Reykjavik Open 2014 – Closing Ceremony

The closing ceremony took place at the City Hall. If you remember the Tchaikovsky lake from one of my previous posts, this is how it looks from inside the Hall:

There were speeches from the one of the organisers, Bjorn Thorfinnsson (brother of Bragi, who is mainly responsible for me coming to Iceland!)

 and the President of the Icelandic Chess Federation, Gunnar Bjornsson

The speeches were witty and humorous and the crowd was having a good time. Then there was a performance of two traditional Icelandic songs

This was followed by a presentation of a portrait to Henrik Carlsen. The portrait was, understandably, of his son. Henrik said that Magnus played in Reykjavik in the past and won a few rating points, but this time he tried his best to return the favour (he lost 43.5 points)

And then something interesting happened. Three people were invited to the stage, participants of the first Reykjavik tournament in 1964 (this year was the 50th anniversary), which was won by Tal, ahead of Gligoric and Fridrik Olafsson. Unfortunately I didn’t get the names of the other two players, but one of the three was the legendary Fridrik Olafsson himself

From left to right: Gunnar Bjornsson, one of the participants, Fridrik Olafsson, the other participant.

This was a lovely gesture from the organisers. I was surprised to see how positive Olafsson looked, bearing in mind that he was born in 1935. Apart from being a Candidate in the Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade tournament in 1959, he was also a President of FIDE from 1978-1982.

After this the players who achieved norms were invited to the stage and then the prize giving began. Here are the winners on the stage with the winner Li Chao with the flowers:

That was the end of the official part and then the social part began. I was very surprised that actually nobody knew that there were two players in the tournament who had played Bobby Fischer! I found Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam (the editor of New in Chess) and asked him about this. He was surprised by the question at first but then quickly said Walter Browne, which is true, of course, as Walter played Fischer in Rovinj-Zagreb in 1970.

Browne (that’s him in the brown jumper) had a great tournament. He looks thin and worn out, but the intensity and the will to win are still there. I remember my father telling me stories about his demonic time-troubles at the Olympiad in Skopje in 1972 – this time his time-troubles weren’t that dramatic, but he was all focus and determination during play. He beat Grandelius and drew with Gajewski and was mostly playing on the top boards.

But Dirk didn’t know the other player. Then I showed him the older gentleman with white hair

and told him that his name was Vik Pupols. I already mentioned that I am a Fischer fanatic, so it was not a problem for me to recognise the name; Pupols played (and beat) Fischer in a junior event in 1955.

Before talking to Dirk I had a short chat with Pupols, who was happy I remembered this and seemed a very likeable person. Dirk was also very happy and grateful for the tip and thanked me several times. We chatted a bit more (he said he was not going to Khanty for the Candidates) and after a while I left the Hall and returned to my hotel, from where I am writing these words.

I am very happy to have come to Reykjavik. I have played a lot of open tournaments, but this is one of the rare ones where the player feels welcomed and taken care of. The organisation was perfect and the event ran smoothly. Congratulations to the organisers on a job well done!

My flight tomorrow is at 7am (but I am being picked up from the hotel at 4am!) so my Icelandic adventure slowly comes to an end. I really hope to be able to come back next year, it’s been a fantastic experience!


Reykjavik Open 2014 – Finally an Icelander! (Round 10)

Today the final round started at noon. This shows that the organisers have respect for the players and their playing rhythm, instead of breaking it abruptly and scheduling the last round at 9am, as it is done almost everywhere in the world. I am grateful for this welcome change and I think the new starting time allowed me to play a more or less decent last round game.

I came to Iceland to play chess but it was only in the last round that I got paired with an Icelandic player! And just to reaffirm my fondness for the people from the north, I won again! So to sum up, I beat 3 Norwegians, 1 Swede and 1 Icelander.

My opponent was an IM, so I was surprised when in the opening he gave me a tempo by 7…Bf5 instead of the normal 7…Bd7. One move later he made another dubious move and I thought I was getting an advantage. In order to avoid a direct attack he sacrificed a piece on move 13. Things weren’t as simple as I thought and he had many tricks based on sacrifices on e3, but after his weak 17h move I managed to stabilise the position and from then on my extra piece made itself felt. Even though the game lasted 43 moves, I never gave him a chance.

