The first half of the Icelandic League was played a couple of weeks ago and Sue and I made the trip over to play for our team GM Hellir. When I started playing the team was Matar which then merged with Godinn. Just before the start of this season we made another merger and we’re now GM Hellir and the biggest club in Iceland with no fewer than nine teams in total! The top division has altered slightly and has expanded from seven to nine rounds and so we played the first five games in the first weekend. Our team was strengthened with the young Dutchman Robin van Kampen on board two followed by a couple of Icelandic GMs Throstur Thorhallsson (who played four games) and Helgi Ass Gretarsson (who managed two).
We arrived late Wednesday night and had a day to recover before the first round. A pleasant lunch with Magnus and the boss Jon and we were ready to play our second team. My opening was pleasant and, although my opponent put up tough resistance, finished off the game fairly comfortably. Overall we were too powerful and won 7.5-0.5 although Robin van Kampen had to work very hard on board two and was somewhat fortunate to win his game.
Round two was Thursday evening, allowing the local Icelanders to do a full day’s work before the game. Instead our preparation was to do my traditional hike with Einar. Regular readers might recall me doing this walk back in March. The walk is about 45 minutes up a hill and into a valley with a hot water river in which you can bathe. In fact, further up the river you can even cook hotdogs! Last time this went perfectly but this time we had to contend with a strong gale blowing everything everywhere – submerging the hot dogs although Einar did at least manage to salvage half of them!
As could have been envisaged, we spent rather too much time bathing and there was barely enough time to shower, let alone prepare before the traditional dinner at Jon’s house. Wonderful hospitality and soup made by his wife. Jon always prepares a surprise, this time it was Iceland’s top stand-up comedian. He performed in both English and Icelandic and I can vouch that at least the English side was very funny; they certainly have a lot of talented people over there.
It turned out I was playing Johann Hjartarson, one of Iceland’s top Grandmaster but who hasn’t played much recently. Seeing as I hadn’t done any preparation I was glad when he surprised me in the opening with an offbeat line with a quick h3 and Be3 against my Kings Indian. We reached a complex middlegame where I had the bishop pair and his king was potentially exposed but in return he had central control and I had to be careful his knight wouldn’t dominate my bishop. I managed a good pawn sack and went into a better endgame, which short on time Johann was unable to hold.
The team managed a fantastic 5.5-2.5 victory against Taflfélag Bolungarvikur, a team who have always been very strong. This year a new rule had been introduced whereby you could only have two foreign players, however, and TB had decided instead to go with a purely Icelandic team and so weren’t quite as strong as they used to be. Still with 1GM and 4IMs it was a very impressive result.
Meanwhile our second team had managed to take 1.5 points off the favourites the Westman Islands ( Taflfélag Vestmannaeyja) with our old Mátar team mate Palmi beating a 2400 with Black. In Iceland the standings are decided by game points rather than match points so every half point matters.
Onto round three and we hit the dreaded double round day. The pairings had worked quite well for us, though, as we were playing a relatively weak team, Reykjavik’s second team. I brought out the Grand Prix Attack and beat my opponent quickly and the team coasted to a 7-1 victory. Unfortunately, in the second team, Sue was up against a very promising junior and overpressed but the team still managed a respectable 3-5 giving them good chances of staying up.
We didn’t have long between games and Einar invited us back to his house for lunch. This is where I stayed for the Reykjavik Open and Einar is a fantastic host, cooking huge meals for us at all times of the day. This time he made a big fry-up which evidently worked as both Einar and me continued our 100% run in round four. I was Black against Grzegorz Gajewski, a well-known theoretician whose 10…d5!? in the Ruy Lopez became extremely fashionable. He tested me in a Fianchetto Kings Indian and, coincidentally, played a rare 10.d5!?. I didn’t quite equalise out of the opening but in the early middlegame he drifted a bit and suddenly the position erupted in tactics. My attack on the light squares proved stronger than his on the dark squares. I annotated the following game for ChessVibes Training and there you can find the full annotations.
Despite being outrated on most boards we only went down 4.5-3.5. This is normally the heartbreaking score but when match points don’t matter we were actually very happy. Meanwhile our second team also scored 3.5 points to pull further out of the relegation zone. In the final round of the weekend on Sunday morning we played our big rivals Reykjavik. I was playing Mikhailo Oleksienko a 2600 rated Ukranian GM. I didn’t get anything out of the opening and had to be a bit careful to keep equality and had no reason not to accept his draw offer after 21 moves. Robin’s game had started early as his opponent Gudmundur Kjartansson had to get on a flight to another tournament. Robin seemed to play a nice game and won comfortably. This helped us on our way to a 4.5-3.5 victory, a great way to finish the weekend. The second team also managed to grab a very creditably 3 points against Taflfélag Bolungarvikur.
So after five of the nine rounds we are on 28 points and in second place, just half a point behind the Westman Island team and our match in the second weekend looks like it’ll prove decisive for first. Meanwhile the second team are in 8th place on 11.5 points with two teams getting relegated they look like they should be safe. You can see all the details of the league here. We wrapped up our time in Iceland with a pleasant meal with Hjorvar in the best burger restaurant in Iceland. I’m definitely looking forward to returning in February. Hopefully the team can have another success and that I can do well in the Reykjavik Open.