Home Page arrow Chess Life Magazine arrow 2009 arrow July arrow Experience Beats Youth in Amsterdam
Experience Beats Youth in Amsterdam Print E-mail
By GM Ian Rogers   
August 31, 2009
The Old Timers defeated the Young and the Beautiful, 27.5-22.5, at the annual NH tournament in Amsterdam, with the result also being a reality check for some of the young superstars.

After the thrashing last year in Amsterdam of the veterans by the juniors, the organizers reinforced the adult team with three high rated thirty-something Grandmasters, who duly carried the day.

At the grand Hotel Krasnapolsky in the centre of Amsterdam, crowds of almost 50 saw the final rounds as the youth team, featuring a wounded US Champion Hikaru Nakamura, desperately tried to make up the lost ground but ultimately fell further behind.

After grinding down Hou Yifan in the penultimate round, 55-year-old Alexander Beliavsky - who recovered from a 0.5/4 start to finish on 50% - made the half-joking comment that the youth of today did not seem to have enough stamina. And certainly there seemed to be a certain lack on energy in the play of many of the youngsters. Even Nakamura played his typical sharp chess but lacked the energy to follow through - a brilliant third round win over Beliavsky excepted.

Peter Heine Nielsen, Photo Cathy Rogers
Denmark's Peter Heine Nielsen, at 36 already an acclaimed second for both Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen, was the top scorer on 6.5/10, closely followed by top seed Peter Svidler, 33, on 6.

Svidler's score was matched by one of the youngsters, Jan Smeets, who at 24 has been wondering for a number of years whether he was too old for the youth team.

The Dutch GM was the only youngster to beat 50% and won a ticket to the Melody Amber exhibition tournament in Nice next year (an event where the world's elite get very generously paid to entertain sponsor Joop van Oosterom - also the NH sponsor - playing blindfold and rapid games).

Smeets' nearest challenger was Fabiano Caruana, the former New Yorker who started the NH tournament with six consecutive draws but was stung into action by a seventh round loss to a true veteran Alexander Beliavsky.

Jan Smeets won the ticket to Amber. Photo Cathy Rogers

A near miss against Nielsen followed and then Caruana took on the top seed with Black and inflicted Svidler's only defeat.

Amsterdam NH
Round 9


Opening: Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.Nbd2 Nc5 10.c3 Be7
10...d4 11.Ng5!? is more fun but also too heavily analysed for many players' liking.
11.Bc2 d4 12.cxd4 Nxd4 13.Nxd4 Qxd4 14.Nf3 Qxd1 15.Rxd1 0-0 16.Nd4 Rfd8 17.Be3 Bd5 18.Nf5 Bf8 19.Bg5 Rd7 20.Ne7+ Bxe7 21.Bxe7
Improving on 21...Rxe7 22.Rxd5 Ne6 23.g3, which led to problems for Black in Shirov-Ivanchuk, Sofia 2009.Svidler now had his first long think of the game before emerging with...
22.Be4!? c6!
Again allowing White to keep the bishop pair if he wishes.
23.Bxd5 Rxd5 24.Rxd5 cxd5 25.Rc1
Despite White's possession of the open file and the isolated d pawn, this position offers little for White because he has the wrong sort of minor piece - a bishop which cannot prevent a simple plan such as ...Kg8-h7-g6-f5.
26.f3 Kh7 27.Kf2?
"Inaccurate," said Caruana. 27.g3 was safe and equal.
Now White must surrender a pawn or the c file.
28.Rd1 Rc8 29.Rd2 d4 30.g4! Ne6 31.h4
31.Kg3 was safer.
31...Rc7 32.Bb4
32...g5! 33.hxg5 h4 34.Ba5 Rc6 35.f4?
Panic when short of time and with the position apparently turning against him. Yet after 35.Bb4 , threatening 35.Be7, White should hold, albeit not  comfortably.
35...Nxf4 36.Rxd4 Ne6 37.Rd2 Kg6 38.Bd8?!
38.b3! Kxg5 39.Kf3 still offered some chances to hold but the h pawn will still be a monster.
38...Rc4! 39.Bf6 Rxg4 40.Kf3

40...Kf5! 41.Rh2 Nf4 42.a3 Rg3+ 43.Kf2 Kg4! 0-1

The final round saw Caruana again go very close to victory, this time against Ljubomir Ljubojevic, and ultimately left Caruana on a respectable 5/10.

Caruana was, however, far from happy; "I just played very badly in this tournament - I can't give any excuses," he said, admitting grudging satisfaction with achieving a 50% score.

At the other end of the tournament table, Nakamura could find nothing positive to take from a tournament that had started so promisingly.

The US Champion finished tied with Chinese GM Hou Yifan in last place on 3.5/10, both fading badly in the final rounds.

However while 15-year-old Hou was in this event mostly for the experience, Nakamura was the top-rated young player and tipped by many as a likely winner.

So what went wrong?

As was reported in the last blog, Nakamura was certainly unwell during the entire event, with an illness that defied clear diagnosis and responded only partially to antibiotics.

However in my opinion, the disease looked to be in some ways self-inflicted. In the weeks prior to the Amsterdam NH tournament, Nakamura competed in the Mainz rapid and Chess 960 tournament, travelled to Tokyo for the Japan League, then returned to New York for a day or two before flying back to the Netherlands.

Perhaps Nakamura's successful combination of the World Open and San Sebastian in July had made him think that a 21-year-old does not suffer from jet lag and does not need rest days, but at some point a crazy travel schedule will catch up with you.

