Carlsen Survives Thriller; Theodorou Beats Radjabov In 19 Moves
Carlsen survived a crazy endgame against Bjerre. Photo: Mark Livshitz/ECU.

Carlsen Survives Thriller; Theodorou Beats Radjabov In 19 Moves

| 37 | Chess Event Coverage

World number-one Magnus Carlsen escaped with just two minor pieces against Danish GM Jonas Bjerre's queen to help struggling Norway to a second win in a row, while top-seed Azerbaijan is in freefall, symbolized by GM Teimour Radjabov losing in 19 moves.

The leaders with two rounds of the 2023 European Team Chess Championship to go are Germany, England, and now Serbia, while in the Women's section Bulgaria has beaten and overtaken France and Azerbaijan.  

Round eight starts on Sunday, November 19, at 9:15 a.m. ET/15:15 CET/7:45 p.m. IST.

Open: Keymer Into Top 15 As Title Battle Rages

Germany went into round six of the European Team Championship as the sole leader, and Keymer, who celebrated his 19th birthday by climbing to world number-17, continued that climb by grinding out an 85-move win against GM Richard Rapport—the first game Romania has lost in Budva.

What is team captain GM Jan Gustafsson feeding Keymer? Photo: Deutscher Schachbund.

The win took Keymer up to world number-14, but it could have been much shorter, and sweeter, if he'd found the stunning knockout blow, 22.Nd4!!. "You see one move and you finish the game immediately!" he said wistfully the next day. 

That wasn't enough for team victory, however, since GM Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, who for the previous four European Team Championships had led the German team, leveled the score for Romania by beating GM Dmitrij Kollars. The 47-year-old talked about how newfound sponsorship is set to make Romania a chess powerhouse, though he regrets that it had come too late for his career. His comments sparked debate online.

That team draw for Germany allowed England to catch them in the lead with a 3.5-0.5 demolition of the Netherlands. GM Nikita Vitiugov led the way with a King's Indian that went like a dream when he got to break through with 19...f4! against GM Jorden van Foreest.

GMs David Howell and Luke McShane ground out wins to complete the rout. 

So far, so good for Vitiugov on his England debut. Photo: Mark Livshitz/ECU.

That meant Germany and England met in round seven, but when they played out four tense draws, it gave a team a chance to catch them. Serbia, whose new recruits GMs Alexandr Predke and Alexey Sarana have both performed above 2800, seized the opportunity, with Sarana scoring the only win, over GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac. Once again Sarana is demonstrating that he's one of the world's best players precisely when he has the white pieces.

France, Armenia, and Greece all won in round seven to move within a single point with two rounds to go.   

Round 7 Standings (Top 9)

Rk. Seed FED Team Games + = - Match Points TB1 TB2
1 3 Germany 7 4 3 0 11 137.5 16.5
2 4 England 7 4 3 0 11 130 17
3 10 Serbia 7 5 1 1 11 127 18.5
4 7 France 7 5 0 2 10 115 18
5 5 Armenia 7 4 2 1 10 112.5 15.5
6 17 Greece 7 5 0 2 10 102.5 16.5
7 2 Romania 7 3 3 1 9 114.5 15.5
8 14 Croatia 7 3 3 1 9 110 15
9 9 Netherlands 7 3 3 1 9 106.5 15

Two teams that should be on that list, according to seedings, are Norway and, above all, Azerbaijan.

Carlsen Pulls Off Great Escape; Radjabov Stunned

Azerbaijan, with Radjabov and GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov on the top boards, was the clear favorite to win the 2023 title but has failed to pull out of the death spiral that began when it lost to Denmark in round one. A loss to Croatia followed, with Radjabov beaten by GM Ivan Saric, but that is nothing compared to what followed in round six, when Radjabov found himself resigning against 23-year-old Greek GM Nikolas Theodorou on move 19—while Theodorou still had one hour and 28 minutes on his clock.  

It's not often you get to demolish a player as strong as Radjabov. Photo: Mark Livshitz/ECU.

That shocker is our first Game of the Day with analysis by GM Rafael Leitao.

Once again that loss was maximally painful for Azerbaijan, since the remaining games were drawn. A 3-1 defeat at the hands of Moldova in the next round and it's hard to imagine the favorite for such an event ever having played as badly. 

