Tag Archives: Gibraltar

Danger, Will Robinson!

As I wrote in my last blog entry, I managed to get 4.5 points from my first 6 games in Gibraltar. I generally didn’t manage to put together a complete game until the 6th round, but after that effort, I was feeling like I could make a push in the final four rounds.

In round 7, I got the black pieces against GM Sergei Movsesian (2708 FIDE). Movsesian had been close to breaking into the elite of the chess world for a number of years before finally doing so last year, shooting up to 2751 FIDE. He’s dropped since then, but he’s maintained his rating above 2700. When I was preparing for him, I noticed that he almost always avoids the main lines, but while he doesn’t necessarily challenge you from the get-go, he knows his systems backwards and forwards and is very difficult to beat in them. He’s also much more dangerous with the white pieces than with black (as seen in the tournament, where he won all 5 games with white quite easily, and drew all 5 games as black without getting close to a better position at any point).

Still, I felt good about my chances – I’m pretty solid with black and I hadn’t lost to a 2700 before! Sadly, there’s a first time for everything. You could say that I got off the boat and promptly fell into the deep end …

(FEN: rnbqkb1r/ppp1pppp/5n2/3p4/8/3P2P1/PPP1PPBP/RNBQK1NR b KQkq - 0 3)

This was the position after 3.d2-d3, and I decided to play 3…Bf5. He answered with 4.c4, and Black’s position is already much worse! I guess I was on autopilot as I hadn’t realized that by delaying Ng1-f3, the Bg2’s diagonal was open. That makes all the difference in the world because Black has no good way of keeping the diagonal closed now. White’s plan is pretty much the same regardless of what Black does: play Qb3 (hitting d5 and b7), exchange on d5 and play Nc3 (hitting d5 again), and then play e4 to finally break down Black’s center. If Black then takes on e4 and retreats his bishop, White plays e5, opening the long diagonal and winning b7; if Black retreats without taking on e4, then White wins a pawn on d5.


I sat there thinking and kicking myself for falling into such a simple trap. I ended up playing 4…c6 5.Qb3 Qc8 6.cxd5 cxd5 7.Nc3 e6 8.e4 Bg6 9.exd5 Nbd7!?, hoping that he’d go pawn-grabbing by taking on e6 and f7.

(FEN: r1q1kb1r/pp1n1ppp/4pnb1/3P4/8/1QNP2P1/PP3PBP/R1B1K1NR w KQkq - 1 10)

Actually, if he does grab those pawns, Black has good counterplay after 10.dxe6 Nc5 11.exf7+ Ke7! 12.Qd1 Nxd3+ 13.Kf1 Qc4. Black will only be a pawn down after taking back on f7, and White’s development is more screwed up than Black’s. However, he was alert to that danger and continued with 10.Be3 instead. Now I played 10…e5 11.Rc1 Ng4!?.

(FEN: r1q1kb1r/pp1n1ppp/6b1/3Pp3/6n1/1QNPB1P1/PP3PBP/2R1K1NR w Kkq - 2 12)

After the game, he praised this move a lot, saying he completely missed it when he played 11.Rc1 and that he should have played something like 11.d4 instead. The point is that after 11…Ng4, the obvious 12.Nb5 is a bit dicey for White after 12…Nxe3. Here are a couple lines after 12…Nxe3:

A)    13.Rxc8+ Rxc8 14.fxe3 Nc5 15.Qd1 Nxd3+ 16.Kd2 (16.Ke2 Nxb2 is also no fun) Nxb2 17.Qb3 Bb4+! 18.Qxb4 Rc2+ 19.Ke1 (the king has nowhere else to go) Nd3+, forking king and queen, leaving Black ahead in material!

B)    13.Nc7+ Kd8 14.fxe3 Nc5 cuts the protection off for the knight and leaves Black on top.

After a 35-minute think, he found a very accurate way of proceeding after 11…Ng4 with 12.Bh3! (hitting the Ng4 and indirectly pinning the Nd7) Nxe3 13.fxe3 Qc7 (threatening to play …Nc5 again) 14.Qa4!, when his advantage is not in doubt. He’s up a pawn and Black has no real compensation. I resigned 8 moves later when my position had deteriorated even further.

It’s hard to take anything positive away from a game like this, but on the plus side, I’m not the only GM to have fallen for that same trick. GM Sebastien Maze, who was sitting next to us during this game, fell into the exact same trap against GM Hikaru Nakamura last year at the French Team Championships! I noticed Maze looking at our game intently and giving me a funny look when I played …Bf5, but I didn’t realize he had been on the receiving end of the same beat-down a year earlier.

Don’t worry, there’s more fun after the jump!

How Can You Falter, When You’re the Rock of Gibraltar?

I’ve got a backlog of posts to add now that the tournament in Gibraltar is over, so this will be the first of a few before I start my next event in Cappelle la Grande (France) on February 13th.

