The penultimate round of any chess tournament can often include more drama then the actual last round as chessplayers try desperately to give themselves the best chance of winning the tournament or ensuring a healthy placing and prize money. The front runners believes that by winning they can guarantee himself at least a share of first place while being a member of the chasing pack and not winning feels like being in the chasing group of a marathon watching as the Kenyans pull away. To lose in the penultimate round is a sickening moment as you cannot help feel your tournament is now over, ruined, even if all your previous rounds have shown excellent play. Going into the penltimate round Adhijeet Gupta held a half point lead over his opponent Nils Grandelius and top seed Shakh Mamedyarov. For the pack behind them only a win would be enough to give them a chance of a high placing. Added to this the subplots of possible GM norms or just the wish to finish with two wins leaving you with a good feeling as you end the event.
The early drama appeared on board four as Gabriel Sargissian was looking for equality and maybe a bit on the black side of a quiet Spanish opening against Italian GM Francisco Rambaldi.
Black has equalised easily and has a good choice of moves. It seems that white is threatening the d-pawn but black does not have to play the meek 19,..Be7 but can just move his queen to c7 or e7 planning to meet 20,Bxe6, fxe6 21,Rxd6 with 21,..Nd4!
This simple tactic ensures the d-pawns safety, Sargissian must have then noticed the extra possibility of playing 19,..Nd4 immediately.
The idea is simple, after 20.cxd4 black will play Bxd5 and after 21.exd5, then 21,..e4 wins back the material with an attractive position.
What Armenian grandmaster Gabriel Sargissian failed to notice is that white is not forced to capture on d5 and can just play 21.Nbd2 developing and overprotecting the e4 square.
Sargissian realised to his horror that any normal retreat of his lught squared bishop allowed white to play 22.dxe5 and even win the pawn on d6 to leave white two clear pawns up in clearly winning position. Sargissian was clearly upset as he realised the damage he just caused, to blunder in the penultimate round in under two hours leaving him with no chance of a decent tournament result, his tournament forever ruined by one careless move cannot be described easily.
The next game to see drama early was the pairing of Italian GM Sabino Brunello with white against Dmitry Andreikin in a modern opening where black was neglecting development and king safety for desirable postional factors such as the exchange of his bad dark squared bishop and an early f5.
If black can catch up in development and find a safe haven for his king he can be richly rewarded for his ambitious play. The flip side is that if white manages to open the center quickly he can win the game with a direct attack. The everlasting battle of static versus dynamic factors is one of the reasons why chess is such a beloved game, both are valid and correct yet the evaluation changes from position to position.
It is probably on the above position that white should have take matters into his own hands by the move 15.g4. Black will probably have to retreat his bishop as the variation 15,..hxg4 16.hxg4, Rxh1,17. Rxh1,Bxg4 walks into 18.Nxe5! White would be happy to open the center in such a forceful explosive way.
The above variation does not win and the sequence of moves played by the amicable Italian GM 15.Qe3,Nf7 16,Nd2, Qg5 are certainly not losing but black after exchanging queens is in no more danger. Probably the first real error came about in this position as Brunello tried to make something of his dwindling initiative.
The move 18.f4 has noble intentions of opening up the e-file but in a few moves it is black who is penetrating and using the e-files for his own aggressive purposes, in a difficult position Brunello made a fatal error with 23.Bxh5 missing 23,..Bd3 with instant resignation.
On board 2 the battle of two of the highest rated players in the event did not dissappoint as Richard Rapport and Shakh Mamedyarov both needed to win to try and catch the leader Gupta. What started out as a quiet Q-pawn fianchetto opening ended up as a fianchetto variation versus the Pirc with black having little trouble out of the opening. The debate will continue as whether the very original approach of Rapport is the correct one since he rarely plays the opening ambitiously and is often his own worst enemy but if you are under 20 years of age and over 2700 then you should be allowed some latitude!
The above position looks a little normal for the creative former child prodigy from Hungary, nobody would think Rapport has done anything remotely unusual.
Hmm, A white queen on g5 and knights on h2 and a2 !? Ok, Rapport has arrived and his alter ego has left the building! The game continued with Mamedyarov managing to play the freeing move d5 and exchanging pawns in the center. The first big decision happens in the following position.
