Chess in a Casino: Melkumyan Wins in Graz
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Earlier today Hrant Melkumyan won the first edition of a new open tournament in Austria: the Casino Graz open. The Armenian grandmaster finished on 7.5 points, a full point ahead of GMs Markus Ragger of Austria, Li Chao of China, Andrei Istratescu of France, Kivanc Haznedaroglu of Turkey, Zdenko Kozul of Croatia and IM Ankit Rajpara of India.
All photos @ Marija Kanizaj courtesy of the Casino Graz open
The Casino Graz Open took place February 14-21 in Graz, the capital of Austria's province of Styria. With about 250,000 inhabitants it is Austria’s second-largest city.
Many chess players are also poker players, and so some of the participants of the Casino Graz Open must have felt at home while playing their games inside the casino! It was an elegant venue for a chess event, and although the participants even got some free poker lessons on the first evening, in the end it was all about chess.
The first edition attracted 145 players (88 in the A group and 57 in the B group) from 30 federations, including 10 GMs and 11 IMs. The top seed was Li Chao of China, who also played in the recent Gibraltar event, followed by Andrei Istratescu and then local hero Markus Ragger.
The latter started very well, and could be found at the top of the leaderboard from the very start. After four rounds, he was the only player left with a 100% score. One of his wins was against Yago de Moura Santiago, an IM from Brazil who seemed to be on top of recent Grünfeld theory, but after the opening things quickly went wrong for White.
But in round 5 the fun was over. Ragger lost to Indian GM Parimarjan Negi, who thus took over the lead. White seemed well prepared for this particular sideline in the Caro-Kann, and won a very convincing game:
In round 6 Negi played the white pieces again, and faced Li Chao. The opening was a Petroff - an opening that has a drawish reputation, but may great games have been played in this opening, including this one! Taking such a pawn on a2 is alway a gamble and perhaps the Chinese was inspired by the surroundings? A few moves later not one but two bishops were “caught” on the queenside. White ended up winning one of them, but not the game.
After six rounds there were five leaders on 5.0/6: GMs Parimarjan Negi, Emre Can, Hrant Melkumyan, Markus Ragger and Axel Bachmann. Melkumyan was the only one to win his game on Wednesday, on top board. Apparently Ragger didn't feel like defending his slightly worse pawn structure and instead went for a middlegame with a rook and a pawn for two minor pieces, but as soon as the bishop on b2 got into play, White got a decisive advantage.
In the penultimate round, Negi and Istratescu played a very interesting draw. In a well-known position of the Accelarated Dragon (Update: Negi told Chess.com that something went wrong with the move-order, and so White was one tempo down from normal positions), the French grandmaster sacrificed his queen for just two minor pieces, similar to the recent game Kramnik-Ezat, World Team Championship 2013 (analyzed deeply by IM Arthur van de Oudeweetering in the January issue of The Master's Bulletin). Negi couldn't find a good way to play for a win (if there is one!) and had to accept a quick move repetition.
Melkumyan increased his lead to a full point thanks to the following endgame grind:
In the final round Melkumyan managed to keep his one-point lead; he drew with IM Ankit Rajpara but board two, between Li Chao and Ragger, was also drawn. Negi fell out of contention for the main prizes as he lost to Zdenko Kozul:
And so in the end best Indian player was not Negi, but IM Ankit Rajpara. And there was a third participant from the country of Vishy Anand who also attracted attention: 14-year-old Veerappan Aravindh Chithambaram. He became known when, just after turning 14, he won the Chennai Open, held alongside the Anand-Carlsen match in November.
In Graz the young FM scored 6.0/9 and a 2498 performance
Besides the main event, there were a number of “social events”. On the evening of the first round (Valentine's Day!), all participants were invited by the Casino Graz to a sparkling wine reception and as mentioned earlier, everyone who was interested could play, or get an introducion, to poker. On Tuesday a free one-hour tour through the city of Graz was organized, and there were several “Player's Nights” in a local bar. All in all, this event sounds like a lot of fun!
Casino Graz Open 2014 | Final Standings (Top 30)
|4||1||GM||Li Chao b||CHN||2697||6,5||2613||2613||-5|
|10||21||FM||Veerappan Aravindh Chithambaram||IND||2381||6||2498||2498||14|
|15||11||IM||Barbosa Evandro Amorim||BRA||2459||5,5||2451||2451||0,4|
|18||14||IM||Santiago Yago De Moura||BRA||2451||5,5||2394||2394||-4,9|
|19||45||Nguyen Thai Dai Van||CZE||2175||5,5||2385||2274||31|
|24||27||FM||Hauge Lars Oskar||NOR||2310||5,5||2294||2294||-2,3|
|29||37||FM||Huber Martin Christian||AUT||2232||5||2308||2308||15,3|
(Full final standings here)