Archive for category Tournaments

From the Arctic Circle

The World Cup was held in a small hotel near Tromso airport: given the eye watering prices in Norway it was suggested to me by a FIDE official that the room rates would have been excessive in the better hotels in the centre where the Olympiad will be sited, although this seemed to be contradicted by the amounts journalists were paying to stay there. The local organisers and staff were helpful, but the big problem was the food which was not good at all in the hotel, and with only a few shopping centre eating spots as other options nearby, the culinary situation was undesirable. I was one of the players who suffered with an unpleasant stomach bug which meant I was often forced to skip meals before the games. Of course playing whilst sick is an inevitable occurrence for any professional player but it was annoying at such a big event.

The chess organisation could have been better, the only announcement of note at the player’s meeting was that each individual tiebreak match would begin their second game 10 minutes after the finish of the first as at the previous Cup. This was then abruptly reversed in an announcement just before the clocks were started for the first tiebreak. The airport style security checks before entering the playing hall were also unwelcome, especially in combination with the absurd zero tolerance. The checks were in any case of dubious efficiency as journalists were often not checked and could mix freely with the players inside. If FIDE want to genuinely combat computer cheating, the key first move is to introduce some serious penalties rather than the pathetic ‘punishments’ that have been handed down to those that have been caught so far. A minimum ban of 5 years with the possibility of fines in addition to the loss of prize money and the stripping of all FIDE titles would be a good start.

I wasn’t thrilled to be paired with an underrated Chinese player Wan Yunguo in the first round, and disappointingly missed a chance to press in the first game. After playing well for a while I made an odd oversight:

The second game was also drawn and we headed to tiebreaks. I was initially doing well, then in trouble in the first game before it finished in a draw, but I won the second straight out of the opening, my preparation being one positive in the event.

In round 2 I had a pleasant edge in the first game against Yuriy Kryvoruchko but missed endgame chances although given the short time control it was an easy error to make.

In the second game I had good prep again and we agreed an early draw. I was also pressing in the third game but my opponent resisted typically robustly and I couldn’t convert. Several commentaries suggested I was outplayed in the next game (Chess Today was an honourable exception). I can only imagine they didn’t actually look at the game as in fact I just self destructed in a comfortable position due to a very bad error which is still rather painful.

There has been a lot of talk about how much luck is required in this event,it seems to be popular to consider the KO format particularly random, but I’ve never really found this to be the case in any of the matches I played. You decide your own destiny by how you react in the critical moments for better or worse. It is true that some matches are extremely close and the loser can reasonably feel unfortunate but this applies to very few games.

It was rather depressing for me to have to head back so early, but I have been impressed by the inspired pairing of Susan Polgar and Lawrence Trent in the commentary room whilst watching at home. However there frequently seems to be a problem with the clock times which don’t display accurately.

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Dortmund Win!

I was happy to be invited to play at the Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Meeting again after a few years break; I had played there quite regularly since my debut as long ago as 1992. After checking out my pairings before the event I wasn’t very optimistic about my chances , many of the opponents had proved tricky adversaries in the past and I had an additional Black game which rarely helps. However expectations can be misleading, and the first round proved to be my only setback, as I squandered a decent position.

I haven’t tried the main line of the Berlin for some time, but decided to give it a go in round 2. This seemed to catch Andreikin by surprise and I got a healthy clock lead and an extra pawn albeit one that was not easy to convert.

As I had spent some time working on the Berlin I decided to give it a try with Blackagainst Caruana, a risky decision as he is well prepared on the White side. Although he hit me with a strong novelty I managed to respond well, and he then blundered when settling for perpetual was a sensible option to allow me a fairly easy win.

After an uneventful draw with Peter Leko, in my next game against Wang Hao fortune smiled on me:

After the free day I was Black against Naidtisch who played in typically aggressive style in a QGD.

The next day I won against Khenkin who erred in the opening after which things went smoothly.

Up to this stage Vladimir Kramnik was also in good shape and we were frequently tied for the lead, however in this round he was beaten by Andreikin and I had a point lead.

I played a solid draw with Meier the next day whilst Kramnik played a lengthy game with Caruana. It looked although Fabiano had saved a draw with a determined rearguard action but he made a bad blunder in the final timecontrol so my lead was cut to half a point before the last round.

Fortunately I was able to steer the game towards a draw with kramnik to an early repetition without many dramas and secure a very satisfying tournament victory!

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Paris – St. Petersburg Rally

It was a pleasure to participate in The Alekhine Memorial. An unexpected treat at the the Paris opening which was held in the Louvre in fine style was a private guided tour of a few of the highlights including some up close personal time with La Joconde. No reproduction or photograph in any way does this portrait justice. I can highly recommend the Ruinart champagne they were serving, they also had some rather spectacular tomato based snacks that were supposed to be squirted directly into your mouth; not all the guests seem au fait with this advanced snack delivery system and were walking around looked like they had stumbled off the set of Dexter.

