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    San Sebastian Rounds 7,8,9 and other adventures

    July 18, 2009 • General

    A very good early morning to everyone from Newark Airport! Luckily, there is wifi here courtesy of Boingo Hotspots, so I will attempt to write this blog up before my flight to Vancouver which is scheduled to board 80 minutes from now (when I start the blog)! Before I dive into all the chess related stuff, I happened to catch the early morning news that the famed journalist, Walter Cronkite died either last night or this morning. It seems that far too many prominent people have passed away over the past few weeks, and I think one can only hope that we remember all the positives these inspirational people left behind and try to improve ourselves and the world. On that note, I cannot resist any further and shall now proceed to talk about the adventures which Spain has had to offer…enjoy!

    Round 7: “A Close Shave”

    Normally speaking, I would never have chosen this title for a specific game, but since it is 5:30 AM and I do not think my brain is functioning anywhere near 100% at this insane hour, it makes sense in a weird way. For those who don’t quite understand the title, it has nothing to do with shaving at all, but rather the Wallace and Gromit cartoon from 1995 which I remember watching on VHS as a Christmas present all those many years ago when I was still young! In round seven, I had Black against Peruvian GM Julio Granda Zuniga. Unfortunately, due to being on the chess only for the later half of the 90s and 00s, I missed much of his rise during the late 80s and early 90s. However, I was well aware of his return to chess in 2001 or 2002 (I think but am not totally sure) and we actually played in the Continental Championships in Argentina in 2003. In that game, I was also Black as well, but I managed to outplay him a Slav and emerged victorious which would eventually propel me into qualifying for the 2004 Fide World Cup in Libya. Since receiving much press after his return, it seems as though Granda has faded back into obscurity as a farmer or simply part time player. Nevertheless, he seems to be a happy fellow, so it is hard to criticize anyone for such a lifestyle. As is, despite not being a serious professional player, he is still capable of being dangerous and beating anyone on a good day. In many ways, he also reminds me of myself as his openings generally seem to be very unpredictable and both players are out of their opening books well before move 10 (I do not think this description fits me anymore though).

    In the game Julio opened with 1.d4 and I was the first one to come up with a surprise when I chose to play the Dutch. Over the past few years, I have occasionally played the Dutch with relatively good results including a very important win against Anatoly Karpov in the Cap D’Agde rapid qualifier. On the flip side, I have also played some highly forgettable games including an abysmal loss against soon to be GM Amon Simutowe from Zambia (congrats to him on finally achieving the title). After 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 he chose 5.b4!? To return the favor with another surprise of his own.

    Fortunately, I was ready for this and I chose 5…Nc6. Here he played 6.b5 Na5 and now 7.Qd3!??! finally took me out of my preparation. Nevertheless, I felt that my next few moves were more than ok. 7…Ne4 8.c4 c5! 9.Bb2.

    Here after using a couple of minutes, I played 9…b6. In many ways, Julio’s deep think of 45 minutes here hurt me greatly from a psychological point of view as it gave me time to ponder why I did not stick with my original idea of 9…a6! Had I chosen this move, I would have had an advantage with potentially a lot more. After this minor blunder, I simply could never shake the missed opportunity from my head for the rest of the game. This is probably what led to my frustration and simple oversight. 15…a6?? It is ratheer ironic that I got this move in, but instead of giving a huge edge like it would have on move 9, it simply lost in this case! After this horrible disaster, Granda found a nice way to force massive trades leading to a winning rook and pawn endgame. However, instead of simply bringing his king into the game, he went for the endgame with an extra pawn. Although this ending was probably winning, it requires a lot of technique and I have yet to find a clear cut forced win despite my original thought that it was very easy and straight forward. In the end, due to the time control, I was able to hold on to the draw like a  “bulldog hanging on to a bone,” as a fellow GM commented to afterwards on gmail chat. Although this was definitely not how I would have liked the game to have gone, I got the job done and avoided losing. This was extremely important as GM Ruslan Ponomariov who was one point back at the time crushed GM Vachier-Lagrave in a Grunfeld. With the draw, I still maintained a half point lead heading into round eight.

