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GM Ian Rogers on Amsterdam Print E-mail
By GM Ian Rogers   
August 24, 2009
The NH Rising Stars vs. Experience tournament is held in the hotel in the background. Photo Cathy Rogers

In decades gone by, the NH Youth versus Experience tournament in Amsterdam would be viewed as a great attraction in the Dutch capital.

A world class event held at the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky on Amsterdam’s main square, with live commentary and featuring five of the world’s best young players competing against 5 experienced Grandmasters, should see hordes of chess fans flocking to see stars such as Peter Svidler and Hikaru Nakamura in action.

After all, this is the town where in the 1980s one could walk into a pub and see the publican taking time off from pulling beers to move pieces on a giant demonstration board while explaining to enthralled drinkers the ideas behind the latest moves in an ongoing Karpov versus Kasparov World Championship game.

However in 2009, things are different.

Perhaps it is poor advertising – a visitor to the centre of Amsterdam would have no idea that a major chess tournament is taking place until they enter the doors of the hotel.

Perhaps it is a waning public interest in chess in the Netherlands – if former World Champion Max Euwe cannot make the publicly voted top 100 of the greatest Dutchmen of all time then chess really has fallen off the radar. The Netherlands also used to be able to boast some of the world’s best chess columns, in newspapers and magazines but these have shrunk or disappeared in the new century.

Perhaps it is the ease with which chess fans can sit at home and watch games on the Internet – with excellent commentary on services such as Chess FM.

Perhaps the players are simply not strong enough for the Dutch, who every January are treated to the sight of most or all of the big four – Anand, Topalov, Kramnik and Carlsen – competing in Wijk aan Zee. And the Wijk aan Zee tournament draws many thousands to a tiny seaside resort in the depths of winter.

Whatever the reason, NH Amsterdam seems almost like a private party tucked away in a corner of one of Amsterdam’s finest hotels.

Only the press room is buzzing, as journalists from ICC and Chess Vibes bring the news to the Internet audience and visitors such as Nunn and noted endgame study expert Yochanan Afek discuss problem solving and composing.

Yet for those who have taken the effort to visit the NH tournament, the reward is considerable. Some of the youngsters – most notably Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and Hou Yifan - are already superstars while the chance to see living legends such as Alexander Beliavsky and Ljubomir Ljubojevic in action and playing at a high level is a treat, which may not be available for too many more years.

After a series of poor performances at previous NH tournaments many believed that Ljubojevic was no longer up to the challenge, but in 2009 he started the NH event spectacularly and after three rounds had won as many games as he had in NH 2007 and NH 2008 put together. The veteran looked less convincing in rounds four and five but it is still good to see him playing, as Svidler put it, “as well as we know he could do.”

Nakamura, as usual in any tournament he competes in nowadays, was the player to watch. The US Champion’s games are always full of content, although the first two rounds indicated that his finishing technique might need a little work.

Amsterdam NH
Round 1
White: L.Ljubojevic
Black: H.Nakamura
Position after 49.h3

Nakamura may have believed that he was cruising to victory and so far hadn't worried too much about finesses but here he missed perhaps his last chance to finish the game in his favour...
Obvious and wrong. It was necessary for Black to play 49...Nd7! 50.Bf1 Nf6, in order to follow with ...Nd5+-e3 after ...g3-g2. Now, however, White draws by a minor miracle.
50.hxg4 hxg4 51.Bf1! Nf7

It's too late for 51...Nd7? due to 52.Bc4+.
52.d7 Ke7 53.Bg2 g3 54.Bf1 Nd8 55.Bh3! Ne6+

Black no longer has anything better.
56.Bxe6 f1Q 57.d8Q+ Kxe6 58.Qd6+ Kf7 59.Qxg3 Qc4+ 60.Kxb6 Qxa4 ½–½

Amsterdam NH
Round 2
White: H.Nakamura
Black: L. Van Wely

Position after 34..Rb4

Sheer persistence in an endgame many players would have given up as drawn has given Nakamura a large advantage in the rook endgame. Just as in round one, the US Champion has trouble finishing off his opponent.
34.Kd3! Rxb2 35.Kc3! Rxf2 36.b6 Rf1 37.Rb5?!
This probably does not spoil anything, but if Nakamura had foreseen Black's defensive idea he would have made 100% sure of the point with 37.Kb2! ("Winning easily," said Nakamura.) 37...Rf2+ 38.Kb3 Rf1 39.Rb5 e4 and now 40.Kc3! rounds up the e pawn while Black's rook is forced to take up a passive post on b8.
37...Rc1+ 38.Kb4?
38.Kd3! was still good enough. Once Black's rook is stuck on b8, White can play Ke4-d5-c6 and cover any kingside counterplay with his rook.
38...e4! 39.b7 e3! 40.b8Q e2! 41.Rg5+!

