03 May

Remembering Reykjavik

Reykjavik is an iconic name for chess players and aficionados of the game, being the legendary venue for arguably the most famous of all world title matches when lone wolf Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky and the all-conquering Soviet Union chess might during their epic cold war clash in 1972 that moved chess into the mainstream media for the first time.  This was a match that lit a chess fuse which still burns even today. 

After 44...Nf6!

Since then, the Icelandic capital has become a place of pilgrimage for practically all chess players; and given the chance, they never miss an opportunity to play there. Tournaments are well-attended, and the Icelandic late-winter international series began even before Fischer, back in 1964, with another famous world champion, Mikhail Tal scoring an extraordinary 12½-½ performance to win the inaugural Reykjavik event.

The tournament was initially held every two years, but since 2008 it switched to annually. It was also a “closed” tournament in its early years, but has now become an “open”, namely the Reykjavik Open - and many famous players besides Tal have featured in the tournament over its half century or so, including David Bronstein, Vasily Smyslov, Bent Larsen, Lev Polugaevsky, Jan Timman, Nigel Short, Viktor Korchnoi, and last but not least two-time winner Magnus Carlsen, the current World Champion and Honorary Chairman of First Move.

And in the last few years, the Reykjavik Open - which ran 19-27 April - has been staged inside arguably one of the world’s most visually impressive chess venues, the new Harpa Concert Hall, a stunning and shimmering piece of glass and steel architecture right on the very ocean’s edge. And yet again there was a cosmopolitan field, totaling 266 that included many of the world’s top players.

Reykjavik Open winner: Anish Giri! | © Reykjavik Open

The #1 seed and favourite to win was GM Anish Giri - and the Dutch #1 showed enterprising play in his big penultimate round clash with nearest rating rival, Baadur Jabova, as he overpowered the Georgian GM with the black pieces to all but secure the title, as he moved into the sole lead going into the final round.

Final (top) standings
1. GM Anish Giri (Netherlands) 8½/10; 2-5. GM Jordan Van Foreest (Netherlands), GM Sergei Movsesian (Armenia), GM Abhijeet Gupta (India), GM Gata Kamsky (USA) 8; 6-10. IM Konstantin Kavutskiy (USA), GM Erik Blomqvist (Sweden), FM John Pigott (England), GM Nils Grandelius (Sweden), GM Zoltan Almasi (Hungary) 7½.

