I'm not sure which team is winning at the European Chess Club Cup, and while I could easily find out I'll let my readers discover it for themselves. My interest has been confined to the games themselves, and there's more than enough there to keep the fans' attention.
Some games and moments that have caught my eye the past three rounds:
The big shock of round 4 was Boris Gelfand's loss, with the white pieces against the Dutch (of all things) to Simon Williams. Williams has a pretty low rating, by GM standards (he's in the high 2400s at the moment) but is known as a dangerous attacking player. He caught Gelfand out, and that's an impressive feather in anyone's cap - especially considering how well he (Gelfand) has been playing lately.
In round 5, Peter Svidler finished off Ruslan Ponomariov with a very pretty combination in what looked like an ending but functioned as a middlegame. Ponomariov's 32...h6 was a fatal error in a difficult position, but it was easy to overlook Svidler's great idea starting with 33.h3!!
Veselin Topalov has been playing much better lately, and his game against Viktor Laznicka was not only a competitive success, but an illustration that he can win any sort of game, not just those where a dynamic opening is crowned by victory in a wild middlegame.
Gata Kamsky's win over Mateusz Bartel was a real treat, and for those of us who find the Dutch "incorrect", a welcome cleansing of the palate after Gelfand-Williams. (I recognize that there are some great players, past and present, who have and continued to play the Dutch. Save the comments, and just beat me with 1...f5 when we play someday. Back to Kamsky-Bartel....) The funny thing about the game is that Kamsky's play was even more "incorrect": by move 9 he had pushed his h-pawn to h6, he developed his knights to h3 and a3, and he retreated three pieces to their original squares: 14.Nb1, 21.Qd1, and 25.Bf1. The bishop on c1, the rook on h1 and the king never moved. Yet despite all this extravagance, the game remained roughly balanced until near the end, when Bartel played 24...Rg8?! (24...Kb8!) and especially 26...Kd7?? (26...Kb8+=), walking into a picturesque mate in three. A memorable game, in light of all the curiosities packed into it.
Vassily Ivanchuk's win over Danny Razikov was routine by the end, but I was taken by the artistry of Ivanchuk's play at the finish. Instead of opting for the basic butcher's method of taking Black's last two pawns and forcing mate with king, bishop and knight vs. bare king, he kept Black's h-pawn alive (65.Bh3!), created a barrier keeping Black's king in the "wrong" corner (67.Nb6 followed by 68.Nd5), and set up a mating net that would be based on a quasi-stalemate. Black resigned at the right time, aesthetically, when all five pieces on the board were piled on the h-file. Had he continued, the finish would have been 80...Kg8 81.Be6+ Kh8 82.Nf8 (the king is stalemated, but the pawn can move) 82...h3 83.Ng6#. Very nice!
Moving on to round 6, catching us on the action, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Leinier Dominguez had a remarkable battle. It started early, when instead of the conventional 11...Ne4, Dominguez played 11...Nd7, with the great idea of meeting 12.cxd5 with the startling 12...e6! The game only got richer from there, with Mamedyarov giving up his queen for a rook and knight, followed by further material transformations. After 45 moves the players reached an ending where White had four pawns; Black a bishop and a single pawn, and Black just managed to scrape out a draw.
Berlin-haters may want to check out Alexander Grischuk's win over Sergei Movsesian; Grischuk produced a model game in one of the various endgame types that can arise from that under-appreciated line.
The game Zahar Efimenko - Gata Kamsky may have looked like a routine draw, but there were some neat moments to attend to. As a test, you might want to find the position after 25...Rxa8 and try to figure out why in the world White played 26.Kh1. (It's not too difficult to work out, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth taking the effort.) The answer, which also explains Kamsky's reply, is that White wants to play Ne4. He couldn't do it on move 26, however, due to 26...Qg6, when the double threat of taking the knight and 27...Bxh3 force the knight back to g3 (unless White wants to surrender his pawn), when 27...f5 gives Black more than enough for his sacrificed pawn. 26.Kh1 gets the king off the g-file, so ...Qg6 won't threaten ...Bxh3. Thus 26...Ra4, preventing Ne4, and then 27.f3, again making it possible. So White won that battle, and after 29...Rb4 (which he seems to have overlooked, at least prior to 28...Qd3) he stood much better. However, to keep that advantage he needed to play 29.Qd1. Perhaps he felt that after 29...Qxd1 30.Rxd1 Rxb2 Black would stand well with his two bishops, now that material equality has been restored, but after 31.d6, intending to play Nc5 sooner or later, White would be clearly better. Missing (or more likely, underestimating) that idea, White acceded to a repetition.
The king and pawn ending between Dmitry Andreikin and Vassily Ivanchuk had an interesting moment or two. Ivanchuk's 35...Kh7 was the only move to draw, which is a very slight pity, as it would have been amusing to see 35...Kh6 36.g5+ Kh5 37.Kg3 a4 38.bxa4 stalemate on the board. Unfortunately for that idea, 36.Kh4! (instead of 36.g5+) would have won.
The battle of Evgenys Tomashevsky and Romanov saw attack and defense in fine balance. After 22...Qxa5, I thought 23.Ne4! would be promising, and that was indeed what was played. Black came under some real pressure, but thanks to the fortress erected by the help of 27...Qc1+, 28...Qc7 and 29...Qxf7, Black held without any further trouble.
Some rounds prior, Alexei Shirov had narrowly survived (and then won) on the black side of a wild English Attack Najdorf/Scheveningen, but against Alexander Areshchenko in the same opening he was unable to survive. It's not often that Mr. "Fire on Board" gets outplayed in complex, tactically rich middlegames, but he was this time around. Areshchenko played very well and very accurately, and won convincingly.
Earlier I mentioned Raznikov's loss to Ivanchuk, now I'll say a brief word about the end of his loss to Radoslaw Wojtaszek. His position was almost certainly lost in the long run, but 29...Ke7? was a funny and unusual oversight: after 30.Bd3 White forces a trade of bishops, after which the win is trivial.
One last game, to return to where we began this post. Boris Gelfand found himself on the white side of a 3.f3 Gruenfeld against Artyom Timofeev (switching his allegiance from where it was in the match with Anand), and while his position generally looked very good it seemed he was always a tempo or two short of consolidating it into a real edge. However, he received a sort of revenge for the earlier loss to Williams, a kind of poetic justice. That game, as mentioned above, was a Dutch: 1...f5. So where did Timofeev go wrong? Answer: with ...f5 - and not once, but twice! 29...f5?! gave White an edge, and 31...f5?? (after 30.exf6 exf6 31.b3) cost Black a piece - in Gelfand's time trouble. Timofeev seemed to have missed the simple 32.Nf2, and after 32...Re8 33.Qd3 it was time to resign - 33...Re3 34.Qxe3 is a free rook, while other moves will soon leave him down a piece for absolutely nothing.