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Reykjavik Open Ends with a Whimper (or why Greg Shahade is Wrong, Again) Print E-mail
By GM Ian Rogers   
February 28, 2013
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Fischer's grave in Iceland, Photo Cathy Rogers

Let's lay it on the line; short draws ruin tournaments and pre-arranged draws are a form of game-fixing.

Exhibit A – the 2013 Reykjavik Open.

The Reykjavik Open is one of the strongest and most innovative open tournaments in the world, played in the magnificent Harpa building – think a black Sydney Opera House with plenty of side-events plus, of course, the chance to see amazing Iceland. Not surprisingly a steady stream of US players make a February pilgrimage to Iceland – home to the famous 1972 world title match as well as Bobby Fischer's home for his final years (and his final resting place).

The 2013 Reykjavik Open was bigger and stronger than ever, featuring 35 Grandmasters among the 227 players. The theme for the event was youth, with the three best juniors (U/20) in the world competing alongside each other for the first time.

After nine eventful rounds, two of the top seeds, Ukrainian Pavel Eljanov and Webster University star Wesley So led the field by half a point and were due to meet in what should have been the game of the tournament. However, their final round game turned into a damp squib when the players agreed to a draw after only three moves and less than five minutes.



However the spectators, both at the Harpa tournament hall and online felt ripped off. Bobby Fischer was probably turning in his grave.
 
It could be argued that Eljanov, playing with the advantage of the white pieces, had the greater obligation to play hard, but in any case the biggest game of the tournament was over before some other players had arrived at their boards.
 
In a recent piece for CLO, Greg Shahade wrote that
“the onus on disincentivizing lifeless draws should be on organizers more than on players.” He gave the example of players taking short draws to get title norms, deeming it acceptable. He did not touch on the fact that many of these short draws are pre-arranged. He did not draw a line at what level of temptation a player should give in to. Is a short draw OK to get a GM title but not an FM title? Is a short draw OK to guarantee a $5,000 prize but not a $100 prize?
 
Shahade should never have resiled from his attitude expressed in an earlier article, namely “What would be much more impressive to me, and would be deserving of a lot more praise than making a norm, would be if one of these players needed a draw in the last round of a tournament to make a norm, yet refused a draw against a  Grandmaster opponent.” Perhaps he should have added the words “and lost” since no one is going to criticize a player who goes on to win such a game.

In any case Shahade should not be indulging in ifs and buts – he says that short draws are wrong but then lists circumstances where he would understand why players do it. But as a teacher, one of his responsibilities is to teach moral fiber to his students. Or at least personal responsibility for their decisions. If the Polgar sisters can go to the White House to support the “Just Say No!” campaign, he can do the same in chess terms.

In recent years a series of anti-draw rules have been introduced; from the complete banning of draw offers to the offers of financial incentives for those players who do not make short draws.
Top players such as Boris Gelfand have argued that no-draw rules are unnecessary and demeaning, yet their arguments are constantly being undermined by colleagues such as Eljanov and So.

One leading chess journalist was ropable after the Reykjavik finish and declared that neither So nor Eljanov should be invited back to the tournament – or other top tournaments - if they held the organizers and their fans in such contempt. Appeals that Eljanov and So were really nice guys cut no ice – players had to be taught that their actions which damage chess, even though perfectly legal, can have consequences.

A boycott is unlikely to achieve much – except perhaps to encourage players to disguise their intentions a bit better.

Shahade is right that, since there will always be the temptation for players to take draws to achieve titles or money, the scourge of the short draw is likely to persist and  anti-draw measures, while unpopular, are probably necessary – but that is only true  if players learn from Shahade that making short draws to achieve personal goals is acceptable.
Rant over.

Greg Shahade responds-ED. “I do not approve of prearranged draws under any circumstance. However if a draw results in a clear personal achievement that may further your career, I believe it is reasonable to play a normal chess game with that in mind…Even if there was an anti draw measure in place that Eljanov and So will draw the game. That is why I do not even think that a draw should be an acceptable result of a chess game.” (see Extreme Chess series, where a draw required a replay with colors reversed.)

