Team Norway continues its rise among the top nations for chess, as today reigning Norwegian Champion GM Jon Ludvig Hammer went wire-to-wire in winning the 43rd Rilton Cup in Stockholm, Sweden. The tournament took place from December 27, 2013 - January 5, 2014.
After leading by a full point going into today's ninth and final round, Hammer played a placid 10-move draw as White against GM Sergey Volkov to secure the tournament title with 7.5/9. The win of course follows his friend and countryman, GM Magnus Carlsen, winning the world championship last November.
(Photo to right courtesy of Hammer's Facebook page and copyright Paul Truong)
Hammer also vaults into the Norwegian #2 position; his 19.9 rating gain gets him to 2645, many points clear of longtime Norwegian leader GM Simen Agdestein (he also gained 13 points in London in December). It should be mentioned that Agdestein, who is semi-retired, has also had a resurgence as of late, winning a tournament last summer in Barcelona and another in Oslo just before Carlsen was triumphant in India.
GM Jon Ludvig Hammer (l) against an apparently newly-shorn GM Nils Grandelius (photo courtesy Jan Wikander, official site)
Speaking to Chess.com, the tournament winner said his match preparation with Carlsen "absolutely" inflluenced his recent success. "Training with the best and for a prolonged period of time is very valuable," Hammer added. "But sometimes it's tricky to make your training efforts shown in tournament play. I'm very happy with the way I've capitalized on the training."
Hammer won six and drew three while posting a performance rating just south of 2800. He correctly intuited a long-term exchange sacrifice in the opening round, which left White on his heels the whole game.
Perhaps seconding Carlsen rubbed off on him, as again in round two he didn't go for much out of the opening. But just as in round one, a pawn on the seventh left his opponent without active play. A third straight win in round three followed. Hammer's first blemish came in round four with a draw against Swedish normally-dreadlocked GM Nils Grandelius.
GM Nils Grandelius (photo courtesy Wikipedia)
Like Carlsen and his insistence on playing out drawish positions, Hammer played until the 50-move rule was invoked, attempting to win R+N versus R (though perhaps many grandmasters would still attempt to win this against fellow GMs).
None of the other 3-0 scores managed to win in round four, so Hammer maintained a share of the lead with other top players such as GM Ilya Smirin, GM Michal Krasenkow (winner of the last Rilton Cup) and Grandelius, among others.
In round five Hammer offered a pawn for activity and eventually got the best of former Russian Junior Champion GM Daniil Lintchevski.
Still not clear of Grandelius (both men stood on 4.5/5 as Grandelius beat Smirin with a resounding attack), round six finally pushed Hammer into sole first position. He played as he had done all event - a Reti-type structure as White (he used Nf3 and early c4 systems in all but the final short draw) and an awful bind for his opponent. This time Hammer gave two pawns to make GM Alexey Goganov suffer, and if you'll excuse the pun on his name, the brutal domination of the c8-bishop and king's rook made those pieces "Dead Souls."
Grandelius coud only draw Krasenkow in round six, but the Swede caught back up in round seven with a win over former Olympiad teammate GM Tiger Hillarp-Persson.
Round eight was essentially the deciding round. Grandelius tried to play like Hammer, sacrificing an exchange in the middlegame. But unlike at this past world championship match, two queens were indeed better than one, as GM Sergey Volkov showed.
The door was thus ajar for the Norwegian, and he capitalized, albeit in a different manner than in his other contests. Krasenkow sacrificed a piece rather than defend a worse ending, but Hammer showed defensive aplomb and eventually coordinated his forces enough to find the pleasing 51. Rxf5, which either wins the black queen or, after a series of checks, mates on h5.
None of the other players on 5.5 were able to win (except Volkov), meaning Hammer's 7/8 and last-round match with Volkov made the short final draw completely acceptable to Hammer (due to Volkov having White in round 7 and 8, Hammer, despite leading, even got White for a second round in a row).
"Winning a tournament is never an ordinary thing - especially when it's as strong and with as great traditions as the Rilton Cup," Hammer said via his Facebook page. "Sometimes everything goes right. This was one of those moments. I was well prepared. I was ready to fight. But there's that unknown x-factor you need on your side. In Norwegian we call it 'flyt'. I'm not sure what the English equivalent should be."
Hammer and Carlsen, two longtime friends (photo courtesy Hammer's Facebook page)
Hammer is also coming off his win at the London Classic Open event in December, and a strong showing at the 2013 World Cup, where he upset GM Sergei Movsesian and GM David Navara in the two opening rounds. In between he was mostly preparing Carlsen for the match with GM Viswanathan Anand, and he was widely presumed to also be his second during the match. He was at least cheerleading!
"I'm not sure what my next tournament is, but it will be in March. Either Reykjavik or the European Championship in Yerevan. Before that I'll take a well-deserved vacation after some extremely fun, successful and tiresome few months."