Review: Reggio Emilia 2007/2008

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
Reggio Emilia 2007-2008Having read mostly chess improvement books and opening manuals lately, I was delighted to see a new publication in the best tradition of chess writing: a serious tournament book. Strangely, it's a tradition that seems rather unpopular these days - a very unfortunate development indeed.

The tournament book tradition has given us many classics, e.g. Bronstein on Zürich 1953, Alekhine on Nottingham 1936 and, more recently, Jan Timman on Curacao 1962. Nowadays, tournament books are a rare guest among the countless opening guides, chess tutorials and personal game collections. Still, a serious tournament report has many advantages over these other genres.

If a single game is like a newspaper column, and a game collection is like a short story, a collection of all games from one tournament is, in my view, like a full-grown novel, with different story-lines and intricate plots, small personal dramas and highlights, seemingly trivial details and an intricate plot leading up to a satisfying or thought-provoking finish. I would like you to see Mihail Marin and Yuri Garrett's Reggio Emilia 2007/2008, published by Quality Chess, as an intriguing and well-written novel, rather than 'just another' chess book on the market.

On of the characteristics of a good tournament book is that all games are seriously analysed. As Garrett, the tournament's technical director, writes in the introduction, in the current book, 25 out of the total of 45 games are analysed by at least one of the combatants, 3 of them present the views of both players and the remaining 20 have been annotated by GM Mihail Marin.

One of the very nice things is of this is that quick, 'boring' draws are also seriously analysed. This is something you don't see in regular game collections or in New in Chess magazine, but I've always found it very instructive to see how the big guys make these draws, especially with such an outstanding explicator as Marin commenting them:

Korchnoi-Almasi Reggio Emilia (2) 2007

Reggio Emilia 2007-2008How realistic are White's chances of retaining even a tiny edge? In the absence of knights, there is no way to take advantage of the relative weakness of the d6-square. Speaking about "ifs", under certain circumstances a knight jump to f6 would have been devastating. The way it is, I see only one (highly unrealistic) possibility: exchange all the rooks in order to avoid any form of counterplay, install the queen on e4 to dominate both wings, and advance (by some miracle) the b-pawn to b5, in order to put the black pawns placed on dark squares in potential danger. Admittedly, there is no way all this could happen.

16.Bxb7 Maybe Korchnoi's initial intention was to keep control of the long diagonal with 16.Qf3. However, in this case he would have lost control of another important avenue, the d-file, after 16...Bxe4 17.Qxe4 Rad8 18.Rad1 Rd7! followed by ...Rfd8. This would also have led to plain equality.

16...Qxb7 17.Qe2 Rfd8 18.Rad1 Qc6 19.f4 g6 20.Qg2 This is the only way to try to activate his position, but the almost complete simplifications that follow lead to a dead draw.

20...Qxg2+ 21.Kxg2 h5 22.Kf3 Kf8 23.Ke4 Rxd1 24.Rxd1 Rd8 25.Rxd8+ Bxd8 26.h3 Ke8 27.g4 hxg4 28.hxg4 Kd7 When this position was reached, Korchnoi said in a loud voice, "What can I do?" A draw was agreed.

Of course, the tournament not only consisted of solid draws, but also of some very spectacular and beautiful chess. And again, Marin takes us by the hand towards a crystal-clear understanding of the games.

Almasi-Marin Reggio Emilia (5), 2008

Reggio Emilia 2007-200828.e6! White sacrifices his central pawn to clear the e5-square for his knight and make the e-file available for his rook. Black's contorted piece coordination, which was quite functional in the closed position before Almasi's breakthrough, will soon lead me to defeat. (...)

28....Qxe6 29.Ne5 c6 To tell the truth, I was still optimistic at this point, especially since, judging from his physical reaction, I knew Almasi had overlooked this defensive resource. My pleasant state of mind was not altered by his next strong move.

30.Bd2!! I would have enjoyed playing one of my favourite type of defensive positions - an exchange down - after 30.Nxg6 hxg6. Then Black has practically no weaknesses and his structure is much better than White's. Moreover, if the black knight reaches the e4-square, White would be in trouble.

In this fragment, we see Marin at his best. He honestly describes his emotions yet manages to stay objective all the time, enabling him to explain the technical details without ever becoming boring or repetitive. He also shows a constant concern for the reader trying to make assessments of the arising positions. Marin even comes to the rescue in annotations by the other participants, when they have not been explicit enough to Marin's satisfaction. The very first game of the book is a good example: Zoltan Almasi analyses his victory over Pentala Harikrishna in a solid, but rather clinical fashion, so Marin jumps in at several points in the analysis to add useful comments like "It may seem that Black has regrouped his forces harmoniously and his kingside counterplay is developing without problems. However, White's space advantage in the centre and on the queenside should not be underestimated."

Reggio Emilia 2007/2008 (it started on December 29, 2007) was in many ways perfect for a tournament book. Not only were there a number of world-class players such as Vugar Gashimov and David Navara, but also the legendary Viktor Korchnoi was present, as well as two rising stars from Asia (Pentala Harakrishna and Ni Hua), and of course Mihail Marin himself. As is good practice in a literary review, I won't give away the ending of the 'novel', nor any other spoilers. In the end, however, it's the moves and the games that tell the story of this tournament, not the results.

I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself into this tournament (even though I had never seen a single game from it before), identifying with the players and the problems they were facing during the games, and I suddenly felt it as a real loss that such books are hardly ever written anymore these days. I think a tournament book is the closest a chessplayer can come to identifying with fictional characters, and it's a true pleasure to be able to enjoy the excitement of chess for once without having to think about improving my own game or updating my opening or endgame knowledge. This is simply top level chess entertainment.

Apart from the tournament itself (the heart of the book) there are numerous interesting extras in Reggio Emilia 2007/2008, such as excellent interviews with the players, a history of the Reggio Emilia tournament (including some memorable games from past editions) and a sympathetic description by Garrett of how this particular tournament was organised. Garrett is a keep observer who not only loves to watch the games but also the players themselves:

It was also interesting to witness the cultural differences between the players, ranging from Almasi's assertive comments to the hesitant and modest ones by the Chinese warrior, Ni Hua (...). Gashimov whispered his fascinating comments, which were charcterized by a wildly tactical approach (albeit with that raw touch so typical of the young player who has yet to fully exploit his potential).

I hope readers will consider buying this very charming book; perhaps it will energize publishers to publish more serious tournament reports. It's too beautiful a tradition to be written off already.


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