Making the difference in the three-minute segment, Alexey Sarana defeated Andrey Esipenko 15-12 on Tuesday. The next opponent for Sarana in the Junior Speed Chess Championship will be either Parham Maghsoodloo or Luca Moroni.
It was a spectacular match with just two draws between two exponents of a new generation of talented Russian grandmasters. The 19-year-old Sarana (@mishanick) made his name when he won the 2018 Higher League of the Russian Championship, while the 17-year-old Esipenko (@Andreikka) played an excellent tournament in the Tata Steel Chess challengers earlier this year.
With a bit more experience and a higher FIDE rating, Sarana was considered to be the slight favorite.
Playing from Poikovsky (about 150 km east of Khanty-Mansiysk), Esipenko started the match about an hour after he had won his game in the strong Karpov Tournament he is playing there. Because his game was long, Chess.com had offered to postpone the match by an hour, and Sarana had agreed.
After he had some dinner, Esipenko started the match well as he took a small lead in the five-minute portion. The players first exchanged wins in their white games and then the younger of the two grandmasters played a nice, positional game as Black in a Nimzo-Indian:
In a series of five black wins in a row, Sarana won game six of the match as he found a lateral rook move to checkmate the white king, which had some Puzzle Rush flavor:
Right after, Esipenko won a great game in which he punished Sarana for neglecting his development. Interestingly, the players were following a very old game for a while between two famous players from the past: Fine-Alekhine, Nottingham 1936.
5|1 section | Scores
Esipenko losing the last game of the five-minute segment was part of a five-game losing streak. In hindsight, this was the key phase of the match. He could later bring the margin back to two games, but never closer than that.
Afterward, the 17-year-old GM said that at that point he was thinking: “If I don’t win this one, I don’t know how I will manage.”
While staying calm (so calm that sometimes it seemed his webcam had frozen!), Esipenko then won two in a row, to bring back some intrigue.
The first three-minute game must have been disappointing for Esipenko, who missed a big chance earlier in the game and then flagged at the moment when he had a move that looked winning to the commentators, but was in fact only enough for a draw—still better than a loss.
Meanwhile, Sarana was showing his skills in slightly better endgames, with a quiet but solid playing style. Here’s an example, where his opponent failed to get active in time and then lost without a chance:
Even though it was a one-mover, Sarana’s 29th in game 17 was also reminiscent of Puzzle Rush: strong and accurate because attacking both the f6 square and Ra8 was the only way to win directly.
Game 18 was another up-and-down affair. First, Esipenko dropped a full rook, which went unpunished as Sarana had probably premoved his reply. Then, after spoiling a win, Esipenko ended up getting checkmated, which he could have prevented in a subtle way.
3|1 section | Scores
In the fastest of the three time controls the players tied: 4.5/9. The first was a walkover for Sarana:
The last game was just the second draw in the whole match, after Esipenko had missed a mate in two and several more wins:
1|1 section | Scores
The post-match interview was a hilarious affair, with the former FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov (who was doing the Russian stream on Twitch) joining as an interpretor and energetically taking over the interview from the English stream hosts Robert Hess and Levy Rozman. The viewers were treated with some fun moments, and might have learned some Russian along the way.
As to why so few draws had been played, Sarana said: “It’s because of the mistakes we made!”
Esipenko said he was “disappointed, but not too much.” He has Poikovsky to focus on again.
Esipenko earned $178 based on win percentage; Sarana won $400 for the victory plus $222 on percentage, totaling $622. He moves on to the next round, where he will play the winner of the match Parham Maghsoodloo vs. Luca Moroni on June 17.
Sarana felt that Maghsoodloo is the favorite. “I played some games against him online, and I think I have a negative score, so prefer to play Moroni!” he said.
The next match on the calendar is Jeffery Xiong vs. Anton Smirnov on June 14.
The Junior Speed Chess Championship is sponsored by ChessKid, the world’s number-one site for kids to learn and play chess. Sixteen grandmasters age 21 or younger play in a knockout format with 90 minutes of 5|1 blitz, 60 minutes of 3|1 blitz and 30 minutes of 1|1 bullet chess.
You can replay the live broadcast here.