Irina Krush on Gibraltar Highs and Lows
By IM Irina Krush   
March 9, 2009
Irinalead290.jpg
IM Irina Krush with her Gibraltar training partner.
The closing ceremony dinner had already started, but I was still at the board, trying to convert an extra pawn in a rook endgame.

As someone who’d ended her previous two tournaments with disappointment, I was very aware of how the last round result colors your impression of all your preceding efforts. And so when I sat down that day, more than prize money or points, I was fighting for that impression, for the ability to end my tournament on a positive note, and to keep intact whatever I’d accomplished in it.

After one hundred moves and nearly seven hours play, I finally got the needed result! It didn’t fill me with ecstatic happiness, most likely because I was too tired and the task completed didn’t warrant such a feeling, but it did fill me with my other favorite emotion: satisfaction, as in I had done what I had set out to do.



Anyway, now that I’ve revealed the happy ending, I’m going to backtrack a little and tell you about the tournament. This was my second visit to Gibraltar (I skipped last year’s event for the Wijk aan Zee C group) and I had a great time! The Gibtelecom Masters is actually a very social tournament, as most of the players stay at the Caleta Hotel (which doubles as the playing site), and unless they’re 2700+ stars, they’re probably spending a lot of time with whoever their roommate is. Two years ago I roomed with Jovanka Houska, with whom I got along very well, and this year, I got lucky again: I had two ‘suitemates’, Nana Dzagnidze and Viktoriya Cmilyte, both extremely nice and friendly girls.

Rockflowers.jpg
The rock of Gibraltar
Nana and I coincidentally arrived at the hotel at exactly the same time two nights prior to the start of the tournament, and when we saw that we had two rooms in our suite, one a single and another a double, I suggested we draw for the single room. I was silently praying to win it, but Nana emerged victorious. So Viktoriya and I were paired up, and consequently, saw a lot more of each other than of Nana during the event. I have to say that my not winning  the single room was a blessing in disguise: privacy is nice, but it’s easy to isolate yourself within four walls, and it was good for me to communicate with someone other than my laptop for those ten days. Also, I couldn’t have asked for a more easygoing and considerate roommate than Viktoriya.

The tournament, in its seventh edition, was as strong as ever, with Peter Svidler and Azerbaijani Vugar Gashimov (both rated 2723) leading the field, followed by a number of young players: Hikaru Nakamura (2699), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (2696), Pentala Harikrishna (2673), plus well known names like Alexander Beliavsky, Mikhail Gurevich, Ivan Sokolov, etc. There were four American players, Hikaru and Varuzhan Akobian from L.A., and Anna Zatonskih and myself. Anna could often be seen with her roommate, Ketevan Arakhamia, while Varuzh spent time with his roommate, Boris Avrukh, the author of the very recently published 1.d4: Grandmaster Repertoire , which I received in the mail just a few days before leaving to Gibraltar. Var and Boris had a pretty amazing experience in Gibraltar, which I’m sure you want to hear about: one day, they returned from an outing into town to discover their room vandalized. Everything was overturned, food was strewn about the room, and some unwelcome droppings were found on Boris’ clothes and slippers. Can you guess the culprits? Let me help you with a picture:

culprits.jpg

Yes, somehow these smart animals had entered the room through the balcony and had been in the mood to wreak the most chaos possible. Anyway, after that story made its rounds, I’m sure everyone was very careful to secure their balcony door.

This anecdote helpfully lets me segue into one of my favorite things about Gibraltar: the monkeys! On my first visit to Gibraltar, my room had a view onto the rock, but for some reason that side of the hotel was not the hang out of choice for the monkeys.  I wistfully listened to those who claimed they saw them every day from their room…I met them only once, when I made the trip to where they reside on the top of the rock.

But this year, with a view onto the sea, I was thrilled to see the monkeys appear every afternoon  (around noon; guess they’re not early risers) and jump from balcony to balcony, in search of a banana or perhaps a balcony door to pry open. I’d stop my preparation and go out onto the balcony to watch them and take pictures. It was usually the same couple visiting us. Once, they were both on our balcony, and the male jumped off to a higher floor, while his lady friend stayed behind. She was sitting, looking sad, and I noticed that she’d periodically look upwards. Then I realized that she was waiting for him to come back…

Here are a few of my favorite pictures of them:

MonkeysWater350.jpg
  "It's such a humanlike thing to do, to gaze at the water."


