Keres Memorial – ACP Open 2016

It is possible not to like Paul Keres? Whenever his name is mentioned I recall one of my favourite books, the book on the 1959 Candidates tournament by Gligoric and Ragozin, and his loss in Round 1 to Fischer, after sacrificing a queen in the Najdorf. But also his smooth win against Gligoric in a Nimzo and his last-ditch attempt to catch Tal by beating him with black in the Tarrasch. Later on, when I studied his games, I saw that he liked to play with the IQP and played those positions very successfully both with white and black.

Perhaps inevitably, the feeling of sadness also accompanies his name. This calm, elegant gentleman (as my father described him to me – he saw Keres during the Skopje Olympiad in 1972 and got him to sign the above-mentioned book – see the photograph below) always finished second when it mattered most. When I got to know Estonia and Estonians, in 1999 when I played the group stage of the European Club Cup in Paide and also visited Tallinn, I understood Keres better – these people know how to take blows of Fate and never say a word about it, never complain. They suffer, of course, but they take it with grace. And that is what Keres is to me, the ultimate stoic among the chess players.

The autograph in blue ink is from the Skopje Olympiad in 1972 (click to enlarge)

To mark the centenary of his birth (Keres was born on the 7th of January 1916) his country organised a strong rapid event in Tallinn. The event was also an ACP open and part of the ACP Tour 2016. ACP boosted the prize-fund by 5000 euros and this made the tournament even more attractive for the players, especially as the organisers provided conditions for the ACP Premium members. To honour the great player FIDE decided to make 2016 the year of Paul Keres. Keres was the only chess player to have his face on a bank note, I even have one myself, the Estonian 5 krooni. Now in the Eurozone, the Estonians wanted to do the same and a commemorative coin of 2 Euros has been released. I cannot wait to get one, but it will be a difficult one to find in the whole Europe!

The event attracted some very strong players – Svidler, Gelfand, Eljanov, Motylev, Howell, Georgiev Kiril, to name but a few. In rapid anything is possible, so for example Gelfand lost to Krupenski in Round, missing a nice tactic.

The tournament was won by Igor Kovalenko (incidentally, he was ranked number 2, since the rapid ratings were used). I first noticed him during the Olympiad in Tromso when he beat Short in a convincing manner. What caught my attention was the intensity that he radiated. So I wasn’t surprised (although I was!) when some time later I read an interview where he said that he was a devoted Christian and he believed that God helps him in chess and gives him energy. This information somehow fit in perfectly with the image of him in my mind.

Kovalenko (source: internet)

The first place was decided in the penultimate round when Kovalenko beat Svidler with white. He improved upon the game Radjabov-Svidler and either Svidler couldn’t recall his prep or he didn’t manage to find his way. Here’s the game with light comments (as commenting on rapid games is a bit too harsh on the players):

I was very happy with the good result of my Cheddleton team mate David Howell. He was even leading after the second day, but unfortunately lost to Svidler in Round 9. His was the move of the tournament, from his game against Jumabayev:

20 Rc6!

At the end Howell shared 2nd place together with Gelfand and Ganguly. You can see the complete final standings here.

David earned his second place in the last round when he beat Sutovsky with black. What is curious about this game is that they followed an analysis of mine from 2011! And what was even more curious for me is that these analyses are still holding! Take a look:

The rapid wasn’t a common time control back in the days when Keres was playing, but I am sure he would have approved of the exciting chess on show in Tallinn. Congratulations to the winners and the organisers and I hope to see more events of this kind in 2016.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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1 Comment
  • Anonymous
    Jan 14,2016 at 3:57 am

    … should ask Radjabov about Kovalenko 🙂

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