A successful two weeks

On Saturday 9th April I headed back to Munich. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to play much for Munich 1836 this year but at least could drop in en-route to Dubai for the last round. We were in second place, ahead of the other Munich team (Tarrasch) by just one and a half board points, and facing Weilheim, who had already clinched the top spot. This year there were two promotion spots and so all to play for.

We’d half hoped that Weilheim would take it easy on us with their unassailable lead but on the Sunday morning we discovered they’d come fully armed. We had a spy at the Tarrasch match keeping our captain informed on proceedings. I didn’t play very well but the match seemed very tight. Milos has had a great season, and on board three was always in control. At the time control Milos’s win was the only decisive game with just two of us going. News came through that Tarrasch’s opponents had scored at least four points and so I was happy to accept my opponent’s draw offer clinching a 4.5-3.5 victory and promotion to the Oberliga next season.

Munich celebrations

An overnight flight and I arrived into Dubai early Monday morning. The hotel was completely full so had to wait a couple of hours to check in but once in the room managed a few hours’ sleep before the 6pm first round. I discovered I’d made the trip just to play another German, WIM Josefine Heinemann. I saw she liked playing mainlines and having the initiative. Luckily I had White and so steered the game into slower, untheoretical channels in the English. A couple of inaccuracies meant Josefine was stuck in a very passive position and I could expand on the kingside and quickly broke through.

Apart from the double round day all the games were playing at 17:30 and so I got into a routine of waking up fairly late. Two years ago the hotel left a lot to be desired but there were absolutely no complaints this time. The JW Marriott is a large, modern hotel with very friendly staff, big clean rooms and a very good food selection. Of course the downside of a tasty buffet is the overeating and going running wasn’t very attractive in the heat. Fellow Englishman Dan Bisby was also playing the tournament and we got into the habit of going to the gym before lunch most days. At a tournament I think it’s important to do a bit of exercise, not to exhaust oneself but just enough to properly wake up.

The Dubai Open is extremely strong and last time I played I got off to a very slow start, winning just one of my first four games. In round two I was Black against Qatari IM Husein Nezad, already a tough pairing as I lost to him a few years ago in Gibraltar. We both decided on a mainline battle and had a sharp Bayonet Attack. Neither of us played perfectly but at least I finished off the game with a nice tactic.

Round three was a less theoretical Kings Indian. Mohamed Ezat, an Egyptian IM opted for a line with an early …Bf5. I hadn’t prepared for the game but after some thought decided to try and transpose to a game I’d had a couple of months ago against Dan in the 4ncl. I probably didn’t have a huge advantage but successfully kept Mohamed passive and could play on both flanks, eventually crashing through.

I was quite impressed by Mohamed’s opening and so decided to repeat it in my next game against the young Turkish GM Mustafa Yilmaz. We reached an odd position where Mustafa had the bishop pair against my bishop and knight but he had a pair of doubled pawns. The position was probably balanced but I was too ambitious and missed a strong idea. I was forced into a rook and pawn endgame a pawn down. My position was very unpleasant but with Dubai’s quick time control (90 minutes + 30 seconds a move for the entire game) I managed to create enough resources to hold after 105 moves.

Friday is a holy day in the UAE and so was the rest day. Dan and me decided to do some touristing and were joined by Australian IM Moulthun Ly. Moulthun had spent the last few months playing tournaments in Europe and has succeeded in getting two GM norms and his rating comfortably over 2500 so is very likely to be Australia’s next GM. Dubai is home to the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa (828 metres). The observation deck isn’t right at the top but still gave us fantastic views over Dubai. Lunch at the Dubai Mall, a haphazard Metro trip and Moulthun and I were just in time for the shuttle to the blitz tournament.

Looking down on the Observation Deck
Looking down on the Observation Deck

The only negative aspect of the Dubai Open was probably the shuttle trip from the hotel to the chess club where the tournament takes place. The hotel is only 4.5km away but we seemed to be travelling through the rush hour and so it was time consuming. During the tournament we got into the habit of going on the first shuttle an hour before the game started and then grabbing a coffee in the mall next to the chess club which worked well. Two years ago the hotel was closer and so I could walk but I’m very happy with the trade off: a much better hotel and slightly further commute.

