Greetings from Iceland! I'm back in this lovely country as a participant in the Reykjavik Open, which has just concluded. I'm staying on a few more days as well to participate in the Icelandic Team Championship (for Godinn-Matar).
Minnesota Open - Feb. 15-17
Before the trip I played in our annual five-round state tournament. Attendance was down this year (last year's event attracted 250 players!), but several masters still came out and it proved to be hard-fought at the top. My goals were to qualify for the Minnesota Closed and to gear up for the tough international tournament that awaited me in Reykjavik.
I scored 4/5 (+3, =2) to share first place with Sean Nagle, Victor Adler, and Kevin Wasiluk. My play was decent, and I avoided the time pressure issues that I've struggled with in the past. I liked my win over NM Ocheckuwu Iwu ("Dr. OK"); here's the conclusion:
The Minnesota Closed (Mar. 15-17) will be quite strong, as each of the Open winners qualified, as did Dr. OK and NM Scott Riester. Average rating of the participants = 2386 USCF. Wish me luck!
Reykjavik Open - Feb. 19-27
I took a flight from Minneapolis--->Denver--->Reykjavik on Monday, Feb. 18, arriving in Iceland on the morning of the first round. This year I'm lucky to be staying with a fantastic host and friend, FM Einar Hjalti Jensson. He and his wife Hannah have been making me feel right at home, especially with their excellent cooking! The super-strong English Grandmaster Gawain Jones (who went on to have an excellent tournament, tying for second) is also here as Einar's guest. Aftewards we'll all plan for Godinn-Matar in the aforementioned Icelandic league.
Round 1: A bit jetlagged, so I went with my tried-and-true Scandinavian Defense against Christian Klug (1894). He responded with the aggressive Mieses Gambit (4.b4?!) but didn't follow it up too well (fianchettoing on the kingside is slow). After 20.Bf1? Nde3! the initiative was firmly on my side and I scored the victory. Score = 1/1
Round 2: Crisp win in the 4.Nf3 Nimzo-Indian against another German player, Manfred Herbold (2125). 6...g5?! weakens the kingside too much and cannot be recommended. Score = 2/2
Round 3: The first major test: White (nice to have double White on the only day with double rounds) against the Polish GM Bartosz Socko (2643). I knew Socko to be a versatile player, so I wasn't sure what to expect out of the opening. As it turned out, it was another 4.Nf3 Nimzo-Indian. Play transposed to the Rubinstein Variation, where Socko chose a respected classical continuation with 7...d5, which (I believe) is one of Black's most reliable systems. I didn't achieve anything out of the opening, and when pieces started coming off the board (17...Nxc3, 21...Nxd2, 23...Rxa1), White is already worse. We eventually reached a same-color bishop ending that Socko won in instructive style, fully exploiting my backward pawn on e3. In hindsight, offering to exchange light square bishops with 32.Be2? is highly questionable. The computer thinks I may still be able to save the ending after that, but in the game I underestimated how easily Black could break down my defenses. This will be an interesting one to analyze further. Score = 2/3
Round 4: A win against my first Icelandic opponent, Bragi Halldorsson (2180). He sprang a surprise on me in the opening with the Catalan approach 3.g3, and I resolved to grab the pawn and play ambitiously. White got definite compensation, and I had to spend a ton of time after 13.Ne4 to try and defeuse his initiative. Fortunately he followed up poorly with 15.a5?! (Black has far more problems if White maintains the tension on the queenside) and I wriggled free. Score = 3/4
Round 5: Here I faced another formidable Polish Grandmaster, Marcin Dziuba (2602). He kicked things off with 1.c4 (a surprise) and I defended with 1...c6, inviting an "Anti-Slav" after 2.Nf3 d5 3.g3. I ought to know a lot about this line, as I've annotated many Anti-Slav games for ChessPublishing.com and played it from the White side a fair bit. I elected to try 5...Bf5!?, having previously commentated on the game Pantsulaia - Gunina, Turkish Bank League 2012. That game featured the piece sacrifice 6.Na3 e5 7.Nxc4 (the point of 6...e5 is that 7.Nxe5?? is awful in view of 7...Bxa3 8.bxa3 Qd4) e4 8.Ng5 h6 9.Nxf7!?, but Dziuba played 6.a4 instead. Unfortunately, following 6...e6 7.Na3 I played 7...Qd5?!, which is common in the Anti-Slav but not good here (better was 7...Bxa3). Sure enough, I had even commented as such in the notes to the aformentioned Pantsulaia - Gunina game! Sloppy. Anyways, after 7...Qd5?! Dziuba quickly achieved an ideal attacking position and sent me reeling with 13.Nxf7!, winning a valuable pawn and decimating my king's safety. The rest was simply painful. Score = 3/5