The Gibtelecom Masters finished yesterday, and I ended up with 6.5/10. Not a bad score point-wise, but I didn’t play up to my expectations or my rating – I lost all the points I had gained in Sevilla to start off this trip. I’ll cover the first 6 rounds in this blog before wrapping up the tournament in a later post. Although 2 Americans tied for first (GM Gata Kamsky and GM-elect Alex Lenderman), neither was involved in the playoff (the top 4 on tiebreaks had a rapid playoff for the title). Emerging from that fight was GM Michael “Mickey” Adams of England. Mickey was once a perennial top-10 player – and one of the “Linares guys” according to Kasparov – but he’s slipped a bit over the past few years and I think this was his biggest tournament win in a few years.

In the first round, I won as black against Rafael Montero Melendez, a 2248 FIDE rated player from Spain. As though it’s an unwritten rule for my first-round pairings, he played the Exchange Slav against me. I’ve played the Slav for about 3 years now, and I face the Exchange Variation in about 1/3 of my games with it. After the game, I checked the database to see what the average incidence of an Exchange Slav is amongst games that fall under the ECO codes D10 to D19 (the range for all the variations of the Slav). As it turns out, in my database, it’s about 1 out of every 7 games, so either I happen to be playing a lot of opponents who normally play the Exchange, or they’re afraid of me and try the Exchange in the hopes of a draw.

In any case, I was not ready to call it a day after seeing 3.cxd5, and we reached a position after 13 moves that was decidedly unlike a normal Exchange Slav:

(FEN: rn2kb1r/1p3ppp/p1b1pn2/q2p4/P2P1B2/1RNBP3/4NPPP/3Q1RK1 b kq a3 0 13)

I had gone an early pawn-hunting expedition with my queen, playing …Qd8-b6xb2-a3-a5 (he had prepared the pawn sac idea, as he blitzed through that phase of the game), and now I returned home with 13…Qd8!?. I came up with this move after thinking for about 18 minutes. The idea is to play …Bd6 to exchange off White’s dark-squared bishop, as that would both clear the way for kingside but also relieve some of the queenside pressure I faced.

13…Be7 is also reasonable, but I rejected this based on a miscalculation in a long variation. After 13…Be7, one line I looked at was 14.Qb1 0-0 15.Rxb7 Bxb7 16.Qxb7 Nbd7 17.Bc7 Qb4 (the only safe square) 18.Bxa6, to reach the following diagram:

(FEN: r4rk1/1QBnbppp/B3pn2/3p4/Pq1P4/2N1P3/4NPPP/5RK1 b - - 0 18)

Now, in my head, I continued 18…Qxb7 19.Bxb7 Ra7 20.Rb1, and I didn’t see a good way to extricate the rook, noticing that the rook is trapped after 20…Ne8 21.Bb8. Unfortunately, there are two mistakes in this long line from the Black side – for one, after 21.Bb8, while it’s true that Black’s Ra7 has no safe square, Black has the simple 21…Nxb8 to save it! Also instead of 18…Qxb7, Black can play 18…Bd6 with a clear plus. White has other ways of continuing after 13…Be7, but since this line doesn’t work, my idea with 13…Qd8 was probably not the best one.

After 13…Qd8, the game continued 14.Qb1 Bd6 15.Bxd6 Qxd6 16.e4 dxe4 17.Nxe4 Qd5 18.Nxf6+ gxf6. White is still down a pawn, but Black’s kingside has been opened up, so his king probably won’t find shelter there. The center has also been opened up a bit, so Black has to be careful about keeping his king on e8 as well! Finally, Black’s still not properly developed, as after 18 moves, all I had to show for my efforts was that I had moved my queen and bishop off their original squares. White had definite compensation at this point, but I managed to outplay him in the ensuing complications, and he threw in the towel 10 moves later when he had shed a couple more pawns to no avail.

I drew the following day against IM Kenny Solomon (South Africa). This was pretty disappointing, since I had achieved a completely winning endgame only to throw it away with two hurried moves. The following day, I drew as black against FM Guillaume Camus de Solliers (France), in a game where my opponent played a rather safe line of the Meran, and I didn’t get any real winning chances.

Then, in the 4th round, I had the white pieces against Yves Duhayon (2241, Belgium). I haven’t played 1.e4 in a long time, but for this game, I decided to go after his Ruy Lopez and I achieved a clear plus. Unfortunately, in the following position, after I had played 21.Qd2-c2, I walked into a very nice drawing combination.

(FEN: 4rqk1/p1p3b1/b1p1r2p/3pN1p1/N2Pn3/7P/PPQ2PPB/R3R1K1 b - - 8 21)

I could have immediately sacrificed the exchange on e4 with 21.Rxe4 dxe4, and then played 22.Qc3 to cement my control over the dark squares. White threatens 23.Nc5 and various knight forks all over the place while Black’s rooks don’t have any good open files. As Kasparov would say, the quality of his pieces more than compensates for the material disadvantage.

