The friendly match between Russia and China has its opening ceremony on Sunday, and will be an important pre-Olympiad warm-up for both countries. The players in the Russian teams especially will be fighting not so much against their old Cold War allies, as among themselves to stake a claim for a place on the Olympiad team for Istanbul 2012.
The tradition of holding friendly matches between the Russian and Chinese chess teams stretches back over a decade to the first match in Shanghai in 2001.
Alexander Motylev, Sergey Rublevsky and Alexander Grischuk back in 2001 in Shanghai - when Russia emerged victorious | photo from Motylev's archive - see Dmitry Kryakvin's historical report for more
The 2012 match will already be the 8th time the event has been held, and it promises to be a fierce fight. The teams are as follows:
Average rating – 2712.2
Boards 2-5 of the men’s team recently played in the Russian Higher League, with only Nikita Vitiugov, who finished third and qualified for the main Russian Championship, able to be satisfied with his performance. They therefore have a lot to prove to the new Russian men's team coach Yury Dokhoian.
Average rating – 2687.2
The Chinese team is essentially the strongest they could post, with 18-year-old Yu Yangyi one of the new hopes of Chinese chess.
The women’s teams are even more closely matched, with the absence of the Kosintseva sisters balanced by the lack of World Champion Hou Yifan in the Chinese line-up:
Average rating – 2447.8
Baira Kovanova and Natalia Pogonina will be looking to build on their success at the women's Higher League. The Russian women’s coach is Sergey Rublevsky, and Alexander Kosteniuk posted the following photograph of the team’s preparations at Twitter:
Average rating – 2453.4
The schedule is as follows:
1st July: Arrival and opening ceremony
2nd-6th July: Classical chess – each player will play every member of the opposing team once. The time control is 90 min/40 moves, then 30 min until the end of the game, with a 30 sec increment from the first move.
7-8th July: Rapid chess – this time each player will play every member of the opposing team twice. The time control is 15 min until the end of the game, with a 10 sec increment from the first move.
The overall winner of the event will be determined by the sum of match points for both events combined.
Motylev in China last week
Some of the veterans of Russia – China contests like Vladimir Malakhov, Alexander Riazantsev and Alexander Motylev have been in China recently playing in the Chinese League. Motylev in particular showed the Russian team what they need to do by beating their top player, Wang Hao, in a spectacular miniature:
The Black king has tried to hide on a7, but it turns out not to be the safest square on the board! Motylev’s 19.Bxa6!! brought the game to an abrupt end. Taking with the bishop is of course an instant mate (Nc6), but after 19…Kxa6 White can calmly castle, 20.0-0, and the threat of the rook coming to a1 is lethal. If e.g. 20…Ka7 21.Nc6+ Bxc6 22.Ra1+ it’s mate again.
The games will start each day at 15:00 local time (e.g. 12:00 London, 13:00 Paris) and can be watched live at the Russian Chess Federation website (links in blue lead to live games).
Russia take on China in St. Petersburg