It’s hard to keep track of all the chess tournaments taking place this summer. In the last week alone we’ve had the Politiken Cup, the HZ Chess Tournament, the Asian Continental Championships, the British Championship and the events just keep on coming. You can follow almost all of them live on chess24, and we’ve decided to pick out some of the highlights you might have missed.
The next huge event on the chess calendar is the
Team Championship featuring Team chess24 Sinquefield Cup, although the
Russian Championships starting this Sunday are a good warmup. Before that,
though, there’s been a huge amount of action around the chess world, with chess
players of all levels spending the summer on their favourite pastime.
Let’s look at some dramatic moments:
The huge 400+ player Politiken Cup this year took place in Helsingør, Denmark - better known by its English name Elsinore as the setting for Hamlet. While this wasn’t quite a Shakespearean tragedy Swedish Grandmaster Tiger Hillarp Persson was joint leader of the tournament on 4/4 when he made the kind of move that causes chess players to wake up at night in a cold sweat:
As our ever helpful silicon friends gleefully point out, the evaluation is 0.00 in all lines. The key point is that after the kingside pawns are gone White can pick his moment to play a4!, and Black would have two passed pawns on the a-file but no way to get past the white king and queen them.
That bonus half point proved crucial for Markus Ragger, who took first place on tiebreaks with 8/10. There was also a happy ending for Tiger, though. He managed to stop kicking himself in time to win his next three games and a final-round draw against Jon Ludvig Hammer was enough for him to join the 10-way tie for first place on 8/10. He took 5th on tiebreaks.
Use the selector below to replay the Hillarp-Ragger game and 689 other full games from the event!
In the same round Hammer was already tweeting about his opponent preventing him from winning the beauty prize, but in Round 6 he got his chance:
It would be a crime against chess to play anything other than Hammer’s 26…exf3!! queen sacrifice here, and after 27.Bxb6 Rxe1+ 28.Kf2 fxg2 29.Kxg2 he added a beautiful flourish (or played with vindictive cruelty, depending on which side of the board you’re sitting ) with 29…Bb1!:
After 30.Qd2 Nb3 all Black’s pieces were perfectly placed and none of the threats (Re2+, Be4+, taking the queen...) had gone away. Jakob Glud had seen enough.
After six rounds Israel’s Ilia Smirin had become the sole leader on 6/6, but he was put to the sword in spectacular fashion by Hammer in Round 7 and went on to lose the next three and almost four games. No-one else made Smirin’s mistake of taking the lead alone, and instead we got the kind of anti-climax that gives big opens a bad name.
Three rounds of quick draws among the top players led to a 10-player logjam in the final standings. At least there was room to joke:
New 2700 club member David Howell is rated well over 100 points ahead of anyone else in this year’s British Championship in Coventry, which is missing Mickey Adams, Nigel Short, Luke McShane, Matthew Sadler and Gawain Jones. In Round 3 he looked as though he might demonstrate what that extra strength means by grinding a 100+ move win against Danny Gormally. Instead, though, it could all have ended in tears for the 24-year-old top seed:
Gormally took a draw by repetition, but it turns out 119…Rc2! wins, with Black’s army so well-coordinated that the a-pawn can simply be allowed to queen, e.g. after 120.Nh4+ gxh4 121.Rf8+ Ke3 122.a8=Q Black has 122…h3! and the pawn can’t be stopped.
Of course computers spot such lines instantly, but it’s a different matter when you’re low on time, exhausted after a long game and just happy to have survived:
It didn’t harm Gormally’s chances, though. At the moment of writing he’s leading the British Championship on 7/9 with two rounds to go. His co-leader is Nicholas Pert, who beat Howell in Round 7 after accepting a pawn sacrifice. It looked as though Howell was ready to break through, but when he missed a couple of nice tricks he found himself in a difficult position and very low on time with 15 moves to go. Still, he didn’t need to do this:
25.Qxh7?? Presumably he was expecting 25...Rg6, but pieces can also undo their previous move, and after 25…Rh8 the h6-bishop was lost for no real compensation. David made the time control, but resigned immediately afterwards, a whole rook and knight down.
Play through the British Championship games using the selector below:
The Asian Continental Championships, held this year in Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, have become a big deal due to the inexorable rise of China and India. Five World Cup places are up for grabs, and when you throw in the likes of Vietnamese top seed Le Quang Liem you have a truly tough competition.