Instead, I decided to play 21.Qc2, thinking that I would have time to take on e4 later if need be, and I might prefer to keep the material and kick the knight with f2-f3 instead at some point. Kudos to him for spotting a tactical resource that I just wasn’t looking for.

He played 21…Bxe5 22.Bxe5 Rxe5! 23.dxe5 Bd3!!, which forces a draw. The problem is that if I take the bishop with 24.Qxd3, he has 24…Qxf2+ and there is no safe square for my king. If I play 25.Kh1, he has 25…Qxe1+! 26.Rxe1 Nf2+, picking up the queen; 25.Kh2 allows 25…Qf4+, and now if 26.Kg1, Qf2+ repeats while 26.Kh1? Nf2+ is even worse. Finally, 25.Kh2 Qf4+ 26.g3 escapes the knight forks, but costs White his queen after 26…Qf2+ 27.Kh1 Nxg3+.

I refused the bishop and so avoided any knight forks with 24.Qxc6, but after 24…Qxf2+, there was still no good way for me to avoid a draw in the end. Black’s attack is quite strong, so I had to force a repetition on move 37 with checks on g6 and h6.

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easyCancellation and the End of the World (as They Knew It)

I’m in Gibraltar now, here to play in the Gibtelecom Masters which begins later today. Somewhat unfortunately, my plans in between the tournament in Sevilla and this one were scuttled before they ever took off though. The plan was to fly from Madrid to Marrakech and spend the time between the two events in Morocco. From Tangier, I would then take a ferry across the Strait to Gibraltar.

After the prize ceremony in Sevilla, I took a train to Madrid, spent a night there, and went to the airport the following morning. Unfortunately, after a few hours of waiting, easyJet canceled my flight (along with 3 other flights they had from Madrid that morning) due to “inclement weather.” We all had to collect our bags from the baggage carousel and then go back to the check-in area to figure out what our options were.

I thought something was a bit odd, as the weather in Madrid that day (January 17th) wasn’t particularly bad – it was cloudy, may have been sprinkling at the time (although it wasn’t when I came into the airport or left), and wasn’t especially windy. Pretty much all the other carriers in the terminal had some delays on their flights, but none of them were canceling their flights. After doing some searches online, it seems that easyJet has one of the highest cancellation rates of any European airline. I’m not sure why it makes sense for them to cancel flights since it leaves planes and staff out of position (not to mention costs them money for the people who they reimburse for hotel expenses, etc), but they seem to pull the trigger quickly on canceling flights.

In any case, we had no choice but to wait in line with hundreds of other passengers to hear our options. They made another strange move at this point, opening only two of the desks for these displaced passengers, but leaving six desks open for new check-ins – the lines at those desks were about two deep, so it shouldn’t have been too much trouble to accommodate their other passengers, but we weren’t going to have such luck.

After standing in line for 3 hours, I finally made it to the front, only to hear that their offer was a flight to Marrakech in a few days! If I took that flight, they would reimburse my hotel expenses in Madrid until then (within a reasonable amount).

Unfortunately, the loss of a few days would effectively derail my plans in Morocco. I had planned on visiting Marrakech and Tangier, combining some sightseeing with some rest. But with only a few days in Marrakech before a 10-hour train ride to Tangier, the new schedule wouldn’t give me enough time to do both – I’d either have to cram a lot of sightseeing and exploring into my trip, or go to Morocco to sleep. Neither option appealed to me, so I declined that offer.

Thus, I ended up spending the interim period in Madrid. I was disappointed that my trip had been shot by the weather and easyJet, but as I like Madrid, I didn’t mind it too much in the end. I made a couple daytrips to Segovia and Salamanca, and then went to Malaga to be a bit closer to Gibraltar.

From Malaga, I took a bus yesterday to La Linea de Concepcion. There, the bus station is just a short walk from the border. While there were cars backed up waiting to get through, I crossed on foot! Of course, the border is manned, and I had to show my passport at an immigration counter, but it was quite fast and I think that’s the first time I’ve crossed a border on foot.

On the bus from Malaga, I ran into one of my opponents from Sevilla (GM Damian Lemos). Because Gibraltar is so expensive and the tournament organizers don’t provide conditions to (male) players below 2600 FIDE, he decided to stay in La Linea and will just cross the border every day before the game. I can’t think of any other tournament in the world where you would stay in a different country from the site and commute every day!

Gibraltar is a tiny British colony and the massive Rock of Gibraltar marked the end of the world for the ancient Greeks. Amusingly enough, the tournament is on the side of the Rock that faces Greece, whereas my hotel is on the other side – I guess they never would have made it here!

The tournament itself should be very strong and the pre-registered list lives up to the billing of being one of the most prestigious open tournaments in the world. The top seed is French GM Etienne Bacrot. One of the strongest American players ever, GM Gata Kamsky, clocks in as the 5th seed.