The view from the Observation Deck, it's a long way down!
The view from the Observation Deck, it’s a long way down!

After losing in round three after overpressing a totally drawn ending I wasn’t expecting anything special in the blitz but then managed to get on a run and won with 9.5/11. Amusingly the last round of the blitz I was White against Boris Savchenko which was a warm up for the main event. The slightly strange scheduling meant we had the double round day the next day. A morning start, along with my long game in round four, tourist trip and blitz meant I didn’t really get round to preparation. I was White against the young Indian talent Shardul Gagare. Still an IM during the tournament I believe he has four GM norms and a rating above 2500 so is only waiting for his GM title to be ratified. I chose the English and we reached a Reti where I thought I had a slight advantage but he successfully calculated grabbing a pawn. We went into an ending where I had the bishop pair and some nice squares for the pawn but Gagare gave up two pawns to go into a drawn opposite coloured bishop ending.

The second game of the day was probably the critical one for my tournament, black against GM GN Gopal. Gopal’s rating has dropped a bit recently but he’s a very strong player and I’m sure will be back towards 2600 soon. He surprised me with the 9.g4 variation against my Dragon. I decided to play my secondary line rather than the one I recommend in my book. Gopal was very well prepared and after I drifted a little I was in a lot of trouble. I realised the extent of the damage and so chose to sacrifice, a good practical decision.

Round seven and my third Indian in a row, M.S. Thejkumar. Thejkumar’s rating isn’t that high and he’s only an IM but this seems to be because he doesn’t get much chance playing against higher rated opponents. When he does he scores very well. In Dubai he beat Mchedlishvili and Kovalenko, both GMs comfortably above 2600. We had a Classical Caro where he defended well to reach a bishop ending a pawn down. The game should have been drawn but I kept shuffling around and in the end the pressure of playing with 30 seconds a move caused a mistake.

My reward was to finally get to play on top board against Vladimir Akopian. Vladimir had started out of the blocks with 5/5, including an enterprising piece sacrifice against David Howell. Objectively the sacrifice wasn’t correct but it caused enough problems, although he was fortunate David declined a draw before making a final mistake. A return to the Dragon and Vladimir had prepared the Modern Mainline with 9.0-0-0 in the Yugoslav Attack. I repeated the line I played against Mickey Adams but then couldn’t remember my recommendation. I was under pressure for the entire game but scraped a draw in the end.

Boris Savchenko defeated Ivan Sokolov to have a half point lead going into the final round and it transpired that we’d repeat the blitz final round. In the blitz we had a Rossolimo and again we started with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 but he chose to repeat 3…d6 over 3…g6, as he’d played against Akopian earlier in the tournament. I’d seen a few games with this interesting 7.Bc4!? recently. A counter-intuitive move but the logical …b7-b5 break gives White a target on the queenside. Boris was obviously on his own and spent quite a long time and came up with a solid but passive defence. I had more space and good squares for my pieces. Boris, slightly short on time, went into blitz mode but missed a tactic.

Vladimir Akopian crowned his excellent tournament with what seemed a very smooth victory over the Georgian GM Levon Pantsulaia. This gave him a rating performance of a whopping 2831. In Dubai the prizes aren’t split for players on equal points. As his tiebreaks were better than mine before the last round I presumed he would finish in first. Fate was smiling on me, however, and I pipped first place by half a Bucholz point (sum of opponents’ scores). Final results

The beautiful Sheikh Rashid Bin Hamdan Al Maktoum Cup
The beautiful Sheikh Rashid Bin Hamdan Al Maktoum Cup

I played a lot of long games here, with my games averaging 59 moves. Generally I stay ahead on the clock and with no additional time this gave me a big practical advantage. I was under a lot of pressure in all my black games but somehow managed 3 our of 4, including the full point steal from Gopal.

The trophy again, this time after lots of careful wrapping by Khokun

The organisation was excellent. Like in Abu Dhabi last year, there were a lot of cameras operating and the Al Shallal tv crew seemed to be at the venue the whole time. In Abu Dhabi the cameramen didn’t seem to know chess etiquette and came extremely close to the players but here they gave us room and the only disturbance was caused by a camera beeping a low battery alarm. I hope to return to the tournament again next year.