As Oscar Wilde once quipped, the Icelanders are very smart people. “They discovered America and kept quiet about it!” This quote was one of many little stories that were told by our tour guide on Friday, when over fifty chess players went on the famous Golden Circle tour, which visits Iceland’s main touristic attractions.
In the opinion of the author of these lines, the Icelanders are not only smart, but also quite proud people. They might be quiet about discovering America, or having the oldest parliament in the world, but not inside a tour bus!
Our guide proudly confirmed to us that the first settlers found Iceland by accident, as I wrote before. He also explained that it was one of these early settlers who was the first to set foot on America after losing his way, about five centuries before Columbus did!
One of the first spots the chess players visited was Þingvellir, where from the 10th century onwards the Alþingi, a sort of General Assembly, gathered once a year in the summer and where representative chieftains amended laws, settled disputes and appointed juries to judge lawsuits.
We’re talking about the age of the Vikings, a fine group of people whom we all know from our history classes and who, how to put it, have a bit of an aggressive reputation. Well, our tour guide was less diplomatic about his ancestors: “They sailed towards Europe and without fear for their own lives, they basically killed everyone they met and took their women.” He then explained their strategy: “What do you do in such a case? You take the most beautiful women with you. So after a thousand years Iceland is full of beautiful women, while Europe is still recovering!” The next stop on the tour was another famous spot: the geysers, hot springs intermittently discharging water ejected turbulently and accompanied by steam. In this case it’s glacier water that’s being heated by vulcanic areas under the ground. The stunning Gulfoss waterfall is another result of the glacier water. It is fed by the glacier river Hvítá which comes from the Langjökull glacier.
Fun at the crater: “chess tourist” Anish Giri “posing” for a photo taken by his girlfriend
Like last year, the Golden Circle tour was slightly moderated for the chess players, and so the last stop was the town of Selfoss, the third biggest town in Iceland with about 12,000 inhabitants. There’s not much reason to visit the place from a touristic point of view, except for the fact that Bobby Fischer decided that there would be his final resting place.
Laugardaelir Church Cemetery
Enough tourism, let’s move on to the games! For that we first need to go back to Thursday night, when the 4th round was played. Top seed Anish Giri dropped his first half point, with Black against Bartosz Socko. The Dutchman did get a slightly better queen ending, and for a while he seemed to have fair winning chance, but his opponent from Poland always had enough checks. In any case, Giri seems to be doing well so far.
This cannot be said about his compatriot Erwin l’Ami. On board 2 he was “finally punished”, as he said himself, for his “bad play so far”.
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime (2715) – l’Ami, Erwin (2622)
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4 An interesting… 4…h5 5.c4 …and aggressive sideline! 5…e6 6.Nc3 Ne7 7.Nge2 Nd7 8.Ng3 Bg6 9.cxd5 cxd5 10.Bg5 Qb6 11.Bb5 Nc6 12.0–0 Rc8 13.Rc1 a6 14.Bxc6 Rxc6 15.Nce2 15…Qxb2 “Never take on b2, even when it’s good,” is a well-known saying. At first sight this looks perfectly playable. 16.Rxc6 bxc6 17.Nf4 Qc2 18.Qf3 This position is actually quite difficult for Black already. 18…Be4 The problem is that 18…Be7 fails to 19.Bxe7 Kxe7 20.Qa3+ c5 21.Rc1+–. 19.Nxe4 Qxe4 Perhaps Black should have tried 19…dxe4 20.Qe3 Bb4 21.Rc1 Qxa2 22.Qxe4 0–0 23.Rxc6 Qa4 but still White is clearly better. 20.Qh3 Qf5 21.Qxf5 exf5 22.Rc1 f6 23.Ng6 Rg8 24.e6 fxg5 25.Rxc6 and Black resigned. 25…Kd8 26.exd7 Kxd7 27.Ne5+ Kd8 28.Rxa6 is hopeless.
Ivan Cheparinov couldn’t break Vladimir Baklan’s defence and Wesley So also drew his first game, against Hjorvar Steinn Gretarsson. The Icelander is going for his third GM norm here, and seems to be on schedule!
Ding Liren dropped his second half point, this time against one of the many compatriots who travelled with him to Iceland this year: the enormously talented IM Wei Yi. He’s only 13 years old and like Gretarsson, he already pocketed two GM norms! At the end of this tournament we might have two new young grandmasters.
Wei Yi (China) | Photo Hravn Jökulsson
Hjorvar Steinn Gretarsson (Iceland) | Photo Hravn Jökulsson
Fridrik Olafsson won’t be playing for the prizes, but who cares? In this round he seemed to have a slight plus against 2124 rated Frank Drill of Germany, who must have been at least a bit surprised to hear the draw offer at move 20.
One board below we had another Chinese success story: WGM Guo Qi beat Ukrainian grandmaster Yuriy Kuzubov, who miscalculated terribly.
Guo Qi (2431) – Kuzubov, Yuriy (2622) 8.h4!? 0–0 9.h5 b5 10.hxg6 fxg6 11.Bg5 b4 12.Na4 exd5 13.cxd5 Nd7 14.f4 Nf6 15.e5 Ng4 16.Qd2 Bf5 17.Bc4 h6?? This loses instantly. 18.exd6! hxg5 18…Qxd6 19.Bxe7 Qxe7 20.d6+. 19.dxe7 Qd6 20.exf8Q+ Rxf8 21.0–0–0 and White won.
