A strange set of parings on the top boards would have been the first thing chess fans would have noticed about the third round for the 31st edition of the Reykjavik open. The two top seeds Shakh Mamedyarov and Dmitry Andreikin were not only missing from the top boards but also from the entire list. They had both taken a half point bye after their early morning exertions on the day the tournament plays two rounds in one day. Sometimes you feel tired and you are happy to take the half point to conserve energy but the most popular reason is to sightsee around the city of Reykjavik and the beautiful surroundings which include the Golden Circle that allows visitors to see some of the mesmerizing landmarks within a short drive of the capital. Quite a few extra players also took advantage of the possibility of a half point compensated by witnessing the unusual and unique sights of Iceland.
This left Hungarian superstar Richard Rapport on board one facing IM Mark Esserman who is also well known for his creative play. The game was basically a reserved colours Benoni which looked quite normal until the Hungarian decided to place his rook on the unusual square of h4.
After the American IM played 15,…f6! threatening to trap the white rook in broad daylight Rapport had the option to bail out by engineering the path back to safety for his wayward rook via e4 to e1 or to try and somehow create some use of the unusually placed rook. Rapport started with 16.Rf4 in order to meet 16,…e5 with 17,Rxf5! with fanstastic compensation.
Esserman cooly played 16,…Qd7 to protect the bishop on f5 so Rapport was forced to initiate some exchanges until he reached the following position.
Here Rapport could have limited the damage by 20.Re4 but the Hungarian is a stubborn man! He played Rh4 forcing the Black queen to retreat and instead of then retreating the rook to e4 plunged in with 21.Bh6!? After the exchange on h6 the white rook is as far away from safety as possible.
After a couple more moves we reached a fairly critical moment.
Bringing the rook back to e4 now would only run into f5 and e4 with impending disaster so the Hungarian former child prodigy played b4 as a pawn sacrifice to give him some pressure and not allow Black to simply run him over in the center. I don’t believe the computers would agree with Rapports decision but as a practical try to give his opponent some problems to solve over the board it was justified in his eyes.
Possibly the critical position was reached after whites 29th move, R4e2 bringing the mischievous runaway rook back home but after all that wasted time Black has had the chance to place his pieces on optimum squares.
After the game Esserman was kind enough to come into the commentary studio to explain his game and give some valuable insight of his train of thought. Here the American IM was originally planning the thematic push in the center 29,..e4 relying on the variation of 30,Nxg5, e3! winning but was put off by 30.Qxg5 where the knight on f3 is still untouchable due to the pin on the “e” file but the cold hearted computer engines who do not have to deal with the tiredness factors of two long games in one day see the forcing line of 31,…Qxg5 31.Nxg5, Ne5! with a crushing looking position.
32.dxe4 is met by d3 and h6 with a winning position for black but to see this after a long day and then to convince yourself the variations all favour you against a 2700 player is not such an easy task!
The game itself went on for while until Esserman forced the exchange of pawns in the center with a view to forcing a draw, the American should still be happy with his play against one of the leading players in the world though.
The other top players certainly did not have their own way with Armenians Sargissian held to a draw versus young Norwegian Kristian Stuvik Holm and Hrant Melkumyan was struggling against local IM Bjorn Thorfinnsson who was clearly enjoying himself in the game.
Leading Bulgarian Ivan Cheparinov did his best imitation of a boa constrictor and squeezed young IM Justin Tan from Australia till his pieces were unable to move. A series of snapshots from the game can be shown to see the dominance.
First the extra space, better pieces where Black is already very passive and virtually trapped against his back rank.
The transposition to the vastly superior endgame.
To the final position after Whites last move Kg2! leaves Black with virtually no moves and more importantly no hope.
No black piece can move and Kb7 allows Bd8.
English grandmaster Gawain Jones won a superior endgame but needed a little help from his opponent Icelandic IM Bragi Thorfinnsson. In the following position he is better but not yet over the line.
Black can guard against the creation of a passed pawn by b5 by Rb8 or various other moves, what he must not allow himself to do is swap off rooks but after 37,…Re5? he was forced to trade after 38.Bd2 and the pawn breakthrough will decide the game easily.
The commentators were very impressed by the demeanor of leading Indian grandmaster Abhijeet Gupta who played his Classical Sicilian Richter-Rauzer variation against the American child prodigy Awonger Liang who is already a 2400+ IM at the age of 12!
You have to imagine the scene, playing against a diminutive, precocious 12 year old and having the following position as black.
Yet Gupta believed not only not in the solidity of his position but the potential for him to cause damage to the white king in the long run, he managed to force whites pieces back slowly and reach the following critical moment.
Black has just played 31…Nxa4 and after 32. Qxa7 he has time for 32,..Nc3+. The very young American does not see a mate after Nc3+ Kc2 so he attacks the rook on h5 with 32.Qf3 but then the hammer blow 31.,,Nc5! is played cutting off the escape square of the white king and threatening mate in two. Although Liang will feel he must have had a promising position at some stage we cannot help thinking that he will have the odd thousand more games to get over this one defeat at the hands of his vastly more experienced opponent.
As the tounament enters the fourth round with games back to their standard one game a day and a late start at 5:00pm allowing many of the players to take a tour organised by the tournament officials around the Golden Circle we can expect the top boards to begin to see the first grandmaster verus grandmaster games. In many ways for the elite players this is where the serious part of the event begins and many exciting clashes are awaited in the following days at the 31st edition of the Reykjavik Open!
Pairings for Round 4 of the Reykjavik Open 2016 can be found here