Carlsen survived a crazy endgame against Bjerre | photo: Mark Livshitz, ECU
Magnus Carlsen escaped with just two minor pieces against Danish GM Jonas Bjerre's queen to help struggling Norway to a second win in a row, while top-seeds Azerbaijan are in freefall, symbolized by Teimour Radjabov losing in 19 moves. The leaders with two rounds of the European Team Chess Championship to go are Germany, England and now Serbia, while in the Women's section Bulgaria beat and overtook France and Azerbaijan.
Alojzije Jankovic and Dragana Nikolovska are commentating on the European Team Championship action.
Germany went into Round 6 of the European Team Championship as the sole leaders, and Keymer, who celebrated his 19th birthday by climbing to world no. 17, continued that climb by grinding out an 85-move win against Richard Rapport—the first game Romania had lost in Budva.
What is team captain Jan Gustafsson feeding Keymer? | photo: Deutscher Schachbund
The win took Keymer up to world no. 14, but it could have been much shorter, and sweeter, if he'd found the stunning knockout blow 22.Nd4!!. "You see one move and you finish the game immediately!" he said wistfully the next day.
That wasn't enough for team victory, however, since Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, who for the previous four European Team Championships had led the German team, levelled the score for Romania by beating Dmitrij Kollars. The 47-year-old talked about how new-found sponsorship was set to make Romania a chess powerhouse, though he had some regrets that it had come too late for his career. His comments sparked some debate online.
That team draw for Germany allowed England to catch them in the lead with a 3.5-0.5 demolition of the Netherlands. Nikita Vitiugov led the way with a King's Indian that went like a dream when he got to break through with 19...f4! against Jorden van Foreest.
David Howell and Luke McShane ground out wins to complete the rout.
So far, so good for Vitiugov on his England debut | photo: Mark Livshitz, ECU
That meant Germany and England met in round seven, but when they played out four tense draws, it gave a team a chance to catch them. Serbia, whose new recruits Alexandr Predke and Alexey Sarana have both performed above 2800, seized the opportunity, with Sarana scoring the only win, over Bogdan-Daniel Deac. Once again Sarana is demonstrating that he's one of the world's best players precisely when he has the white pieces.
France, Armenia, and Greece all won in round seven to move to within a single point with two rounds to go.
Two teams who should be on that list, according to seedings, are Norway and, above all, Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan, with Teimour Radjabov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov on the top boards, were the clear favorites to win the 2023 title, but have failed to pull out of the death spiral that began when they lost to Denmark in round one.
A loss to Croatia followed, with Radjabov beaten by Ivan Saric, but that was nothing compared to what followed in Round 6, when Radjabov found himself resigning against 23-year-old Greek GM Nikolas Theodorou on move 19—while Theodorou still had one hour and 28 minutes on his clock.
It's not often you get to demolish a player as strong as Radjabov | photo: Mark Livshitz, ECU
That shocker is our first Game of the Day, with analysis by GM Rafael Leitao.
Once again that loss was maximally painful for Azerbaijan, since the remaining games were drawn. A 3-1 defeat at the hands of Moldova in the next round and it's hard to imagine the favorites for such an event ever having played as badly.
Carlsen has played every round despite his opponents' ratings meaning each game was high risk, low reward | photo: Mark Livshitz, ECU
8th seeds Norway have also underperformed, on paper, but their pre-tournament seeding was very much based on having the world no. 1 on top board. It's hard to carry a team, and Carlsen's 5.5/7 has not been smooth-sailing.
Valentin Dragnev was a move or two away from creating a sensation, while Magnus Carlsen's game against 19-year-old Jonas Bjerre was a wild ride. At first everything went the former world champion's way, with a sacrifice of the exchange (a rook for a knight on c3), as strong as it was natural.
Carlsen confessed, however, that he briefly went on to lose the plot:
I just had one incredibly weak phase there where somehow I didn’t trust my instincts. I had so many good choices and I was just over-thinking.
That wobble was combined with some inspired play by Bjerre, who found the brilliant 33.Nf5!!.
The huge threat is Qc3+, hitting the rook on b2 and the king on f6, and there are no happy solutions for Black. Carlsen confirmed Vladimir Fedoseev's hunch when he joined GM Alojzije Jankovic on the live broadcast:
I thought at least I can give the queen, and I should be fine, but I’d missed Nf5 completely. Now I’m probably… not probably, now I think I’m lost!
Carlsen found himself with just two minor pieces for a queen, but he felt his opponent made a "conceptual" mistake just before the time control, and soon the world number-one had found a path to safety. That game is our second Game of the Day.
Asked if it had been a tough day, Carlsen replied:
No, we’ve won two matches in a row now, so that’s good. Obviously for me it was not a great game, but at least I saved it and it won us the match, so still good!
A win for 21-year-old IM Tor Fredrik Kaasen on the bottom board gave Norway a 2.5-1.5 win over Denmark and now, for the first time in 18 classical games, Carlsen may finally play an opponent rated 2700 again. Unless either player is rested, he's set to take on his world championship second, Dutch GM Jorden van Foreest in Round 8.
Bulgaria are led by former Women's World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova | photo: Mark Livshitz, ECU
The women's competition had looked like a two-horse race, until Bulgaria beat both horses, defeating Azerbaijan 2.5-1.5 in round six, then France 3-1 in Round 7. On both occasions 20-year-old 2023 Women's World Cup runner-up Nurgyul Salimova notched up a point, as part of a three-game winning streak.
That left Bulgaria a point clear of France and Azerbaijan, while Poland (who beat Germany) and Greece are only another point off the pace.
19th-seed Greece continues to dazzle, with 23-year-old IM Stavroula Tsolakidou leading the way.
Tsolakidou in fact seems to have met the requirements for a seven-game grandmaster norm. It's not just the results, but the games that have been hugely impressive, with the win over Hoang Thanh Trang a perfect punishment of one inaccuracy by her opponent.
The podium is within touching distance for Greece, but we have two intense rounds to go in both sections, with no runaway leaders and everything to play for.
Laurent Fressinet's France are just one point behind the leaders | photo: Mark Livshitz, ECU