The venue was a well appointed marquee in the Tuilleries and coinciding as it did with the first good weather of the year this was a very pleasant place to play. The juxtaposition of art and chess continued in St. Petersburg as the venue there was St. Michael’s Castle, a branch of the Russian Museum which houses the portrait gallery. We took a tour on the evening of Opening Ceremony – the sequel, one rather lovely touch was in the modern section of the gallery where many notables were on display such as Stanislavski and Gagarin – but you had to look up to find the latter, they had placed him way above our heads!

The tournament got off to an unexpectedly good start for me as I won my first two games. The first win was a bit fortunate as Vishy didn’t seem to do a lot wrong but suddenly ended up in a hopeless endgame. The next day I was happy with my game vs. Svidler. My next two games were less cheering; I had a double Black and was under pressure from the start, Gelfand showed fine technique for which he deservedly received a special prize. I escaped by a miracle against Fressinet. The next few rounds saw missed opportunities as I let an edge slip vs. Vitiugov and failed to convert an extra piece against Aronian and missed some chances vs. Vachier Lagrave. I was on the worse side of the draw against Ding Liren, but despite this still had some hopes to win the event if I could win with White against Kramnik in the last round. Strangely the same last round pairing I had in the LCC and will have in the upcoming Dortmund event. I managed to come up with a new idea against the Berlin variation and had a nice position but overestimated my chances and he grabbed the advantage before the time control. Again I was the last game going and was unable to hold the draw.
A disappointing end and I felt I should have made more of my opportunities but with a number of long games averaging over 56 moves it was a demanding event.

From Gibraltar to Baden-Baden

Battle on the Rock

I would have been pretty happy with 7.5/10 before the event, but it shows how hard it is to win open events these days that 4 players managed to amass 8 points. One of the special appeals of the Gibraltar tournament is the varied array of chess themed evening entertainment. One new feature was the Battle of the Sexes, watching this with a glass of wine in hand ( I recommend replicating this bit at home) was rather entertaining. See for yourself.

Ice Palace

Winter Wonderland in Baden-Baden

I haven’t had a lot of big tournament invitations in recent times apart from Gibraltar and the London Classic but this year is shaping up more promisingly, starting with a strong event in Baden-Baden whose powerful club team has won the Bundesliga for the last 8 years, I was happy they fulfilled their long time plan to organise a tournament. My games were interesting although few ended decisively; I finished the event on a high getting back to 50% with a late win with Black against Fabiano Caruana.

The tournament hotel was the exceptional Brenners Park hotel and spa in Baden-Baden, a beautiful spa town by the Black Forest. The weather has not been nice anywhere during this extended winter, but this can be forgiven in Baden-Baden which is a winter wonderland with the snow on the ground. The event ran very smoothly, particularly for a debut effort, and thanks are due to Hans Walter Schmidt, Sven Noppes , Christian Bossert and Dr. Markus Keller for quality of organisation.
I should also mention the efforts of my fellow chess.com blogger Lawrence Trent who manfully put in long hours in the commentary room.

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London Classic Revisited

After my debacle last year, I approached the London Chess Classic with a certain amount of trepidation, but after a good start winning a couple of decent games against Gawain Jones and Judit Polgar things went considerably better. However, I lost to Magnus Carlsen, where I made one of the least excusable errors in chess allowing my time to run very low in a pleasant position thinking the position was too safe to lose. As some players in the candidates have also found the 40 moves in 2 hours time control without increment means you have to handle your clock responsibly or pay the penalty. I then scored a rather fortunate victory versus Viswanathan Anand, but it was nice to beat the World Champion! I slipped up against Luke McShane in a lengthy struggle, generally well played by both players but I have highlighted a couple of key moments where we went wrong.

It is great to have such a special event in London and just as pleasing to see the evolution of the Chess in Schools Charity which supports the event, making massive strides with an ever increasing number of coaches and pupils involved. Malcolm Pein has also pulled off a great coup in securing additional funding of £689,000 from the Education Endowment Foundation.

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Bunratty Masters Champion!

To bring things up to date, and because for a change I won a chess tournament, I am writing about my most recent event and will wrap up the LCC, Baden-Baden, and Gibraltar soon. I garnered a lot of enjoyment and chess education in weekend tournaments, and it is sad to now see few interesting events of this type in England. Fortunately the scene is much more vibrant in Ireland and they are very welcoming to English players, so I was happy to make my second visit to Bunratty for their event.
Although the tournament has a big social side ( one of my opponents almost fell off his chair during our game, and needless to say it wasn’t due to shock at my move) the chess is quite serious, and due to the magic of sensitive boards rather than trying to decipher my Guinness stained scoresheets evidence of my play remains. I have made a few comments to my first 5 games (round 6 was a bit brief!)
In round 1 I was happy to adjourn to the bar with a point on the board fairly quickly, admittedly more due to luck than judgement.

The next morning game with Mark Orr I have annotated in a little more detail, his rook ran into trouble in an unusual manner.

Round 3 I was lucky again as I gambled in an unpromising ending and got rewarded for it.

In the stamina sapping third game on Saturday I managed to avoid major errors, which is often good enough at that stage.

