GM Sergei Azarov wins 2020 Marshall Chess Club Online Championship

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GM Sergei Azarov is the 2020 Marshall Chess Club Online Champion
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GM Sergei Azarov is the 2020 Marshall Chess Club Online Champion

The 2020 Marshall Chess Club Championship took place December 18-22, held online for the first time in the club's illustrious history. In recent years of the event, calendar overlap with the increasingly popular US Chess K-12 Grade Nationals—which attracts many of our strongest scholastic members and their coaches—had caused club championship attendance to dwindle.  

So the Marshall’s board of governors put a lot of thought into rethinking the event, and last year believed they had found a solution: In 2019, the club hosted a closed championship as an invitational round-robin, followed by an open event in December. Both events were a success, and everyone in the organization seemed content to run it back again in 2020.  

But then, like so many other things, COVID stuck a wrench in those plans. 

Settling on a new, online model for the Marshall's most-prestigious event wasn’t easy, as there was some serious tradition to honor. The club championship has been held for more than a hundred years—how many clubs in any sport can boast such a streak? Not even Wimbledon! The club set a model that aimed to respect tradition, attract players, and make competition worthy of a Marshall championship crown. 

The nine-round Swiss attracted 33 players, including seven players with FIDE titles and two former Marshall Champions. Belarusian GM Sergei Azarov won the 2020 title without suffering a single defeat, just as he'd done in 2018. As the Marshall has come to expect from Azarov, an original member of the club's Pro Chess League team the NY Marshalls, his play was stubbornly disciplined yet subtly ferocious.  

In round four, Azarov was matched against his countryman GM Kirill Stupak in what turned out to be a pivotal game. Often when two of the highest-rated players meet in a long event, a swift draw will ensue. But those were not the Belarusian’s intentions here. Playing with the black pieces, Azarov opted for what appeared to be a new weapon developed and deployed throughout the tournament: the Dutch defense, an opening he had only used once in his career.  

A funny thing happened after Stupak, faced with a choice on which way to castle, ultimately chose the queenside at 13. 0-0-0.  

 

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(MCC Online Championship, Rd 4. GM Kirill Stupak v. GM Sergei Azarov. Position after 13. 0-0-0.)
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(MCC Online Championship, Rd 4. GM Kirill Stupak v. GM Sergei Azarov. Position after 13. 0-0-0.)

 

But as an attack on the b-file began to materialize for black, Stupak’s king fled back across the board, until 26. Ke1 saw him castled kingside. A laborious change of heart.  

 

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(MCC Online Championship, Rd 4. GM Kirill Stupak v. GM Sergei Azarov. Position after 26. Kf1)
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(Position after 26. Kf1. Did white castle twice this game?!)

From here, Azarov’s superior position was too much and black was soon winning a king-and-pawn endgame. After this round 4 game, he put the rest of the field in the rear-view and never looked back. 

[pgn][Event "MCC Online Open Championship"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2020.12.20"] [Round "4"] [White "GM Kirill Stupak"] [Black "GM Sergei Azarov"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A80"] [WhiteElo "2568"] [BlackElo "2679"] [PlyCount "104"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [TimeControl "4200+5"] 1. d4 f5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Bg5 d5 4. Bxf6 exf6 5. e3 Be6 6. Bb5+ c6 7. Bd3 Bd6 8. h3 Na6 9. Bxa6 bxa6 10. Nge2 O-O 11. Qd2 Re8 12. Na4 Bf7 13. O-O-O Rb8 14. a3 Bh5 15. Rde1 Bxe2 16. Rxe2 Rb5 17. Nc3 Rb7 18. Na4 Qc7 19. Qc3 Reb8 20. Kd2 Rb4 21. b3 R4b5 22. Ra1 c5 23. Ree1 c4 24. bxc4 dxc4 25. Ke2 Qf7 26. Kf1 Bc7 27. Qd2 Ba5 28. c3 Qd5 29. Rec1 Bc7 30. Qe2 Bd6 31. Rd1 Rb3 32. Nc5 Rb2 33. Qf3 Qxf3 34. gxf3 Rc2 35. Rab1 Rb6 36. Na4 Rb5 37. Ra1 Kf7 38. Rdc1 Rxc1+ 39. Rxc1 Rb3 40. Ra1 Ke6 41. Ke2 Kd5 42. Kd2 Rxa3 43. Rxa3 Bxa3 44. Kc2 g5 45. Nb2 Bxb2 46. Kxb2 h5 47. Kc2 h4 48. Kd2 a5 49. Kc2 a4 50. Kb2 Kd6 51. Ka3 g4 52. fxg4 fxg4 {GM Sergei Azarov won by resignation} 0-1 [/pgn]
 