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Zeljka Malobabic, here in the process of photographing her new hat, was in Gibraltar on behalf of Monroi.com. Check out an index of her videos and photos. 


Another highlight of my time in Gibraltar was the team blitz tournament. No, I didn’t play. I came down to watch (both of my roommates were taking part), intending to stay for just a few minutes. But I wound up staying until the end, which came around 11 PM. I suppose you’re wondering, what was so interesting about five minute chess that I would have forsaken my beloved nighttime activity of internet surfing?

The answer is:

HikaruMilovBlitz400.jpg
The Roses of their team?: GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Vadim Milov


Yes, sorry for the poor quality, I hadn’t yet learned how to take indoor pictures with my new camera.

Hikaru led a team called “Girls’n’Roses”, composed of him, Swiss GM Vadim Milov, my roommate Nana, and her good friend Tania Sachdev. It’s hard not to crack a smile at the thought of the team’s “roses”, Hikaru and Vadim.

Everyone knows Hikaru is a phenomenal blitz player, and not having recently emerged from a lengthy sojourn in the woods, I was also privy to this common knowledge. But I’d never seen Hikaru play live, and I’ll try to convey what the experience was like. Above all, it’s an aesthetic experience. It’s like reading a stupendously well-written book, or listening to a great piece of music.
It’s like watching anyone who is so good at what they do that they raise it to an art.

So yeah, I saved the games for you. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Nakamura,Hikaru (2699) - Berkes,Ferenc (2651)




This was the first game I witnessed (round 3 for the players).
 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 d5 3.e3 c6 4.Bd3 Bg4 5.Ne2 Nbd7 6.f3 Bh5 7.h4!?

 This Caro-Kann style move came as a surprise to me.
7...Bg6 8.h5
another surprise, played very quickly by Hikaru. It took me a few moments to figure out why the pawn couldn't be taken, but Berkes didn't waste time pondering it: he went for the simplest solution to his bishop problems.
 8...Bxd3
8...Bxh5? 9.Nf4! Bg6 10.Nxg6 fxg6 11.Bxg6+ and White wins.; There's no equally powerful rejoinder against 8...Nxh5 but I guess Black didn't like the structure arising after 9.Bxg6 fxg6.
 9.Qxd3 h6
I recall Hikaru taking a few moments here, and I was wondering what he was thinking about: isn't Bf4 the natural move? But now I can surmise that he was looking at Bh4 Nxh5 and it's essentially a pawn sacrifice, since getting back the pawn with Bxe7 and Rxh5 is completely unpromising for White.
 10.Bf4 e6 11.Nd2 Bb4
 This move is quite difficult to understand, as it really looks like something a beginner may try (doesn't Black see that White can simply chase the bishop away with c3?). But Berkes had a point...we'll see in a few moves what it was.
12.c3 Ba5 13.e4
White carries out his main plan in the position: the e4 push. After the game, Hikaru explained that Black simply blundered that they couldn't take advantage of the pin on the d-file to win the e4 pawn. So ...Bb4 was actually quite a tricky move, provoking c3 to leave the queen unprotected!
 13...dxe4 14.fxe4 Bc7
Black was obliged to switch gears and leave White's center unchallenged, since by now they saw that the intended 14...Nc5 leads nowhere after 15.Qf3 and the e4 pawn is sufficiently protected.
15.Bxc7 Qxc7 16.e5 Nd5 17.Ne4 0–0 18.0–0
Black of course realizes that he needs to fight against the b2-e5 pawn chain, but he starts attacking it in the wrong spot. 18...c5 looks more prudent.
18...f6 19.exf6
White misses an opportunity with 19.c4! pushing Black's best piece out of the center, and acquiring the f4 square for his knight.
19...N7xf6
Black is back in the game.
20.Nc5 Rae8
 a natural move, but Black had the amazing 20...Nxh5! which he no doubt rejected because of 21.Rxf8+ Rxf8 22.Nxe6 and it looks like he loses the exchange, but he still has 22...Nhf4! to hold the balance. Well, this stuff is hard to see in blitz.
21.Qh3 Qf7
I had wandered off for a few minutes to check out the other games, and when I came back, I saw this position. To me, it looked like a tough position for White, with their weakness on h5 and ...e5 seemingly unstoppable. Hikaru took a while on his next move.
22.Ng3
Just like a few moves ago, 22.c4 is White's best, pushing the knight away and following up with Nf4. (I didn't see this c4 idea at all as I was watching, thus my concern for White's position.)
 22...e5
Black's game looked really promising to me, but now Hikaru mixes it up with
23.Nf5!
(the exclam is for the resourcefulness...apparently this move can be refuted, but I still think it was a great try in blitz.)
and the following sequence was played out quickly:
 23...Qxh5
Black needed to find 23...Nf4! with the idea of closing the f-file, so the capture on h5 with the other knight becomes possible:24.Qh4 24.Rxf4 exf4 25.Nd6 Qd5 26.Nxe8 Rxe8 Black is much better, with excellent coordination between their pieces. 24...N6xh5 25.Nd6 Qg6; 23...Nxh5 24.Nxh6+! wins the queen.
24.Qxh5 Nxh5 25.Nd6 Ng3
 Hikaru thought for a while here.
26.Rxf8+ Rxf8 27.dxe5 Ne2+ 28.Kh2 Rf4 29.g3

