45th Biel Chess Festival Part I
July 28, 2012 • Blog
It seems like it has been an absolute eternity since I last blogged. This has mainly been due to the fact that tweeting is a lot easier since it is far more senseless and a mere 140 characters! At the same time, I have also been enjoying life a lot in between tournaments spending most of my time in one of the best cities in the world.
Way, way back in 2005, I played in 38th Biel Chess Festival for the first time. I had many positive experiences, met many great people and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the great Swiss cities of Biel and Geneva. Little did I know that it would end up being seven years before I would be back.
Prior to coming to Biel, I spent two days in Zurich where I gave a simul at the magnificent Savoy Hotel. For those who aren’t aware, this was also the same location where the Kramnik-Aronian match was played this past March. While playing tournaments and competing is always something I will enjoy, having the opportunity to give lectures, simuls is far more rewarding. Having the opportunity to give back to chess fans, benefactors is what makes it all worth it at the end of the day.
From Zurich, I took the train with my long time second, Kris Littlejohn as well as my stepfather, Sunil Weeramantry to Biel. The train ride itself was pretty short as it lasted just over an hour, but traveling through the Swiss countryside gave me the opportunity to admire the very beautiful countryside. One day, I hope that I have the opportunity to spend several weeks traveling through Switzerland and exploring Zermatt and some of the other well known tourist destinations.
Just like in 2005, we are all staying at the same hotel, (name has changed) which brings back a lot of the familiarity. At the same time, it also reminds me how much has changed since then. As with most chess tournaments, the conditions here are very nice with wifi, free breakfast as well as a complete kitchen here in our suite.
The first round of the 45th Biel Chess Festival began on Monday, July 23rd. In this round, like in several recent events, I had the black pieces against the world number 1, Magnus Carlsen. It has been well documented that my results against Magnus have not been great, but there is nothing you can do but keep on trying! Magnus surprised me in the opening, and I was slightly worse in the middlegame after a couple of minor inaccuracies. Although I was significantly worse at some point, Magnus was unable to break through my defences we agreed to a draw right before time control on move 39 (0 wins, 1 draw, 0 losses).
In the second round, I had the white pieces against the young Dutch prodigy, Anish Giri who at only 18 is already amongst the top 25 players in the world. Anish and I have played several times, most recently in Wijk aan Zee in January and Reggio Emilia in December with a wide variety of results. In our first encounter here, Anish took the game out of the known theoretical paths in the openings. While this choice was slightly dubious, I could not find the right plan of attack. Anish’s ability to play solid moves kept him in the game despite a slightly worse position, and I threw away any winning chances right before time control. In fairness the evaluation of the position was not clear, and I very easily could have lost in the resulting double edged position. We agreed to a draw on move 41 right after time control (0 wins, 2 draws, 0 losses).
The third round featured a matchup with the number 1 ranked Chinese player, Wang Hao. Amongst top players, Wang Hao is one of the few whom I am not very familiar with having only played him on two previous occasions. The game quickly got very complicated when I chose the extremely sharp Polugaevsky Variation of the Sicilian Najdorf. We were both blitzing out our opening moves until the 15th move when I avoided the main line and chose something offbeat. My main reasoning behind this decision was to try and create complications while attempting to confuse my opponent. This turned out to be correct as I quickly obtained an advantage and kept up the pressure. Unfortunately, this required using massive amounts of time and just when victory was in sight, I could not find the knockout blow. To compound my problems, I made a horrendous blunder on move 26, completely overlooking a very thematic double sacrifice. I attempted to try and hang on, but Wang Hao showed no mercy and I eventually resigned on move 47 when I was down two pawns and their was no hope (0 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss).
One of the most difficult things about playing chess is that unlike sports, even when you lose a game, you almost always have to come back the next day and play again. This tournament proved to be no exception and in the 4th round, I had my second black in a row against Viorel Bologan. Due to the unfortunate circumstances regarding the withdrawal of Alexander Morozevich, the organizers were amazingly able to find a replacement on short notice. I attempted to surprise Viorel by playing the Queens Gambit Accepted opening. This seemed to work as Viorel did not respond with the most accurate moves and eventually made a positional rook sacrifice to imbalance the position. From this critical juncture of the game on move 20 until move 60, I was slightly better and attempting to break through and score my first victory. Perhaps due to the result of the previous day, I wound up pressing too hard, turning down draw after draw in an attempt to win and found myself, much to my horror, with a completely losing position. However, the clock ended up being my best friend as we were playing on our 30 second increment and eventually Viorel walked his king across the board only to get it caught in a mating net. I’m not particularly superstitious, but I felt that in some way, this evened out the luck from the previous rounds (1 win, 2 draws, 1 loss).
The fifth round marked the halfway point of the tournament, and completed the first cycle. I had white pieces against the 2nd lowest ranked player in the tournament, former French prodigy, Etienne Bacrot. Much to my surprise, Etienne chose to play the Kings Indian Defense for a third time despite suffering two brutal losses to Giri and Wang Hao earlier in the tournament. Unlike those games which turned into massive theoretical debates, I attempted to steer the game into quieter waters by playing the Petrosian System. Etienne would have no part of it and attempted to do a caveman pawn storm on the kingside and mate me. As with most Kings Indian positions, it is a question of whether white will break through on the queenside before black mates on the kingside. In this particular case, my queenside attack was much quicker, and I won without facing any really scary attacks (2 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss).
Coming off of two wins, I started the second half of the tournament by flipping colours and playing against Magnus Carlsen once again but with white this time. Magnus chose to play the Grunfeld Defence which came as a mild surprise to me. I attempted to play a quiet sideline to create some chances, but Magnus, very prudently chose to simplify the position and we agreed to a draw shortly thereafter (2 wins, 3 draws, 1 loss).
Thus, we have reached the rest day at long last. Currently, I sit in 3rd place with four rounds left. Although it will be an uphill battle if I am going to fight for first place, there are still plenty of games left, and I plan on trying my best.