I recently played in the Italian Team Championships for the second year. Last time I got a disappointing 3/7 and so was hoping to improve on that. Then there were only 2 spots for the European Club Cup with only 19GMs competing but this year there were over 20 and so 3 qualifying spots.
Last time we disappointingly finished in third and were hoping to improve on that. The Obiettivo Risarcimento di Padova team were again top seeds, although with Caruana and Nakamura both playing elsewhere they were substantially weaker. Again I was playing for Chieti and we were seeded second with a squad consisting of me, Andrea Stella, Carlos Garcia Palermo, Carlo d’Amore, Roberto Mogranzini and Giulio Borgo.
The Italian league is played over four boards and seven rounds with one foreigner allowed to play for each team each round. This year it was played in the Hotel Milano in Bratto http://www.hotelmilano.com/en/default.htm, a pleasant alpine resort. Unfortunately it was raining for most of the event so didn’t get to see much of it. It’s quite a frenetic tournament with 2 double round days and three 9am starts, not at all pleasant for most GMs who like their sleep in the mornings!
This is perhaps the reason that Padova came with two strong foreign GMs in the shape of Ivan Cheparinov and Kiril Georgiev and indeed neither of them had to play a double round.
We started well with a 3-1 victory. I managed to use a novelty I had in the Scotch and won a pawn in the opening against GM Stefan Djuric but subsequently misplayed it and was in a lot of trouble before managing to get the win. Padova were shocked with a 2-2 draw and so we took an early lead. Round two, however, it was our turn to drop a point with a 2-2 draw with Latina, myself drawing a quick but interesting Fianchetto Kings Indian with the famous author Mihail Marin.
Round three was a very important encounter against the third seeds headed by Alberto David, the top Luxembourg GM for many years but has now switched allegiances to Italy. This was a repeat of the round three game from last year, in both of which I had the white pieces. Unfortunately both games had the same result and rather similar progressions. In both I quite liked my position but, when I should have been content with equality, I pushed too hard, dropped a pawn and went on to lose. Happily this time my result didn’t matter as the team brought in a fantastic 2.5-1.5 victory.
Round four was the other pivotally important match of the league. We had Black against the Padova team on top board and I was paired with Ivan Cheparinov. He repeated the same odd line 1.Nf3 c5 2.b3!? that Kramnik essayed against me at the London Classic. This time I was slightly more prepared and was fine out of the opening. I don’t know if Ivan overlooked my 8…Na5 threatening to trap his bishop. After this he should probably have been content with equality with 9.e4 but instead sacrificed a pawn and I took the upper hand and went on to win.
A painful defeat and it really took the steam out of us. Incidentally I’ve noticed that my result doesn’t seem to normally make a difference to the results of my teams! Round Five was another 9am start and I had White against Hungarian GM Viktor Erdos. We repeated the line I played against Levon Aronian (and he’d had a game with Jon Ludvig Hammer). He was well prepared and found a line that seemed to equalise and after 22 moves we were in an equal endgame and so I accepted his draw offer. On paper we had a big rating advantage on the other boards but unfortunately only managed a 2-2 draw.
The second game of the day saw a repeat pairing from round two of the last year’s competition. Last time Luka Lenic ground me down but this time I surprised him in the opening and he offered me a quick draw. As we were big favourites on the lower boards I was told to accept the draw and went to get some rest. The rest of the team did magnificently here, all winning and so a 3.5-0.5 victory.
Going into the last round we’d managed to retake second and thought a 2.5-1.5 win should be enough to hold on to it. I was White against Bulgarian GM Krasimir Rusev who played an odd line against me which I didn’t really believe. However his moves seem to agree with the computer’s and he quickly took an hour’s lead on the clock. In the start of time trouble I blundered and dropped the exchange which he traded for an extra two pawns in the ending. However I had the bishop pair versus his bishop and knight and his structure wasn’t ideal so I had some drawing chances. He made my task much easier however, blundering the exchange back and we reached a completely drawn position.
Meanwhile Andrea was in a lot of trouble on board two but Carlo was better on board four. Carlos found himself in a position where the best thing to do was to repeat. However, looking at my position and thinking I was going to lose, he was told to play on but unfortunately blundered his rook soon and lost. Carlo did indeed manage to win on bottom board but Andrea couldn’t salvage his game and we went down 2.5-1.5.
What made this result yet more painful was seeing that a 2-2 draw would have been enough to hold on to second as the other top boards were also drawn. We dropped from 2nd to 6th, very unfair considering how close we were to defeating Padova. However we could still celebrate our female teams. The top team won the event very easily, scoring 100% and had guaranteed the title before the start of the last round. Our U16 team also did fantastically, playing in the same event they came 4th and were extremely close to the medals. These girls will definitely need watching!
Thanks again to Andrea, the general manager of the team and Giulio our captain who also ferried me to and from the airport. Matteo Zoldan did a good job organising the event, focusing on the technical side with a well made website at http://www.45finalecismasterfsi2013.it/. The only gripe was the noisy venue but there’s very little even the best organisers can do when the church bells are ringing constantly! Hopefully next year we’ll finally manage to get that title!