Played instantly, indicating that Hikaru had seen the mate threat back on his think on move 25 (since both players had played instantly since then).  29.Kh3 was the other way to defend from mate.
 29...Rf2+ 30.Kh3

AFter30.Kh3NakamuraBerkes.jpg

This position is really complicated...as I was watching, I had no idea what was going on.
30...Rf3
After the game, Hikaru said that 30...Ne3! (intending ...Rg2) was strong, since his planned 31.Nce4 Rg2 (Black is weaving a mating net around White's king; now ...Ng1 is the threat). 32.Nf5 Hikaru had been counting on this tricky deflection move 32...Ng1+ 33.Rxg1 (33.Kh4 Rh2#) 33...Rxg1 34.Nxe3 runs into 34...Re1! and Black wins one of the knights. So this is a good example of Hikaru's calculating ability. To see all that in a blitz game is pretty amazing.
31.Nce4
Instant response
31...h5
This is a very human try from Berkes, using the pawn to take away the g4 square from the king, and threaten things like some knight to f4. But Hikaru had his response prepared:
32.Kg2! Rf8 33.Re1!

After33.Re1NakaBerkes.jpg

Suddenly the knight is trapped! And need I say...yeah, this was played instantly. Even Berkes stared at the board incredulously, not believing what had just happened. He had gone from holding the initiative to losing a piece for nothing within just a few moves!
33...Ne3+ 34.Kh3 Rf1 35.Rxe2 Rh1+ 36.Rh2 Re1 37.e6 Kf8
Now Hikaru thought a little about how to advance the pawn and came up with
38.Nc8! Ng4 39.e7+ Ke8 40.Ned6+ Kd7 41.e8Q+ Rxe8 42.Nxe8 Nxh2 43.Kxh2 Kxe8 44.Nd6+

Hikaru thought this was his best game of the blitz tournament, and I have to agree. It was definitely the one which best showcased his board visualization and calculating power. 1–0

NN - Nakamura

28.01.2009
NNNakamurapos.jpg

I don't even know who Hikaru's opponent was in this game (other than that he was a young man), but he put up an impressive fight, and I felt like Hikaru had been under pressure in this game. 1...b4!? not the best move (in view of Nc2!) but it certainly was effective in confusing White. 2.Ne6?? and Hikaru struck on the other side of the board: 2...g3!! and White has no defense to mate. (hxg3 Ng4!; the knight replaces the pawn in controlling h2). I really liked the way Black won this game with two seemingly unrelated pawn moves (in fact, they do have some relation, since ...b4 is what pushed White to move his knight to e6). A very pretty finish! 0–1


Nakamura (2699) - Vachier (2696)




This game promised to be competitive, since Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has a rating of nearly 2700.
1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5
Hikaru stays true to the Trompowsky, which I guess is his weapon of choice in blitz.
 2...e6 3.e4 c5 4.d5

Now Vachier decided to make the game a little less competitive with
 4...Be7??
After4...Be7NakaVachier.jpg

