CHESSANYTIME

Azerbaijan are European champions!

It went down to the wire, but Gashimov managed to squeeze a win out of a drawish rook ending and enabled his team to snatch the crown at Russia's cost. Russia at least took the ladies title despite losing in the match against their closest rivals the Georgians.

The end of that dramatic last round rook ending demonstrates how close Azerbaijan were to not winning the title.

Vugar Gashimov (2740) - Daniel Stellwagen

Novi Sad (European team Championship 9th round) 30.10.2009

70...♖f4?

The fatal error for Stellwagen and for the Russian team (!) who would have won the event if the young Dutchman could have held.

A draw was possible by threatening to give checks from the side with 70...♖b4! e.g. 71.♔f8 ♔g6 72.f7 ♖f4 73.♖a6+ ♔g5 (now Black has far more time than in the game) 74.♔g7 ♖xf7+! 75.♔xf7 h4, and Azerbaijan would have been denied the title.

71.♔e6! h4

After 71...♖e4+ 72.♔f5 it becomes clear why Black's 70th move was inadequate as he now loses a crucial tempo. 72...♖e1 73.f7 ♖f1+ 74.♔e6 ♖e1+ 75.♔d5 and promotes when the checks run out.

72.f7 ♔g6 73.f8♖xf8 74.♖xf8 ♔g5 75.♔e5

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Here are the rankings of the top teams

Final standings.

placecountryTeam pointswinsdrawslossesGame points
1.Azerbaijan1571122,0
2.Russia1454022,5
3.Ukraine1353123,0
4.Armenia1361221,5
5.Germany1252221,5
6.Spain1252221,0
7.Poland1252220,5

Azerbaijan (Radjabov, Gashimov, Guseinov, Mamedyarov, Mamedov) would have only been second on tie-break if they had only drawn their match against the Netherlands.

Second-place Russia (Svidler, Morozevich, Jakovenko, Alekseev, Tomashevsky) were the only unbeaten team.

Ukraine without Ivanchuk (Eljanov, Volokitin, Efimenko, Drozdovskij, Kryvoruchko) scored the most board points and so edged out Armenia for the bronze medal.

The Azerbaijan team with their Georgian coach.
© official site.

One aspect of their success was that all five players in the Azerbaijani team managed to win a game with the black pieces.

Here is Gashimov's, a game that one could entitle 'Gashimov yet again excites attention in the Modern Benoni!'. He is definitely the main flag bearer of this long-time unfashionable opening.

Georg Meier (2664) - Vugar Gashimov (2740)

Novi Sad (European Team Championship 3rd round) 24.10.2009

Modern Benoni (A70)

1.d4 ♘f6 2.c4 e6 3.♘f3 c5 4.d5 d6 5.♘c3 exd5 6.cxd5 g6 7.h3 ♗g7 8.e4 0-0 9.♗d3 b5

This is generally considered to be the safest way of playing Black's position.

However, the young (23-years-old) Gashimov has also courted the alternative main line 9...a6 10.a4 ♖e8 11.0-0 ♘bd7 12.♖e1, and then 12...♘h5 13.♗g5 ♗f6 14.♗e3 ♘e5 as in Karjakin,S-Gashimov,V Sochi 2008, led to balanced chances.

10.♗xb5 ♘xe4 11.♘xe4 ♕a5+ 12.♘fd2 ♕xb5 13.♘xd6

White is able to snatch this pawn but drops slightly behind in development. The big question is: Can Black generate enough play for his investment?

13...♕a6 14.♘2c4 ♘d7

There is also the solid-looking 14...♖d8 15.♗f4 ♘d7 16.0-0 ♘b6 17.♘xb6 ♕xb6 18.♘xc8 ♖axc8 as in Banikas,H-Gashimov,V Gothenburg 2005, a position which has also been demonstrated by other top players such as Ivanchuk to be acceptable for Black.

15.0-0 ♘e5 16.♘xc8 ♖axc8 17.♘xe5 ♗xe5

White has an extra pawn, but just as in the Benko Gambit Black's activity yields long-term pressure.

As passively consolidating won't be easy, Meier wants to use his passed d-pawn to seize the initiative.

18.♖e1

Varying from Gashimov's game from two days earlier which continued 18.♕f3 ♖fe8 19.♖d1 c4 20.a4 ♕b7 21.♖a3 ♗xb2 22.d6 ♕xf3 23.♖xf3 ♗xc1 24.♖xc1 (following 24.d7 Black obtains more than enough compensation with 24...♗b2 25.♖e3 ♖ed8 26.dxc8♖xc8 27.♖de1 ♔f8 28.♖1e2 c3 29.♖c2 ♖c4) 24...♖ed8 25.♖f4 c3 26.♖d4 ♖c6 27.a5 a6 28.♖d3 ♖cxd6 29.♖xd6 ♖xd6 30.♖xc3 ♖d5, and Black had the better of the draw in Shengelia,D-Gashimov,V Novi Sad (European team Championship 1st round) 2009.

