 Ra3? By now, Grischuk was in his customary time trouble. This is a mistake after which Black is able to capture on f5 while keeping the queens on. 28 Qd3 was better when it’s important that if 28... Bxa1 29 Rxa1 Re8 taking the e-file, 30 Qc4+ seems to give enough play. 28... Qxf5 29 Bg5 Nf3+ 30 Rxf3 gxf3 31 Bh6 Qd5?! 31... Qf6 32 Bxg7 Kxg7 was correct when if 33 Qe3 Rh8 Black can force a winning rook ending by playing Qh4. 32 Qc1?! Helping Black when instead 32 Qe3! would have remained a real fight. 32... Bc3 33 Re3 White’s king is too vulnerable. For example if 33 Re7 Rf5 34 a5 Be5 34 h4 Qc4 35 Bg5 Qf1+! 36 Qxf1 Bh2+ decides. 33... Bd4 But not 33... Bd2?? 34 Qb2 Qf7 35 Rxf3! and White wins. 34 Rd3 Re8 35 c3 Bxf2+ 36 Kxf2 Re2+ And Grischuk resigned since after the simple 37 Kg3 Qxd3 38 Qg5+ Kf7 the black king escapes, leaving White totally destroyed.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Black) Alexander Grischuk (White to play)