Black has various reasonable choices in the above position but Mamedyarov plays the “natural” 21,..Bf5, it is the move you want to play as black developing your last minor piece but many a player would see the long diagonal with the menacing bishop on g2 pointing at the unprotected pawn on b7 and wonder whether caution is maybe the better option but Shakh Mamedyarov has built a reputation as an uncompromising player with a great feeling for the initiative and a tactical gift.
If you were watching this game at your local chess club you may be thinking, ” well white has an extra pawn, it is a good passed pawn and white has two good looking bishops to help shepherd it through later, why would black opt for such a position?”
One small move, 24,..Ra7 and you see the black rook swing from the ineffective home square a8 to the front end of the black army on e7 and you realise that Black has gained a lot pf piece activity in the last few moves. One does not get to number 18 in the world by “blundering” pawns on b7!
How to continue as black? There is a strange temptation to play 27,..Qe8 and achieve Alekhine’s gun, it looks impressive and maybe you are planning to play 28.g4,..Be4 and reach this position with an im[pressive array of pieces on the e-file.
maybe even after the seemingly forced move 29.Bb2 to play the pleasing 29,..Qa8! with a look that says, ” My rook was pretty average there but my queen is boss!”
There were plenty of choices for Mamedyarov to consider apart from Alekhine’s gun and he chose the forcing 27,..Ne4 which after 28.Bxg7,Kxg7 29,Nh4,Nc3 30.Nxf5+,gxf5 31,Rxe6 left him with a reduced number of pieces to utilise his remaining activity,
Should black play the move that fixes his broken pawn structure with 31,..fxe6 or try to find some life left in the position with Rxe6? Mamedyarov chooses the “active” approach of course, piece activity over pawn structure is his preference!
In the above diagram black has placed his pieces with the maximum activity as possible with his last move being 33,..Ne4. If Rapport wants to play on trying to win he has to play some small “ugly” (passive) move like 34.Ra2 to protect f2 but instead he plays 34,Bxe4,Qxe4+ and black is certainly still ok. Mamedyariv still has to be careful that he allows some endgame where the extra c-pawn would prove decisive.
Ok, after white offered a queen trade with 36.Qd1 the reply was 36,…Rd6! black can even go into a rook ending a pawn down, why? Because he has activity!
Richard Rapport knows about activity and in the above postion does not really consider 38.Rb1 as an option but instead plays 38.Re1 with his own activity but after 38,..Rxb3 39.Re5 the game was drawn in a few moves with a worthy creative battle between two of the tournaments highest rated players.
The view from directly outside the the tournament hall.
What of the battle on board one between Abhijeet Gupta and his pursuer half a point behind Swedish GM Nils Grandelius? Sometimes the best drama has to be left till near the end since it may be the most important part of the story! Grandelius started with a typical anti Grunfeld move order of 1.Nf3 and 2.c4 but Gupta still played the early d5 typical of the Grunfeld. A normal looking position was reached with the addition of the rare 7.h4,h6 moves.
Normally here white tries 10.d3 with the “evil” intention of reaching the standard position 10,..Nc6 11.Be3 and here without the moves h4 and h6 the standard Bd7 is supposed equality but with the two moves loses a move to 12.Qc1!
Grandelius instead went for the direct 10.d4 and after 10,..cxd4 11,Be3 was faced with a choice after Gupta played 11,..d3!?
There is a temptation to play 12.Nd4!? with he idea that after 12,..dxe2 13.Qxe2 the black queen has to move and white will place a rook on the c-file and claim “good compensation”.
It is always easy to play like this in analysis, maybe even in a minor tournament but in the second last round of an event where losing would ruin your final placing it is a hard decision since the compensation may slow dissipate or you may even win your pawn back and only end up in an equal position anyway. Grandelius keeps the balance with 12.Ne1 to recapture on d3 with his knight and keep his pawn structure intact.
The game then continued at a slower pace with black having no problems. The queens came off and so did many other pieces until a rook and knight ending was reached with a draw the firm favourite as the result. Then the rooks came off and this was reached.
With white to move the committal 35,f3 was played and after 35,..Ke5 it became apparent that white had to be a bit careful but everything was still under control.
As white to move it is the dreaded 39th move, little time on the clock and many critical moves to choose from, 39.f4 looks best in the cold hard light of day but many a player would also take on h5 with 39.gxh5 but it is a small error putting Grandelius on the edge of the brink. With one move to make Grandelius plays 40.Nc6+ and Gupta could have pushed him closer to the edge of teh brink by Kd6 but plays the natural looking 40,..Kd5 instead.
