Recent developments

So my intention was to write a tournament update for each of my tournaments played since the Icelandic League but that isn’t really viable so I’ve decided to round it all up in one update.   Going back to March I played the Reykjavik Open. I started with a couple of quick wins but then got bogged down with a couple draws against IMs. I fought back to 5/6, then a draw with IM Simon Bekker-Jensen where I was rather lucky, and another draw with top German GM Arkadij Naiditsch left me needing to win the last two for a top finish.

In round nine I faced young Icelandic GM Hjorvar Gretarsson. As preparation I went for my traditional hike with Einar which I have written about here and here. This time we went together with my round seven opponent and friend Simon, his brother David and Finnbjorn Vang, A Faroese player and organiser who very kindly put me up when I played in the Faroe Islands.

Friendly analysing afterwards with Simon's brother David looking on
Friendly analysing afterwards with Simon’s brother David, Tania and Jonathan looking on

I had previously played Hjorvar four times and all of them had resulted in draws. This time I declined an early draw offer and spurned a repetition to play a murky position but Hjorvar played very well in the complications and deservedly beat me. I’ll get him at some point! In the last round I played Gudmundur Kjartansson, another guy I know well. I managed to catch him in the opening and after Gummi played rather too aggressively I won quite quickly. Hence I finished on 7/10 and dropped a few rating points but nothing disastrous. Final standings.

My next tournament was the Cork Weekend Congress, on which Sue wrote a report here. My score in Ireland in general is pretty good but you do need a fair bit of luck with 6 games over 48 hours. After a rather unconvincing win on time in round two, I was quite pleased with my round three win over strong Swedish FM Michael de Verdier who currently works in Ireland.

Saturday evening I played my old friend Alex Lopez who should have held onto the draw but a couple of inaccuracies allowed me to keep my 100% score going into the final day. A win over Ginger GM Simon Williams,  Sunday morning, left me a point clear and so I wrapped up the tournament with a quick draw in the final round.

Playing the tournament in the right spirit
Playing the tournament in the right spirit

A week at home and then I was off to the extremely strong Dubai Open. Perhaps it took me a while to get acclimatised as I really struggled at the start with a draw in the first round against a young Azerbaijani woman Narmin Khalafova and I was rather fortunate to get that. Round two I played the even younger 13 year old Mahadevan Siva from India. After getting a very promising position out of the opening he defended very well and had yet another draw. I finally got a win in round three against a charming Iranian girl, Dorsa Derakhshani but could only manage a draw with Gudmundur in round four, a repeat of the final round of the Reykjavik Open.

So 2.5/4 and losing over 10 rating points was hardly a fantastic start. I think I struggled with the time control, with no additional time at move 40 and it took me a long time to get into a good sleep routine. I hear the organisers of the Dubai Open change hotel every time and I sincerely hope they move again as our hotel could not be recommended. We were provided a buffet in the hotel. I know it’s difficult to provide interesting food in the same buffet for over a week, but the food was very bland and was constituted mostly of stew and chicken wings. However, the main problem was the noise. There was a very loud club on the ground level of the hotel and my room vibrated until 4am every morning; by the latter half of the tournament I got used to go sleeping 4am-midday.

Of course as a professional I have to get used to these things and the other players had to deal with it too. When you’re not on top form it’s hard playing these young improving juniors. My experience definitely improved and made a couple new friends and Saud took us to some good local haunts.

Delicious Middle Eastern food and great company
Delicious Middle Eastern food and great company

In round five I finally played someone older than me, the Iranian IM Ebrahim Ahmadinia (born 1986) and I managed to grind him down. This and round six were played on a double round day so I didn’t have time to prepare for another young opponent, Indian GM Das Debashis. I chose the English and we had a very complex game where I missed a chance right at the end but with just 30 seconds a move it was a tricky chance.

The average age of my opponents was further reduced when I got Black against 15 year old Indian IM Diptayan Ghosh who is already very close to the GM title. In a Pirc he correctly sacrificed the exchange for the attack and had good chances but I defended well and managed to win the ending which objectively should have been drawn. Round eight I played Pavel Kotsur, a Grandmaster from Kazakhstan who I believe spends most of his time coaching the national team. It was a relief playing someone a bit older, even if at 40, he’s hardly ancient! I played a topical line in the Bb5+ Sicilian which seemed to catch him out and got a very good position out of the opening. He was obliged to give up a knight for two pawns in the ending but I kept his counterplay under control and reached 6/8.

I tried my hardest to win the last round but with Black against a 2600 GM in the shape of Croatian GM Hrvoje Stevic, who hardly ever loses with White, it was going to be tough. I actually managed to win a pawn but he defended the endgame very well and I don’t think I missed any significant winning chances. So I finished with 6.5/9 and 4th= which was 9th on tiebreak due to my poor start. I lost another few rating points but it was nowhere near as bad as it might have been after four games. Final standings.

Prize Giving
Prize Giving

My next chess was the final 4ncl weekend on which Sue wrote a report. The chess went very well for both of us and our teams and special thanks to my inspiring captain Roger Emerson! 3/3 that weekend got me my rating points back from the previous two tournaments.   Sue had a week off work and found another very strong tournament in Hungary, the Zalakaros Open. Sue wrote about the start of the tournament here.

This was a very strong tournament with my lowest rated opponent the young Indonesian FM Winshand Sean in the first round. After messing up a winning position in round two I eventually had to win rook, bishop and pawn against rook and knight against a strong Hungarian IM. Round three was rather disappointing as I reached a very good position out of the opening, against an experienced Russian GM, with the bishop pair on an open board and won a pawn but, slightly short on time, missed how to maintain the pawn and the game simplified to a drawn endgame.

Round four I played Hungarian GM Adam Horvath who played very well and, after overpressing, I was fortunate to hold the draw. In round five a risk paid off as I sacrificed a piece on the Black side of the Kings Indian and went for more than a draw. The computer coolly defends but over the board it’s not so easy and my GM opponent didn’t manage it.   In round six I played the strong Viktor Erdos. We had a draw in the Italian League but this time he miscalculated something just out of the opening. He was forced to give a pawn to try and hold a position with queen, rook and opposite coloured bishops but, short on time, he left his kingside too weak and I crashed through.

With this win I was in joint lead with 5/6. There wasn’t much to the round seven game. My opponent played the Classical Variation against my Dragon. I equalised but all the pieces came off the board straight away and a quick draw as there was no play left in the position at all. Round eight was the critical game of the tournament. I was still tied for the lead with three others and paired against Latvian GM Igor Kovalenko. He played a variation of the Caro Kann where White has the better structure but Black has some counterplay. He played extremely well while I played too slowly, got too low on time and erred before the time control and reached a very tough endgame which I didn’t manage to defend.

This loss hurt as I was in such a good tournament situation but you just have to brush yourself down and having Sue with me makes that much easier. I got very lucky in the final round, winning on time as my strong opponent tried to find a way to avoid repeating position for a third time. Therefore I finished 2nd= and 4th on tiebreaks  and Igor Kovalenko was a deserved winner.   Sue had another very good tournament. She was the penultimate seed but scored 3.5/9, defeating an IM and 2380 FM and gained 19 rating points. I would recommend this tournament, playing strong opponents in a pleasant venue with cheap food and beer 🙂 To see more about the place with Sue’s thoughts have a look at Sue’s final report.