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IM Irina Krush, Photo Cathy Rogers
Eljanov and So's draw did offer the chance for players in the group half a point behind the leaders to reach the tie for first but only lesser-known Egyptian GM Bassem Amin managed to make the leap, having defeated two higher-fancied players, Navara and Gajewski, in the last two rounds to join the leaders on 8/10.

Amin was involved in a key fifth round game against Irina Krush which predestined the fortunes for both players. After saving this  hopeless position, Amin made every post a winner, whereas Krush fell into the slough of despond and lost her next two games.
 
Reykjavík Open 2013

White: I.Krush
Black: B.Amin
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 0–0 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.Qxc3 Ne4 7.Qc2 f5 8.e3 b6 9.Bd3 Bb7 10.Ne2 Qh4 11.0–0 Rf6 12.d5 Nc5 13.g3 Qh5 14.Nf4 Qe8 15.Be2 a5 16.Bd2 a4 17.Rae1 Nba6 18.Bc3 Rh6 19.f3 Qe7 20.e4 e5 21.Nd3 fxe4 22.Nxe5 d6 23.Ng4 Rg6 24.f4 Nd7 25.f5 Rxg4 26.Bxg4 Nac5
  26Amin.jpg
Krush has comprehensively outplayed her opponent and has various slow ways to win, e.g. rounding up the e4 pawn. Instead, in serious time trouble, Krush decides to attack.
27.f6!? Nxf6 28.Be6+ Kh8
28...Nxe6 29.Bxf6 gxf6 30.Qxe4 is easy for White.
29.Rf5 Nd3 30.Ref1
The first slight misstep. 30.Rxe4! Nxe4 31.Rf7! would win the queen with only technical problems remaining.
30...Ne5 31.Rxe5

Consistent, but there was nothing wrong with 31.Bxe5 dxe5 32.Rxe5.
31...dxe5 32.Bxe5 Qc5+ 33.Qf2 e3 34.Qe2 Rf8 35.g4!?
Played with only seconds left on the clock. 35.Bc3, threatening 36.Bb4, was strong.
35...Ba6 36.g5
36.Rf4 allows the combination 36...Nxd5! 37.Rxf8+ Qxf8 38.Bxd5 Qc5!, threatening ...Qxd5, when Krush would have to find the unlikely computer move  39.Qe1 to keep any advantage.
36...Ne4 37.Rxf8+ Qxf8 38.Qxe3 Bxc4 39.Qf4 Qxf4 40.Bxf4 c6!
Now it is White who must sue for a draw.
41.Bf5 cxd5 42.Bxe4 dxe4 Draw Agreed

 
(While on the subject of Amin, it is tempting to show his horrible second round upset loss; one of those days when you think you are playing like a genius until you find you have to resign.)



1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.0–0 d6 6.c3 e5 7.d3 Nge7 8.Be3 0–0 9.Nh4 Be6 10.Nd2 Qd7 11.f4 Rac8 12.Ndf3 h6 13.Qd2 Kh7
13Kh7.jpg
14.f5
A move that falls into the category of 'It seemed like a good idea at the time'.
14...gxf5 15.exf5 Nxf5 16.Nxf5 Bxf5 17.Nxe5
The beautiful follow-up, winning back the pawn with light-squared domination, thought Amin.
17...Nxe5 18.Rxf5 Qxf5
Oops! Too late Amin realises that his intended 19.Be4 fails to 19...Qxe4 20.dxe4 Nf3+. So the game ended...
19.Rf1 Qe6 0–1

 
Another US player struck down by misfortune was Adarsh Jayakumar.
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Olafsson vs Jayakumar, Photo Cathy Rogers


After five rounds Jayakumar was sitting on four points , having scored 2.5/3 against 3 GM opponents and looking like a certainty for an IM norm. Then he forgot that the sixth round was to be played at 1pm instead of the usual 4.30pm and this precipitated a 0.5/4 run with sent him down to mid-field.
Jayakumar's best effort was his fine technical win against Ivan Sokolov – after the clever finish he could claim to be one of the few players to have won an ending with R+N v R+2Ps.
 


 
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Yaacov Norowitz, Photo Cathy Rogers
By the end of the tournament, the top US performer was, Yaacov Norowitz. Norowitz defeated three GMs - including the formidable Yuri Kuzubov in the final round - on his way to a tie for fourth place and an IM norm.
 