Already in Tokyo Nakamura's play seemed to be going through the motions, doing just enough to beat seven players rated around 2250. Nakamura avoided main lines in the opening (playing, for example, g3 and b3 systems) but thereby found himself without any cheap, energy-saving points.

Air travel between Japan and Europe is, in my experience, one of the toughest journeys to recover from - in some ways worse than, say, Australia-Europe - and to add a trans-Atlantic flight to this, unless absolutely necessary, is bordering on lunacy.

So it was not really surprising that Nakamura caught whatever bug was going around Amsterdam (or New York) and that his recovery time was slow.

Nakamura explained that he was deliberately trying to play sharply in Amsterdam in order to keep himself awake and calculating clearly, but even so he missed many small details, often game-changing ones.

Nakamura also turned up with fewer opening surprises than most of his fellow youngsters and seemed to be improvising in game after game, sometimes successfully but most often not.

While every other youngster had a Grandmaster second - all expenses paid by the organizers - Nakamura was accompanied by his friend Kris Littlejohn. Having a friend rather than a trainer as a second is not unusual - it worked out well for Nakamura at the US Championships - but in this case it seemed as if Nakamura could have used some fresh opening ideas.
The one thing which was never missing was Nakamura's legendary will-to-win. "You have to admire the way he keeps coming out fighting in every game," said Svidler. "And you could tell that he was really sick."
In the final round, when Nakamura could have used the White pieces to bail out against the top seed, he again went straight for the throat and suffered his fourth loss in the final six rounds.

Nakamura's final round game against Svidler, Photo Cathy Rogers

Amsterdam NH
Round 10


Opening: King's Indian Defence

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3 Nc6!?
"He probably expected me to play 3...d5 as I did against Motylev," said Svidler.
4.d5 Ne5 5.e4 d6 6.Ne2 Bg7 7.Nec3 0-0 8.Be2 e6 9.f4
As recommended by theoretician Laszlo Hazai, though the simple 9.0-0 leads to a strange King's Indian/Benoni position where Black should be OK.
9...Ned7 10.0-0 exd5 11.cxd5 Re8 12.Bf3 Nc5 13.Re1 h5
A move soon regretted by Svidler; "I thought it was a normal Benoni-style move but I really needed it back on h7 defending my g pawn later."
14.h3 b5!?
Played after long thought by Nakamura, who probably didn't trust his own calculations. [15.a3 was also quite playable.
15...dxe5 16.fxe5 Nfd7 17.e6! Ne5 18.Nxb5
18.exf7+ Kxf7 19.d6 Rb8 20.Qd5+ was the type of line, which may have consumed Nakamura's time. Black must tread carefully, but it seems that after 20...Re6! (20...Kf8?! 21.Bxh5! is dangerous.) 21.Rxe5 Bxe5 22.Qxc5 Qh4!! Black not only survives but prospers.
18...Ncd3 19.exf7+ Kxf7 20.Rf1 Kg8 21.Be4?
The losing move, according to Svidler. "After 21.N1c3 I am not even sure that Black is better," though he calculated that 21...a6 22.Nd4 Nxf3+ 23.Nxf3 Bf5 "and I should have enough for the pawn."; 21.d6 may have been White strongest, although after 21...Nxf3+ 22.Qxf3 Bf5 the position is a mess.
21...Nxc1 22.Qxc1 c6

Strong, but after the game Svidler was kicking himself for missing 22...Ba6! e.g. 23.a4 (23.N1c3 also loses material after 23...c6 24.dxc6 Qb6+) 23...c6 24.dxc6 Bxb5 25.axb5 Qd4+.
23.N5c3 Ba6
23 of Nakamura's last 27 minutes went on this move, which loses by force, but unluckily so does. 24.Rd1 Qh4! 25.dxc6 Ng4!! when Black has a winning attack. "After all," said Svidler, " it is like I am attacking with a queen up since he has no use of his rook and knight on the queenside."
"He didn't see this - he is clearly sick and it is informing his play, as you can see," said Svidler.
On 25.hxg4 Bd4+ ends the game.
25...Qb6+ 26.Kh1 Nf2+ 27.Kh2 Nxe4 28.Nxe4 Rxe4 29.Rxe4 Qxb2 30.d6 Rd8!
Avoiding Nakamura's last trap. Despite his opponent having only 12 seconds for 10 moves, Svidler resisted the temptation of rushing into 30...Qxd2 31.Nxd2 Bxa1 32.d7 Kf7 when, amazingly, 33.Nb3! Bf6 34.Nc5! recovers the lost piece.
31.d7 Be5+! 32.g3

32.Kh1 loses to the same trick.
32...Rxd7!! 0-1

Nakamura used five of his remaining ten seconds before resigning.

A sad end for Nakamura to a tournament he will no doubt wish to forget quickly, but from which he will hopefully learn a number of lessons.

For Svidler, the end of the event was a chance to emerge from the Hotel Krasnapolsky, enjoy listening to a busker who claimed to be Steve Winwood, and buy some toys for his twin boys.

For me, the tournament ended as I walked across the Dam Square - Amsterdam's central square -  away from the Krasnapolsky and was almost run over by a cyclist. "Hello Ian," the International Master cyclist said - for it was Manuel Bosboom, the Dutch IM who once beat Kasparov (in a blitz tournament) and who is so Dutch that he lives in a windmill. "Is the tournament finished?" Bosboom asked. (News must travel slowly to windmills.) "I'm afraid so," I replied and we parted ways.