    Round 8: “Recharging The Batteries”

    In the 8th round I had White against GM Sergei Movsesian, the Armenian GM who currently plays for Slovakia. Surprisingly enough, I am pretty sure we had never played prior to this game despite being teammates in the Austrian League and playing in the same tournaments on several occasions. I am not sure why this started happening, but towards the end of the tournament, I seemed to feel a little bit gassed. I do not think this had anything to do with my physical or mental preparation, but I feel that it probably was simply the massive amount of energy I expend when I play for wins in every game. Therefore, having gotten to +4 at the midway point made it seem more prudent to try and play stuff which was a little bit simpler. That being said, I did not go into this game with the intention of drawing in 17 moves with White. Unfortunately for me, Sergei chose the Philidor Defence for a second time in the tournament (1st was against Svidler) and I was not expecting his nice little sideline with 7…a6.

    Surprisingly enough, this move has only been played 13 times, whereas 7…a6 has been played over 1100 times. As I was not familiar with this variation, I reacted quite badly and chose the “normal” 8.Qe2 c6 9.Rd1. Here he played 9…exd4 10.Nxd4 Re8! (For some reason, Boingo won’t let me upload anymore images). After this, I realized that I was already in some trouble and I found a nice, simple plan to completely equalize the position. After 17 moves, with the position being completely equal I offered a draw which Sergei duly accepted. Obviously, I was not very proud of the game but after getting myself into trouble early, it all worked out and I cannot complain with the result. Svidler and Ponomariov also drew relatively quickly which meant that I still kept a half point lead as we headed towards the final round.

    Round 9 “Just A Prelude”

    In the critical ninth round, I had Black against GM and former Fide World Champion, Rustam Kasimdzhanov. The first time I played Rustam was in the final of the rapids in Corsica back in October of 2007. In the first game with Black in a Meran, we reached an equal position before he made 1 bad blunder and I pounced on it like a Bull. In the second game with White I also achieved a winning position but gave Rustam a draw to clinch the match. The only other time we played was during the French League in 2008 when we drew in yet another Meran. Overall, I have a lot of respect for “Kasim” as he seems just as capable as anyone else of great results. In San Luis, he did not have a great showing, but I remember his crushing win over Anand quite well. Therefore, I did not approach this game with my standard “must win” attitude which I always have when I play in the US swisses. Overall, Kasim is just an extremely solid player who is capable of being great at times.

    In the game, we started out in a Queens Indian, but I chose to play the 4…Bb7 variation instead of the more standard 4…Ba6. We then followed theory until move 8 when I chose the interesting and quite unknown sideline with 8…Nd6!? Fortunately, I had already prepared for this for the US Championships when I played Ehlvest. We then played standard moves until Rustam chose 15.e4 ?! This move, although not terrible seems to give away any practical advantages to a human. I know that after looking at this game with “The Fish,” (Peter used this term after our game in third round) I remain unconvinced. After the next few moves, Kasim chose to repeat when I found 19…Qf5! After the game, Rustam mentioned that he had overlooked this move and had only seen 19…Qg7 after which White definitely has an advantage. After the more or less forced repetition, I signed a few autographs and posed for a few pictures before rushing back to the hotel. During the game, I could tell that Ponomariov was better and had pretty good winning chances. So I ran back to the hotel in order to prepare for the looming playoff if he could find a way to beat Vallejo.

    Once we got back to the hotel, Kris and I started reviewing much of our preparation both before and during the tournament to see if we had any special lines which could be used in straight blitz. Ultimately, we only had 15-20 minutes, so it became a quick review session and simply hoping that A) our preparation was good and B) that I could remember it! Thus, I hung around the hotel just long enough to see Ponomariov win his game and catch up with me. After this, it was showtime. Having given it my all during the tournament, it is always interesting trying to re-establish the mentality of having to re-focus for another battle when you think it is all but over. Luckily, over the years, I have had many instances where I have caught up (Gibraltar 2007) or been caught (Gjovik 2008). This great level of experience definitely helped me more in Spain then anywhere else, as I truly felt out of it. Ultimately, at the end of the day you simply have to forget about everything and just play. In many ways, Kris’s little bits of advice before the first and second game made me realize this.

    Blitz Game 1: “Ready, Set, Go”

    After what seemed like an eternity, (it took a good 15-20 minutes to change the setup) we finally got down to business and I had White in the first game. I was definitely expecting a repeat performance of the Najdorf from Ponomariov, but he instead chose the Scheveningen variation the Sicilian. Although this was a surprise it was more than a welcome one! I promptly responded with the Keres Attack which I had prepared for GM Movsesian in the eighth round. After playing a variation with h6,g5, I was slowly able to neutralize all play on the queenside and the disastrous kingside cost Ponomariov dearly as he simply could not stop my threats. In general, this was nearly the perfect opening for me because I have also had experience with these positions as Black, and it made all my moves very natural and required very little thinking. Lately, it seems, when I do not play blitz enough, I start going into stupid thinks for which I got punished by Svidler when we played blitz in Gjovik, Norway last winter. This time around though, I just avoided any deep thinks and it all worked out in the first game.

