Hello all. Apologies for not updating during the tournament but I had very little time and the internet was sporadic at best. I started this before the last round, which I didn’t think I was going to play, but the situation changed and in the end I played all nine. I had the 4ncl straightaway after and so only now, Monday afternoon, do I finally have time to give you some details of my time in Greece.
The tournament was fairly successful for me. I won four, drew five and lost just one. The team’s performance looked a little disappointing with minus one, but we’ve had very tough pairings thanks to a bizarre system they’re using. I’ll give a quick round-up of both mine and the team’s results.
Round One: we played against Latvia. On paper we were fairly heavy favourites but we decided to field our top 4 just in case. That turned out just as well as my slight edge out of the opening went all wrong against a low rated GM and I was in a lot of trouble when, thankfully, he offered me a draw. On the board above, David had even more trouble and after missing something lost material and couldn’t save the game. Mickey and Nigel came good on the top two boards though and so we squeezed through narrowly 2.5-1.5 WIN.
Onto Round Two and the only time we managed to be on +1 for the whole event! We played the hosts Greece. Again we were slight favourites on paper but a bad day in the office for Nigel and David meant we went down. I managed to defeat Stelios Halkias, a 2593 GM, on bottom board with Black in a Kings Indian when he lost a couple of tempi after being too optimistic about his position. Mickey was pressing but unable to convert and so a 2.5-1.5 LOSS.
Round Three saw Nick Pert make his debut in this event. On 50% we hoped for a fairly easy pairing but instead played fourth seeds Armenia! Mickey drew quite quickly with World number three, Levon Aronian, while Nigel also drew with Movsesian after outplaying him and winning a pawn. However Sergei then defended well to hold. I defeated Vladimir Akopian in a very complex French after he sacrificed the exchange just out of the opening. Unfortunately Nick couldn’t quite hold on bottom board though and so a 2-2 DRAW.
Round Four was only fractionally easier as we had Israel. They rested Rodshtein who was playing on one but, seeing as his rating is only 5 points higher than their reserve, this hardly weakened the team. We were back to playing with our top four. David drew quite quickly with Black against the high rated Smirin but Nigel didn’t get anything on board two and also had a short draw. Mickey appeared to be in some trouble against Sutovsky on board one but managed to hold. Unfortunately I went down against Evgeny Postny after overestimating my attacking chances. The position was still quite balanced until I blundered allowing a mate. 2.5-1.5 LOSS.
On minus one we could hope for slightly easier pairings and so it proved as we played our second Baltic state: Lithuania. This time we rested Nigel. Mickey beat their only GM, Sarunas Sulskis, on one while I won our other White on three. My opponent played the opening very superficially, he used just five minutes for his first 13 moves an built up a big time lead but after he allowed 14.c4! he was in trouble.
The blacks were more difficult. David showed he was having a tournament to forget. After equalising comfortably he forced matters too early and his position deteriorated rapidly. Nick was struggling against their under-rated junior on bottom board who showed he was worth more than his 2100 rating. Nick was pressing with black but missed a couple of things and found himself a couple of pawns down with insufficient compensation. Luckily the English upbringing of playing in Opens put him in good stead and he pounced when his opponent missed a tactic. 3-1 WIN.
Back to 50% and back to difficult matches. Round Six was against Czech Republic; another team roughly level with us on rating. This match seesawed dramatically, our openings went well with my Dragon working fairly well and Nick better on bottom board. Then things took a turn for the worse when Nigel played a tactic his opponent hadn’t seen but the complications came down in favour of his opponent Laznicka. A few careless moves by me left me in what should have been a lost rook endgame and Nick, despite having an extra pawn, had no significant winning chances. The momentum changed again as I managed to salvage a draw and Mickey, who had looked like he was going to draw all game, somehow managed to defeat David Navara on top board. Nick drew and for a while we hoped that we might even win but Nigel, who had some drawing chances, found himself in a rook and pawn versus rook endgame, which turned out to be lost. 2-2 DRAW.
Round Seven we played Poland, another team roughly our strength. As I’d had four whites and two blacks and David had played three blacks and just one white, our captain Loz Cooper tried the slightly risky approach of resting Nigel again so colours would even out. Unfortunately the idea didn’t work out. David had a slightly easier game out of the opening after following the repertoire advocated in my recent book but again missed something, as he got short on time. Meanwhile Nick destroyed his structure with one bad move and a loss from then on was inevitable. I had a very interesting Samisch Kings Indian against Mateusz Bartel, a GM whose rating has recently jumped up to 2653. A highly complicated struggle; I offered a pawn early to take control of the dark squares but he declined and tried to take the initiative himself. I sacrificed the exchange to open up the position for my bishop pair and he pragmatically gave back the exchange for a roughly level middlegame. Perhaps I could have played on but the match was already looking hopeless and so I accepted the draw. Mickey had a rather unpleasant position on top board but managed to hold the worse endgame but still a 3-1 LOSS.
Round Eight. Estonia weren’t fielding a team and so we had to travel further north and thus we were paired with Finland. Apart from Tomi Nyback, the only GM, the rest are IMs. I played against Mikael Agopov, a 2450 IM I played in this same competition four years earlier. That time I defeated him with a Grand Prix but this time I used the Rossolimo and a line from How to Beat the Sicilian. He chose the 3…g6 4.Bxc6 bxc6 line which is more ambitious than the mainline. Black has to remain passive and hope that the bishop pair will eventually give him some chances. In this case I grabbed the centre and then managed to exchange bishops leaving him very vulnerable on the dark squares. I finished him off with a rook sacrifice when he couldn’t prevent mate without giving his queen.
The rest of the match also went pretty smoothly. Mickey couldn’t get any advantage on board one in a Jaenisch Gambit but Nick won the Black side of an Exchange French type position rather easily when his opponent refused to play positionally, while Nigel chose an offbeat opening to bamboozle his opponent Tapani Sammalvuo. Curiously all three of us finished within around 5 minutes of each other, my 30move game taking the longest.
In the final round and back to 50% we were hoping to have a winnable match to finish well. Instead we played second seeds Ukraine who had had rather a shocker, losing to Switzerland 3-1 in round seven. Despite them resting their board two, former FIDE World Champion, Ruslan Ponomariov, they still had a team averaging well above 2700. The games started at 1pm and, as I had a flight back that evening, I had to make sure was finished by 6pm for the bus to the airport. I didn’t feel comfortable playing with that hanging over me and so offered a quick draw which Moiseenko (with a rating of 2715 number 27 in the world) which he accepted. Mickey had a great game defeating the legendary Vassily Ivanchuk, currently number six in the world. The match looked to be going well but Nick got into trouble quite early on bottom board against Efimenko (another 2700+), and, despite desperate defence, failed to save the draw. Nigel had a very complicated game but in the mutual time trouble he blundered and so a 2.5-1.5 LOSS.
Another case of what might have been. All our matches we lost, except perhaps Poland, were very close and came down to the final game. With an extra ½ point a match we would have done excellently. I was happy with my performance a little above 2700, whilst I have to congratulate Mickey for his impressive play on top board which won the gold medal. Nick had a tough time with four blacks and two whites against high rated opposition. Nigel will undoubtedly be disappointed with his finish: he was pressing against Movsesian but could only draw, was unlucky against Laznicka and then just one mistake in time trouble against Eljanov. David of course had a very bad time. His positions were fine but at some point they all came crashing down but I’m sure hell be back to showing his great strength in time for the London Classic.
Finally I would like to thank Loz for his work as captain, both during and before the event. Without his input I’m sure we’d have struggled to field such a strong side. Hopefully next Olympiad we’ll all be firing on all cylinders!