Norowitz's performance was particularly noteworthy given the way he started the tournament – like Amin, with a horrible loss in the second round.
 
Reykjavík Open 2013

White: R.Bjerke
Black: Y.Norowitz
Position after White's 22nd move
 
bjerkenor.jpg
Black has a fine position and after 22...Nc4 could claim a safe edge. Instead Norowitz tried to build up the pressure with 22...Rc4? and ran into
23.Re5 Qc6 24.Rxa5!

Perhaps Norowitz though that the zwichenzug
24...Rc2!
rendered White's combination unsound, but when his opponent replied with
25.Rc5!!
Norowitz, rated 300 points above his opponent, had no choice but to resign.
1–0
 
After this shock to the system Norowitz started to play some outstanding chess and with a little more luck could have gone for a GM norm. Some of his wins were impressive, but his near-misses perhaps even more so.
 
Reykjavík Open 2013

White: Y.Norowitz
Black: M.Dziuba
Position after Black's 68th move
 
Dzu68.jpg
After a fine long-term queen sacrifice, Norowitz, playing against a strong Polish Grandmaster, has been left with a winning endgame. Had he now played 69.g6+! Kg7 (69...Kf6 70..Nd7+) 70.Kg5, his opponent would have been forced to resign in short order. Instead Norowitz played the superficially attractive
69.h6?
but after
69...Rb1!

he found himself unable to win, the game concluding
70.Nd3 Kg6 71.Ne5+ Kh7 72.Kg3 Rb2 73.Kf3 Ra2 74.Nd7 Kg6 75.Ne5+ Kh7 76.Nd3 Kg6 77.Nc5 Kf5 78.g6 Kxg6 79.Nxe6 Rh2 80.Nc7 Rh3+ 81.Kf2 Rh5 82.Ke2 Kxh6 83.Kd3 Rf5 84.Kc3 Kh5 85.Kd3 Kg4 86.Ne6 Rh5 87.Nc7 Kf3 Draw
 
The following day Norowitz again had great chances to beat a strong opponent.
 
Reykjavík Open 2013

White: A.Hambleton
Black: Y.Norowitz
Position after White's 27th move
Hamble27.jpg
Norowitz has sacrificed a piece for not much more than a couple of pawns and some long-term pressure and now continues his attack in an unexpected manner.
27...g5! 28.Nxe6 Rxe6 29.hxg5 Ng4+ 30.Kf1 Qg3 31.Re2?
Hambleton cracks under the pressure. After 31.Nd1! Black can make an immediate draw via  31...Rxf3+ but he may not have better than this.
31...Rxf3+! 32.gxf3 Qxf3+ 33.Kg1 Nxe3
Despite his rook deficit, Black has a huge attack and Norowitz follows through with aplomb.
34.Qe1 d4! 35.Qf2 Qg4+ 36.Kh2 Qxg5 37.Rg1
37.Qg3 still leaves White in trouble after 37...Qf5! , threatening ...Rg6.
37...Qe5+ 38.Kh3 Rf6 39.Qg3 Qf5+ 40.Kh2  
  40Kh2.jpg
The dreaded 40th move. After 40...Ng4+ 41.Kh1 dxc3 White's position would be a wreck, since 42.Re8+ Kd7 offers no counter-attack.
41.Qxg6! Nf1+ 42.Rxf1 Qxg6 43.Ne4

Now White's pieces work well, Black's pawns are slow, and Norowitz must take care not to fall into trouble.
43...Qe6 44.Rf3 h4 45.Kg1 g5 46.Rf7 Kd8 47.Rxb7 Qg4+ 48.Kf1 h3 49.Nc5 Qf5+ 50.Kg1 Qg4+ 51.Kf1 Qf5+ 52.Kg1 Qg4+ 53.Kf1 Draw
 
Author's disclaimer: During my playing career I made a modest number of short draws (though never prearranged). To the spectators I disappointed, I apologize.
***

GM Ian Rogers is a frequent contributor to CLO and Chess Life Magazine. He will cover the May super-tournament in Norway (which features World #1 Carlsen and US #1 Nakamura) for both publications. See his Best of CLO award profile here.

 
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