I finished the tournament on 7/10 and a shared 11th place. It was a rather uneven tournament in terms of the quality of play. I think I played well in the first 5 rounds, but then my quality dropped in rounds 6-8 and then again I played well in the last 2 rounds. The only regret I have is that I didn’t manage to play stronger opposition as I never got out of the rut of playing players rated around 2300. But that is entirely my responsibility as I missed my both chances to enter the higher eschelons, in round 5 when I drew a winning position and in round 7 when I even lost after his dubious queen sacrifice. I will have to address this issue and draw some conclusions.

The closing ceremony will take place at the Reykjavik City Hall in about an hour. I missed the opening party of the tournament because of my late flight, so let’s see how the closing ceremony will be.


Reykjavik Open 2014 – “Fin(n)ish Him!” (Round 9)

When I told him that I’m playing a Finnish player, the famous chess author Tibor Karolyi (Karpov’s Strategic Wins 1&2 and Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess are his most famous titles) said “Just finish him!”

That I managed to do, but I was mistaken, I wasn’t playing a Finnish player, but a Swedish one! It seems I am growing fond of the Norsemen, after all in this tournament I managed to beat only them!

In the opening I went for a very risky line, but he didn’t dare to venture it, so I got an overwhelming strategical advantage already on move 9. From then on I was pretty precise and although he put up all the resistance he could I didn’t allow him a chance to escape. Incidentally, just like in my prize-winning game from Round 2, again I got a totally dominating position, this time in the middlegame – the position after white’s 25th move is a pleasure to have (and a rather sadistic pleasure if I may add).

Tomorrow’s final round starts at noon, so time is limited now, I need to both rest and prepare. But oh how the chess world would be so much a happier place if the other organisers follow suit and schedule the last rounds at noon, instead of the somnambulistic 9am! Yeah, I know, but one can always dream…

P.S. After the game, when I told Tibor I played a Swede instead of a Finn, he said, “Ah, so a Swede finish!”


Reykjavik Open 2014 – The First Timers (Round 8)

Today it was rainy and windy and that was in no way an improvement over the heavy snowfall over the last few days. I have been to the windy city of Chicago, but the wind I encountered today on my way to the playing hall was definitely the strongest one ever – not only I couldn’t walk in a straight line, swaying left and right all the time, but very often I would walk in place, not being able to move forward at all! The whole situation wasn’t helped by the rain, which was falling (if you can say that) horizontally! No defence against that, I assure you.

By the time I made it to the Harpa, my jeans were soaking wet, from the horizontal rain. Not the most pleasant thing, to play chess in wet clothes. Before the round the organisers announced they would be giving prizes for the best games of each round and I was very surprised when they announced my name as a winner for the best game in the second round! While it is true that the final combination in that game on the themes of domination and zugzwang was pretty, I never expected a prize for it! It is the first time that I win a prize for a best game:

(By the way, I didn’t notice the guy on the side, I just smiled for the cameras. Had I noticed him I probably would have shaken his hand).

I received a certificate and a CD of good old traditional Icelandic music:

After the prize-giving it was that guy on the side in the above photo that gave a short speech before the start of the round. Another first timer for me, listening to Garry how he hated the guys who gave speeches before rounds because they were wasting his time.

But that was it with the first-time experiences, as the game was pretty much a deja vu. Another 5 hour game, another missed chance and another save. In an unorthodox opening a complicated struggle ensued, full of mutual inaccuracies and mistakes. I only had one clear winning chance, on move 25, when I should have played 25…Qc7. Instead I thought I was winning with 25…e4, but I miscalculated and even though I kept the advantage, it was not winning anymore. Then I took another risk in mutual time-trouble when I went for the exchange and allowed him two connected passed pawns on the queenside, refusing his draw offer in the process. But I didn’t manage to create enough counterplay and after the time control, on move 41 I made a mistake after which I was lost, but luckily he accepted my draw offer.

Two more rounds to go. Let’s hope for the best.


Reykjavik Open 2014 – Blame It On Garry (or Silvio?) (Round 7)

Perhaps I should have stuck with the Norsemen. Probably I’ll get another one tomorrow.

It was a strange game today. I employed a rare idea in the 5 Bd2 Grunfeld, but already on move 10 I mixed up the move order (10 a5 instead of 10 h3?) and was already worse. In order to escape constant initiative by black I tempted him to sacrifice a queen, and it did seem very tempting, but I thought I should have enough counterplay. He did sacrifice the queen though and then I got my chance on move 19.