18...♖fe8 19.♗g5! ♗d4!

Blocking off communication to the d-pawn. Meier's idea was that the tempting 19...♗xb2?! is dubious: 20.♖xe8+ ♖xe8 21.d6 ♗xa1 22.d7 ♖b8 23.d8♕+ ♖xd8 24.♕xd8+ ♔g7 25.♗e7 and Black's king is a matter for concern.

20.♖c1 ♕d6 21.♕a4 ♖e5

Wisely holding onto the e-file as after 21...♖xe1+ 22.♖xe1 ♕xd5 23.♗h6 Black's king would again be the weaker monarch.

22.♖xe5 ♕xe5 23.♕d7 ♖b8 24.♗h6

It's again interesting to note that Black isn't in a hurry to capture the b-pawn, indeed he never quite gets round to it! Instead he is more concerned with improving his pieces and taking care of the more important d-pawn.

24...♕f6!

Better than 24...♗xb2? 25.♖xc5 ♕e1+ 26.♔h2 ♕e8 (26...♗e5+ 27.f4 leaves Black in even worse trouble) 27.♕xe8+ ♖xe8 28.♔g3 with a clear pawn to the good for White.

25.♖c2 ♖d8 26.♕c7

After 26.♕c6?! ♕e5 there are threats to both the d-pawn and the king.

Instead as White captures on a7 soon enough, he could certainly have done so here. My analysis suggests that this would have transposed: 26.♕xa7 g5! 27.♕a5! ♖xd5 28.♖e2 ♖d8 29.♕c7 ♔h8! (possible is 29...♖a8 30.♕b7 ♖d8 31.♕c7 with a repetition, but the game move is more ambitious).

26...♖xd5 27.♖e2 ♖d8 28.♕xa7 g5 29.♕c7 ♔h8!

Black threatens to consolidate his back rank with ...♖g8, so White must do something drastic to avoid losing his bishop.

30.h4 gxh4 31.♗f4 ♔g7

A useful waiting move, whether or not White decides to exchange queens.

32.b3?

After 32.♗e5 (best) 32...♗xe5 33.♕xe5 ♖d1+ 34.♔h2 ♕xe5+ 35.♖xe5 ♖d2 a draw would have been assured.

32...♖d5!

White may have the better pawns, but Black is very active.

33.♔h1 ♕f5 34.♕c6 ♗f6 35.♖e1 h6 36.a4 h3

Broken pawns make for convenient battering rams!

37.a5 ♗g5 38.♗g3

38...h5?!

The superior 38...♗d2! ensures a Black advantage: 39.♖d1 (39.♖g1 hxg2+ 40.♖xg2 ♔h7 41.a6 ♕b1+ and Black wins as he has ...♖h5+ coming.) 39...♕e4 with dangerous threats.

39.♖g1?

White misses the chance to save himself with 39.♕e8! hxg2+ (or 39...h4 40.♗e5+) 40.♔xg2 h4 41.♗e5+ ♗f6 42.♗xf6+ ♕xf6 43.♕e3 when I don't see any significant advantage for Black.

39...h4 40.♗h2 hxg2+ 41.♖xg2 h3 42.♖g3 ♕e4+

White loses at least his queen with ...♖d1+ and ...♕xc6 coming.

A fighting game which may encourage others to play the dynamic Modern Benoni.

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Gashimov and Mamedyarov had identical scores, +3=2-0 with White, and +1=3-0 as Black. Mamdeyarov curiously played the first five rounds with White and the final four with Black. Whether by design or accident it seemed to work for him!

Bartlomiej Macieja (2618) - Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (2721)

Novi Sad (European Team Championship 8th round) 29.10.2009

Modern Defence (A40)

1.♘f3 g6 2.e4 d6 3.c4 c5 4.d4 ♗g7 5.♗e2 ♕b6!?

Creating some pressure thus obliging White to make a decision.

6.dxc5!?

I prefer the normal-looking 6.♘c3 which must be the most challenging for Black, and then 6...cxd4 (after 6...♘f6 7.d5 the queen looks out of place on b6) 7.♘d5 ♕d8 8.♘xd4 ♘f6 (8...♘c6? 9.♘b5) 9.♘xf6+ ♗xf6 10.0-0 0-0 leads to a so-called 'Maroczy Bind' set-up where White can normally count an opening pull due to his grip on the light squares.

6...dxc5 7.♘c3 ♘c6

Some would be tempted by 7...♗xc3+ 8.bxc3 ♘f6, but the dark-squared bishop will be missed and White's pawns may not turn out to be that weak.

8.0-0 ♘f6 9.♘a4!?