A small drama occurred on board 20 where Robert Ris faced GM David Navara. The Dutch IM expected his Czech opponent to start with 1.e4. When 1.c4 was played, he saw no reason to deviate from his usual Grünfeld repertoire, but after a few moves he suddenly realized that Navara is one of the biggest experts in the Anti-Grünfeld – for instance, it was in this line that he beat Levon Aronian in Wijk aan Zee in 2012!
Navara, David (2710) – Ris, Robert (2407)
1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Qb3 Nb6 6.d4 Bg7 7.e4 Bg4 8.Bb5+ c6 9.Ng5 0–0 10.Be2 Bxe2 11.Nxe2 Na6 12.Qh3!? Navara deviates from 12.Be3 Qd6 13.0–0 Qb4 14.Qxb4 Nxb4 15.Rfc1 e5 16.Nf3 exd4 17.Bxd4 Rfe8 18.Bxg7 Kxg7 19.Ng3 Rad8 and Black was better and finally went on to win in Aronian-Navara, Wijk aan Zee 2012. 12…h6 13.Nf3 Qd7 14.Qh4 g5 15.Bxg5! When Navara took this pawn instantly, Ris knew he was in trouble. 15…hxg5 16.Nxg5 Rfd8 17.Qh5 e5 18.0–0 f6? This loses quickly, but White has a strong attack anyway. 19.Qh7+ Kf8 20.f4! Killing. 20…exd4 21.f5 fxg5 22.f6 Bh8 23.Qxh8+ Kf7 24.Qg7+ Ke6 25.f7 Kd6 26.Nxd4 Kc7 27.Qe5+ Qd6 28.Ne6+ 1–0
Late in the evening one game attracted some attention. Alina l’Ami, Erwin’s wife, had reached the ending BN vs lone king, and seemed to have some difficulty checkmating her opponent. Luckily she managed, about 13 moves before the 50 move rule would be in effect.
After this round only four players were left with a 100% score: Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Grzegorz Gajewski (Poland) and Yu Yangyi (China). Obviously these four were paired against each other. Just below them, on board 3, Anish Giri and Alexander Ipatov would play. However, instead of preparing for each other they both joined the Golden Circle tour, so they were on equal grounds!
Somehow it seemed that the Golden Circle tour had given Giri extra energy. He beat Ipatov quite convincingly, having an hour more on the clock in the final position.
Giri,Anish (2722) – Ipatov,Alexander (2569)
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 c5 6.Be3 cxd4 7.Nxd4 Ne7
8.0–0 Recently reintroduced by Shirov. 8…Nbc6 9.Bb5 a6 10.Bxc6+ bxc6 10…Nxc6 11.Nxf5 exf5 12.c3 Be7 13.Nd2 Nxe5 14.Bd4 f6 Shirov,A (2706)-Laznicka,V (2683)/ Novy Bor 2012. 11.c4 c5 12.Nxf5 Nxf5 13.cxd5 Qxd5 14.Qa4+ Qd7 15.Qe4
15…Rc8N 15…Rb8 16.Nc3 Rxb2 17.Rab1 Be7 18.Qa8+ Qd8 19.Qxd8+ 1–0 Ponti Lopes,A (2024)-Precerutti,J (1788)/IECG email 2005 16.Na3 Be7 17.Rfd1 Qc6 18.Qxc6+ Rxc6 19.Nc4 Nxe3?! 20.fxe3!?
White has managed to turn the game into a good knight vs bad bishop ending. 20…Rc7 21.Rd3 0–0 22.Rad1 Rfc8 23.b3 h5 24.Kf2 g5?! 25.h3 Kg7 26.Kf3 Kg6 27.Rd7 Bf8 28.Rxc7 Rxc7 29.Rd8 Be7
30.Rg8+! The typical check that reveals good technique. Later on it will be useful that f7 is not protected. 30…Kh6 31.Ra8 Rd7 32.Rxa6 Rd1 33.Ra7
Now we see the point behind White’s 30th move. 33…Bf8 34.Ke2 Ra1 35.Rxf7 Rxa2+ 36.Kf3 Bg7 37.Re7 g4+ 38.hxg4 hxg4+ 39.Kg3 Ra6 40.Kxg4 Bf8 41.Rf7 Bg7 42.Rb7 Kg6 43.Kf4 Ra2 44.Re7
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More about the two GM title hunters: Wei Yi lost against Wesley So, but he did not go down without a fight. Only at move 75, in a rook ending, the Chinese talent had to throw in the towel. Gretarsson, however, held Gawain Jones to a draw!
David Navara dropped another half point, against Tan Zhongyi, and seems to be losing too much ground on his 2700 colleagues.
In this round Hannes Stefansson found a nice, textbook combination to finish his game.
No less than seven grandmaster are tied for first after this round: Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine) Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Yu Yangyi (China), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Wesley So (Philippines), Ivan Cheparinov (Bulgaria) and Grzegorz Gajewski (Poland).