Position after 41.Rg5+

Nakamura had seen this far when playing 37.Rb5 - what he had not taken into account was
41...fxg5! 42.Qe5+ Kf8 43.Qxe2 Rc6!
when Black has set up an impenetrable blockade. Nakamura tried for another 36 moves before conceding the inevitable.
44.Qe5 h6 45.Kb5 Re6 46.Qh8+ Ke7 47.Kc5 Ra6 48.Qc3 Re6 49.Kd5 Kf8 50.Qh8+ Ke7 51.Kd4 Rc6 52.Ke4 Ra6 53.Qc3 Re6+ 54.Kf5 Kf8 55.Qh8+ Ke7 56.Qg7 Ke8 57.h4 gxh4 58.Kf4 Ke7 59.Kf3 Rg6 60.Qh8 h3 61.Qb8 h2 62.Qb4+ Ke8 63.Kg2 h1Q+ 64.Kxh1 Re6 65.Kg2 Rg6 66.Kh3 Re6 67.Kg3 Rg6 68.Kh4 Re6 69.Kh5 Rg6 70.Qe4+ Re6 71.Qa8+ Ke7 72.Qg8 Rc6 73.g5 hxg5 74.Qxg5+ Kf8 75.Qd8+ Kg7 76.Qd4+ Kg8 77.Qg4+ Rg6 78.Qxg6+ fxg6+ 79.Kxg6 ½–½

In truth, Nakamura had a good excuse for his erratic play as he seemed rather unwell, though that didn’t explain why – when his health was at its lowest ebb during round three - he threw up, literally and figuratively, the game of the round and probably of the tournament.


1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0–0 6.Be2 e5 7.0–0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Nd2 Ne8!?

A fighting choice, but also a move considered dubious by theory.
10.b4 f5 11.c5 Nf6 12.f3 f4 13.Nc4
Everything I know about the King's Indian tells me that this position should be tremendous for White, who has succeeded in playing c5 and getting his knight to c4 without hindrance. (In many main lines White has to play Ne1–d3 before playing c5, leaving his queenside attack much more difficult to prosecute. Nakamura, however, proceeds as if there is nothing to worry about...
13...g5 14.a4 Ng6 15.Ba3 Rf7 16.a5 h5 17.b5 dxc5 18.b6

A new move, though completely logical - every extra open line on the queenside is like a nail in Black's coffin.
18...cxb6 19.axb6 axb6 20.Qb3 is excellent for White.
Here Nakamura paused for a long think, steeling himself for the coming sacrifices.
Now it was Beliavsky's turn to fall into deep thought, for almost an hour, before playing the move everyone had expected. The Ukrainian/Slovenian GM no doubt saw Black's planned onslaught but believed he could refute it. After all, what has White done wrong?
20.Nb5 g3!! 21.Nxc7 Nxe4!!
Position after 21...Nxe4

Still hoping to refute Black's sacrifices, but most likely it was time for White to force a draw with 22.fxe4 Qh4 23.h3 Bxh3! 24.gxh3 Qxh3 25.Rf2! gxf2+ 26.Kxf2 Qg3+ when Black has a perpetual check (unless White wishes to drop the a1 rook with check which, while playable, is also risky).Computer programs suggest; 22.Qc2!? but if Black calmly continues 22...Qh4! (22...gxh2+ 23.Kxh2 Qh4+ 24.Kg1 Ng3 25.Nxa8 e4 also looks dangerous, but White survives and prospers after 26.Bxc5 Bxa1 27.Nd6+-) 23.h3 Bxh3 24.gxh3 Ng5! (and not 24...Qxh3? 25.Bd3 ), then Black looks to have something close to a decisive attack.
22...Bxe6 23.dxe6 gxh2+ 24.Kxh2 Qh4+ 25.Kg1 Ng3 26.Bxc5 e4! 27.Ra4?!
Beliavsky is attempting to prevent 27...e3 by using the pin along the fourth rank. However it seems that White could have survived with 27.Ra2 e3 28.Nxe3 fxe3 29.Bxe3 Nf4! and now since 30.Bxf4 Qxf4 gives a continuing Black attack, White should play 30.Bc4 and allow Black to force another spectacular draw via 30...Qh1+ 31.Kf2 Ne4+! 32.fxe4 Qxg2+ 33.Ke1 Bc3+ 34.Rd2 Qg3+ 35.Rff2 Qxe3+ 36.Kf1 Qh3+ 37.Kg1 Bxd2 38.Qxd2 Qg4+ 39.Kf1 Qh3+ etc.
27...Rc8 28.Bxa7 b5!! 29.Rb4
An admission of defeat, but  29.axb6 allows the pretty finish 29...Bd4+!!.
29...bxc4 30.Bxc4 Qh1+ 31.Kf2 e3+ 32.Bxe3 fxe3+ 33.Kxe3 Nxf1+ 34.Bxf1 Qg1+ 0–1