Round 6: I righted the ship in the next round against talented Norwegian youngster Aryan Tari (2263), but it didn't come easy! Actually, this was one of THE messiest games I've played in quite some time. White had a fantastic position out of the opening (Black is under serious pressure after 15.Nf5!), but I completely overlooked the move 24...Nfe4, winning an exchange. After that it was anybody's game, with severe mutual time pressure until move 40 to boot. He offered a draw round about move 30, which I (rather recklessly) declined. I was fortunate that he missed a clear win with 31...b2+, forcing queens off the board. The position after time control was very weird and probably just dynamically balanced in view of White's threat of Qf2-d4; again I was lucky that he missed the saving resource 41...Na5! (threatening a check on b3 if White comes to d4), i.e. 42.Kb2 Nc4+ =. The 13 year-old Tari did extremely well in the tournament and finished second in his age group (beyond the incredible young GM-elect Wei Yi), so keep an eye on him! Score = 4/6
Round 7: After the narrow excape in round six I decided to play more solidly against FM Brede Kvisvik (we played in December in London as well). Even here things got complicated, and I'm sure I was in some trouble after 25...Ra8. Luckily Brede chose a poor simplifying continuation with 28.Rxa7? Rxa7 29.Qxa7 Qxd6 (I was pleased to capture this pawn) 30.Bc5, missing my reply 30...Qb8!, saving the rook. After that my c-pawn was too strong. Score = 5/7
Round 8: My first draw of the tournament, against the newly-crowned Turkish champion, GM Dragan Solak (2603). I had some advantage in this one but allowed myself to get short on time (must break this habit!!). Thus, I opted to take a perpetual where Houdini is showing ~+0.7 for White. However, I must say the computer's plan is far from convincing, and when this semi-closed position opens up Black will definitely have his fair share of the chances. Score = 5.5/8
Round 9: Black against Greece's GM Stelios Halkias, who I also played last year. The gambit continuation featured here (5.g3) is a Halkias specialty, so I had a few ideas in mind. This game also got nuts around time control, though I was pleased with my play up until move 35. Here the retreat 35...Ng8! would have been strong, when my queenside armada will soon be a big factor. As played, after 35...Rg8 36.Rg1 I made an unbelievable calculation error with 36...Bxh3??!, forgetting that White could capture with the king! Unbelievable. Funnily enough, the position isn't all that bad, and I did manage to find an important resource with only seconds left to make time control (40...Qd2!). After this Halkias thought for 20 of his 30 minutes, and we agreed a draw after 41.Rf1 Ne4. White can all but force a draw with 42.Rd1 Qxd1 43.Bxe4 (when I would have gave a perpetual with my queen), or he can gamble with 42.Qe1!? Qxe1 43.Rxe1 Nxg5 44.fxg5 Rxg5, though the latter could easily backfire. Score = 6/9
Round 10: Previous editions of the Rekjavik Open have been nine rounds, but this year they tacked on an extra one (presumably to increase norm chances). I squared off with another American, GM Yury Shulman. Yury and I have played a few times, and I think all the games have ended in draws. The present game was highly intriguing, and even though I lost, I'm fairly happy with my play. The opening (another 4.Nf3 Nimzo-Indian!) didn't yield much, but I sacrificed a pawn for good play and a sizable time advantage. Somewhere around move 30 I started to lose control, but I must admit that Yury handled the game incredibly well with such little time. Another one that will be instructive to analyze again.
Final Score = 6/10
Plenty of ups and downs, but I felt my play getting stronger as the tournament progressed. I gained a few FIDE points to push my rating to 2441 but finished well short of any prize money (who plays chess for money, anyways :) ). Crosstable: http://chess-results.com/tnr72648.aspx?art=4&lan=1&flag=30&wi=821
The tournament winners were GMs Pavel Eljanov (Russia), Wesley So (Phillipines), and Amin Bassem (Egypt), all on 8/10. The tournament was loaded with top-flight Grandmasters, and coverage on the Reykjavik Open website and elsewhere was excellent (Chess.com, ChessBase, ChessVibes, etc.).
I said it last year, but Iceland is a spectacular place to play chess, and they really go the extra mile to make sure the players come back. Mark your calendars for the 2014 version!
Tomorrow I'll play against yet another Polish Grandmaster, GM Grzegorz Gajewski (2650) in the first of three league games. Go Godinn! I'm also planning on doing some sight-seeing, so hopefully I can include some more colorful photos of Iceland in my next blog. Below a sampling of what I have so far.
Harpa, the spectacular playing hall
Boards 1-4 are played on stage, overlooking the harbor. I didn't make it up there this year, unfortunately!
GM Gawain Jones (2653)
Members of Godinn-Matar!
Our host, Einar. He supports the Vikings, obviously!
Ready for Bartholomew - Socko in round three
Chess is everywhere in Iceland
You don't need to know Icelandic to recognize this series
Laugegavegar, the main street in downtown Reykjavik
Beautiful sidestreets abound
Closing ceremony at the Reykjavik city hall
Prize winners on stage