Karjakin Is 1-Man Army In 2nd China-Russia Match

Karjakin Is 1-Man Army In 2nd China-Russia Match

| 37 | Chess Event Coverage

The format is rarely more than a sideline to a chess event, but in the second China-Russia international match of the summer, the structure became the story. GM Sergey Karjakin proved particularly adept at the unique format, which resembled a common tournament practice in the Japanese game Go.

Although the match is not finished, Russia looks to be well on its way to getting revenge for a loss two weeks again in Ningbo. China returned two players from that match; Russia started with a completely clean slate for this one. The match was on a divided island on the Amur River. Bolshoy Ussuriysky/Heixiazi Island is half Chinese, half Russian itself -- a fitting location.

For many of our Western readers, they are more likely to have landed on Go in Monopoly than to have played the game of Go, so a bit of explanation is required.

For this five-versus-five match, each team assigns the starting position of its players, one through five, without knowledge of the other team's order. Then after the reveal, grandmaster one matches with grandmaster one in a single classical game of 90 minutes plus 30 seconds per move.


GM Ding Liren, China's current number one, can't stop a moving Karjakin (photo courtesy @sinachess).

If there's a winner, that grandmaster remains to play the other team's number two player, and so forth. If it's a draw, two blitz games (5+3) are played, and if still tied, then one Armageddon game to finally determine a winner.

The teammates of the winner? They get to enjoy another iced tea while he stays to play the other team's number two player. Think of it like "Scheveningen System" meets "Survivor."

The winning team gets $50,000 USD to split. They also get a $5,000 appearance fee, and "appear" may be all that most of the Russian team does! The losing players will settle for a $3,000 fee.

The knockout system is not entirely unique as other chess news outlets have reported. The United States Chess League has used a very similar version of it several times to determine a winner of its playoff finals (in fact, the league needed this four years in a row from 2006-2009 and again last season).

The USCL requires that the weakest player begin the action, but for this one the countries controlled how the run the relay. Russia gave Karjakin the baton first, and he never let go.

First up came GM Wei Yi, and after Karjakin dispatched him, he then took out GM Ding Liren, GM Ni Hua, and GM Yu Yangyi -- 2700s all. All that he has left is a game with GM Wang Yue to "run the table" and beat five of the six best players of the world's most populous country.

Meanwhile, Karjakin's fellow countrymen haven't so much as lifted a pawn. Should Karjakin falter, Yue would have to also then get past GMs Evgeny Tomashevsky, Alexander Morozevich, Ian Nepomniachtchi, and Dmitry Andrekin -- all by himself. Chess nightmares have started this way.

Let's take a look at the amazing streak.

First Karjakin drew Yi as Black in an Open Spanish. Then it was on to the blitz, where Karjakin won the opening game as Black. Nothing's more in vogue than 1. b3, but that doesn't mean it always works! In the final position White resigned in view of 37. Qxb2 Rxb2+ 38. Kg1 c2 and Black will simply play Rb1+ and promote.


Needing to win at all costs as Black, Yi played the Reverse Stonewall but got more than adequate winning chances at several moments. In one of the messiest games of top-level chess you'll see, he was unable to find his way and Karjakin won to make it 2-0 to advance.


Next up was Chinese number one Ding Liren. Karjakin had Black again (!) but was able to draw for the second mini-match in a row.

On to the blitz, where Karajkin also won the opening game as Black. But just when it looked like it would be "rinse and repeat," Liren played the Pirc, which was answered by the sharpest continuation, the Austrian Attack!


The two would go a final Armageddon game, where they played 75 moves to king versus king before Liren had to relent. The draw for Karjakin as Black ensured he advanced again.

Karjakin saved some energy in match three by avoiding blitz altogether. With his first turn as White in classical chess, he won rather smoothly -- acquire the outside passed pawn and advance it. Simple.


Finally came Yu Yangyi to take his best shot. Karjakin reverted to his old pattern -- draw the classical game as Black, then win the opening blitz game, also as Black!


The Russian then played more solidly than the last time he was in this position. A Maroczy Bind setup led to an easy victory to knock out his fourth Chinese player.

The match will take a hiatus until December. Wang Yue gets to wait several months to conjure how to beat the entire Russian team!


FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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