Yes, he really played this move. He even played it instantly. It's kind of interesting to note the moments when Hikaru takes time. I would put them into two categories: either the position is really complicated, or his opponent has just made an unexpected (bad) move. Even though Hikaru saw d6 right away (that was clear; everyone could see it), he still spent some time before playing it...just out of caution, I guess, making sure that ...Be7 is really just as bad as it looks. Now the position is overwhelming for White, but I think Hikaru's winning technique was instructive, so we're going to take a look at it.
5.d6 Bf8 6.e5 h6
After6....h6NakaVachier.jpg

A typical method to avoid losing a piece
7.Bc1
 The first instructive moment. I'm sure Bh4 would tempt many people, but after g5 Bg3 Ne4, White's advantage would be less clear than in the game. First of all, Black would be able to trade his knight for our bishop, and second, he's won time for the ...g5 move, which is the only way for him to develop his dark squared bishop. So Hikaru retreats the bishop out of the range of Black's knight.
 7...Nd5 8.c4
 Then he kicks the knight out of the center
 8...Nb4 9.Nc3
Time for development
 9...N8c6 10.a3

Another opportunity to kick the knight further presented itself.
10...Na6
After10...Na6NakaVachier1.jpg

11.f4!

 this move was key in increasing White's advantage. It firmly secures the e5 pawn, grabs more space, and is a kind of "prophylaxis" against Black's main try for counterplay ...g5.
 11...g5
Black goes ...g5 anyway, but now it means an inevitable opening up of the kingside.
12.Bd3!
This was another good move, and what makes it better than something like Nf3 is flexibility. The bishop anyway belongs on this diagonal, but Nf3 already determines that our queen can't reach h5.
12...Bg7 13.Qh5!
The ideal square for the queen.
 13...Nd4
Hikaru thought a little on his next move.
14.Nge2 Nb3 15.0–0!
The logical culmination of White's play. 
15...0–0
15...Nxa1 16.fxg5 0–0 17.gxh6 etc.
 16.fxg5
It's time to open up the position around Black's king...now I saw how the game would end.
16...Nxc1 17.gxh6 Nxd3
18.Qg4
So this was a one sided affair, but I think it actually gives us some insight into one of Hikaru's less obvious strengths: he has a very good feel for where to place the pieces. All these moves like Bc1, f4, Bd3, they were played on instinct, and the instinct behind them was "maximum flexibility, keep all options open."  1–0

Agdestein (2572) - Nakamura (2699)




Simen Agdestein, who authored a book about Magnus Carlsen's path to becoming a grandmaster (he began working with him when Magnus was nine), accompanied a group of his Norwegian students to the tournament.
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 a6 5.c5 Bf5 6.Bf4 Nbd7 7.e3 e6 8.b4 Ne4! 9.Rc1 Be7 10.Be2 g5! 11.Be5 f6 12.Bg3

It looked like Black was taking over the initiative, and I was wondering if White could do anything to turn the tide, such as: 12.Nxe4 dxe4 13.Nxg5 but Black could now just take on e5 with the knight 13...Nxe5 (13...fxe5 14.Bh5+ Bg6 15.Nxe6 and at least White has managed to make things unclear.) 14.dxe5 Qxd1+ 15.Rxd1 fxg5 and be up a piece.
12...h5
We're not even out of the opening, but Black is already in control.
13.Nxe4 dxe4 14.Nd2 h4 15.Bd6 Bxd6 16.cxd6
White can't avoid losing the d-pawn.
16...Nb6 17.Rc5 Qxd6 18.Qb3 Nd5 19.a3 g4

Black doesn't determine the position of his king yet, and asks White to do it first...
20.0–0 Ke7 21.Bd1 g3

AdgNaka2afterg3.jpg

22.fxg3?

The opening of the h-file will be decisive. Maybe White should have followed through with his plan: 22.Bc2 gxh2+ 23.Kh1 h3 24.g3 and Black's next move is not so obvious.
 22...hxg3 23.h3 Rh4
A great square for the rook, overprotecting e4 and threatening to double on the h-file.
 24.Rc2 Rah8 25.Nc4 Qb8
I found it interesting that Hikaru chose this square rather than c7 for his queen, but I'd guess that the queen looked more mobile to him from b8.
 26.a4 Bxh3 27.gxh3 Rxh3

AdgNaka2afterRxh3.jpg

This game Hikaru won not through any calculating superiority (there was hardly anything to calculate), but through a better grasp of middlegame ideas (such as ...Ne4 and ...g5). 0–1

