The annual Rilton Cup in Stockholm is just one of a smorgasbord - when in Rome, or in this case, Sweden, so to speak! - of traditional Opens held throughout Europe over the Christmas and the New Year holiday period and is regarded by many as one of the very best of its category - and such is its popularity, many players make the pilgrimage by returning each year to compete.
The most eminent of all is, of course, Hastings - the world’s longest-running tournament, second behind the New York State Championship - which has now reached its 92nd edition: but Groningen is up to 54 and Zurich 40, while the Rilton Cup itself has now reached its 46th outing.
Initially, its funding came from an ‘anonymous’ donation back in 1971 from Tore Rilton (1904-85), a Swedish chess-loving doctor who wanted to give back to the Swedish chess community. But when the organisers tried to thank their new benefactor by mail, all their letters were returned unopened. And when they called by phone, his secretary explained that the doctor did not receive calls.
The only thing the organisers could think to do to mark his generous donation was to rename the tournament 'Rilton Cup’. And when he died 12-years later, a considerable sum of money was further bequeathed to the tournament from the Dr. Tore Rilton Memorial Fund. The mission being to safeguard the funding of the Rilton Cup tournament forever!
And this venerable tournament always straddles the new year; and it comprises a formula tried and tested by the organisers: one or more graduated sections in addition to the top-ranking Rilton Cup itself. This year’s edition was no exception with 105 players in the Rilton Cup (including 24 top grandmasters); just under 112 in total in the Rilton Elo for players under 2200, plus two Opens for those rated under 1800 that added a further 100 or so players.
But all eyes were on on the top-rated Rilton Cup. And following the Indian success at Hastings, it proved to be a double whammy for India with GM Krishnan Sasikiran also taking the title with his unbeaten score of 7.5/9, half a point ahead of GM Sergey Volokov of Russia, with five-time US champion GM Kata Kamsky third on tiebreak on 6.5 points.
Sasikiran's path to victory came as he rode his luck in a rollercoaster encounter with the Swedish grandmaster Erik Blomqvist in today's game.
GM Erik Blomqvist - GM Krishnan Sasikiran
46th Rilton Cup, (7)
Ruy Lopez, Closed
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.a4 Normally we see this move played as an Anti-Marshall, preventing the Marshall Attack - but here, Black has already played ...d7-d6, so there's no Marshall threat. 8...Rb8 9.axb5 axb5 10.c3 b4 11.d4 bxc3 12.bxc3 exd4 13.cxd4 0-0 14.Nc3 Bg4 What Sasikiran is trying to do is overwork his Swedish opponent's queen, as Blomqvist's queen protects d4 and b3. 15.Be3 Nb4 16.h3 Bh5 17.Ra7 Kh8 18.g4 Nxg4!?! Sasikirian is trying to 'unbalance' the game, looking to win to stay ahead of the field in a very competitive Swiss Open. And to do this, you need to take risks such as this. The sacrifice is not necessarily winning, but it puts enormous pressure on your opponent. 19.hxg4 Bxg4 20.Bc4 Also an option was 20.Kg2!? with the idea of Qd2 and Nh2 - but it takes a brave man to boldly use his unprotected king to defend a pinned piece. 20...f5 21.exf5 Bxf5 22.Nh2? The simple 22.Qd2 was best, asking Black just what does he have here for the sacrificed material? 22...d5! Now there are very serious threats with perhaps the rook lift with ...Rb6-g6 or h6, or even the more direct ...Bd6 and ...Qh4 - and the self-inflicted wound from White turns the position firmly in Black's favor. 23.Bf1 Bd6 24.Bg2 Nc2 25.Rf1 Nxe3 26.fxe3 Qg5! Black's attack now almost plays itself here. 27.Qd2 Be4? Calamity! The game now dramatically flips, as Sasikiran misses the clinical, clear-cut win as all the engines quickly spotted, with the forced king walk after 27...Qg3! 28.Nf3 Bh3 29.Ra2 Rxf3! 30.Rxf3 Qh2+ 31.Kf1 Qh1+ 32.Ke2 Qxg2+ 33.Rf2 Qg4+ 34.Kd3 Qg6+ 35.Ke2 Qh5+ 36.Kd3 (If 36.Ke1 Bg3 37.Qb2 Rf8 38.Qa3 Qf3! wins quickly.) 36...Bf5+ 37.Rxf5 Qxf5+ 38.Ke2 Rf8 and Black will easily convert the win, being two pawns up and White's king wandering around dazed and confused in no man's land. 28.Rxf8+ Rxf8 29.Nxe4 dxe4 30.Ra5 Qh4 31.Nf1 g6 Not so much creating a little 'luft' for the Black king, but more a necessity now for Sasikiran, as he has to try to keep his rook from being exchanged, as this will keep the pressure on Blomqvist in his mad-dash to make the time control. 32.Qa2 Kg7 33.Ra8 Rf5 34.Ra5 Rf7 Sasikirian is still losing after failing to cash-in by missing 27...Qg3! - but he still has chances with the rooks still on the board. 35.Qc2? Too greedy. For reasons that will soon become apparent, Blomqvist first had to play 35.Rb5! before targeting the e-pawn. 35...Bb4! The rollercoaster of a game flips back to Black again, as there's no easy way now to prevent ...Be1-f2+ and mating threats. 36.Ra1 Be1 37.Rxe1 If 37.Ra2 White is paralyzed, and Black can take his time to push his kingside pawns menacingly up the board now with 37...h5! 38.Rb2 Kh6! 39.Ra2 Rf6! 40.Rb2 g5 etc. And all of this is difficult to fathom out leading up to the time control, so Blomqvist opts instead to sacrifice back some material to try to stay in the game. 37...Qxe1 38.Qxe4 Qf2+ Also an option again was the idea of 38...h5 etc as per the previous note, as White has no real constructive moves. 39.Kh2 Qf6 40.Ng3 Qg5 Better was 40...h5! 41.Ne2 g5 and again, White still hasn't any constructive moves he can make here. 41.d5 h5 42.Ne2 Re7 43.Qf4 If 43.Qd4+ Kg8 44.Nf4 h4 and White has the constant worry about ...Qg3+ endangering the king, and perhaps picking up the e3-pawn in the process. And if 45.Ne6 Qg3+ 46.Kh1 h3 47.Be4 Rf7 and even although all the engines say this is '0.00', White could easily fall into a mating attack here. 43...Qxf4+ 44.Nxf4 Rxe3 The ending offers some practical winning chances here for Black, as Sasikiran's has the dangerous d-pawn firmly under control, and those connected passed pawns on the kingside can start rolling up the board - but it is difficult to see past the game being anything other than a draw here. 45.Ne6+ Kf6 46.Nxc7 Ke5 47.Ne6 Rd3 48.Ng5 Kf6 49.Ne4+ Kf5 50.d6? There is an old saying in chess that he who blunders last, loses! And here, White had to play 50.Nc5! Rd4 51.Nb3 Rh4+ 52.Kg1 Rb4 53.Nc5 Rb5 (If 53...Rd4 54.Nb7! and White's d-pawn is now mobile.) 54.Be4+ Ke5 55.Bxg6 Rxc5 56.Bxh5 Rxd5 with the engines saying an 'Endgame Database' draw. 50...Kf4 The king, rook and advancing pawns make for a potent mating force. 51.Kg1 h4 52.Kh2 g5 53.Nf2 Rxd6 54.Ne4 Rd4 55.Nc3 Rd2 56.Nd5+ Ke5 57.Ne3 Re2 58.Ng4+ Kf4 59.Kh3 Rxg2 0-1