Look closely at the above position with white to move, what do you choose? It is whites 41st move so both players have a bit of time to think as the second time control has begun. Many players go get coffee, stretch their legs, go to the toilet and just take a deep breath! Many are happy that their position still feels ok and a sense of calmness takes over. You try to find the objective truth of the position and begin the battle again.
I personally do not know what Nils Grandelius was thinking as he contemplated his candidate moves and I did not want to ask him straight afterwards as you will soon see why it was a traumatic experience although I was very impressed with his demenour as he discussed the game with his opponent afterwards. There seems to be only one move to draw 41,Ne7+ forcing the king away from the e5 pawn. 41,..Ke6 attacking the knight seems to win a a pawn since the pawn is also under attack and then the knight would continue attacking the pawn on h4 but the following line seems to hold, 41,..Ke6 42,Nc8,Nxf3 43.Kg3, b5, 44,Na7, b4 46. Nc6 for example. This sequence is by no means the only choice available for black but we do know that the move chosen by Grandelius is very forcing and into an ending that brings fear to even the strongest of chess players, the dreaded pawn ending! I say this because pawn ending always look simple, people expect string players to play them perfectly and they can be incredibly complex. Not only that but when you go into a pawn ending you tend to burn all your bridges, you have jumped out of the plane and then you look around to check if the parachute is well fastened on!
White has just played 41,Nd4? allowing the exchange of knights into the pawn ending. Can you see the end? Do not turn your silicon monsters on! Appreciate the complexity of the position, look at all the various pawn races, count with fingers and toes if necessary!
Only one move for black wins in the above position, 43,..Ke5!
Ok, in the above position black has two winning moves both of the f-pawn moves lead to victory, can you see the end yet?
Black has two clear winning moves and Gupta chose 42,..Kf3 but the point is that after the natural 43.Kd3,Kg3, 44.Kc4,Kxh4, etc Black wins by the famous one tempo as both queen on corresponding corner squares that is reminiscent of a James Bond film or dare I say it an average film based on chessplayers!
Now it is easy to calculate and you can see the final picture.
Nils was able to smile after his game, how many chessplayers can do that!
With this result Abhijeet Gupta moves into the final round with a full one point lead so the worse result is equal first and it is a deserved result as the Indian grandmaster has been around the top boards throughout the event, never been in serious danger and has always been willing to come in and share his thoughts with the viewing audience. His score of 8/9 is certainly an outstanding one!
The other story of the round was the possibility of Tania Sachdev achieving her second GM norm with a round to spare but having black against Sergei Movsesian is not an easy task with a sizable rating point difference in view. What was worst was that Movsesian repeated an unusual opening that Tania Sachdev had lost to previously in a tournament in Pamplona five years ago. You have to imagine the situation, you need a draw but are black against a vastly stronger player who has avoided all your preparation, and to make it worse has replayed a variation that you have lost previously five years ago and he has been studying it that morning on his own laptop, bah!
The game itself continued strangely, Tania repeated her previous game and when the possibility to lunge forward with 15.g4 like in the previous loss appeared the Armenain grandmaster declined the option and played the more modest 15.0-0.
Was it a case of bluff and double bluff? Movsesian repeating the game expecting Tania Sachdev to deviate and Tania Sachdev calling his bluff because she had studied the position well or just did not see another better move then 14,..0-0 and repeating? Either way the position in the much quieter middlegame was much safer for a person who only needs a half point for the GM norm.
Critical seems to be this position after white played 33,Rf1
Black played the tricky and probably good 33,..b6 that invites 34.Nxa6 but fails due to the line 34,..b5 35.Rd4, Rxa6 36.Rxd8 and back can choose between which pawn on a3 or e4 to take!
Therefore, Movesesian backtracked with 34,Nb3 but found himself a pawn down after 34,..b5 35,Rd4,Rxd4 36Nxd4,Rxe4+
Black even tried to make some progress to win the game but a draw was agreed a few moves later in a position where the extra pawn was of little significance but it allowed Tanya Sachdev to move two thirds of the way towards the coveted GM title!
The long game between GM Gawain Jones and the local IM Kristian Holm ended in a win for the Englishman.
What do you mean we have no more scoresheets?? Ok, possibly it was more like “Chinese or Mexican afterwards? Two of our hard working arbiters that without their long thankless hours the tournament would not go ahead.
To see the full list of results from round nine please click here.
To see the pairings of the final and tenth round of the Reykjavik Open please click here.