Saric is European champ

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

19th European Individual Championship
Batumi, Georgia
March 16-29, 2018

Final Top Standings

1. GM Ivan Saric CRO 2657, 8.5/11

2-8. GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek POL 2738, GM Sanan Sjugirov RUS 2652, GM Gawain CB Jones ENG 2651, GM Maxim Matlakov RUS 2707, LGM Luke McShane ENG 2647, GM Anton Korobov UKR 2664, GM Eltaj Safarli AZE 2639, 8.0/11

9-32. GM Tamir Nabaty ISR 2690, GM Evgeniy Najer RUS 2683, GM Anton Demchenko RUS 2672, GM Nils Grandelius SWE 2646, GM Daniil Yuffa RUS 2521, GM David Navara CZE 2737, GM Ernesto Inarkiev RUS 2684, GM Robert Hovhannisyan ARM 2601, GM Ivan Cheparinov BUL 2693, GM Benjamin Bok NED 2622, IM Miguel Santos Ruiz ESP 2488, GM Nijat Abasov AZE 2608, GM Arman Pashikian ARM 2585, GM Alexey Sarana RUS 2577, GM David Anton Guijarro ESP 2647, GM Mircea-Emilian Parligras ROU 2642, GM Hrant Melkumyan ARM GM Rauf Mamedov AZE 2709, GM Gadir Guseinov AZE, GM Mikhail Kobalia RUS 2599, GM Boris Savchenko RUS 2550, IM Jorge Viterbo Ferreira POR 2492, GM Daniel Fridman GER 2637, GM Kirill Alekseenko RUS 2609, 7.5/11

Total Number of Participants: 302

Time Control: 90 minutes for the 1st 40 moves then 30 minutes play-to-finish with 30 seconds added after every move starting move 1.

Three Hundred Two players showed up in Batumi, Georgia, to play in the 19th European Individual Chess Championship. There were a whopping 135 International Grandmasters, six Woman Grandmasters, 56 International Masters, and 57 other titled players. Total prize fund is €100,000 (around P6.4 million) out of which €20,000 (around P1.2 million) goes to the winner. Even more important though are the automatic qualifying slots given to the top 23 to the World Chess Cup scheduled for 2019 in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. If you will recall even the losers in the first round of the World Cup receive a consolation prize of $6,000 (approximately P300,000). This go-home prize goes up in every round, for example $10,000 for second round, $16,000 third round, and so on and so forth until we are left with the winner who gets to pocket $120,000 (this is not peanuts — the equivalent of P6.2 million).

For example in last year’s World Cup Wesley So was eliminated by Ding Liren in round 6. The whole Philippines wept at the result but at least Wesley had a cool $50,000 (that’s P2.6 million) to console himself with.

The Croatian GM Ivan Saric scored the biggest tournament win of his life by scoring 7 wins, 1 loss and 3 draws for 8.5/11. He lost to Poland’s Radoslaw Wojtaszek in round 6 but came back strongly to score 3/3 in the final rounds against Donchenko GER 2588, Rasmus Svane GER 2587 and the Czech Republic’s top player David Navara CZE 2737 to outdistance his closest pursuers.

Ivan Saric (born Aug. 17, 1990 in Split, Croatia) is the second Croatian GM to earn the title of European Champion after GM Zdenko Kozul in 2006. Back in 2007 Ivan won the Under-18 European Youth Chess Championship and one year after that the World Under-18 Championship. He was Champion of Croatia in 2009 and 2013. His main claim to fame was in the 2014 Tromso Olympiad where he defeated the reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen in front of the Norwegian’s home crowd.

Saric, Ivan (2671) — Carlsen, Magnus (2877) [C61]
Tromsoe ol (Men) 41st Tromsoe (10.1), 12.08.2014

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nd4 4.Nxd4 exd4 5.Bc4 Nf6 6.0–0 d5

If you look up the computer engines 6…Nxe4!? 7.Bxf7+ Kxf7 8.Qh5+ g6 9.Qd5+ Kg7 10.Qxe4 Qf6 is supposed to be equal, but tell me would you prefer to be White or Black here? White scores around 70% from this position. I will show you one game to illustrate some tactical points. 11.d3 Bc5 12.Nd2 d6 13.Nf3 Be6 14.Bg5 Qf5 15.Qh4 h6 16.Nxd4 Bxd4 17.Qxd4+ Kh7 18.Bd2 Rhf8 19.Rae1 1–0 (19) Ganguly, S. (2583)-Abdulla, A. (2462) Dhaka 2005.

7.exd5 Be7

Magnus didn’t like 7…Nxd5 8.Qh5 and decides to give up a pawn to bring his king to safety. Clearly his opening has not been a success. Unlike most of his opponents though who for one reason or another get an opening advantage Saric does not try to passively consolidate his gains but instead fearlessly pushes back.

8.Qf3! Bg4 9.Qf4 0–0 10.h3 Bd6

Saric is two pawns up but his development is way behind.

11.Qxd4 c5 12.Qd3

[12.dxc6?? Bh2+]

12…Bh5 13.Nc3 Re8 14.f4! a6 15.a4 Qd7 16.Qg3 Ne4 17.Nxe4 Rxe4 18.b3 Qc7 19.d3 Re2 20.Qg5 g6

He could not play 20…Bg6 because of 21.f5 Re5 22.Bb2 and in addition to the two pawns White is winning the exchange.