The women’s section is also formidable, even if weakened slightly by India’s Humpy Koneru and Harika Dronavali choosing to play in the open section. India’s no. 3, Padmini Rout, is playing the women’s section, though. She’s the second seed after China’s Tan Zhongyi, but in Round 3 things took a turn for the worse against Iran’s Atousa Purkashiyan:
This sudden bishop move (the word sacrifice doesn’t fit) seemed to unsettle the Indian player, who could simply have solidified with 33…Bd6 or 33…Qe5. Instead after 33…gxh6?? 34.Rxf6 it was already game over, according to the computer. Pourkashiyan had to prove it, though, and managed that task in some style until they reached the following position after 40…Ke7:
This is where the game caught our eye. As you might notice, it’s mate-in-1 if White plays 41.Re5 - a slightly unusual mate where four pieces play a role and the king is in the middle of the board. That’s still not what caught our eye, though
The video feed from the site is short on words, high on atmospheric music and has excellent image quality, and it captured the moment when mate was given. In a men’s game this would probably be a blur – a rushed final move and an awkward handshake. Here it's more like a Chinese tea ceremony: Atousa Pourkashiyan spends what seems an eternity, but is only 15 seconds, before playing the winning move. Padmini Rout then pauses before acknowledging the loss. No-one is in any rush:
Rustam Kasimdzhanov was expected to be the top seed in the traditional HZ Chess Tournament in the Dutch seaside town of Vlissingen, but when he had to withdraw at the last moment there was a scramble to find another top player to replace him. Baadur Jobava more than fits the bill – although his rating plummeted recently the Georgian firebrand is one of the most entertaining players to have made it close to the top of world chess.
In the HZ Chess Tournament he’s been beating weaker players in the way you’d expect – by ratchetting up the tactical pressure until they go astray. For instance, against Dirk van Dooren (2333) in Round 3:
What should White do? Take on c6, on e4, with the bishop, or perhaps the king? Dirk went for 27.bxc6? and soon found his king wandering up the board until it was ultimately mated on f7. Instead 27.Rfc1! Bxc5+ 28.Rxc5! promised good chances of survival.
It was similar in Round 6 against Julian van Overdam (2367):
After a 5-second pause for thought Jobava went for 34.Rxf6!?, leaving his opponent with lots of choices. The computer points out 34…Qxd3!, but after 34…gxf6? the game was up. Jobava averaged 5 seconds a move for the following sequence and smoothly transitioned to a won queen ending with a passed a-pawn.
The game that stood out most, though, was the Round 4 draw with IM Wan Yunguo. The Chinese player seemed to have everything under control and Jobava, having thought for 53 minutes on move 15, must have been very short on time. So does he just try to hold things together?
31.Rb5!? Not exactly It’s unlikely this exchange sacrifice was entirely sound, and it seems Wan Yunguo was clearly winning at some point in the following moves, but he was so knocked out of his rhythm he began returning material – first a pawn, then an exchange, and when he got a rook ending with 3 vs. 2 on one side of the board the drawn outcome never looked in doubt.
Although China has become arguably the second strongest chess nation in the world, their statistics make curious reading when compared to other top countries:
One striking fact is that they have fewer IMs than GMs, a trick only Armenia also manage to pull off among the chess superpowers. Their titles or ratings can’t always be trusted, though. When IM Wang Chen played in the Russia vs. China match the Russian coach Alexander Motylev lamented:
In terms of rating the Chinese team was much weaker than ours, but the thing is that Wang Chen (2521) and Lu Shanglei (2595) are not even rated 2600, although in reality they play much better. They simply haven’t managed to pick up the rating points yet.
Wang Chen is currently on 3.5/5 in the Asian Continental Championship, while another Chinese IM, Lin Chen (2494), is joint leader on 4.5/5 after beating three strong grandmasters and drawing India’s top junior. In the HZ Tournament, as you saw above, it’s been about IM Wan Yunguo (born, like Carlsen and so many other chess stars, in 1990), whose curious draw with Jobava has been his only half point conceded in Vlissingen.
His biggest scalp so far was none other than Dutch legend Loek van Wely. It was a remarkable game. Loek got in the classic Sicilian exchange sacrifice on c3, queens were soon exchanged, and after some tactical adventures the Chinese player ended up with the bishop pair and three pawns against a single black bishop and six pawns. It developed into a textbook example of the power of bishops, and ended with a simple but beautiful move:
46.Bf3! And the h-pawn can’t be stopped.
You have to assume that all that prevents Chinese IMs from swelling the ranks of Chinese GMs still further is a lack of international competition!
Watch and replay games from the HZ Chess Tournament:
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