With so many hired guns in the competition, it's little wonder the annual European Club Cup team championship features some of the strongest firepower of any club tournament in the world.
This year's championship, played in the Israeli city of Eilat, was won by the SOCAR Azerbaijan team, whose all-2700-plus lineup included former U.S. champion Gata Kamsky, Russian star Alexander Grischuk and Azerbaijani GMs Shahkriyar Mamedyarov and Teimour Radjabov. SOCAR had to overcome a Round 1 upset by the ninth-seeded Israeli squad Ashdod, anchored by Ukrainian super GM Vassily Ivanhcuk, trouncing the Russian club team Tomsk-400 5-1 in the seventh and final round to win the event on tiebreaks.
The St. Petersburg Chess Federation team was the victim of SOCAR's last-minute comeback, but the solid Russian star Peter Svidler proved a valuable anchor for the St. Pete team on the top board. He won a nice point off Tomsk top board GM Ruslan Ponomariov of Russia in the two clubs' Round 5 matchup.
On the White side of an English Four Knights Opening, Svidler chooses a modest but flexible setup in the early going before revealing his aggressive intentions with 14. f4 f5 15. g4!? fxe4 16. f5 Bf7 17. Bxe4 Nd5 18. g5 g6 19. Ng2 Nce7 20. f6, with a marked space advantage on the kingside. Black's 25. Qd3 e4!? is an interesting pawn sacrifice to try to change the game's dynamic, but even after the queens come off, Ponomariov cannot shake the nagging White pressure targeting his king.
Svidler finds a clever way in after 28. Bd2 Qg4?! (Black actually might be in a better position to defend with the queens still on the board) 29. Qxg4 Nxg4 30. Re2 Nxc3 31. Bxc3 Rxc3 32. Rxb7 h6 (see diagram; White also has the edge after 32. ... Rc1+ 33. Ne1 Kf8 34. Re7 Ne5 35. Bg2 Nc6 36. Rxe8+ Bxe8 37. Kf2) 33. h3! (gxh6?! Rc1+ 34. Ne1 Nxf6 35. h7+ Nxh7 36. Rxf7 Rxe4 37. Rxe4 Kxf7 is only equal, while White's edge is minimal after 33. Re7 -- to break the pin -- hxg5 34. Bd5 Bxd5 35. Rxe8+ Kf7 36. R8e7+ Kxf6 37. Rxa7 Rc1+) Rxh3 34. Bd5!, and the pressure on Black's defending pieces is growing unbearable.
The finale: 34. ... Rxe2 (Bxd5? 35. Rxe8 mate) 35. Bxf7+ Kf8 (or 35. ... Kh8 36. Rb8+ Kh7 37. Bg8+ Kh8 38. Be6+ Kh7 39. Bxg4 and wins) 36. Bxg6 Re8 37. Rf7+ Kg8 38. Rg7+ Kh8 (Kf8 39. Rg8+ Kxg8 40. f7+ Kg7 41. fxe8=Q and mate soon) 39. Rh7+, and Ponomariov resigned facing 39. ... Kg8 40. f7+ Kf8 41. fxe8=Q mate.
Not all the best combinations were found on the top boards. Young Czech GM David Navara (Team Novy Bor) got in a nice shot in his game with Israeli IM Avital Boruchovsky (Hapoel Kfar Saba) in a match won by the East European squad 5-1.
In a Sicilian Scheveningen Keres Attack, Boruchovsky as White displays an admirable willingness to mix it up with his higher-rated opponent as both sides seek out an open game. White is holding his own as both sides castle long: 20. Bxd4 0-0-0 21. Bd3 (a3? Nxd4 22. cxd4 Qg5+ 23. Kb1 Bd5 24. Qc3+ Kb8 is better for Black) Nxd4 22. cxd4 Rxd4 23. Qf2 Rd7 24. Bc2 Rc7, when Boruchovsky could have held the game in balance with 25. a3 Bf5 26. Rd2 Kb8 27. Kb1 Rxc2 28. Rxc2 Rc8 29. Rhc1 Qd5, with equality.
Instead, White chases a mate-in-one threat, leaving himself open to a nasty counterpunch: 25. Qa7? Rxc2+ 26. Kxc2 Bf5+ 27. Rd3 (moving the king forward allows 27. Kb3 Rh3+ 28. Kc4 Be6+ 29. Kd4 Qd5 mate; while moving the king back runs into 27. Kc1 Qc7+ 28. Kd2 Rd8+ 29. Ke3 Qe5+ 30. Kf3 Qe4+ 31. Kf2 Qf4+ 32. Ke2 Bg4+ 33. Ke1 Rxd1 mate) Bxd3+ 28. Kxd3 Qd5+ 29. Kc2 Qc6+.
White resigns, as any king retreat allows the Black queen to capture the rook with check, while the king is hunted down in lines such as 30. Kd2 (Kb3 Rh3+ wins as before) Qg2+ 31. Kc3 Rh3+ 32. Kc4 Qc2+ 33. Kd5 Qf5+ 34. Kd6 Qe6+ 35. Kc5 Qc6+ 36. Kd4 Qa4+ 37. Kc5 Rh5+ 38. Kd6 Qd7 mate.
Boruchovsky-Navara, European Club Cup, October 2012
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 Nf6 4. Nc3 cxd4 5. Nxd4 a6 6. Be3 e6 7. g4 e5 8. Nf5 h5 9. g5 Nxe4 10. Nxg7+ Bxg7 11. Nxe4 d5 12. Ng3 e4 13. c3 Nc6 14. Nxh5 Be5 15. f4 exf3 16. Qxf3 d4 17. O-O-O Be6 18. Nf6+ Bxf6 19. gxf6 Qa5 20. Bxd4 O-O-O 21. Bd3 Nxd4 22. cxd4 Rxd4 23. Qf2 Rd7 24. Bc2 Rc7 25. Qa7 Rxc2+ 26. Kxc2 Bf5+ 27. Rd3 Bxd3+ 28. Kxd3 Qd5+ 29. Kc2 Qc6+ White resigns.
Svidler-Ponomariov, European Club Cup, October 2012
1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 Bb4 5. Bg2 O-O 6. O-O Bxc3 7. bxc3 Re8 8. Ne1 d5 9. cxd5 Nxd5 10. Qc2 Bg4 11. f3 Be6 12. e4 Nb6 13. d3 Qd7 14. f4 f5 15. g4 fxe4 16. f5 Bf7 17. Bxe4 Nd5 18. g5 g6 19. Ng2 Nce7 20. f6 Nf5 21. Rb1 c5 22. Rf2 Nd6 23. Bf3 c4 24. dxc4 Nxc4 25. Qd3 e4 26. Bxe4 Ne5 27. Qg3 Rac8 28. Bd2 Qg4 29. Qxg4 Nxg4 30. Re2 Nxc3 31. Bxc3 Rxc3 32. Rxb7 h6 33. h3 Rxh3 34. Bd5 Rxe2 35. Bxf7+ Kf8 36. Bxg6 Re8 37. Rf7+ Kg8 38. Rg7+ Kh8 39. Rh7+ Black resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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