    Blitz Game 2: “Finally, Finally I Can Relax!”

    For some reason after the first blitz game, the arbiters chose to give up a 15 minute break. Ideally, I think 5-10 minutes is best as it really cuts down on the potential overthinking which can start to occur otherwise. I suppose the only real plus was that it gave Kris and I a chance to reason and reach a solid conclusion on what to play in the second blitz game. Other than this short chat, my time consisted of pacing back and forth in the hall with a nice big scowl on my face. In the end, the minutes slowly passed and we started the second game. After playing the standard Slav, Pono played 12.Bf4 instead of 12.e5 which has been featured in practically every top level game of late. After 12…c5 I got a very comfortable game and never had any real problems in the game. After a repetition, Pono tried one last ditch effort to trick me, but couldn’t stop a simple fork which won the game neatly and the title for me. For some reason, whenever I win a tournament in a blitz playoff, it always takes a bit for the victory to sink in since I have re-adjusted my thought process and really just want to play the next game. I think for this reason, I was still in a bit of shock for the next half hour as I just kept wanting game three of the blitz to start. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it definitely makes me a blitz addict!

    Dinner, Beach, Fun Times

    After the closing ceremony at city hall, all of the participants went off to dinner at a local seafood restaurant where we enjoyed the local cider and some very interesting Caribbean music. As of now, I have not yet seen many of the dancing pictures show up on Chessbase yet, but it was a fun filled evening for all. Between the food, great conversations (I spoke with Karpov!) and just enjoyable atmosphere, it was definitely a fitting way for such an event to end. Normally this would have been the end of the night, but Kasim and his wife organized for a beach afterparty. Having won the tournament and had some wine, I figured why not! Therefore, a bunch of us (Peter,me,Kris,Kasim,David, Paco,Ines,Tania,Vesna and Anastasia, sorry if I forgot anyone) went down to the beach at 2 AM and off for a nice little swim in the ocean. This was certainly not the brightest idea, but it was all in good fun and everyone enjoyed it. Afterwards, Kris&I decided that since it was 3 AM and we had to be at the airport at 7 AM should completely destroy the minibar which we did with fine efficiency while playing and watching some random games on ICC. On that note, I hope everyone enjoys this blog and I shall check back with everyone once I am in Vancouver later today!

    Last but not least, I would just once again like to thank David,Felix and everyone else with the organization who did a great job putting on a world class event and created a perfect atmosphere for a chess tournament. Thank you for a great experience!


    1. timhortons

      small all the best! i believe that you will become a world champion.

    2. Congratulations on the big win and good luck in Canada!

      “…since it was 3 AM and we had to be at the airport at 7 AM should completely destroy the minibar which we did with fine efficiency while playing and watching some random games on ICC”

      haha Chess insomnia for the win.

    3. thx for the review of your games and have a great time in Canada. can’t wait to read your next blog!

    4. Politicalmusic

      Good job. Just take it one tournament at a time. I love the line

      “Kris&I decided that since it was 3 AM and we had to be at the airport at 7 AM should completely destroy the minibar which we did with fine efficiency while playing and watching some random games on ICC.”

    5. Hello Hikaru !
      Congrats on a fine victory.
      Your blog is setting a new standard when it comes to commentary by a leading player such as yourself.
      Keep up the excellent standard!

    6. Hello Hikaru !
      Congrats on a fine victory.
      Your blog is setting a new standard when it comes to commentary by a leading player such as yourself.
      Keep up the excellent standard!

    7. Great reading smalls, you write in an interesting way. Onto the next tournament I wish you the best of luck!

      Will you reinitiate your blitz & bullet activities on icc any day soon?? Or have you found that your game is suffering from playing too much there?

    8. King of blitz-chess, honouring your title. Congratulations Hikaru!!!
      glad you had fun in our city,

    9. Politicalmusic

      Here we go again.
      Another anonymous vitriolic e-thug. The great thing about technology is that things aren’t as anonymous as you think. However, this does not even warrant the attention. Promptly delete and move onward and upward! Congrats again.

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