GM Baadur Jobava - GM Anish Giri
Reykjavik Open, (9)
Sicilian Najdorf, Poisoned Pawn
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 The fabled Poisoned Pawn variation of the Sicilian Najdorf, made famous by no less a figure than Bobby Fischer himself! Perhaps this was Giri paying a little homage to Fischer in the scene of his historic world title victory of 1972? If so, ironically, Fischer's Poisoned Pawn backfired spectacularly against Spassky in 1972, as the American lost 1½-½ in the only two games played with it during the match. 8.Nb3 We all know that 8.Qd2 is the Poisoned Pawn proper - but this avoids all the complications, as the game transposes back more into a normal Sicilian Najdorf, with White's knight slightly misplaced on b3. 8...Nbd7 In the early days of the Poisoned Pawn, where White balked the complications with 8.Nb3, many played here 8…Qe3+ for a simple life, but after 9.Qe2 Qxe2+ 10.Bxe2 the exchange of queens only helped White, so instead the plan was hatched of retreating the queen back to c7 and continue in the style of the Sicilian Najdorf. 9.Be2 Be7 10.Qd3 Qc7 11.0-0 b5 We now have a common Sicilian set-up, with Black's loss of tempo with the retreat of ...Qb6-c7 offset by White's misplaced Nb3, so things even out here. 12.a3 Bb7 13.Kh1 Rc8 14.Rae1 0-0 15.Qh3 Rfe8 16.Bd3 e5! Stopping White from opening up an attack towards Black's king, and also fixing White's e-pawn. White's e-pawn often becomes the focus of Black's attention in such Sicilian set-ups, where an exchange sacrifice on c3 in conjunction with capturing the e-pawn gives Black excellent, winning prospects. 17.fxe5 dxe5 18.Re3 Nf8 19.Ne2 I wouldn't at all be surprised if Jobava spent a lot of time here pondering the speculative exchange sacrifice with 19.Bxf6!? Bxf6 20.Rxf6 gxf6 21.Qh6 Ng6 22.Rh3 but after 22...Qd7! 23.Ne2 Red8 24.Qxh7+ Kf8 there's no mating attack, and the long-term prospects likely favor Black here - though I imagine a draw might well be found. 19...Qd7 20.Rf5 Qe6 21.Nd2 N6d7 22.Bxe7 Rxe7 23.Nb3 g6 24.Qg3 Nf6 25.Rf1 N8d7 26.Qe1 Kg7 27.Ng3 h5 28.Ne2 Rh8 29.h3 Qb6 30.Ng1 h4! Giri expands on the kingside, looking to play ...Nh5-g3+ by taking advantage of the fact that Jobava can't readily play Nf3 and capture Black's h-pawn, as the rook on e3 will be unprotected. 31.Nf3 Ree8 32.Kh2 Rh5 White now can't gang up on the h-pawn, as Black will simply defend with ...Reh8. 33.Re2 Reh8 34.Qf2 Right now, the White queen doesn't look as well-placed as Black's queen on b6, so Jobava looks to ease the tension by exchange queens, as he believes it will lessen Black's attack. Now normally this is usually a good plan in such positions, but here, he perhaps missed a better option with 34.Na5!? Ba8 35.b4!? denying Black the c5 square for his knight, that would pile the pressure on the e4-pawn. Play could now continue 35...g5 36.Qd2! g4 37.Ng5 and, with Rf5 coming, White's pieces are just as dangerously placed to attack the Black king than Black's pieces are attacking the White king - and this sort of enterprising position is more befitting Jobava's style of play. 34...Qxf2 35.Rfxf2 g5! With no possibility now of Qd2 to support Ng5, Black can crash on with his kingside attack - and now even take advantage of the fact that the g5-square becomes vacant. 36.Rf1 g4 37.Nfd2 Rg5 38.c4 Nh5 Giri wasn't exactly spoilt for options here, as he also had the promising 38...gxh3!? 39.gxh3 Rg3! exploiting the lack of defense White has for his minor pieces along the third rank, as White can't play 40.Rg1 because of 40...Ng4+! 41.hxg4 Rxd3 and Black has a decisive advantage. 39.cxb5 axb5 40.Bxb5 Ndf6 41.Nc5 Jobava has temporarily won a pawn and looks to have excellent winning prospects if he can rapidly push his two passed queenside pawns - but unfortunately, there's the little matter of the menacing massing of Black's pieces on the kingside. 41...Bc8 42.Ree1 Nf4 43.hxg4 There's simply no time to push those passed queenside pawns. 43...Nxg4+ 44.Kh1 Nf6! Giri voluntarily retreat's his knight from the attack - but only to make way for an unlikely mating attack with the two rooks. 45.Nd3 Rg3 46.Rf3 Jobava's king is soon caught under the heavy fire of Black's amassed forces after 46.Nxf4 h3! 47.Kg1 exf4 48.Re2 Bg4! 49.Ref2 h2+ 50.Kh1 Nh5 51.Kxh2 Rb3! 52.Kg1 Rxb5 with an easy win. 46...Bg4 47.Rfe3 Rxg2 There was even another clinical kill with 47...Bd7! 48.Bxd7 Nxd3 49.Bf5 Ng4 50.Bxg4 Nxe1 51.Rxe1 Rxg4 and, with ...h3 coming next, White can resign here. 48.Nc4 Rc2 49.Ndxe5 N6h5 The White king is now snared in a mating net. 50.Kg1 Ng3 51.Rxg3 hxg3 52.Ne3 Nh3+ 0-1

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