Of course there were many interesting and spirited games played in the 2020 Marshall Club Championship, and we have compiled them for you for download on the MCC website. There is one more game we will share here.  

Among the MCC staff, one person has a reputation for being a great swindler: Miguel Garcia. In blitz game after blitz game, he achieves one losing—meaning DEAD LOST—position after another, but somehow always comes out victorious. And sure enough, Garcia managed to pull off one of his epic swindles in round six of the club championship. Matched against fellow expert Advaith Vijayakumar, Garcia as black had the trifecta of pain: a material disadvantage, a weak king, and passive pieces. It couldn't get much worse than that, until this happened: 

 

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(Advaith Vijayakumar v. Miguel Garcia. Rd 6. Position after 27...gxf3.)
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(Advaith Vijayakumar v. Miguel Garcia. Rd 6. Position after 27...gxf3.)

 

Vijayakumar had played the Maróczy Bind beautifully, up an exchange in the dominating position above. Many moves are winning for White, though the simple recapture with 27. gxf3 would have prevented the forthcoming trickery. But true to his nature, Garcia starts creating complications. The recapture never happens, and nine moves later leads here: 

 

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(White still hasn't recaptured on f3! Qf5+ is a blunder in time pressure.)
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(White still hasn't recaptured on f3! Qf5+ proves to be a blunder in time pressure.)

 

In time pressure with only 15 seconds left on his clock, Vijayakumar opted for the queen trade, not realizing that, after the trade, Black has 37... f2!! and a swindle is on the horizon. The game continued 38. g3 f3! and the White king cannot defend the queening square. Black's now-unobstructed e-pawn marches down the board for the victory.  

[pgn][Event "MCC Online Open Championship"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2020.12.21"] [Round "6"] [White "Advaith Vijayakumar"] [Black "Miguel Garcia"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B06"] [WhiteElo "2026"] [BlackElo "2010"] [PlyCount "88"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [TimeControl "4200+5"] 1. d4 g6 2. c4 Bg7 3. e4 c5 4. Nf3 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Nc6 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Nc3 Ng4 8. Qxg4 Nxd4 9. Qd1 e5 10. Bd3 O-O 11. O-O b6 12. Qd2 Bb7 13. Rac1 Rc8 14. Ne2 Ne6 15. Rfd1 f5 16. f3 f4 17. Bf2 h5 18. b4 Kh7 19. c5 g5 20. cxb6 axb6 21. Bc4 Rxc4 22. Rxc4 Ba6 23. Rcc1 Bb5 24. Nc3 Ba6 25. b5 Bc8 26. Nd5 g4 27. Nxb6 gxf3 28. Rxc8 Qg5 29. Bh4 Qxh4 30. Rxf8 Nxf8 31. Nxd7 Qg5 32. Nxf8+ Bxf8 33. Kh1 Bb4 34. Qd7+ Kg8 35. Qe6+ Kf8 36. Qf5+ Qxf5 37. exf5 f2 38. g3 f3 39. Rf1 Bc5 40. Rc1 e4 41. h3 e3 42. g4 hxg4 43. hxg4 e2 44. Kh2 f1=Q {Miguel Garcia won by resignation} 0-1 [/pgn]

Thanks to everyone who participated in our 2020 Championship. We look forward to the 2021 championship...in person...at the club...over-the-board...post-pandemic. 

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