A sunny week in June
Early June I played in the Swiss Rapid Chess Masters, a well organised one day tournament in Pfaffikon on Lake Zurich. I received a pleasant surprise on arrival with a gift of a bag of Swiss chocolates waiting for me in my room. The weather was really good and I decided to take a walk into town for dinner and had some nice fish overlooking the lake.
The tournament started the next day. The time control was 7 minutes each plus 7 seconds every move, an odd time control I've never played before. First prize was a state of the art road bike worth 10,000 Swiss Francs and that attracted quite a strong field. I started reasonably but things went wrong when I lost to Ivan Ivanisevic after catching him in an opening trap. Overpressing against Daniel Fridman in a position I should have been trying to force a draw and then a crazy game with Vadim Milov in the penultimate round left me on 5.5/8 going into the last round. I was White against a young local player but my opening went all wrong and I was soon completely lost.
A disappointing end but I feel I never really got to grips with the unusual time control, something in-between rapid and blitz, and by the end of the tournament was exhausted. However the venue and location were pleasant and I hope to be back again next year. Final standings:
An early start the following morning and I took various trains to Lucca, the city in Italy in which I lived for a couple of years. Lucca is a fantastic walled city and the walls were built 500 years ago. The local government were setting up various activities to celebrate the anniversary and it was a great excuse to come and visit old friends.
The view from the train made the early start worthwhile
The Swiss tournament was on Monday. I travelled on Tuesday and gave lectures on Wednesday and Thursday. I was a bit nervous as I hadn't spoken much Italian recently but the guys seemed to enjoy it and I started to feel the language flow. There are so many beautiful buildings in Lucca and the lecture took place in Villa Bottini, a beautiful palace inside the walls.
Outside Villa Bottini
Wednesday evening we had a blitz tournament where I avoided too much embarrassment, winning it with 7.5/8 and picking up some wine, a salami and a couple of books. Thursday was our second wedding anniversary and Sue had managed to get the day off work and travelled over to meet me. It had been extremely hot, sunny weather but soon after Sue arrived there was a huge thunderstorm. Luckily Sue managed to avoid it but we saw some drenched passer-bys who got caught in the villa's grounds, who pounded on the doors for sanctuary.
And inside. Every room had a beautiful ceiling
I was actually supposed to give a simul Thursday evening underneath the walls but the storm brought a tree down and made it inaccessible and therefore the simul was cancelled. A shame but it meant I could take the evening off and have a relaxed celebratory dinner at a restaurant recommended by one of my old friends, Luca.
On Friday afternoon the Lucca tournament started. I was top seed but with only 5 rounds and five GMs it's always going to be a challenge. In fact I was very lucky to win the first round after going into a drawn endgame. With these weekend tournaments the first game of the day is always very early and so I decided to revert to the Dragon against my Austrian opponent. He went down the old main line where he picks up a pawn but Black gets good compensation. I couldn't remember all my theory and made a slight inaccuracy but in the end managed to win the queen and rooks position.
The afternoon game I played a more convincing game against an experienced Italian IM, Antonio Martorelli and so stayed on 100% and was joined by three of the other GMs with Alberto David, the second seed, half a point behind. I was lent a bike by one of the chess club members and Sue borrowed one from the hotel. As both Sue and I finished relatively early we decided to cycle over to Nozzano, the village I lived in, and to the fantastic restaurant there, Il Borghetto. A mixed antipasto was huge and even I was unable to eat my risotto primo. A race back the 10km or so to beat another storm brewing and it was time to get ready for the last day of the tournament.
I had Black against GM Joseph Sanchez from the Philippines. I decided to play the Pirc and we repeated a game of his from a few years previously before I deviated on move 11. I sacrificed a pawn for a strong attack and he had to give up the exchange and a pawn to fend off the mate leaving him in a very hopeless ending. I was pretty pleased with this game.
Meanwhile the two GMs on board two had had an extremely quick draw and with draws on boards three and four I had a half point lead going into the last round. Normally I would expect a GM half a point behind the lead to go for a win against an FM, even with Black, but with Bogdan Lalic's reputation I wasn't surprised to see that game agreed drawn in around five minutes. I played for 20 moves but clearly had no advantage and so offered a draw which Nikita Maiorov accepted, leaving me in outright first on 4.5/5.
This tournament was FIDE Rated and so I picked up 3.5 rating points, every little helps. Sue had a disappointing tournament but weekend tournaments are very tough when you work such long hours during the week and at least she finished with a nice quick win. Final standings.
My deepest thanks to everyone who organised my week in Lucca and made me feel so welcome, in particular Riccardo, Luigi, Luca and Angelo who picked me up from the station, lent me his bike and drove Sue and I to Pisa Airport in the pouring rain Sunday evening. I hope to be back very soon!