Macieja enters a forcing line in order to take a lead in development.

9...♕c7 10.♘xc5 b6 11.♘d3 ♘xe4 12.♗f4 ♕b7 13.♖e1 0-0

White's pieces are slightly more active, but there isn't much for them to get their teeth into.

14.♘de5 ♖d8 15.♕a4

Pressure against the c6-square, but Mamedyarov now neutralizes this at the cost of the bishop pair.

15...♗d7 16.♘xd7 ♖xd7 17.♖ad1 ♖ad8 18.♖xd7 ♖xd7 19.♕a3 ♘d4

Nicely centralized knights?

20.♘xd4 ♗xd4 21.♗e3 ♕c7 22.♗xd4 ♖xd4 23.♕e3 ♕c5

Black seems to have achieved a fully satisfactory game. The standard superiority of the bishop against knight (in an open bishop, with opposing majorities) is far from evident here.

24.♗f3 ♖xc4!

I'm not sure if this is objectively stronger than 24...f5=, but the ! is for surprise value!

25.g3?

White had to try 25.b3! ♕xe3 26.fxe3 ♖b4 27.a3 ♖xb3 28.♗xe4 ♖xa3 29.♔f2, when all three results are possible but my money would be on a draw.

Note that 25.♗xe4? won't do however: 25...♕xe3 26.fxe3 (26.♖xe3?? ♖c1+) 26...♖xe4 with excellent winning chances for Black.

25...♘g5 26.♗a8 ♔f8!

Black has solidified his clear extra pawn.

27.h4 ♘e6 28.♕h6+ ♔g8 29.♖d1 ♖c2 30.♖d2 ♘d4 31.♔g2 ♖xd2 32.♕xd2 h5 33.a3 a5

Slowly but surely Black takes control whilst avoiding any potential counterplay.

34.♗e4 a4 35.♕f4 ♔g7 36.♗a8 b5 37.♕d2 ♘f5!

Mamedyarov intends to reorganize his pieces including placing his queen on d4.

38.♕e2 e5 39.♗e4 ♘d6 40.♗c2 ♕d4 41.b3?

More robust is 41.♗d3, for example 41...♕d5+! (probably better than the sharper 41...e4 42.♗xb5 e3; or the simplifying 41...b4 42.axb4 e4 43.♗b1 ♕xb4 44.♗a2 ♘f5 45.♕c4 ♕xc4 46.♗xc4 ♘d4. In the latter case the knight is dominant, but Black has all his pawns on light-squares which isn't an optimistic sign.) 42.f3 (or if 42.♔g1 then Black progresses with 42...e4 43.♗b1 f5) 42...f5 43.♕e3 e4 44.fxe4, and now I quite fancy Black's chances after recapturing with either the pawn or the knight.

41...b4!

Creating a passed a-pawn.

42.bxa4 bxa3 43.♗b3 ♕b2 44.♕d3 ♘f5 45.♕b5 ♘e3+

After 46.♔f3 then 46...♘g4 clearly wins.

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Pavel Eljanov from the Ukraine obtained the highest overall performance (2823). Whereas Morozevich and Gashimov were the two other players to have obtained 2800+ results.

Here is one of Eljanov's games.

Ioannis Papaioannou (2628) - Pavel Eljanov (2717)

Novi Sad (European Team Championship 5th round) 26.10.2009

Catalan/Bogoljubov (E00)

1.d4 ♘f6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 ♗b4+ 4.♘d2 c5 5.dxc5 ♗xc5 6.♗g2 0-0 7.♘gf3 ♘c6 8.0-0 d5!

With White's rather cautious development Black has no problem to take a major stake in the centre.

9.a3

After 9.♘b3 ♗e7 10.cxd5 ♘xd5, Black avoids having an isolated pawn, and his position will be fine if he can find a reasonable solution for his light-squared bishop.

However there is nothing wrong with playing a type of Tarrasch defence e.g. 9.cxd5 exd5 10.♘b3 ♗b6 11.♘bd4 ♖e8 12.b3 ♗g4, as in Burmakin,V-Nikolenko,O St.Petersburg 2004, when Black's active piece deployment compensates for any potential structural inferiority.

9...a5 10.♕c2 d4

A sign of ambition and confidence.

11.♘b3 ♗e7 12.♗g5 e5 13.♗xf6 ♗xf6 14.e4

A option that looks quite controversial. White cedes his dark-squared bishop and then puts his pawns on light squares! However if, with a blocked centre, he is given the time to then place a knight on the blockading d3-square he would probably be happy enough. So Eljanov prefers to open the game for the bishop pair.

14...dxe3 15.fxe3 a4

Fixing the queenside with a gain of time.

16.♘bd2 ♗e7 17.♘e4 f5

Space is important and the knight must be shifted.

