Ivanchuk leads Capablanca Memorial halfway

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Ivanchuk leads Capablanca Memorial halfwayVassily Ivanchuk, who won the 2009 Kings Tournament, couldn't play in Bazna this year as he had already signed for the 45th Capablanca Memorial. Halfway through the tournament in Cuba, the Ukrainian leads the top group, ahead of Nigel Short and Leinier Dominguez. IM Robert Ris plays in the open group, and reports from Havana.

By IM Robert Ris

The start of the tradition began in 1962 when revolutionist Ernesto "Che" Guevara could give the tournament a financial impulse. At that time he gained control over the National Bank and became minister of Industries. As has been said, Che used to be a fanatic chess player himself and liked to compete with strong local players.

In 1965 Che left the country to initiate other revolutions in Africa and Latin-America. Fortunately, the continuation of the tournament was never in danger, despite the tense relations with the USA due to the outbreak of the Cold War. After an absence of almost three years, Fischer accepted to participate in its 4th edition. However, he couldn't obtain a visa and hence it was decided he would participate from New York by telephone. His games took much more time and so the American ran out of energy towards the end of the tournament, when he eventually lost to Geller and Kholmov, enabling Smyslov to take clear first. Since then Cuba has been considered as one the most chess-friendly nations worldwide, where a lot of top player have executed their moves.

The popularity can still be seen among its inhabitants. Before the tournament I went together with my friend IM Ruud Janssen for a couple of days to Santiago de Cuba, the second largest city of the country located on the eastern part of the island. Walking around the town we noticed people playing our royal game in parques and on the streets, something very unfamiliar to many other countries. People really breath chess in Cuba and are not afraid to play a game or two with their foreign friends.

Capablanca Memorial

Locals in Cuba play chess wherever they can...

Capablanca Memorial

...and happily meet the foreigners...

Capablanca Memorial

...though this old man preferred his chess pieces to be used for checkers!

This year the organizers even managed to increase the strength of the Elite Group. With the participation of Vasily Ivanchuk (winner in 2005, 2006 and 2007), Nigel Short, Evgenij Alekseev, Ian Nepomniatchi (reigning European Champion), Leinier Dominguez (winner 2004, 2008 and 2009) and Lazaro Bruzon (winner in 2002) a spectacular event has been once more guaranteed.

The first part of the tournament was mainly dominated by Ivanchuk. The Ukrainian GM doesn't seem to be upset being surpassed on the latest rating list by his countryman Eljanov. In Havana, Chucky seem to have his nerves under control and is on 4 out of 5, a clear point ahead of Nigel Short, whom he beat in the very first round. The Englishman had to sacrifice a piece and even got 4 pawns in return. However, Chucky's bishops proved to be much stronger and could easily collected them all.

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Short vs Ivanchuk at the start of the game

Ivanchuk's superiority over his colleagues was proven in the other rounds as well. In fine manoeuvring battles he outplayed Alekseev and Nepomniachtchi, while in his black game against Dominguez he seemed to have the better of the play for a long time, before settling for a draw.

The tournament is being held in Salon Internacional of the 5-star hotel Habana Riviera, where the heat seems to influence the players. Especially the invited players from abroad seem to suffer, which logically results in bad blunders. A typical example is the following one, where the current European Champion overlooks a simple tactic.

Nepomniachtchi-Short Capablanca Memorial Something has gone wrong for Black in the middlegame and he has to fight for a draw now. 29...Rb3 Play could have been simplified by 29...Bxe5 but after 30.Rxe5 Rxc3 31.Rxe6 Rxc7 32.Rxa6 Rb7 33.Ra4 the rook ending is still quite unpleasant, as White will bring his king to the b-pawn. Therefore, Short decides to play for a cheap trick. 30.Rf3? Falling for the trap. With 30.Re1! White keeps his extra pawn. 30...Bxe5 and now Nepomniachtchi realized the pawn on f7 is untouchable due to back rank mate. Hence, the Russian went for 31.Rc8+ (31.Rfxf7? Rb1+) when the players agreed to split the point.

In subsequent rounds Short managed to add two wins to his account against Alekseev and Bruzon. Until now he and Ivanchuk are the only players who managed to win a single game. Cuba's number one Leinier Dominguez still has to get his motor running and so far only produced five draws. Bruzon and Nepomniatchi both only lost once, while Alekseev is probably the most unhappy about his minus two performance so far.

Besides this Elite group, another closed GM tournament and a big open is being held to please the other Cuban players as well. Halfway the tournament, Peruvian GM Emilio Cordova and Cuban GM Yunieski Quesada Perez are sharing the first place with 3.5/5 in the Premier group. In the Open section Cuban IM Jose Angel Guerra Mendez still has the perfect score, followed by Danish IM Karsten Rasmussen, who in the next round will meet each other.

Capablanca Memorial 2010 | Elite Group | Round 5 Standings
Capablanca Memorial 2010 | Elite Group |

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