21.Bb2 Be7 22.Bf6 h6 23.Be5! Qd8 24.Qxh6 Rxe5 25.d6

Not 25.fxe5? Bg5 White loses his queen

25…Re2 26.dxe7 Qxe7 27.f5 Qh4 28.Qf4

Liquidates into an easily winning end game.

28…g5 29.Qxh4 gxh4 30.Rf4 Rxc2 31.Rxh4 Be2 32.Re4 Rd2 33.Re7 Bxd3 34.Bxf7+ Kf8 35.f6 Rd8 36.Bh5 Kg8 37.Re8+ 1–0

As can be seen from the game, Ivan Saric is a power player — he aggressively seeks the opening advantage and then forcibly tries to bring it home. It is no surprise that he scored 5 wins and a draw (5.5/6) with White here in Batumi. I will show the following game from the European Championship to illustrate how he goes about winning.

Saric, Ivan (2657) — Lomasov, Semen (2551) [C11]
19th ch-EUR Indiv 2018 Batumi GEO (3.28), 19.03.2018

Many many years ago I considered the French a passive defense and made it my mission to really “refute” the various French setups. That was of course a long time ago and I found out that for every new “refutation” there was an equally fanatical group who would “refute the refutation.” With that background in mind the BW reader will understand the exhilaration I feel in playing over the following game — aggression from beginning to end and Saric really makes the French look bad!

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 Be7 8.Qd2 b6

What is the idea behind this move instead of the main line 8…0–0 9.Be2 (or castling queenside with 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.0–0–0) 9…b6 10.0–0? Well, it tries to provoke 9.Nd1 (to shore up his queenside infrastructure with c2–c3) after which Black will proceed 9…cxd4 10.Nxd4 Bb7 followed by …Nc5 and …Ne4.


As you can see from the note above one of the main lines is 8…0–0 9.Be2 b6. In this game Black commits to b6 without castling first in the hopes of catching White is some move order pitfalls. GM Ivan tries to take advantage himself of the move order.

9…Bb7 10.0–0–0!?

[10.0–0 is usually safer but as I have explained to you earlier Saric is not after safe — he is after a win]


Now Black will be pushing back his opponent’s pieces with his pawns, right? Actually with the benefit of hindsight this looks like a mistake and perhaps Black should have taken the time to castle here.

11.Bxc6 Bxc6 12.f5!

The main idea behind this move is 12…b5!? 13.fxe6 fxe6 14.Ng5! Bxg5 (14…Nf8 15.Rhf1 with the idea of either Nf7 or Rxf8+) 15.Bxg5 Qc7 16.Qf4! Black’s king’s position is getting uncomfortable. Here is one possibility: 16…h6 17.Qg4! hxg5 18.Qxe6+ Kd8 19.Nxd5 Bxd5 20.Qxd5 Ke7 21.dxc5 White has three pawns for the piece and Black’s king is exposed and in the center.

Neither should Black play 12…exf5?!13.dxc5 bxc5 14.Nxd5 0–0 15.Rhe1 the chances are with White.

12…Qc7 13.Bg5 Nf8 14.Bxe7 Qxe7 15.f6! gxf6 16.exf6 Qc7

[16…Qxf6? 17.Ne5 attacks the c6–bishop and, after Rhf1, there will be a decisive penetration into Black’s position.]

17.g4 0–0–0 18.g5 cxd4 19.Nxd4 Bb7

Looks like Black’s king has survived the first wave. Saric keeps pushing. <D>



The second wave. He will go Na4, Qb4, Re1–e3–c3.

20…Ng6 21.h4 Nxh4 22.Na4

White is threatening 23.Qb4, so pushing his pawn to b5 is more or less forced.

22…b5 23.Re3 Kb8 24.Rc3 Qd6 25.Nc5

Threat is 26.Nxb7 Kxb7 27.Rc6 followed by 28.Qa5.

25…Ng6! 26.Ndb3

Now 26.Nxb7 Kxb7 27.Rc6 does not work because of 27…Qf4.


[26…Qf4 27.Qxf4+ Nxf4 28.Rf3 Ng6 29.Na5 Ba8 30.Nxa6+ restores material parity and White is still attacking]


The idea now is 27…bxa4 28.Kb1! axb3 29.Rxb3+ Ka7 30.Ne4! and the attack crashes through.

27…Ne5 28.Ne4! Qb6 29.Qf4 dxe4 30.Qxe5+ Ka7 31.Rc7+ Bb7 32.Nc5?!

The deathblow is 32.Rd4!, threatening to push the a-pawn to a5. After 32…bxa4 33.Nc5 Rb8 34.Rdd7 Black can resign. From here till the 40th move you shouldn’t be too harsh on the players as their time was running out.

32…Rxd1+ 33.Kxd1 Rd8+ 34.Ke2 Rd5 35.a5! Rxe5 36.axb6+ Kxb6™ 37.Nd7+ Kxc7 38.Nxe5 a5 39.c3 b4 40.cxb4 axb4 41.Ke3 Bd5 42.Kd4 b3 43.Nxf7

The passed pawn on the f-file guarantees the win.

43…Kd7 44.Ne5+ Ke8 45.Ke3 Kf8 46.Kd4 Ke8 47.Nc4! Kd8 48.Nd2! e3 49.Kxe3 e5 1–0

We will continue this story on Thursday.


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant, he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.