And then something happened. All of a sudden I felt a commotion in the playing hall, I raised my head and saw a lot of people with TV cameras, photo cameras and flashes blinded my eyes. The reason for this fuss was that Garry entered the building. And Silvio too (but to a lesser extent, obviously). I could sense energy radiating from the spot where they were standing and then… disaster struck. I came back to my game and for reasons I find difficult to explain I moved immediately and made the losing blunder, 19 Bc4?? instead of the intended 19 Qe6. That would have given me an advantage in a complicated position. After his simple reply, the game was over.

So what to say? I’ve always been skeptical when people explained their losses with weird occurences or aliens, so I won’t try to explain this by Garry’s (or Silvio’s) energy. But the fact remains that this was a bad day for me. Incidentally, it was Fischer’s birthday (and some of my most memorable games were played on this day. However, I’ll try to forget this one).

At least the weather is nice.


Reykjavik Open 2014 – Deja Vu (Round 6)

Iceland is pretty far from France (and from pretty much everything else for that matter) but words and ideas know no boundaries. So you’ll excuse my French, but deja vu sums up very nicely my Round 6 game.

It was another Norwegian, another 5-hour game, this time the longest of the 5-hour games with 78 moves. And you can say another win, since now my score against Norwegians in this tournament is 3.5/4.
My opponent surprised me in the opening, playing the Rubinstein Variation in the Nimzo-Indian, something he had never played before. So I had to think of something to surprise him and I came up with the old Smyslov idea of 8…Qe7 in the Main Line, which is hardly played nowadays. I had analysed it a long time ago and couldn’t remember anything of the analysis, but at least this set him thinking. I got a comfortable position, but I wasn’t very precise in the early middlegame and a curious situation arose when I had all my pieces in ideal positions, but that was exactly the problem – I couldn’t improve my position any more while he could, so every move I made only made my position worse! On top of that I was spending masses of time (couldn’t find moves!) and by move 22 I was in severe time trouble, with a very unpleasant position. He was playing very well and was winning, but he also got into time trouble and then it became very messy. When the air cleared I somehow emerged a pawn up and managed to convert it.
Tomorrow’s game is again at 1pm, so time is short once more. The pairings are out, I’m playing white against Cawdery from South Africa. The pairing system likes extremes it seems, from Norway to South Africa! Time to rest and prepare now.

Reykjavik Open 2014 – The Norwegian Invasion (Round 5)

I know that the Norwegians were the first settlers of Iceland, but I never expected there will be an invasion during the tournament and I’ll only be playing them! Except when I played the girl in Round 3, all the other players were Norwegian!

Today was a deja-vu, another resilient kid, another long, 5-hour grinding game, 71 moves this time, instead of the 70 in Round 2. The only difference was that I didn’t manage to win. I liked how I played, I made something out of nothing in the Catalan, got a winning position, but in spite of the several wins pointed out by the computer, they were not that obvious during the game. So a draw. Frustrating.

Tomorrow’s game is at 1pm, so less time for everything. Hence, just a short entry now. And guess who I’m playing tomorrow? Yep, another Norwegian!


Reykjavik Open 2014 – The Golden Circle (instead of Round 4)

After yesterday’s toil I decided to take a bye today and go on a tour around the country, the famous Golden Circle Tour.

The weather promised to be nice,

but as they say here, if you don’t like the weather, just be patient for 5 minutes, it will change. And so it did, before long we had the usual charming Icelandic weather:

The first stop was the Rift Valley, Thingvellir, which separates the American and European tectonic plates. It was here where the Vikings held their assemblies back in the 10th century. The following photo was shot from the American plate looking over the parliament fields:

We then walked downwards into the valley

into the tectonic no-man’s land and from there I took a photo of the American tectonic plate

Several kilometers separate the tectonic plates and because of the weather the European plate wasn’t visible. But what was visible were the coins that people throw for good luck in the springs and rivers that flow in this area (we were told this custom was started by a Danish king).

The next stop was the Gullfoss waterfall. The sight was spectacular:

And even the sun decided to come out:

But you haven’t been to Iceland if you haven’t seen a geysir erupt:

This happens every 5-7 minutes. A great thing to see, but the other, non-erupting geysirs were no less interesting.

Since this was a tour for chessplayers, the inevitable last stop was the Bobby Fischer Centre and his final resting place in Selfoss.

The centre was a bit of a letdown, at least for a Fischer-fanatic like myself. But I was told that this is a centre run by volunteers and is still in its early stages (it didn’t even exist last year). What I found interesting were a couple of rare photographs and a scrapbook of Icelandic newspapers from the famous match.