Such a brilliant win turned out to be a tonic for Nakamura, who could be seen walking around later that evening with his second Kris Littlejohn on a challenging search for Gatorade.
The face off between the highest rated players from each team. Photo Cathy Rogers

Nonetheless, after an insipid draw in the fourth round against Nielsen, Nakamura finally met his Waterloo against the top seed.


1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nd2 e6 5.Nb3 Nd7 6.Nf3 h6 7.Be2 Ne7 8.0–0 g5

"The critical line," said Svidler. "I hadn't really expected him to play the same way as he did in San Sebastian [where Svidler played 8.c3 (by transposition) and the game ended in a draw I.R.] but I have spent so much time on the Caro-Kann over the past year that I knew what I needed to do."
9.Ne1 c5 10.Nxc5 Nxc5 11.dxc5 Nc6 12.Bd3 Bxc5!?

"12...Be4 is normal, and is supposed to lead to an equal ending [after 13.Qe2 Bxc5 14.Bxe4 dxe4 15.Qxe4 Qd4," said Svidler. "However over the board I had half an idea [which I was going to try]." (Svidler did not, of course, let slip what that idea might be!)
13.Bxf5 exf5 14.Nd3 Bb6 

Position after 14...Bb6

"An important move," explained Svidler. "I either have to exchange bishops or close that diagonal."
15...d4 16.Bd2 Qd7 17.a4 a6!? 18.b4 Nd8 19.Qf3 g4?!
"I could tell that Nakamura was sick," said Svidler, because he was playing very quickly yet making committal moves like ...a6, ...Nd8 and especially ...g4."
20.Qf4 Rc8 21.Rac1 Rc6 22.f3! g3?

"I really wasn't sure how bad 22...Rg8 23.fxg4 fxg4 would be for Black," said Svidler. "OK White has a nice position but everything is protected and if his king can't be mated then structurally Black is not doing so badly."
23.Qxg3 Rg6 24.e6!

"I was sure that 24.Qh3 was also good for White but once I saw 24.e6 it was too nice to resist!" confessed Svidler.
"24...Qxe6 25.Qh3 is just horrible for Black," said Svidler.
25.Qb8+ Bd8 26.Ne5 Qc7 27.Qxc7 Bxc7 28.Nxg6 fxg6 29.c3 Kd7 30.Rfd1 Bd6 31.cxd4 Nc7 32.d5

Materially this should be trivial for White but Nakamura refuses to open lines for the rooks and Svidler begins to drift badly. "My technique, as usual, left a lot to be desired," said a rueful Svidler.
32...g5 33.Be3 Re8 34.Bb6 Re2 35.Kf1?! Rb2 36.Rc4 Ne8 37.h4 Bxb4 38.hxg5 hxg5 39.Bd4 Rb3 40.Bc5 Bc3?!

Position after 40.Bc5

By now Svidler was getting very nervous about the possibility of 40...Bxc5 41.Rxc5 Kd6 42.Rc8 Kd7 "when he might be able to get a knight blockading on d6 which could be difficult to break down. But he only had a minute to make this difficult decision."
41.Rd3 Rb1+ 42.Ke2 Ba5 43.g4 fxg4 44.Rxg4 Rb2+ 45.Kd1 Ra2 46.d6 Ra1+ 47.Kc2 Nf6 48.Rxg5 Rxa4 49.Bd4 Ne8 50.Rh5 Rc4+ 51.Kb3 Rb4+ 52.Ka3 Rb5 53.Rxb5 axb5 54.Be5
Now the knight is fenced in and the rest is easy.
54...Be1 55.f4 Bf2 56.Kb4 b6 57.Kxb5 Bc5 58.f5 Nxd6+ 59.Bxd6 Bxd6 60.Re3 Bc5 61.Re2 1-0

Rather than resign, Nakamura deliberately let his flag fall, shook hands and walked from the hall a disconsolate figure.

