This is my third time playing the Reykjavik Open and we again played in last year’s impressive new venue: Harpa, the picturesque concert hall in Reykjavik’s harbour. I remember last year noise was a bit of an issue but the organisers seem to have done a good job and there was only one day with a concert going on above; the noise wasn’t unpleasant but the level of bass meant the whole place was vibrating!
Last year I played for Matar in the Icelandic league but unfortunately we were relegated. However, we then merged with Godinn to form the new division one team Godinn Matar (or GM as is written on our team t-shirts, see our report on the first weekend of the league here . This merger meant I’ve got to know many more interesting and very friendly Icelandic guys, especially Jon who picked me up from the airport and Einar and his wife Hannah who put me up for the whole duration of the tournament and league and fed me magnificent meals (as I write this Hannah has prepared a couple of delicious looking salads while Einar’s cooked us a range of dinners including steaks a couple of times!).
John Bartholomew, an American IM and ChessPublishing.com writer, is also staying with us here and will be making his GM debut today. Like my friend and flatmaate Tom Rendle he’s a chess.com ambassador and you can read his article on the tournament here.
In general I’ve done pretty well playing in Iceland. I think this is thanks to a mixture of the friendliness of the people, the respect chess obviously gets here and the fresh air everywhere,all of which combines to make me feel at home here. This year I started off with a win against a Swedish 2000 who tried the Fort Knox variation of the French Defence, so called because it’s seemingly impenetrable! Black’s position is very solid but rather passive and I managed to drum up a kingside initiative winning a pawn and the game.
Like last year there was one double round day but after listening to the players last year they shifted it to rounds two and three to lessen its impact (last year it was instead for the critical rounds six and seven). In the morning I had Black against Brede Kvisvik, a dangerous Norwegian FM. I was quite happy with how I played, sacrificing a pawn to break into his position and in time trouble he couldn’t defend.
This year, there was a forbidding delegation from China competing. In round three I had the unenviable task of playing Guo Qi a 17 year old WGM from China. Again I think I played well for the majority of the game, outplaying her positionally and then she fell for a tactic losing material. In desperation she sacrificed her queen for a rook and pawn but the position should have just been a matter of technique. Unfortunately, rather low on time and exhausted (probably in the 8th hour or so of the day) I blundered back my queen and had to hold an inferior but probably drawn endgame.
A setback but at least I didn’t have a full point swing and bounced back the next day with a win with the Dragon against my teammate GM Throstur Thorhallson. He played a very double-edged line where he goes for an all-out attack but missed something and his position collapsed. Round Five saw me paired with another Icelandic guy, the young talent Hjorvar Gretarsson. We’d actually played a couple times previously, both in the league and in Hastings, and had two draws there. This time I had White and tried the Grand Prix Attack for the first time in a while. I managed some advantage out of the opening but the position became very blocked and we agreed a draw. Hjorvar just needs one more norm to become Iceland’s next Grandmaster and it’s just surely a matter of time.
Round six and yet another strong Icelandic guy, GM Hannes Stefansson. Hannes has had some personal setbacks in the last couple of years and his rating has dropped from 2600 to below 2500 but he’s still a big talent and it was good to see him have a good tournament here. I kept up the pattern I started in round two with winning with Black and drawing with White (the opposite of my performance in Hastings!). Another Kings Indian and it was clear Hannes hadn’t prepared as well as he might as he sunk into a thought in a position I’d had around ten times before. He came up with an interesting idea and perhaps was a little better but then allowed me an initiative on the queenside. He played too hesitantly and lost a few tempi, after which his position was too tough to hold.
Round seven was a repeat pairing from Gibraltar less than a month previously; White against Yangyi Yu another big Chinese talent whose rating is just shy of 2700. We repeated the same line as last time when he came up with a novelty on move ten. I couldn’t find a route to an advantage so offered an early repetition. Objectively he should have accepted the draw but ambitiously tried to play on and I made him suffer to hold the draw in a rook endgame. I’ll need to investigate the game deeply to see if I missed any good winning chances.
Still the better of a draw was much better than the disaster in Gib and I was happy how the tournament was progressing. Round eight I played another young guy, GM Mustafa Yilmaz from Turkey. Looking back at the end of the tournament I notice over half my opponents were younger than me, I’m getting old! Another Kings Indian but unfortunately I got my move order wrong and Yilmaz blitzed out a strong pawn sacrifice when I realised my position was horrible. I dug in and grovelled and survived, even winning a pawn but he had adequate compensation and the game ended in a draw.
With that result my win-with-black, draw-with-white, sequence was broken and I managed to win with White in the following round against another young GM, Nils Grandelius from Sweden, a team mate of mine on the Philidor team. I selected the English Opening and Nils responded with a line I’ve played myself. Objectively I didn’t have any advantage out of the opening with rough dynamic equality but Nils overestimated his chances and an error left him with a horrible queenless middlegame to defend where I had a fantastic knight on e4 dominating the board. The computer doesn’t realise quite how bad the position is for Black but it seemed to us that it was practically lost already. I was happy with how I slowly manoeuvred and kept control.
Last year I scored 7/9 which was enough for 2nd= but this year they’d added another round onto the tournament. My reward for the win was to get back onto the stage for the last round against top seed Anish Giri, a young GM from Netherlands. At least I got a double White, and so, like in Gibraltar, I ended with 6 Whites and 4 Blacks. I went back to 1.d4 against Anish and he surprised me with the Schlechter Slav which I hadn’t had before. The game became complicated and I picked up the exchange for a pawn but he had a very strong knight and solid position which gave adequate compensation and the game ended in repetition.
I finished on 7.5/10 like in Hastings which I won outright and actually performed higher than there gaining more rating points but this tournament was much stronger (13th rather than top seed) and much larger, so it was only enough for 4th=. Here is the final standings of the tournament. However I’m very satisfied with the tournament and on the new March list I’m jumped back up to 2653 and back into the top 100 in the World.
Now I have to make sure I finish my trip here well and then back home and do some serious study! Time for me to prepare for my game this evening, I’ll write soon and let you know how that goes. You can follow the results here. We also play at Harpa so I don’t know if the live boards will still be there.
Check out an interview with Gawain below.
Thanks to Ingvar and Peter for the photos available on facebook (Sue stole them!) check out the rest of the photos on their facebook page.