The surprise was the presence (he drove from Reykjavik for the occasion) and the short speech by the former president of the Icelandic Chess Federation, Gudmundur Thorarinson, the man who was head of the federation during the match in Reykjavik in 1972 and one of the members of the RJF group that managed to get Fischer out of Japanese custody. He gave a brief resume of the events around the match and Fischer’s life in Iceland.

The final stop was Bobby Fischer’s final resting place. After my visit of Alekhine’s grave in Paris in 2004, followed by Capablanca’s in Havana in 2005, this is the third world champion I paid tribute to.

After this we returned to Reykjavik, just in time for the round. It was a pleasant journey through a country that’s so unique in every possible aspect. But today the touristic part of the tournament finishes and from tomorrow it’s back to the old routine of preparation and play (ad infinitum). Six rounds to go and all to play for.


Reykjavik Open 2014 – FIRE IN THE HOUSE! (Rounds 2&3)

Today was one of those exhausting, double-round days. The first game started at 9.30am. I played a resilient Norwegian kid (aren’t they all), from the U16 category. So naturally I followed Carlsen’s white play from his rapid game with Nakamura, from the Zurich tournament, but the kid deviated on move 7. I got a pleasant position and after some hour and a half, all of a sudden, the loudspeaker in the Harpa announced something in Icelandic, followed by “MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE! MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE! THERE IS FIRE IN THE HOUSE! PLEASE EVACUATE THE BUILDING!” The clocks were stopped immediately, everybody got outside.

After approximately 1 minute, we were told we can go back in and continue. So we got back inside and played exactly 1 move, when we were told we should go out again.

This time the break was some 15-20 minutes. Eventually we returned to the hall and resumed play. Luckily these disturbances didn’t affect my play and I won a nice technical game, albeit a very long one, lasting 5 hours and 70 moves.

This was the first time in my career that a play had been interrupted because of a fire. Back in 2005 in Santiago de Cuba there were interruptions because of power cuts, but never because of fire! Later on I understood that there actually was some fire in the building (and it wasn’t a drill as I assumed), but I never saw any fire brigades or commotion or panic. I guess people are naturally cool in Iceland.

Due to all this, the afternoon game started at 5pm, instead of the scheduled 4.30pm. I was very tired from the morning game and due to the time constraint I couldn’t prepare properly. I was surprised that Jovana Vojinovic (WGM, 2323) entered the Benoni (something that she had almost never done before) and I couldn’t recall my analysis. I messed things up pretty badly and was lucky she accepted my draw offer on move 16. So 1.5/2 in one day isn’t bad at all.

The main upset in the third round was Naiditsch’s loss to Ezat (the guy who sacrificed a queen and tortured Kramnik in the last round of the World Teams).

These double-round days are the plague of modern open tournaments, they take away so much energy that now what’s important is to get rest and get back on track. Looking forward to some sleep!


Reykjavik Open 2014 – First Impressions

I arrived late last night in Reykjavik. The bus took me from the airport to the hotel driving through the lava fields on an empty motorway. The feeling was one of calm.

After getting a good night sleep today I got a chance to take a stroll through the city. The first thing that struck me was the lack of traffic. Naturally, there are cars, but I had the sensation that it’s pretty empty on the streets, probably that’s why they cross them wherever they please. When in Rome, do as Romans do, so I followed suit.

One street I crossed was this one:

I wonder how many Jesus Streets there are in the world.

Following the street of their main God, I reached the Cathedral:

It’s pretty impressive on the outside and very simple on the inside:

And they use crystal to keep the Holy water. Unfortunately, it was empty:

It was time to go the playing hall to register, so I started in that direction. The first thing I saw when I exited the Cathedral was this:

I suppose they opened it for the lovers of the film Thor. But by now I realised they were very fond of their Gods, even the nastier ones.

Further downwards I encountered The Pond. I couldn’t help but wonder whether Tchaikovsky had been to Reykjavik:

One pair of swans was very much in love:

I had to leave them and continued to the playing hall called Harpa, the concert hall and conference centre of the city:

It is equally impressive on the inside:

Eventually I registered with the organiser and at 4pm was the opening ceremony, followed by Round 1. I won rather easily against a weaker opponent. Tomorrow is a double-round day, so it will be tough.

Time to rest now. More stuff from the north when I get more time in the following days.

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