I started with 2/2, with two pretty straight-forward wins against lower rated opponents. Usually these early games serve as an illustration of one’s form: if you beat the lower-rated opponents effortlessly and confidently, that normally means that you’re in good form. I did beat them in a confident manner and that gave me a boost for the following games.
In Round 3 I had the first more serious challenge. I played GM Pogorelov, who in spite of his ridiculously low rating of 2362, always motivates himself when playing strong players. It was the same in this game – after a risky opening I managed to get a winning endgame, plus a big time advantage – by move 23 he was already playing on increment time, while I had more than 30 minutes left. And yet he played very tenaciously and I made one slip after another and eventually he held the draw. But I had only myself to blame for this as it shouldn’t really matter how your opponent is playing when you have a winning position.
The draw meant that I’d get another lower-rated opponent in Round 4 and it was WIM Matras-Clement, rated 2254. Quite surprisingly she went for the Tarrasch Defence, something she had never played before. I managed to remember what I had analysed ages ago and I got an advantage out of the opening, resulting in a symmetrical position of white having the pair of bishops against a bishop and a knight for black, with two pairs of rooks. I exchanged all the rooks and proceeded to win a very nice technical endgame, which I was quite pleased with.
The battles with the big guns started in Round 5. I was white again against GM Narciso Dublan. It seems that he wasn’t too well prepared in the opening and I got an advantage, but then I was tempted with a very interesting sacrificial idea on move 19. I went for it, but he defended well and when I should have settled for equality I chose to be ambitious and fight for more, only to face a worse position a few moves later. After mutual imprecisions, the game went to a queen endgame where active play on my part saved me the game.
Round 6 was an exciting struggle with the current European vice-champion, GM Anton Guijarro. I forgot my preparation and was worse in the opening, but the position was very complex and required a lot of calculation. So he made some mistakes and allowed me back in the game, when I had ample compensation for the exchange I sacrificed early in the game. By move 30 we were already down to 2-3 minutes to finish the game (the time control was 90 minutes plus 30 seconds per move to finish the game) and as my position was easier to play I got a chance to get an advantage. I missed it and then it was unclear and then with only seconds remaining I went for yet another exchange sacrifice, which I saw it wasn’t entirely correct, but with so little time I didn’t see much else. But he also erred and we started repeating moves, as the position objectively was a draw. Nobody wanted a draw, but I didn’t have a choice and had to repeat, while secretly hoping he’d continue since the only way to do so looked very risky for him. The problem was that I only sensed this, and when he did actually deviate from the repetition (which was a big mistake), I had very little time to see the winning move – which I didn’t. But I had another chance for a big advantage on my next move, only to blunder instead and lose. His gamble paid off, much to my regret, but it was a good fighting game and I wasn’t feeling particularly bad after the game. It gave me more insight into the tension that exists in these high-level games and another proof that the strong players also blunder when put under pressure.
In Rounds 7 and 8 I got FM Garcia del Rey and GM Abergel. While I won against Garcia with white rather easily, after he sacrificed a pawn in the opening and got nothing in return, against Abergel, with black, I was under pressure when he opened the centre. I calculated hard and deep and found a good way to continue, only to be surprised by his nonchalant manner of playing in a position that required a lot of calculation. This led to him blundering in a still unclear position and I won after transposing to a winning rook endgame with my rook behind my passed pawn, which later transposed to a winning pawn endgame.
In Round 9 I had to win in order to win a prize. I was paired white against GM Sumets. Here I must whine a bit – I quite liked the late starting time of the games, every day at 8.30pm, as it gave me a lot of time to think about my strategy and preparation. The games ended at around 1am and then the pairings would come out, not a big problem as there would be plenty of time the next day. However, the organisers scheduled the last round for 9.30am (!!) and when I tried to argue that after the 8th round there is no time at all to rest, see the pairings, prepare and sleep, they came up with some laughable explanation of players having to catch their flights after the round. As it was, the pairings for the last round came out at around 1am, I prepared until 3am, then couldn’t fall asleep and woke up at 8.30am. Quite an abrupt break of the regime and no wonder my state was far from ideal. That was my only objection to the otherwise great event. In the game I pressed for a long time, but the early hour took its toll and I lost control over the position on move 31 when it was me who had to defend to secure the draw. I managed to do that and draw the game.
Eventually I shared 7-17th place, and with only 10 prizes I needed two more Bucholz points to get into the top 10. Nevertheless I had a great tournament, winning more than 10 rating points and showing play of a very good overall quality. Together with my successful play during the last 4NCL weekend, this result again brought my rating in the region of 2500.
In my post How to Win Opens (http://www.alexcolovic.com/2014/04/how-to-win-opens.html) I analysed four players who are very successful in open tournaments. It was no surprise for me that two of those players who played here won the tournament – GMs Fedorchuk and Delchev – congratulations to both, as it was a very demanding and incredibly strong tournament with 30 GMs and 22 IMs participating. Their way to the top was quite different – Fedorchuk started with 6/6 and finished with 3 draws, while Delchev had a great finish with 2.5/3, beating GM Agdestein in the last round.
I will now use the next several weeks first to rest and then to prepare for the biggest chess event of the year, the Olympiad in Tromso, Norway. The work of the chess players is never done, there are always variations to analyse, things to think about, psychological nuances and approaches to develop.
I am also very much looking forward to the Stavanger tournament, the first round starting on 3rd of June. It should be another great tournament and another chance for “the rest of the world” to try to give the World Champion a run for his money. Should be fun!