Gibraltar Masters

Sue’s been writing so magnificently on the website but I better write a post or two or we should change the address to 🙂 Hastings went very well for me and I managed to get 7.5/10 with the old Soviet model of drawing my blacks and winning my whites (with one exception, beating Vocaturo with my beloved Dragon and only managing a draw with Sulskis) and was feeling in better form than I’d shown since the British going into Gibraltar.

Gibraltar has justifiably taken the moniker of strongest open in the world and it attracts a lot of top players wanting to test their mettle against the elite. The tournament was headed by Vassily Ivanchuk (currently number 11 in the world) who had previously won the tournament with a gigantic 9/10 in 2011 with another 7 2700+ GMs close behind. I was 17th seed and hoping to score better than I had on the previous couple of occasions when I made the trip to Gibraltar and had rather a disaster rating wise.

Gawain in action!

I won my first two games quickly and in round three managed to beat German GM Raj Tischbierek in a very interesting endgame which I’ll discuss in my ChessVibes Training article in the near future. The position was very close to a draw and the very strong Israeli Grandmaster Emil Sutovsky came over at the end of the game and showed how he thought Black could hold but in fact it wasn’t so simple and I think it was already winning for me at that point.

After Round 3, I was privileged to play alongside GM Sebastian Maze, WGM Ju Wenjin and  IM Irina Krush to become  “Chinese Dragon”, on Irina’s suggestion as Sebastian and I play the line, and Ju Wenjun is from China.  Though top seeds we only managed second place but overall a good team effort.

A pint or two may (or may not have) been detrimental for our final rounds.
A pint or two may (or may not have) been detrimental for our final rounds.

Round four I was given double white and had the honour of repeating my first round pairing from the London Classic against Mickey Adams. I deviated and played the Capablanca Variation (4.Qc2) against his Nimzo rather than the Rubinstein (4.e3) which I chose last time. I managed some advantage out of the opening but subsequently misplayed it and just before the time trouble was under significant pressure but Mickey didn’t find the most accurate route and I held the draw.

Gawain thinking during the Battle of the Sexes
Gawain thinking during the Battle of the Sexes

If you would like you can watch the 25minute youtube video below of the players battling it out! The men’s team were Gata Kamsky (USA), Maxime Vacher-Lagrave (France), Le Quang Liem (Vietnam), Kiril Georgiev (Bulgaria), Emil Sutovsky (Israel) and me, and the women were Nana Dzagnidze (Georgia), Valentina Gunina (Russia), Zhao Xue (China), Victoria Cmilyte (Lithuania), Jovanka Houska (England) and Tania Sachdev (India).

Of course after double White I had to expect double Black. On 3.5/4 I was just in the top half and so played Georgian IM and WGM Salome Melia. I decided to try out the Pirc for the first time in my life and it worked well, reaching a roughly equal dynamic middlegame. Salome calculated a fantastic line and sacrificed a couple of pawns but unfortunately for her there was a hole and I won quickly.

Black against David Navara followed. David is a very pleasant Czech GM and extremely strong (2710 currently). We had played twice before; I beat him in the final round of the European Individual Championships when he overpressed and he got revenge in the final round of this year’s Olympiad en-route to his gold medal on board two. I decided on the Benoni and we played down the modern main line where Black temporarily sacrifices a pawn for good play. David sacrificed a pawn back for the initiative and after a long think I decided I’d prefer to be a pawn down! We reached an endgame where I had rook and two bishops against rook and bishop and knight but he had an extra pawn. However my bishops were strong enough and I held onto the draw.

So far the tournament had gone pretty well and I was happy to see I had another super-GM in the next round in the shape of Latvian GM Alexei Shirov. He’s known for his ‘Fire on board’ style and I hoped for an exciting game. Unfortunately I spent the morning preparing the Semi-Slav but he surprised me with the Nimzo and I decided to play a safe line which resulted in an equal endgame pretty quickly and a quick draw. However a semi-rest day at this point wasn’t a disaster, especially as I was playing a guy who’s been in the World elite for a couple of decades and should even have played a World Championship final at one stage (the sponsorship dried up and the match was never played).

I’ve noticed that in Opens once you’re given a double colour the arbiters seem happy to keep messing up your colours and so it wasn’t a huge surprise to see I had another double White for round 8. I played the very promising young Chinese star Yu Yangyi. Again I played 1.d4 and he surprised me with his move order (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4) and we reached a Rubinstein Nimzo Indian by transposition. I had decided before the game that 2/3 was necessary to get into the prizes and went for it, first of all sacrificing a pawn and then a piece. My pawn sacrifice was sound but unfortunately there was a hole in the piece sack and I ended up pretty much lost out of the opening. Yu Yangyi gave me a couple of chances to get back into the game but I’d invested too much time in the early middlegame and was in bad time trouble and couldn’t find the precarious line to equality and had to resign once we reached the time control.

There was nothing for it but to bounce back the next day. I had Black against Dronavalli Harika, a solid Indian GM and number 2 female player behind Humpy Koneru. I reverted to my King’s Indian and the opening worked out pretty well for me. Harika got her queenside play going quite fast in a Fianchetto Kings Indian but had had to bring the kingside knight over to help her queenside expansion leaving her kingside very vulnerable. I broke through on the kingside and grabbed a pawn and then a second. At the first time control I thought it was only a matter of time before I brought home the full point but misplayed it a little and in the end had to win a queen and two pawns vs queen endgame and only secure the win on move 78.

The pairings favoured me in the last round with another White (a 6 White 4 Black split) against Joe Gallagher a GM originally from England but living in Switzerland and playing under their flag. I decided to play the Samisch against his King’s Indian but he came up with a good move order nuance that apparently he’d recommended in an old book of his from the 90s! I had no winning chances and even had to defend to hold onto the half point.

Thus I finished with a decent 7/10 and was reasonably happy but I finished in 14th= with only 12 prizes and so just out of the money. This is always a risk of Opens but looking back at the tournament I can say I played well and gained a good few rating points back and enjoyed my time there. The final ranking crosstable can be found here.

Congratulation to GM Nikita Vitugov and GM Zhao Xue.
Congratulation to GM Nikita Vitiugov and GM Zhao Xue.

Thanks to Brian Callaghan and the Caleta Hotel for allowing this tournament to go ahead and all the other sponsors. Kudos must be given to Stuart Conquest the tournament organiser too. Every time I saw him during the tournament he was racing around with so much to do and barely a free moment the whole event. At the time of writing he’s still busy as Ju Wenjun has had visa problems getting back to her native China and is stuck in Gibraltar . I hope that they manage to resolve the problem with the UKBA (UK Border Agency) quickly although considering we’re still waiting for Sue’s passport back and so not completely optimistic!

Finally a very special thanks to Terry Chapman, without whom I wouldn’t have been able to compete in the event. Great company and I hope I was somewhat useful!