Bluebaum Wins Xtracon Open, Shirov 2nd
GM Matthias Bluebaum won the Xtracon Open in Elsinore, Denmark. He had the best tiebreak of the seven players finishing on 8.0/10. GMs Alexei Shirov and Bassem Amin finished second and third respectively.
First held in 1979, the Politiken Cup has grown into one of the strongest open summer tournaments. Although the Danish daily newspaper Politiken hasn't stopped sponsoring the tournament, there is a new primary sponsor starting this year: Xtracon A/S, a Danish IT company with a chess-playing owner. Hence the name was changed.
The tournament, a ten-round Swiss-system tournament played over nine days, took place July 23-31 at the Konventum Helsingør, the venue in recent years. A total of 398 players from 26 federations participated, including 27 GMs and 11 IMs. The top seeds were GMs Julio Granda Zuniga (PER, 2699), Laurent Fressinet (FRA, 2677), Alexei Shirov (LAT, 2674), Aleksey Dreev (RUS, 2664), Bassem Amin (EGY, 2654), and Jon Ludvig Hammer (NOR, 2652).
At the halfway point, the tournament had a surprising leader. 51-year-old IM Erik Zude of Germany was the only player to start with 5.0/5! Before giving the game, let's start with a puzzle. Imagine you're in a bit of time-trouble, you're attacking, it feels winning. In the diagram position, you quickly go 30.Rc3, right?
What an amazing defensive move there for Black! This was analysis, and in fact, Marin got an opportunity to play a similar ...Qd7! in the game, but missed it.
This fight wasn't without mistakes, but Zude surely deserves credit for going for this sacrifice and continuing to play for a win with perpetual in hand against a grandmaster .
In round seven, Egyptian GM Bassem Amin grabbed the sole lead; he would keep it for another round. One of his wins was the following, against GM Sebastien Mazé. It was surprising to see that the French player allowed the “Irish pawn center” (the isolated triple g-pawn), but in reality, that was not the reason for his troubles. It was a one-move blunder.
Bassem Amin. | Photo courtesy Xtracon Open.
With one round to go (remember it was a Swiss with ten rounds!), there was a four-way tie for first place among GMs Matthias Bluebaum, Bassem Amin, Jean-Marc Degraeve, and Jon Ludvig Hammer. These four players drew on the top two boards, and this allowed Alexei Shirov, Jonathan Carstedt, and Mihail Marin to catch them.
Especially Hammer — one of the ten players who finished shared first in 2015 — had an excellent chance to win the tournament outright this time. It must be said that Degraeve was better in other parts of the game, but here the French GM narrowly escaped:
Jon Ludvig Hammer. | Photo courtesy Xtracon Open.
One good move away from winning clear first. Very literally a costly mistake. https://t.co/QuZRsfFOP8— Jon Ludvig Hammer ( @gmjlh) July 31, 2016
I was in favor of Xtracon's prizes decided by tiebreak until one of my opponents quit the tourney halfway. #badkarma— Jon Ludvig Hammer ( @gmjlh) August 1, 2016
Degraeve's win over Dreev in round nine was awarded the brilliancy prize, which was sponsored by New in Chess. Brilliancy prizes are a dying tradition that should really be resurrected at more tournaments. Organizers out there who are reading this: If you want more exciting chess, why not promise a nice prize? (Disclaimer: It helps when picking good games for a report too! )
Shirov eventually came second on tiebreak. He remained undefeated with four draws and six wins. One of his victims was Dutch legend GM Jan Timman, who plays very little chess these days. Still, he keeps returning to Elsinore. His 7.5/10 was decent this year. He can always relay on strong strategic chess based on decades of top-level play; unfortunately his tactical slips have become reliable as well:
Shirov posted on Facebook that he had “lots of luck.” It's a nice and humble statement after a successful result, but it's even nicer when a colleague tells you it wasn't just luck! GM Ivan Sokolov commented with some wise words: “You were a monster of a practical player... Having (at least) three lives. (...) Players “deserve” their “luck.”
Alexei Shirov came second in Elsinore. | Photo courtesy Xtracon Open.
Let's finish with a good game by the tournament winner.
Where there are winners, there are losers. Remember our article about GM Julio Granda Zuniga reaching 2699, the highest Elo of his career, at age 49? One point shy of 2700, the Peruvian lost 26.9 points in the Benasque Open and another bunch (not calculated yet) in Elsinore, where he scored a 2490 performance.
2016 Xtracon Open | Final Standings (Top 20)
|6||Jon Ludvig Hammer||2652||50.5||47.25||8|
|11||Allan Stig Rasmussen||2504||54.5||48.75||7½|
|17||Evgeny E. Vorobiov||2584||52||46||7½|
(Full final standings here.)