Over-the-board chess has returned in impressive style to Moscows historic Central Chess Club this week. The building and its elegant playing hall, once the hub of the Soviet chess empire which dominated the game for half a century, is hosting the Russian mens and womens championships and the emergence of a new teenage star.
Polina Shuvalova, aged 19, won her first six rounds in the womens championship and is set to battle for the title in Tuesdays penultimate round with the current world No 2, Aleksandra Goryachkina, 22, who is unbeaten but 1.5 points behind. So far Shuvalovas best game has been her tactical slugfest with Alina Kashlinskaya, top woman at Isle of Man 2018.
Shuvalovas performance has a wider significance for global womens chess, which has received a huge status boost from Anya Taylor-Joys role as the fictional Beth Harmon in The Queens Gambit, plus the much acclaimed online commentaries by Judit Polgar, who is already established as the best woman player of all time.
USSR/Russia was No 1 in womens chess for 45 years until China took over in the mid-1990s, while Polgar played only in open events against men. Hou Yifan, 26, the all-time No 2, was at the top for a decade but recently became a university professor and now plays less.
Hous comeback at Danzhou last week featured a smooth win where her bishops and central passed pawns outwitted the runner-ups rooks, but two defeats marred her overall result.
Chinas Ju Wenjun is world champion, though ranked only No 4, while Indias No 3, Humpy Koneru, favourite for the womens Grand Prix at Gibraltar next month, is also in the mix. Yet Shuvalova, the youngest in the top 20 and already a triple junior world champion at under18 and under20 levels, looks the player to follow. Dominance in womens chess tends to last for decades, so the early 2020s could see Russia back on top thanks to its young duo.
What of Magnus Carlsen? The world champion was online at 5pm on Friday as the Norwegian, whose 30th birthday birthday celebrations on 30 November were marred by his loss to Wesley So in the Skilling Open final, took on Frances world No 5, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, in a semi-final of the chess.com speed championship. The format was 90 minutes of 5/1 blitz, 60 minutes of 3/1 blitz and 30 minutes of 1/1 bullet.
Carlsen suffered a shock defeat as Vachier-Lagrave, who had beaten the No 1 at blitz previously, took and kept an early lead in the blitz sections, and even extended it in bullet, where Carlsen is notably strong. Very late in the match the world champion won three in a row to keep his chances alive in the final game, but the Frenchman, whose internet handle is LyonBeast, won that for a final 13-11 margin. In Saturdays final Vachier-Lagrave will face Hikaru Nakamura, who narrowly defeated So in a semi-final watched by a record audience of around 40,000. It seemed ominous for Nakamura as it was also his birthday, his 33rd, but he squeezed past his US rival by tieing after the two blitz sections and winning the bullet.
Hungarys Richard Rapport won the mens event in Danzhou ahead of Chinas world No 3, Ding Liren, and was also the beneficiary of an offbeat record. Veselin Topalov and Rapport were in the process of halving out quickly with two rounds to go, until the Bulgarian, planning Qd8xQd1+, instead landed the queen on d2 where it could be taken by any of Rapports queen, bishop and king!
The Danzhou incident echoes Carlsens mouse slip against Ian Nepomniachtchi in the first round of the Skilling Open. Players do not enjoy winning through such an accident, and it could be time for a special rule for elite tournaments that allows, say, one takeback per game and a maximum of three per tournament where the arbiter is satisfied that a mouse slip is the reason. Additional safeguards like no takebacks with less than a minute on either clock would be needed, but it seems to be a simple and workable innovation, an online version of saying jadoube before adjusting a piece in an over the board game.
Meanwhile Michael Adams, the England No 1, will be top seed for the online British Championship, whose qualifying rounds start on Friday evening. Entries are accepted until 7 pm Friday.
3701: 1 Ra3! b4 2 Ra4! b3 3 Rh4! Kxh4 4 Nf3 mate.
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