You may have noticed that this year’s London Chess Classic was won by 26-year-old US Grandmaster Hikuru Nakamura, defeating former World Championship Challenger Boris Gelfand in the final.
Besides spectating the main event, there were a wide range of other Festival Events going on for amateur players. These included a strong FIDE Open, weekday tournaments, weekend tournaments, rapidplay tournaments, and blitz tournaments. There were also Grandmaster simultaneous displays, opportunities to play blitz with Grandmasters and get books signed. There were activities for visiting juniors / schools during the week, including free coaching sessions. Not to mention a Chess Education Conference and opportunities for teachers to attend chess coaching seminars. All in all a brilliant event on so many levels!
I decided to take a week off and enter the FIDE Open. I had not played in an international tournament like this for a few years. One game a day with classical time limits sounded leisurely enough, although I was reminded that when you’re playing day after day for 9 rounds, stamina becomes important. The other thing that is a factor with these events is preparation for individual opponents – you get to see who you are paired against and with which colour in the morning, enabling a bit of preparation for your opponents before playing in the afternoon. This might involve looking at what openings they play using a database as well as assessing what strengths or weaknesses they have as players and deciding on a game plan accordingly.
What made the FIDE Open particularly strong this year were the two places in the Super Sixteen up for grabs to the leaders after 4 rounds. These places were won by GM Andrei Istratescu and GM Emil Sutovsky. I was amazed in the first round by the fact that a GM was playing on Board 50 in round 1 of the FIDE Open. Extraordinary and practically unheard of. Not only was it a large Open (nearly 200 players), but also one containing many high quality players.
International Opens are a great opportunity for players trying to improve to test their skills against much stronger players. Like most Opens this event runs a Swiss pairings system, which pairs the top half of the draw versus the bottom half in round 1, and in each subsequent round by score. In this Open it meant being paired against someone up to 500 rating points higher or lower than you (!) and so on through the tournament, depending on how you do. For example, if you were a 2100 rated player you’d get a 2600+ GM in the first round! If you were rated 1900 you’d get someone about 2350.
This puts pressure on players to win the games against much lower rated opponents as a draw would be the equivalent of a loss in ratings terms against a similarly rated player. On the other hand the lower rated player has everything to play for!! It also means making a psychological adjustment between rounds, recovering from losses quickly and bouncing back with energy. I have found that far from games being walkovers, players are still playing fighting games of chess despite the sometimes huge ratings gaps. Upsets are not uncommon, everyone can play a good game on their day.
Despite the pretty generous time limits, blunders under time pressure are common. It is not so much that clock management itself the problem – the route cause is the pressure a player is put under by their opponent, which in turn causes the time trouble. The following game is a good example. My lower-rated opponent has played well throughout the game. I got my pieces into a bit of a mess earlier, but finally they are starting to look coordinated and menacing on the kingside. Under pressure on the board and on the clock (down to 30 second increment per move) my opponent makes a serious error near the time control with 39…h5?
Can you spot the winning 40th move? Shouldn’t be too difficult! The answer is at the bottom of the page.
I will have more on my London Chess Classic experience next week…
Answer: 40.Qxh5+ Resigns. If 40…gxh5 41.Rxh5 mate (or 40…Kg7 41.Qxg6+ will mate).