On Sunday I achieved a more promising moves played to drinks consumed ratio as I scored a swift victory in the morning and halved out in the afternoon.

Thanks to all involved with the event especially www.blackthornetransport.co.uk ,Gary O’Grady and Gerry Graham for their great efforts.

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Eurocup in Eilat

Not long after the London Grand Prix I was heading for the Eurocup this time held in Eilat in Israel. This made for a grueling and expensive journey which may explain why the number of teams participating fell from 62 in 2011 to 34. Unfortunately the organisation was unimpressive; the playing hall was much too small causing my chair to be knocked on a regular basis by players returning to their boards. It was also rather warm which is rather more serious than it used to be bearing in mind the draconian ECU dress code.
The hotels were very pretty but despite paying in full and in advance, the hotel tried to expel at least four of our group from our rooms several days prematurely and before one of my games I was sufficiently concerned about this possibility to pack our belongings in case the hotel followed through on their threats.
The team wasn’t favoured by the disgracefully bad pairing system that was totally lacking in logic and fairness and considerably worse than the poor effort they had used previously. It is unclear why the ECU is so reluctant to remedy this long standing problem.
Still there are no good excuses for a bad result and I didn’t play as well as would have liked.
On a brighter note, Tara and I stayed on as tourists for a few days afterwards and had a good time visiting the Old City in Jerusalem, floating in the spectacular Dead Sea, and spending a relaxing day in Tel Aviv before heading home.

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Istanbul Olympiad

I was back in Turkey in time to re-use my visa from the team competition, this time for the Olympiad, held not far from the airport. The hotel and meals were quite good compared to recent editions, although the state of the hotel internet was a problem that was never fully resolved. The teams in the WOW hotels were lucky to be able to walk to the venue although there were limited facilities around and those who had to bus it to the chess might have had a more interesting location.
The playing hall was quite decent from a player’s point of view although the temporary toilets which were brought in for the event were at first insufficient in number and none too pleasant. I was shocked to see only 3 VIP rooms and would hope that a minimum of 1 room per esteemed guest would be the bare minimum in the future.
Spectators had it rougher; there were very limited possibilities to view the games outside the hall. If you stashed your phone and ventured into the playing area it was only possible to see the first 10 boards in each section. Even making out the scores in other matches was impossible as the boards showing results were not large. Spectators have had a raw deal at Olympiads for too many years now and for such a showpiece event it needs to improve.
Plenty has been written about arbiters at this event but it seems to me that fewer are required as with the incremental time control there is little for them to do, and many of them seemed incapable of resolving simple problems like three fold repetition or dealing with a faulty clock. The ludicrous Zero Tolerance was made even more ridiculous by the rounds routinely starting over 5 minutes late.
Another area of concern is the excessive charging for hotels; and other dubious money making measures such as charging for press passes which were also in evidence. Of course the ever increasing size of the event, whilst great for the game, doesn’t make it easy for organizers to balance the budget, but making it too expensive to attend is counterproductive from everyone’s point of view as people simply choose not to come.
Moving onto the chess, the team lost a good opportunity to build on a good start with slip ups in rounds 8 and 9, this missed opportunity against the Philippines was irksome:

This game was followed by an abysmal loss to Le Quang regrettably the 2 key matches which cost the team,. Several of my team-mates were also having a frustrating time, although Nigel Short carried the team with an excellent performance.
I am very grateful to a number of individuals who generously donated money to help fund the team, and I was happy to demonstrate the game below at a small gathering with them after the Olympiad. There are a lot of computer lines but the power of the machine in these types of position is rather humbling.

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Eternal Endgames

The 10th edition of the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival, by far the strongest yet was as ever a tremendous event and it was great to hear that Brian Callaghan had received an OBE for services to tourism and chess in the New Year Honours List. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

After my London debacle it was good to complete a solid tournament, I had to work for it as game after game ended up in tricky endgames. Strangely with White I three times ended up on the better side of rook and opposite coloured bishop endgames, every time I had the dark squared bishop. I managed to win 2 although in probably the most promising I was foiled by careful defence by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

With Black things were less happy as I managed to survive rook and knight endgames by the skin of my teeth against Zoltan Almasi and Viktor Bologan in the last 2 rounds ( I finished sub-optimally with a double Black). To continue the sense of déjà vu both games began with the same Lopez system . I was so busy I didn’t even get to check out the apes and although our room was ‘RockSide’ this year they didn’t swing down to visit the hotel. I wouldn’t be terribly distressed by some shorter games in the future.

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Less Than Classic Performance in London

The LCC has established itself very quickly and was as usual well organized. The addition of an extra player proving an inspired decision, as well as evening up the colours, the concept of having the player not playing that day involved with the commentary proved very popular both with spectators at the venue and large numbers of internet followers.

Even now with some distance from the debacle, it’s hard to explain exactly what went wrong during the chess, I don’t remember such a total wipeout for a long time. The opening positions in my 5 losses should have been quite playable but I made far too many errors thereafter.

I hope things will improve in the New Year!

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