18 Mar

Chess Hot Iceland

A sparsely-populated North Atlantic island, Iceland is famous for its hot springs, geysers and active volcanoes. And those aren’t the only things that are hot in Iceland - so is the chess. Despite having a population of just 320,000 (half the size of Seattle), the country is an anomaly by having more grandmasters per capita than any other nation, with thirteen at the latest count - a staggering statistic that would equate to there being 1,300 grandmasters in the USA!

The chess fuse was lit when Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky in Reykjavik 1972, and it still burns today, with the game remaining tremendously popular in Iceland. Tournaments there are also well-attended, and their late-winter international series began in 1964 even before the Fischer boom, with one of his predecessors as world champion, Mikhail Tal, scoring an extraordinary 12.5-0.5 performance to win the inaugural event in the Icelandic capital.

The tournament was initially held every two years, but since 2008 it switched to become an annual affair. It was also a “closed” tournament in its early years, but has now become an “open”, namely the Reykjavik Open - and many famous players have featured in the tournament over its half century or so on the circuit, including Tal, David Bronstein, Vasily Smyslov, Bent Larsen, Lev Polugaevsky, Jan Timman, Victor Korchnoi, Samuel Reshevsky, Nigel Short, Hikaru Nakamura, Judit Polgar, Alexander Grischuk, Fabiano Caruana, and last but not least Magnus Carlsen, the current World Champion and Honorary Chairman of First Move.

While perhaps not as dominant as Tal, this year’s winner, the Dutch grandmaster Erwin L’Ami, amassed such a commanding lead that he won with a round to spare (highly unusual for such strong opens), affording him the luxury of losing his final round game to the Ukrainian Grandmaster Pavel Eljanov, yet still claim victory by a clear half-point margin. The Dutchman top-scored on 8.5/10; with Eljanov and Italian grandmaster Fabien Libiszewski runners-up in 2nd-3rd place respectively, on 8-points. The top American was the young California-based GM David Naroditsky, scoring 7.5-points.

L’Ami’s surprise surge to victory came off the back of a somewhat unexpectedly easy win in round seven over the Azeri top seed and world #13, Shak Mamedyarov, who all but imploded during their encounter.

E L’Ami - S Mamedyarov
Reykjavik Open, (7)
Old Indian Defence
1.d4 d6 2.c4 e5 3.Nc3 exd4 4.Qxd4 Nc6 5.Qd2 g6 6.b3 Bg7 7.Bb2 Nf6 8.g3 0–0 9.Bg2 Re8 10.Nf3 Bf5 11.Nh4 Bd7 12.0–0 Qc8 13.Rfe1 Bh3 14.Bh1 Qg4?! If anything, Mamedyarov's downfall can probably be traced back to this purely speculative move. More standard is 14...a5 looking for play on the queenside. 15.Ng2! With the simple idea of Ne3 (or even Nf4), leaving White in control of the all-important strategic d5-square. 15...Qd4 16.Rad1 Ne4 17.Qxd4 Bxd4 (See Diagram) 18.Rxd4! "Chess is 99% tactics," once famously said Richard Teichmann (1868 – 1925) - and here, a simple one leaves Black unable to defend his loose minor pieces, some critical pawns and, more importantly, some potential knight forks. 18...Nxd4 19.Nf4 Ng5 No better was 19...Nxc3 20.Bxc3 g5 21.Bxd4! gxf4 22.Bxb7 Rad8 23.gxf4 and White will soon also win the a-pawn, and with it the game, as his own a-pawn will quickly push up the board. 20.Nxh3 Nxh3+ 21.Kf1 1–0 Perhaps resigning somewhat abruptly, but Mamedyarov has a history of this. And in any case, White threatens a3 trapping the knight, and Nd5 winning material. So if 21...Nc2 22.Rd1 Nb4 23.a3 Nc6 24.Nd5! Rec8 25.Nf6+ Kf8 26.Nxh7+ Ke7 27.Bf6+ Ke8 28.Bg2 easily wins.

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