The tournament itself got off to an erratic start for Hikaru, who had four points after six rounds, including a rather ridiculous loss, where he declined a three move repetition against a lower rated GM only to lose a pawn for no compensation (I saw the game, processed its lessons, and repeated its mistakes some rounds later). But then he reeled off four convincing wins and found himself in exactly the same situation as in 2008: 7/9 and needing to win in the final round for a ticket to the playoff. Last year he managed it, and won the playoff against Bu Xiangzhi; this year, he didn’t cash in on his chances against Vugar Gashimov and had to settle for a draw, thus leaving Peter Svidler and Vadim Milov, who won their last round games, in a tie for first. Svidler won the rapid playoff and got to make the winner’s speech at the closing ceremony. There’s a riveting video on the tournament website, where we’re treated to Hikaru’s demonstrative agony in the moments before he makes his final move and concedes the draw.  (Also check out a full index of videos.)

Varuzh also ended on 7.5/10, albeit through winning in the last round. His opponent, rated 2187, was the “revelation” of the tournament, drawing a 2435, 2520, and 2568, and defeating a 2449, 2466, and to cap it off, downing Kotronias (2603) in the penultimate round. That was a pretty amazing result, until you learn that actually he’s an IM with a peak rating of 2454,  which nosedove three years ago. He was also playing in the Challengers events in the morning, whose top players were just a touch over 2200, but ironically enough he didn’t win those, saving his best chess for the afternoon games.  

Varuzh.jpg
GM Varuzhan Akobian


But let me get back to Varuzh. Varuzh was in a great mood at the closing ceremony, having won the Best Game Prize of 1000 £ with his opponent Stephen Gordon for their wild round 3 draw:



1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 0–0 7.e3 b6 8.Be2 Bb7 9.Bxf6 Bxf6 10.cxd5 exd5 11.b4 c6 12.0–0 a5 13.bxa5 Rxa5 14.a4 Bc8 15.Qc2 Be6 16.Rfd1 Nd7 17.Rab1 Qa8 18.Bd3 Rc8 19.h3 Be7 20.Bf5 b5 21.Bxe6 fxe6 22.Ne5 Nxe5 23.dxe5 b4 24.Ne2 c5 25.Qg6 Ra6 26.Nf4 Rcc6 27.e4 d4 28.Rd3 Qf8 29.Rg3 Bg5 30.Rxg5 hxg5 31.Qxg5

AkobianGordonQxg5.jpg
 A few moves ago, White had felt compelled to sacrifice the exchange, but does he really have enough compensation?
 31...Rxa4 32.Ng6 Qe8 33.f4!
The pawn joins the assembly on the kingside. White eschews winning back the exchange with 33.Ne7+ Kf7 34.Nxc6 Qxc6 since it simplifies the position and doesn't leave him with many tricks to play for.
33...Rca6 34.Kh2 d3 35.Qh5 Ra1
35...d2 36.f5 Ra1 37.f6 Rxb1 38.Qh8+ Kf7 39.Qxg7# is an illustration of White's attacking potential.
 36.Rxa1 Rxa1 37.f5

After37.f5AkobianGordon.jpg
37...exf5
Again 37...d2 runs into 38.f6.
38.exf5 d2 39.Qh8+ Kf7 40.e6+ Kf6 41.Qxe8 d1Q


After41...d1QAkobianGordon.jpg

A funny forced sequence has led to this position, where Black is no longer getting mated, but White still lots of play.
42.Qe7+ Kxf5 43.Nh4+ Ke4 44.Qxc5 Qh1+ 45.Kg3 Qe1+ 46.Kh2 Qh1+
46...Qxh4?? 47.Qxb4+ wins the queen.
 47.Kg3 Qe1+ ½–½

I guess I should say a few words about my tournament: I had a very good start, 4.5/6, facing three GM’s. In those six games, I’d already played my best games of the tournament, against Emanuel Berg from Sweden and Sandipan Chanda from India.
 
