I arrived in Benasque last Wednesday afternoon, having taken the 7:30 AM bus from Barcelona. The only excitement was when I switched buses in Barbastro and explained to the ticket office that we (myself and a group of 4 from Israel and Hungary) needed to get to Benasque on that bus. I was the only one who had an official ticket, getting the last seat officially available from the ticket machine. They gave in, overbooking the original bus, but bringing up a van to take some people along the same route until there were enough open seats on the bus.
Benasque is in the province of Huesca, nestled into the foot of the Pyrenees. Unlike Barcelona, Catalan is not really spoken here – Spanish, with a dash of Patues, is the local language. In the winter months, Benasque gets more traffic as a place to ski. In the summer, there are still some tourists, but the focus is on hiking.
By now, the tournament has started, and here is a quick rundown of my first few games.
Round 1: White vs. Jorge Requena Munguira (Spain, 1958 FIDE). Not an especially difficult game, as the opening resolved itself clearly in my favor, and I executed very cleanly to put the game away in 26 moves. The opening would have been considered more normal had the white bishop been on g5 instead of f4. In the comparable positions with the bishop on f4, the Cambridge Springs-plan of …Qa5 and …Bb4 employed by my opponent lacks any bite and just misplaces his pieces. Still, it was good to get off to a nice start. The game can be replayed here.
I’m seeded #38 (but played on board 37, because my roommate, GM Levan Aroshidze from Georgia, had to take a first round bye as he was late arriving from Turkey). I roomed with Levan back in Sort last year, the first tourney of my summer 2007 chess trip.
Round 2: Black vs. Jonathan Tan (Netherlands, 2129). A challenge, largely due to my foggy head. I hadn’t slept well, as even now, I am still trying to adjust to the time difference. The opening was a surprise for both of us, as I am still learning the Ruy Lopez and he has started learning the White side of it. He played the Central Attack Variation (9.d4 instead of 9.h3) and with my memory failing me, I implemented a rarely seen, but seemingly known, plan.
The game can be replayed here.
I outplayed my young opponent in the positional maneuvering phase until I faltered with 27…Nh5?, which threw away most of the advantage right away. I had planned the more prosaic 27…Nfd7, but changed my mind at the end. In any case, I then got into serious trouble, and after a series of mutual oversights (backward moves are difficult, and in this case 33.Rxf7+! would have won, as the rook on a2 would be hanging at the end), turned the tables. Instead of defending, I was attacking, and I then put the game away quickly.
After some first-round no-shows, here are some quick tournament statistics by my count:
— 34 GMs
— 30 players above 2500 FIDE
— 74 players above 2400 FIDE
— 495 total players
Round 3: White vs. Eduardo Desanjose Candalija (Spain, 2310). An amusing pairing, as I was born in San Jose. I’m not sure if he is legally blind, but rather than playing in the normal playing area, our board was in the blind players’ row at the entrance to the tournament hall. This made for somewhat unpleasant playing conditions – not only were the moves announced on some of the other boards (so that both players knew what had been played), but there was lots of foot traffic and talking by the entrance.
The game can be replayed here.
The game started off poorly for me, as I faced a line of the Meran with which I wasn’t really familiar. I played it a little too inventively, and had to beat a hasty retreat with 15.Be3. However, I then compounded the issue by essentially eschewing relative equality with 16.f3 (in some variations, nominally White will end up a pawn, but in an opposite-colored bishop endgame) and my position became clearly worse. To add to my problems, I was down about 40 minutes on the clock.
However, he struggled to find a constructive plan and I managed to reorganize my pieces quite well and began to come out of my shell. My advantage was centered around his horrible bishop on b7, and in order to activate it, he had to sacrifice a pawn. The ensuing endgame was not a trivial win for me, but my opponent made it much easier by playing it like a middlegame, running his h-pawn down the board. He then resigned somewhat prematurely when he realized he was likely to lose the h-pawn. I likely would have played on from his position, although it was almost certainly lost.