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If you followed the World Cup before the Svidler v. Karjakin final earlier this week, then one name you’ve definitely seen in the media is Pavel Eljanov. Besides winning his first 6 classical games, he managed to eliminate Alexander Grischuk, Dmitry Jakovenko, and Hikaru Nakamura before losing in the semifinal to Sergey Karjakin.
At the conclusion of the 2015 Chess World Cup, Eljanov gained 35 rating points, making him the 13th best player in the world with a rating of 2752.
I first started studying Eljanov’s games after I watched his draw against Richard Rapport in the 48th Biel International earlier this year. In that game, Eljanov showed how to contain the Dutch Stonewall and gain a significant advantage with moves like 10. Rad1 and 18. Bd6, showing that is possible to control the center against Black’s fortress (to see that game, click here).
Though a relative unknown when compared to the likes of Fabiano Caruana, Magnus Carlsen, and Anish Giri, Eljanov’s ability to gain space and contain his opponent’s is a major staple of his play, and definitely one of the reasons I find him very entertaining to watch. While some players find this style of play boring, the strongest players find Eljanov’s solidarity challenging to play against – even Hikaru Nakamura.
After losing the first game to Eljanov, Nakamura was faced with the challenge of winning with Black. Unable to make a break in an equal endgame, the American took a draw and bowed out of the World Cup.
I watched most of Eljanov’s games live, but the most inspiring performance by far was his second game against Alexander Grischuk in the third round. After narrowly escaping with a win with Black, Eljanov only had to hold a draw with the White pieces to continue to the next round. Grischuk, one of the world’s most elite players (10th heading into the World Cup), didn’t stand a chance.
Eljanov – Grischuk (World Cup, 2015)
1.d4 e6 2.Nf3 c5 3.e3 Nf6 4.c4 a6 5.a3 b6 6.Nc3 cxd4 7.exd4 d6
Black sets up a Hedgehog Structure, a dubious decision for a must win game. Black will allow White to gain space while targeting the c-file. Once Grischuk finishes his development, he will then try to find ways to break in the center.
8.Bd3 Be7 9.O-O Nbd7 10.Bf4 Bb7 11.h3 O-O 12.Re1 Re8 13.b4 Bf8
Opening up the e8 rook, while still protecting the d6 pawn. It’s hard to say that Black has messed up, but these kinds of positions play to Eljanov’s strengths.
14.Bg5 Qc7 15.Rc1 Rac8 16.Nd2 Qb8 17.Nb3 h6 18.Bh4 Ba8 19.Bf1 Qb7 20.f3
Seemingly a harmless move, but Eljanov blunts the long light square diagonal after re-routing his knight to b3. The h4 bishop can now go to f2, making it clear that White has achieved both solidarity and flexibility. Usually, players like to avoid this f3-g2-h3 structure because of the weak dark squares, but with Grischuk’s bishop on f8, this isn’t a concern.
20…Nh5 21.Qd2 Qa7 22.Bf2 Qb8
It’s been subtle, but Eljanov has made progress. First, he played Rc1 to put his rook on the same file as the queen, and now Bf2 to be on the same diagonal on a7. Black has lost time, giving White the time he needs to optimize his army.
23.Rb1 Be7 24.a4 e5?! 25.d5
After Black prematurely pushed in the center, Eljanov asserts himself in control over the position. The bishop on a8 is immobile, and essentially lends Black to playing down a piece. Meanwhile, its already not so clear how Grischuk will find counterplay. f7-f5 ideas seem natural, but White’s structure makes a kingside pawn storm ineffective.
25…Bg5 26.Qd1 Qc7 27.a5 bxa5 28.Nxa5
A knight on the rim is grim? I think not! By not recapturing with the pawn, White maintains control over c5, and the knight actually does a good job of protecting c4 while limiting Black’s ability to maneuver his queenside pieces.
28…Bf4 29.Ne2 Bg5 30.h4 Be7 31.g4!
With Black’s pieces stuck on the queenside, Eljanov decides to dominate both sides of the board. Grischuk needs a big mistake from the Ukranian for any hope of moving to the net round.
31…Nhf6 32.Ng3 Qd8 33.h5 Bf8 34.Bd3 Nh7 35.Bf5 Ng5 36.Kg2 Rc7 37.Ne4
By not rushing the kingside attack, Eljanov has furthered his grip on the position by strengthening his pieces. The bishop on f5 seems like it might be trapped, but Grischuk’s inability to control the light squares makes this impossible!
37…Be7 38.c5 Nxe4 39.Bxe4 Nf6 40.c6
With this move, White clamps down on the position with a passed pawn. Black is completely lost. Who would have thought that …e6-e5 would have been such a mistake?
40…Rc8 41.Qd3 Nxe4 42.Qxe4 Bg5 43.Be3 Bxe3 44.Rxe3 Rf8 45.Qf5 Rb8 46.Nc4 Rb5 47.Rd3 Qc7 48.Nd2 a5 49.Ne4 Rxb4 50.Rxb4 axb4 51.g5
After waiting for over 50 moves, Eljanov makes his first dynamic strike. Black’s pieces are not coordinated, and therefore the attack is lethal.
51…Qa7 52.gxh6 gxh6 53.f4 1-0
A great win by Eljanov, as he progressed to the next round to take on Dmitry Jakovenko. Even though Grischuk was playing for the win, the Ukrainian made the game look easy, with almost an effortless point. If you enjoyed how Eljanov played this game, I highly encourage you to check out his other games here.
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