Star-Studded SOCAR Seek Title Defense In Skopje

Star-Studded SOCAR Seek Title Defense In Skopje

| 19 | Chess Event Coverage

Yet again playing with a star-studded team, defending champion SOCAR of Azerbaijan started with three wins at the European Club Cup in Skopje where is producing the live broadcast.

With 25 of the top 30 in the world playing, the European Club Cup is in fact one of the strongest large tournaments of the year. It is organized by Chess club Gambit Asseko-see and held in the Aleksandar Palace Hotel in Skopje, Macedonia.

Many players travelled to Skopje directly from Berlin, where they played the World Rapid and Blitz Championship last week. Your reporter found himself in the same airplane as e.g. Alexander Grischuk, Peter Svidler and Boris Gelfand.

The tournament is advertised in the streets of Skopje, where in 1972 the Olympiad was held.

Together with my regular aide-de-camp Lennart Ootes I am producing the live broadcast which you can watch every day from 3pm local time (6am Pacific) at The archive can be found here at Livestream.

(Now that I'm at it, I can mention that we'll also be doing the European Team Championship in November in Reykjavik and the Qatar Masters Open in December — with Magnus Carlsen attending in both events!)

The defending champions are SOCAR of Azerbaijan, who last year took over the title from Novy Bor (Czech Republic) when the tournament was held in Bilbao.

Again, the Azeri team coached by Vladimir Tukmakov is full of world class players.

Bo. Title SOCAR (AZE) Rtg FED 1 2 3 Pts. Games RtgAvg
1 GM Topalov, Veselin 2813 BUL 1   ½ 1,5 2 2582
2 GM Giri, Anish 2798 NED 1 0 ½ 1,5 3 2552
3 GM Caruana, Fabiano 2796 USA   1 1 2 2 2572
4 GM Adams, Michael 2742 ENG 1   1 2 2 2538
5 GM Radjabov, Teimour 2738 AZE   1 1 2 2 2450
6 GM Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar 2736 AZE 1 1 ½ 2,5 3 2406
7 GM Mamedov, Rauf 2657 AZE ½ 1   1,5 2 2309
8 GM Safarli, Eltaj 2657 AZE 1 1   2 2 2105

At the time of writing three of seven rounds have been played, and SOCAR is one of the teams that won all three matches. In fact in all 18 games (matches are played over six boards), they lost only one, as you can see in the table.

Anish Giri was the victim in what was a game Vlastimil Babula will treasure. The game saw the rare Noteboom variation, named after another the Dutch chess player who invented the system. It seems that Giri pushed the wrong pawn on the queenside, after which Babula finished the game nicely:


As Giri tweeted, all other games were won in this match against Werder Bremen, the second team from Germany while Baden-Baden is notably absent. Fabiano Caruana won a relatively easy game and then explained it our live show:

In today's third round SOCAR defeated one of the Russian teams, Univeversity Belerechensk. The match was closer than the score 4.5-1.5 reflected. The longest game was crucial — Adams defeated Rublevsky and then also joined our live show:

On paper SOCAR's biggest rival is Siberia, the team sponsored by Edward Taran who is the president of RATM Group and a big chess fan. He must have deep pockets, because besides Levon Aronian he managed to convince Vladimir Kramnik to play his first Russian league, and now in Skopje.

Bo. Title SIBERIA (RUS) Rtg FED 1 2 3 Pts. Games RtgAvg
1 GM Kramnik Vladimir 2777 RUS     1 1 1 2705
2 GM Aronian Levon 2784 ARM     ½ 0,5 1 2660
3 GM Grischuk Alexander 2774 RUS ½ 1 0 1,5 3 2602
4 GM Li Chao 2750 CHN ½ 1 1 2,5 3 2491
5 GM Wang Yue 2724 CHN 1 ½ 1 2,5 3 2472
6 GM Korobov Anton 2700 UKR 1 1 ½ 2,5 3 2417
7 GM Kokarev Dmitry 2603 RUS 1 1   2 2 2274
8 GM Bocharov Dmitry 2560 RUS 1 ½   1,5 2 2272

The two stars, who had both played in Berlin, were given some rest during the first two rounds. In the third round Kramnik won a nice game against Ian Nepomniachtchi, using a remarkable loss of tempo in the opening with his c-pawn:

A typical street in the old city center.

Like SOCAR, the “Siberians” only lost one game so far. It was World Blitz Champion Alexander Grischuk who went down against Evgeny Najer with the white pieces today:

The cups for the winning teams.

Speaking of upsets, there was another big one, from the second round. Hikaru Nakamura, the highest rated player in Skopje, lost his round two game for the Italian team Oviettivo Risarcimento from Padova. 

The American was unlucky to face a novelty which Yannick Pelletier had been waiting for ten years to use:

In the same match, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave got the chance to play a queen sacrifice:


The fourth round will see the top match-ups SOCAR vs Padova and on board two the all-Russian encounter Medni Vsadnik (with Peter Svidler and Leinier Dominguez on top boards) vs Siberia.

In the women's section the favorites are Nona from Georgia. Named after the legendary Georgian player Nona Gaprindashvili, the team might be very close to the title already since they defeated their main rivals from Moscow in round two.

Here's Bela Khotenashvili's win from the third round against the reigning Russian women's champion, followed by her appearance in the show:


A small, not too difficult puzzle ends this report. Can you see what was wrong with Daniil Dubov's tactic?

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