18.♖ad1 ♕a5 19.♘c3 e4 20.♘d4 ♘xd4

One could also consider 20...♘e5 21.♘d5 ♗c5 with a good game.

21.exd4

Unbalanced pawn structures often suit bishops on an open board, but here matters are fairly 'unclear' as Black's majority is fairly static and his bishops have only limited scope.

21...♗e6!

Provoking White to commit himself.

22.d5

After the combination 22.♘xe4 fxe4 23.♕xe4, Black emerges the exchange up with 23...♗xc4 24.♕xe7 ♗xf1 25.♗xf1 ♕d5.

22...♗d7 23.♔h1 ♕c5 24.d6!?

Papaioannou doesn't want his opponent to blockade the dark squares.

24...♗g5

Instead 24...♗xd6?? leads to trouble on the d-file after 25.♖d5 ♕c6 26.♕d2.

25.♘d5 ♖ae8

It's noticeable how often the elite play for full deployment and harmony rather than snatching a shaky pawn. However, that being written, 25...♕xd6 is plausible despite looking slightly precarious: 26.g4 g6 27.gxf5 gxf5 28.♖g1 h6! and Black holds firm.

26.h4 ♗d8 27.♘f4 ♖e5

White's pieces are running out of useful things to do and the d-pawn may come under attack, so time for action!

28.b4 axb3 29.♕xb3 b6 30.♖fe1 ♖f6 31.♕c3 ♕a5

Not falling for 31...♖xd6? 32.♘d3! when Black loses the exchange.

32.♕b2 ♖c5 33.♘d5 ♖e6 34.♖f1 ♖e8

A careful choice as this time 34...♖xd6?! is rather dangerous due to 35.♕e5! with awkward threats.

35.♗h3 e3!

More testing than the solid 35...♖f8 which however wasn't bad.

36.♕e2 g6 37.g4?!

Seeking complications (just before move forty!) is often the best practical chance in those cases when slow play will just highlight a board full of loose (in this case white) pawns.

37...♕a4?!

Here 37...fxg4! must be objectively best, as 38.♗g2 is hard to believe, and 38.♗xg4 ♗xg4 39.♕xg4 is well met by 39...♖xd5! 40.cxd5 e2.

38.gxf5 ♕xc4 39.♕xc4 ♖xc4 40.f6

Giving Black a fortieth move with plenty to think about!

40...e2

Promising, but again rather murky is 40...♖e5 41.♗xd7 e2.

41.♘e7+

Also after 41.f7+ ♔g7 42.fxe8♗xe8 Black will regain the rook and be objectively better, but with the d-pawn still on the board White has practical chances.

41...♗xe7 42.♗xd7 ♗xf6 43.♗xe8 ♖xh4+

After 43...♖d4 44.♖b1 exf1♕+ 45.♖xf1 ♖xd6 46.h5 Black has an extra pawn, but with opposite bishops and few pawns remaining a draw would be the most likely result.

44.♔g2 ♖d4 45.♖xd4 exf1♕+ 46.♔xf1 ♗xd4

The connected passed pawns are an important asset, but I'm not convinced that they are yet a decisive advantage.

47.♔g2 ♗e5

48.a4??

Evidently keeping the d-pawn with 48.d7 ♗c7 49.a4 looks more natural. The d-pawn then at least ties Black down to the defence of the d8-square, and Black will then have significant technical problems. Indeed I have been unable to find a win, for example 49...♔g7 50.♔f3 ♔f6 51.♔e4 ♔e6 (an attempted Zugzwang, but maybe White can go either way, whereas after 51...♔g5 52.♔d5! White would even win the race!) 52.♔f3 (or perhaps 52.♔d4 g5 53.♔e4 g4 54.♗h5) 52...♔f5 53.♗f7 g5 (or 53...h5 54.♔g2 and then ♔-h3) 54.♗h5 h6 55.d8♕! (now is the moment!) 55...♗xd8 56.♔g3 ♗c7+ 57.♔h3 and White blockades on the light-squares.

If you find something better for Black I will be interested to hear from you!

48...♗xd6 49.♔f3 ♔g7 50.♔e4

There is no salvation either from 50.♔g4 h5+ 51.♔h3 ♔h6 52.♗f7 g5 53.♗e8 g4+ 54.♔g2 ♔g5 as there will be no stopping the pawns.

50...♔f6 51.♔f3 ♔g5 52.♗b5 ♔h5 53.♗d3 h6 54.♔e4 g5 55.♔f5 ♔h4 56.♔g6 h5

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The Women's event came down to a two-horse race between Russia (+8=0-1) and Georgia (+7=2-0) the former getting the title on game points 26 to 24. Ukraine came a distant third just pipping the surprising Azerbaijani team (20th seed) on the second tie-break.

The sad-looking winning squad from Russia.
© official site

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