The Higher League of the Russian Championship was won by GM Alexey Sarana (6.5/9), who bested GM Grigory Oparin on tiebreak. GMs Ernesto Inarkiev, Denis Khismatullin and Mikhail Kobalia (6/9) also won the invitations to the Russian Championship’s Superfinal.
This year, the Higher League took place from June 26 till July 5 in Yaroslavl, a city 250km northeast of Moscow. The total prize fund was 5 millions rubles (67,675 Euros/$79,150).
As usual, the tournament lineup was strong, as five spots for this year’s Superfinal were up for grabs. The field included GMs Maxim Matlakov, Evgeny Najer, Sanan Sjugirov, Alexander Motylev, Alexey Dreev, and many others.
Suddenly, the tournament was dominated by young players who were supposed to shine in the next era of Russian chess. It seems that this new era has already started.
18-year-old Sarana, from Moscow, earned his GM title less than two years ago. This year he already won the Vladimir Dvorkovich Memorial (rapid) in Taganrog ahead of GMs Sergey Volkov, Dmitry Bocharov, Artem Timofeev and Ilya Ilyushenok. He also performed well in the ranks of the PRO Chess League team Australia Kangaroos, scoring 21.5/32 in an extremely tough division.
Alexey Sarana, Russia’s new star? | Photo: Russian Chess Federation.
In the third round, Sarana conveyed a long-lasting attack at Kirill Alexeyenko‘s king.
On the next day Sarana punished GM Denis Khismatullin, Sergey Karjakin‘s second, for an extravagant opening. The game was extremely complicated for both GMs.
Grigory Oparin is 21 and studies linguistics at the Moscow State University. He already won the Russian Higher League two years ago.
This year, after a successful start (2/2), Oparin stepped on a drawish moving ramp and in the sixth round he had to take risks to stay in contention. Luckily, his opponent GM Pavel Ponkratov was eager to accept any challenges and played very ingeniously.
Inarkiev is a very experienced player, recently recalled mostly in connection with the Carlsen blitz incident, which he does not really deserve. In Yaroslavl he secured an invitation to the Superfinal by defeating GM Igor Lysyj in the penultimate round.
Ernesto Inarkiev at Aeroflot tournament in 2017. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
Kobalia is the head coach of Russian youth teams – it seems that pedagogical activities do not affect his own strength. Playing in Tal’s style he sacrificed two minor pieces to dismantle the king of GM David Paravyan.
WGM Alexandra Goryachkina, the 19-year-old Russian women’s champion, chose to play in the open tournament for training and did not regret it, scoring +2 =7. She survived and prevailed when the opponent decided to test her nerves and stamina rather than her chess abilities.
Alexandra Goryachkina at the 2017 Superfinal. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
The Women’s Higher League was won by WFM Oksana Gritsaeva from the Crimea, who was the only player scoring 7/9. She delivered a exciting sacrificial attack refuting a rather greedy approach by IM Evgenija Ovod.
Oksana Gritsaeva. | Photo: Russian Chess Federation.
2018 Higher League Russian Open Championship | Final Standings (Top 12)
|1||31||GM||Sarana, Alexey||2573||Moscow oblast||6,5||51||47|
|7||16||GM||Alekseenko, Kirill||2621||St Petersburg||6||45||42|
(Full standings here.)
2018 Higher League Russian Women Championship | Final Standings (Top 12)
|3||1||IM||Bodnaruk, Anastasia||2451||St Petersburg||6,5||43,5||39,5|
|7||4||IM||Nechaeva, Marina||2410||Moscow oblast||6||45||41,5|
|10||9||IM||Ovod, Evgenija||2360||Leningrad oblast||5,5||49||45,5|
(Full standings here.)