Carlsen has played every round despite his opponents' ratings meaning each game has been high risk, low reward. Photo: Mark Livshitz/ECU.

8th-seed Norway has also underperformed—on paper—but their pre-tournament seeding was very much based on having the world number-one on top board. It's hard to carry a team, and Carlsen's 5.5/7 has not been smooth sailing. 

GM Valentin Dragnev was a move or two away from creating a sensation, while Carlsen's game against 19-year-old Bjerre was a wild ride. At first, everything went the former world champion's way with a sacrifice of the exchange (a rook for a knight on c3), as strong as it is natural.

Carlsen confessed, however, that he briefly went on to lose the plot: "I just had one incredibly weak phase there where somehow I didn’t trust my instincts. I had so many good choices, and I was just overthinking."

That wobble was combined with some inspired play by Bjerre, who found the brilliant 33.Nf5!!.

The huge threat is Qc3+, hitting the rook on b2 and the king on f6, and there are no happy solutions for Black. Carlsen confirmed GM Vladimir Fedoseev's hunch when he joined GM Alojzije Jankovic on the live broadcast: "I thought at least I can give the queen, and I should be fine, but I’d missed Nf5 completely. Now I’m probably… not probably, now I think I’m lost!"

Carlsen found himself with just two minor pieces for a queen but felt his opponent made a "conceptual" mistake just before the time control, and the world number-one soon found a path to safety. That game is our second Game of the Day. 

Asked if it had been a tough day, Carlsen replied: "No, we’ve won two matches in a row now, so that’s good. Obviously for me, it was not a great game, but at least I saved it, and it won us the match, so still good!"

A win for 21-year-old IM Tor Fredrik Kaasen on the bottom board gave Norway a 2.5-1.5 win over Denmark and now, for the first time in 18 classical games, Carlsen may finally again play an opponent rated 2700. Unless either player is rested, he's set to take on his world championship second, Van Foreest, in round eight.

Women's Section: Bulgaria Leapfrogs France And Azerbaijan

Bulgaria is led by former Women's World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova. Photo: Mark Livshitz/ECU.

The women's competition had looked like a two-horse race until Bulgaria beat both horses, defeating Azerbaijan 2.5-1.5 in round six and then France 3-1 in round seven. On both occasions, 20-year-old 2023 Women's World Cup runner-up IM Nurgyul Salimova notched up a point as part of a three-game winning streak. 

That left Bulgaria a point clear of France and Azerbaijan, while Poland (who beat Germany) and Greece are just another point off the pace. 

Round 7 Women's Standings (Top 9)

Rk. Seed FED Team Games + = - Match Points TB1 TB2
1 5 Bulgaria 7 5 2 0 12 141.5 18
2 6 France 7 5 1 1 11 144 19.5
3 2 Azerbaijan 7 5 1 1 11 134 17
4 19 Greece 7 4 2 1 10 111.5 16.5
5 8 Poland 7 5 0 2 10 99.5 15.5
6 3 Germany 7 4 1 2 9 109 16
7 15 Serbia 7 4 1 2 9 106.5 15
8 7 Armenia 7 4 1 2 9 105.5 16.5
9 1 Georgia 7 4 1 2 9 105.5 16

19th-seed Greece continues to dazzle with 23-year-old IM Stavroula Tsolakidou leading the way. 

Tsolakidou, in fact, seems to have met the requirements for a seven-game grandmaster norm. It's not just the results but the games that have been hugely impressive with the win over GM Hoang Thanh Trang a perfect punishment for one inaccuracy by her opponent. 

The podium is within touching distance for Greece, but we have two intense rounds to go in both sections with no runaway leaders and everything to play for. 

GM Laurent Fressinet's France is just one point behind the leaders. Photo: Mark Livshitz/ECU.

How to watch?
You can watch the 2023 European Team Chess Championship on the European Chess Union YouTube channel and on Hikaru Nakamura's Kick channel. Games from the event can be viewed on our events page: Open | Women.

The 2023 European Team Chess Championship is a nine-round team tournament taking place in Budva, Montenegro, during November 11-20. All the European chess federations can field a team in the Open and Women's sections; matches are played on four boards. The time control is classical, with 90 minutes for 40 moves, 30 minutes to the end of the game, and a 30-second increment from move one. 

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