Compared to Nakamura, the other American – admittedly one who plays for Italy and lives in Hungary – had a relatively peaceful time. Fabiano Caruana drew his first four games without much adventure but then had to fight for his life to survive against Ljubojevic.
Ljubojevic-Caruana, Photo Cathy Rogers

Amsterdam NH
Round 5
White: L.Ljubojevic
Black: F.Caruana

Caruana made a typical Hedgehog break just before the time control which should have been successful after Ljubojevic grabbed a hot pawn. However having missed the correct follow-up (which would have won a piece) Caruana was on the ropes and after 54.Qb3 Ljubojevic would probably have enjoyed a slow but sure victory. Instead Ljubojevic played...

and Caruana found an escape clause
54...Qxa3! 55.Nxe5 Qb2+ 56.Kh3 Qxe5 57.Qxf7

Ljubojevic had calculated this far but had missed
when the b pawn is chronically weak. Ljubojevic tried
but after
58...Kh6! 59.Kh2 Bc3

He could find nothing better than transposing to an easily drawn opposite bishops endgame.
60.Qg5+ Qxg5 61.hxg5+ Kxg5 62.b5 h4 63.gxh4+ Kxh4 64.Kg2 Kg5 65.b6 Kf4 66.b7 Be5 67.Kf2 g5 68.Ke2 g4 69.Bg2 Kg3 70.Bf1 Kf4 71.Kd3 Kf3 72.Be2+ Kf4 73.Bf1 Kf3 ½–½

Overall, the veterans lead the juniors by two points, thanks to 33-year-old veteran Peter Svidler who (along with 24-year-old junior Jan Smeets) leads the field on 3.5/5, and Ljubojevic and Peter-Heine Nielsen on 3/5.

And, by the way, if you happen to find yourself in Amsterdam over the next week, please come and visit! You will help add the one thing in short supply at NH 2009 – live spectators!


August - Chess Life Online 2009

Experience Beats Youth in Amsterdam Back to School with Ask GM Joel Lenderman Takes Atlantic OpenU.S. Women's Team Off to China! U.S. Chess Scoop #6 Ian Rogers on Beliavsky-CaruanaBlindfold Chess is Book of the Year Final Photo Gallery From Chicago Saint Louis to Host 2010 U.S. Championship Letter From Jerry Nash Nakamura Falters Against Ljubojevic Kosteniuk Simul at The National K-12 Robson Nets Norm #2 in Chicago Norm-Hunting at the Chicago InvitationalChess Journalists of America AwardsGM Ian Rogers on Amsterdam Adult Membership Dues Change Chess Action Begins in Chicago Nakamura Scores but Experience Maintains Lead Five Golds for the US Team in Argentina! Nakamura in Amsterdam Team Experience Wins Round 1 in Amsterdam Gold for Tanuj in Pan-Am Youth!!Finegold on the Summer Chess Academy Rising Stars vs. Experience Starts Tomorrow Arthur, Annie and Tanuj Still Perfect in Argentina Five Perfect at the Pan-Am Youth Friedel on Missing Out in Brazil Baseball at 10 Boards an Hour 23 Americans in Argentina for Pan-Am YouthHow to Score a Summer Upset The Final Five in IndianaRobson Nets Norm and Ties for First in Norway! USCF Revokes Memberships of Polgar and TruongSix Tie in U.S. Open; Gurevich Wins Official Title Lenderman and Kudrin Lead in IndianaU.S. Chess Scoop #5Roaming the Halls in Indiana Mulyar Perfect as Stars Join in IndianaAmerican Teens Abroad: Ray Leads in Norway; Ostrovskiy in Curacao Abby Marshall on her Denker Win Two Michaels on Perfect Scores at the U.S. OpenU.S. Championship Flashback Antal Tops Tournament of College ChampsICC Interview with Greg Shahade Abby Marshall: First Female to Win Denker! Abby 5-0 in Denker; 11 Still Perfect in Open Greg Nolan wins 7th Holly Heisman fundraiserBig Upset in the Open; Abby and Patrick Lead Denker Five Lead in WCL Tournament of College ChampsIvanov and Shabalov Advance to World Cup Denker Heats up Fast; Wide Gaps in Main Event