Krush,I (2457) - Berg (2606)




1.d4 e6 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0–0 5.Bd3 c5 6.Nge2 d5 7.cxd5 cxd4 8.exd4 Nxd5 9.0–0 Nc6 10.a3 Be7 11.Re1 Nf6 12.Bc2 b6 13.Qd3 Bb7 14.Bg5 g6 15.Rad1 Re8 16.h4 Nd5 17.Qg3 Bxg5 18.hxg5 Nce7 19.Ne4 Nf5 20.Qh3 f6 21.Ba4 Rf8 22.gxf6 Nxf6 23.Ng5 Qd6 24.Nc3 Bd5 25.Re5

KrushBerg25.Re5.jpg
White has a clearly superior position, but with his next move, Black lets me carry out a little combination which leads to an endgame up a pawn.
25...h6? 26.Rxf5! gxf5 27.Qxh6 Qe7

forced, otherwise Black will be mated by Qg6+ and Rd3-h3.
28.Qg6+ Qg7 29.Qxg7+ Kxg7 30.Nxd5 exd5 31.Ne6+ Kg6 32.Nxf8+ Rxf8

KrushBergafterrxf8.jpg

Heading for this position, I was quite confident that it'd be an easy win for White. After all, an extra pawn, bishop versus knight, and the d5 pawn is even fixed on a light square. But my very next move is already a mistake. I decided to transfer the bishop to d3, figuring it would be well placed there (controlling the infiltration squares c2 and e2) but that costs me several valuable moves. So how exactly should White go about converting his advantage? What I didn't realize is that White's first priority should be to improve their kingside. The best start is 33.Rc1! threatening to go to c7, and after ...Rf7 f3!, with Kf2 next. Instead, my bishop maneuvering gave Black time to maximally activate their pieces.
33.Bc2 Re8 34.Bd3
Now it's too late for 34.f3 since Black gets extremely active after 34...Re2 35.Bd3 Rxb2 36.g4 Kg5 37.Bxf5 Kf4.
 34...Kg5 35.f3 Nh5!
35...f4 would be easier to handle 36.Kf2.
 36.Kf2 Nf4 37.Bf1 Rc8 and it's apparent that this stage of the game (since move 32) has gone very well for Black. His pieces are ideally placed, while White has been reduced to passivity.
38.Rd2 Ne6!
KrushBergafter38...Ne6.jpg
Again, the most accurate move, preempting g3-f4 by White. Now Black is ready to answer ...f4 himself when White plays g3.
39.g3 f4 40.Bh3 Rc6 41.Kg2 fxg3 42.Bxe6 Rxe6 43.Kxg3 Re3 44.Rc2 Rb3 45.Re2 Kf6 46.Kg4 Rd3 47.f4 Rxd4 48.Rc2 Rc4 49.Rxc4 dxc4 50.Kf3 Kf5 51.Ke3 b5 52.Kd4 Kxf4 53.Kc5 Ke4 54.Kxb5 Kd3 55.Kb4 Kc2 56.Kxc4 Kxb2 57.a4 Ka3 58.Kb5 a6+ 59.Ka5 Kb3 60.Kxa6 Kxa4 ½–½

The win against Sandipan was sweet, as my score against him stood at 0/2 prior to this game, including a critical last round loss in Gibraltar 2007 (I had needed a draw for a GM norm).



Things suddenly went way downhill after round six, when I basically lost out of the opening (with White!) to Ganguly, and then was paired down to a young Norwegian guy more than several hundred points lower rated than me. So this was definitely a matchup I expected to win, and I really wanted to climb back up to the score group where the GMs were. I emerged from the opening with what I considered was already a slightly better position, but within a few moves, I realized that things were not so simple, and probably I had been too optimistic in my evaluation. We repeated moves once and, not wanting the game to end there, I deviated with a third rate move which brought me no advantages, only more problems. Quite miserable, I put up little resistance, and ignominiously lost the game.
DarkDay300.jpg
A dark day in Gibraltar
And then, as always happens when one of these misfortunes befalls me, I was plunged into the utterest despair. Life had turned into a nightmare, and there was no accompanying resolution; I’d never be able to wake up, replay this game, make different decisions, change the outcome in any way. The only thing left me was to accept this bitter result, accept the bad moves, and all the inadequacy behind them. And then to move on, to somehow believe you’re still the person you were before this game, someone who’s made good moves in the past and can do it again. Would I manage?

