November 30, 2009 • General
Hello out there to everyone once again. Before I talk about the recent tournament in Norway, I would like to take a moment to explain why I have not been blogging much of lately. Recently, I have become extremely busy boht in terms of chess and other events in Seattle. As such, I feel that the quality of my recent blogs has been lacking due to the limited amount of time which I have had to communicate my thoughts. My personal feeling is that any blog or book for that matter should be quality over quantity. For the first time in over a month, I have a chance to settle down and not feel rushed.
Towards the end of the disaster in Amsterdam, I received word about the possibility of participating in the BN Bank Blitz this November in Norway. After a brief communication, I agreed to play as I felt it would be a good opportunity to warm up before London and get another crack at Magnus Carlsen. The tournament had an interesting format with sixteen players; ten invited and six qualifiers from local tournaments around Norway. These 16 players were then broken down into four groups of four with the top two players of each group advancing to the quarterfinals at which point it became a knockout.
In the qualifier, I was in a group with GM Leif Erlend Johannessen and local qualifiers FM Kjetil Stokke and the young Anders Hobber. The basic goal in the preliminary stage was to avoid any calamities against the two weaker plays and just not lose to Johannessen. I did not have any major problems as I won the four games against the qualifiers. Leif on the other hand presented a few problems. The first time I ever played Leif was way back in Bermuda in 2002 (wow, that feels like another lifetime ago)when I made my second grandmaster norm. More recently, I beat him in the 2006 Turin Olympiad when we beat Norway 3.5-.5 to capture the bronze medal. Although Leif stopped playing chess seriously in order to finish a law degree, he has always been a dangerous opponent. In the first game against him, I got a bit lucky as he had a strong kingside attack. However, after a minor error I was able to capitalize for the full point. In the second game, I obtained a very small advantage and he self destructed as his time got a bit too low. This left me with 6/6 out of the first stage and looking forward to the next stage.
In the quarterfinals I faced GM Kjetil Lie also from Norway. Prior to playing in the Gjovik rapids last year I had never faced Kjetil. During that tournament I became aware of his style as we played four times. Despite my 3.5-.5 score, he can be a tricky player. This time around was not much different as he had problems finding a way of reaching equality against the Trompowsky in both of his Black games. I won my black game without any problems either which helped me advance 3-0.
Semifinal: The semifinal was when the real tournament began for me as I had to play GM Peter Heine Nielsen from Denmark. Although Nielsen has yet to break 2700, he has always been a super solid GM who does not lose very often. Luckily for me this was blitz and not classical so I knew I would have some opportunities. In the first game, I got Black and played the Queens Gambit Accepted. We reached a rather tame position as queens came off the board early. After reaching a pretty equal position, I was able to slowly outplay him as we started drifting lower and lower on time. After winning the first game with Black, I knew my chances had drastically improved. In the second game, things did not improve for Peter as we repeated a similar variation from our game in Amsterdam. After going for a different idea, I was able to pick up two pawns and had a much better position. Unfortunately, it was here when he was down to seconds that I let the game slip and was probably only equal at the point when he accidentally overstepped on the clock. In the third game, with such a big advantage, Peter really had to go for broke. Despite trying the aggressive 3.e4 system against the Queens Gambit Accepted, he ran into trouble early on when he got a bit too ambitious while trying to win in the opening before reaching the middlegame. This led to catastrophe as he got his queen trapped on a7. This led to an early resignation and a 3-0 victory for me once again. Not more than 30 seconds later, Magnus won his third game against Jon Ludvig to advance by a score of 2.5-.5 which setup the dream final for the organizers.
In the final I faced off against Magnus Carlsen. Little needs to be said about him as he has proven to be one of the best in the world and recently won the World Blitz Championship. Before I delve into this match I would, for the last time, like to emphatically state that I never received an invitation to play in the World Blitz Championship despite rumours that I turned down such a request. Obviously I would have played in that event had I gotten an inviation. Onto the match, I knew that I was undefeated at 12-0, but was concerned about how my nerves would hold up at the start of the match after cruising through the prelims and matches. The first game proved my worst fears as I chose a rather dubious variation of the English. When combined with the fact that I more or less fell asleep at the board (not literally) and used a minute and a half to get out of the opening with barely equality, it doomed my chances. I almost immediately went wrong and lost without obtaining any realistic drawing opportunities. After such a bad start, I thought I would turn on the secondary gear and wake up. Much to my horror this did not prove to be the case as I blundered horrendously in the second game when I allowed 24.Nf5. Shockingly, I had seen Nf5 but forgot that after intentionally hanging the pawn on d6, Ba4 was not possible as my rook on e8 was en prise. This very unwelcome surprise wrecked my position and I almost certainly should have lost from here. However, caissa seemed to have different plans as I was able to complicate it a bit thereafter. Nevertheless, Magnus kept his wits and still had a completely winning position. Luckily, I was able to hang on long enough that we both were down to mere seconds. It was at this point that Magnus went astray when he traded into a knights endgame. At this point I was still lost, but I found a way to trick Magnus into a losing king and pawn endgame. After he miscalculated the pawn race, I queened first with check and went on to win the game. This balanced the score at 1-1. Realizing how lucky I had been to not lose, let alone win, I took a deep breath and slowed everything down in the third game. This turned out to be a very wise decision as we played a pretty straight forward Grunfeld in which I sacked a pawn on c3 to gain initiative. Having looked at this variation in depth with GMs Shulman and Onischuk during the olympiad I felt pretty confident and came out with a lot of play. Despite being down a pawn, my position was slightly easier to play and I eventually was able to pick off a few pawns and convert the advantage into a win. This put me up 2-1 heading into the fourth and final game with Black. Needing only a draw, I once again decided to go into the nimzo, but I chose to play like Michael Adams when I chose the 5…ne4 variation. This turned out to be a very wise choice as I was never really in much danger throughout the game. Many people have suggested that this game should have ended in a draw, but had this been an earlier game in the match, I most certainly would have avoided a repitition myself! Alas, Magnus was in the unfortunate position of having to avoid the repitition and I won the game after picking off all his pawns in a rook and bishop vs queen ending. Thus, I won the match 3-1.
Overall, I felt that my play was pretty good; unfortunately, the finals were a bit of a letdown for me personally. Having played so well and calmly throughout every game up until that point, it is hard to improve. Putting that aside, I felt that I was a bit too nervous and was not ready to up my play to the next level. Luckily, I calmed down and soundly outplayed Magnus in games 3 and 4. Objectively, I think the score should have been 2-2 but I am still happy that I won. For me, this was a nice victory, but I am looking forward to London a lot more and hope to put together a strong tournament there. Last but not least, I would like to thank the organization of the tournament and the sponsor BN Bank for putting together a great tournament as well as Dag Danielsen and Oystein Brekke for their involvement as well.
That is all for now, time to get ready for the event in London. Have a great week everyone!