San Sebastian: a unique format, and a GM blogger present!

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage

The San Sebastian tournament is well on its way, with its unique format: players facing each other with two boards and two sets of pieces at the same time. One of the participants is GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who found the time to return to his blog at ChessVibes and posted not one but two new posts!

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, watching (and playing!) in San Sebastian - you can read his impressions so far at his ChessVibes blog Twice as much fun and he also wrote a post about his chess in the past months, called Recap of some up and downs | All photos © David Llada and Anastasiya Karlovich

EventDonostia Chess Festival | PGN via TWIC
DatesDecember 28th-January 5th, 2011
LocationDonostia-San Sebastian, Spain
System64-player knock-out, matches of two games played simultaneously
PlayersGashimov, Mamedyarov, Ponomariov, Moiseenko, Bacrot, Naiditsch, Dominguez and Vachier-Lagrave are topping the list
Rate of play2 hours for all moves + 30 seconds increment

The tournament in San Sebastian takes place from the 28th of December till the 6th of January. The program includes A, B, C tournaments and a blitz competition. It is devoted to the famous chess tournaments which were held a century ago in San Sebastian - the first edition won by José Raúl Capablanca.

By Anastasiya Karlovich

One hundred years later the tournament has a prize fund of 100,000 Euro (the first prize being 20,000 Euro + an electric motorbike!) and a unique format. It is a knock-out event with some modifications, as the players who get eliminated will keep playing in a parallel group. And the main novelty is that, following David Bronstein's idea, matches consist of two games of classical chess played simultaneously. This way no one has the advantage of playing the first game with the white pieces.

The idea came up when Professor Ignacio Palacios Huerta, from the London School of Economics (specialized in fields like Games Theory, Psychology applied to Economics, and Decision Taking), gave a speech during the Grand Slam Masters Final, in Bilbao 2010. Ignacio shared he results of a very interesting research, in which he demonstrated the importance of having the white pieces during the first game in a chess match. According to his research

when two players play a series of chess games against one another, alternating who plays with the white pieces, the player who plays with the white pieces in the first game – and so plays with the white pieces in the odd games – wins more matches than the player who plays with the white pieces in the even games.

And, the more levelled these players are, the more relevance this phenomenon gains. More info can be found here. The organizers have christened this combination of Bronstein's old idea and Palacio's modern analysis as "Basque System".

A unique format in San Sebastian: playing two games at the same time

27 December

During the opening ceremony a friendly match between French and Basque players was held. Each team had six participants. The Basque team was represented by Felix Izeta, Unai Garbisu, Alex Franco, Mikel Huerga, Santi Gonzalez, Patrice Etchegaray and French team consisted of Sebastian Maze, Fabien Libiszewski, Eric Prie, Alex Delorme, Christophe Philippe, Jean Baptiste Mullon. Despite the tough struggle both matches were drawn.


The main organiser of the tournament in San Sebastian GM Felix Izeta was playing on the first board for Basque team and won both games against French GM Sebastian Maze.

28 December

According to the rules, only 64 players could participate in the A-group. However, 79 players showed up and so the last 15 participants of the A-group were decided during a preliminary round. You can find the results here.

29 December

The second round (which followed the first preliminary round) appeared to be not an easy one as most of the players faced the new system for the first time in their lives. After the second round only 32 players, who won their matches, continue their participation in A-group while the others keep on playing in the B-group.

Most of the rating favorites won their matches but some of them had to play the tie-breaks (two simultaneous games with 15 min+10 sec per move and in case of draw, two simultaneous blitz games with 5 min+3 sec and an Armageddon game in case of drawish result of previous matches) in order to pass.

Ruslan Ponomariov, one of the top seeds in San Sebastian

3 matches were decided during blitz games: Felix Izeta defeated Eric Prie, Christian Bauer won against Sarkhan Gashimov and Fabien Libiszewski was stronger in the match against Daniel Almeida Toledano. On the second board Shakhriyar Mamedyarov took the upper hand against the local player IM Inigo Argandona Riveiro (2381 Elo). Even so the match went difficult for the player from Azerbaijan as the first game, where he had white pieces, was drawn in 16 moves and the result of the second one was unclear till the end.


After the matches some players shared their impressions about their games and the “Basque system”. (Please note that you can read Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's impressions so far at his ChessVibes blog Twice as much fun and he also wrote a post about his chess in the past months, called Recap of some up and downs!)

Former World Champion GM Antoaneta Stefanova:

Actually it was quite funny to play two games against the same opponent. I can say that I enjoyed it. It went well from the beginning. I was playing fast and put some problems to my opponent.

After the match my opponent Stefan Loeffler said that in both games he mixed up moves in the opening. Still it’s difficult to make conclusions – only one round has passed. I’ve never played a tournament like this before, so I expected to be more confused with all those actions - playing, writing moves in different score sheets, pushing buttons on two clocks... Loek van Wely told me he had once played a tournament on six boards against the same opponent. So since we have only two here it can not be so difficult. And, after playing blindfold games in China nothing can scare me! As long as I can see the board I can play ten games at the same time.

GM Sergey Fedorchuk (Ukraine):

I'm participating in such a tournament for the first time. I think it’s a very unique tournament and nothing like this has ever happened before. I felt mixed-up at the beginning of the match. I lost my concentration but later on I found the rhythm. I was lucky to play with not a very strong opponent today because I’m afraid it would be more difficult for me. During the game I was confusing moves, score sheets… I was writing wrong moves, correcting them and of course it distracted me. At least I pushed clocks correctly. I was playing very fast at the beginning thinking that my time will finish very soon but in fact two hours are enough even for two games. I believe it’s just a new type of game, just a different one if we compare it to “normal” chess. Some players can play better rapid chess; some of them play better blitz, so there will be some players who can play better with this format as well. Some poker players open many tables on their computer screen. They play simultaneously everywhere and can control the situation.

GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan):

I’m playing with such format for the first time. It was very difficult to play today but it was an interesting experience for me. In the first game I made a huge mistake. In fact I underestimated my opponent at the beginning. In the second game I had the black pieces and had to change queens and play the endgame. I believe White had very good chances even in the end.

I had a chance to follow the games of the other players and their matches seemed to be also tough. Vugar Gashimov won one game easily but had a hopeless position in the other one.

I think that it doesn’t matter here if you play Black or White. Only if someone manages to make a draw with Black than he might have some advantage.

I think it was a good idea to organize a tournament with such system, especially during the holidays. Players can enjoy playing chess and have some rest here as well. I think this Basque system is very competitive. I like this format and that’s why I’m here. The idea was created by David Bronstein and if I’m not mistaken he was playing crazy matches against Mikhail Tal on eighth boards simultaneously. I don’t know if this format can be popular in the future but in my opinion to organize this event is already a big success!

We hope to include games in the next report about San Sebastian.

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