Somehow I did. I got a little lucky with my next round pairing. Even though I had lost, I was playing someone considerably stronger the next day, and this person happened to answer 1.d4 with …d6, thus allowing White to play 2.e4 and transpose into an “e4” position. Since I’m not a 1.e4 player, and normally would answer 1.d4 d6 with 2.c4, I was excited at the chance to play an “e4” position while sidestepping all those problematic moves like 1…e5, 1…c5, etc. So what helped me recover was not as much the prospect of a new game, as the prospect of an entirely new challenge. I wasn’t going to simply play chess; I was going to play chess in a new position.

In the morning, I looked over a couple of opening files for a few hours, courtesy of David (Pruess), took a pleasant one hour walk, prepared my lunch (it was the same every day: bread with butter, and a tomato, cucumber, and green onion salad) and…won extremely quickly in the Philidor. Big thanks to David for giving me the preparation to venture into e4 territory.

So due to this win, I had given myself a chance for redemption in the final game. And you already know how that turned out! I even wound up winning 1600£, tying for the 4-6th women’s prizes with Viktoriya and Anna. Nana, Pia Cramling, and Antoaneta Stefanova scored half a point more (7/10), but Nana won the 6000 £ top prize all by herself, since tournament rules decreed that the first prize would go to the woman with the highest performance rating (an extremely appropriate and fair rule in my opinion). Nana had an amazing tournament, defeating Berkes and Vachier Lagrave (with Black!), and turning in a performance of 2675. She felt her best game was against Vachier, but her swift finish of Berkes caught my eye:

Berkes,F (2651) - Dzagnidze,N (2518)

7th Gibtelecom Masters Caleta ENG (9), 04.02.2009
BerjesDzastart.jpg
Nana has a clear extra pawn, but with White's bishop pair, the win is still far off. However, here Berkes makes one careless move... 33.Bf4?? activating the bishop, but now White gets hit with 33...Bxg2! 34.Kxg2 Qe4+ 35.Rf3 [35.Kg3 Nh5+ 36.Bxh5 Qxe1+] 35...g5! White is pinned from all sides. 36.Bxg5 hxg5 37.Kf1 and the coup de grace: 37...Ng4!

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White resigned since Rxf7 allows ...Qh1 mate, and Qg3 (defending the rook) loses to ...Rxf3 Bxf3 Qxf3! Qxf3 Nxh2 and Black has transposed to a king and pawn endgame with a two-pawn advantage. 0–1

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Nana Dzagnidze, winner of the generous women's prize in Gibraltar


Ultimately, I view Gibraltar as a successful tournament for myself, but what do I mean by successful? There are lots of ways to measure a tournament: points scored, rating or prize money won, scalps over strong players, or the overall level of play you’ve shown through the event. But for me there was an overarching question: did I make any progress on the specific goals I had set for myself for this tournament? Without going into what those goals were, I can say that I feel I did quite well on them. I’ve had plenty of tournaments, in fact they’ve been the norm rather than the exception, where I came in with no goals other than to “play chess” or “do my best”. Those are reasonable intentions, of course, and quite fitting in many circumstances. But sometimes you reach a stage in your development where you perceive your shortcomings clearly, and it’s equally clear that they’re holding you back. So that may be the time to crystallize your knowledge into concrete goals, internalize them, and try to make some headway with them over the course of the tournament. At the end, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how you’ve done.

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Can you guess which T-shirt Irina felt best described her?

Show Solution

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the person who did so much in terms of setting the tone of the tournament for me. That’s the organizer, Manuel Weeks. Manuel is a dream organizer. He met me at the airport, arranged my excursion to the monkeys on the rock, and tempted me with daily hot chocolates that I’d never get for myself even though I like them. Of course, his hospitality extended to other players as well, one notable recipient being Peter Svidler, who, taking along Manuel as a partner, got to fulfill his passion for cricket on three consecutive mornings prior to the start of the tournament. I’m pretty sure that when Svidler referred to a “family” atmosphere at the tournament in his closing speech, it’s something that was in no small way created by Manuel’s efforts.

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Peter Svidler, 2009 Gibraltar Champ

Also big thanks to the sponsors, Gibtelecom, and Brian Callaghan , the owner of the Caleta Hotel, who hosted a very enjoyable dinner for the ladies of the tournament on one of those Gibraltar evenings.

To quote a man impressively sparse with his words, What more can I say? I love Gibraltar and I’ll be happy to be back in 2010!

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A beautiful February day in Gibraltar