Russian Top League: Mission Survival
Early summer was a very busy period for me in terms of tournament play. I took a short break after the World Women’s Blitz & Rapid Chess Championships and then headed to the Russian Top League in Tyumen, followed by a trip to St. Petersburg for the Russia vs. China match. My goals for the tournaments were to qualify for the Russian Superfinal and get an invitation to play for the Russian Olympic team this year. I might kill the plot of the story if I say it, but anyway: both of them were fulfilled.
You might have noticed that I haven’t written columns at Chess.com for a month. Now I am very happy to come back and share some of my impressions with you. This time we will talk about the Top League – a prestigious qualifier event.
The calendar of official Russian tournaments looks like a pyramid starting from city championships and headed by the Superfinal. The Top League is the final act of determining who will play in the round robin super tournament. The medalists of the previous year and the two highest-rated players are invited automatically, while everyone else has to take a shot at the remaining 5 spots. Since 2007 I was being invited to the Superfinal by rating/previous results, but this time I had to play in the qualifier held in Tyumen.
The Top League is a unique tournament in some way, especially the men’s section. This is a closed Swiss tournament which is stronger than most opens. This year there were 46 participants. Five of them had a FIDE rating over 2700, including the reigning European Chess Champion Dmitry Jakovenko. 32 of them were grandmasters. And, remember, only 5 qualifying spots.
The women’s division was also quite strong. Most of the leading players who didn’t have an invitation to the Superfinal were taking part, 32 in total. This year there were 11 rounds instead of 9 – a rather long distance. If you are interested in the details – participants, my statistics at the Top League, etc., you can check out this preview.
This article will be dedicated to the first part of the event, i.e., the first 6 rounds.
I started slowly by drawing two significantly lower-rated opponents. Notably, in both games I was even worse at certain points. However, the 11-round marathon allowed me to catch up later on. Then I won three games in a row. The game against Marina Romanko in round 5 was rather complicated: in the middlegame I played inaccurately and could have ended up in trouble. Then an objectively drawn queen endgame occurred, but I managed to win it in style.
In round 6 I had to play my friend Baira Kovanova. By that time she had a perfect score: 5/5! The game was drawn. After 6 rounds the standings were the following:
1. Baira Kovanova – 5.5/6
2-4. Olga Girya,Ekaterina Ubiennykh, Natalia Pogonina – 4.5/6
5-7. Ekaterina Timofeeva, Irina Vasilevich, Zoia Severiukhina – 4/6
Baira Kovanova was unstoppable like a tornado at this year's Top League
And here are a few interesting and instructive chess fragments for you to check out from rounds 1-6:
Ekaterina Ubiennykh played very actively, often sacrificing material
Daria Pustovoitova vs. Natalia Pogonina
Tatiana Shadrina vs. Olga Girya
All the photos are courtesy of GM Dmitry Kryakvin, russiachess.org
To be continued...