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Biel: The Friendly Super-Tournament Print E-mail
By GM Ian Rogers   
July 26, 2008
Biel cityscape, Photo Cathy Rogers

The Swiss town of Biel has for 41 years hosted one of the world's great chess festivals. Hosted in the giant Palais de Congress , walking distance from beautiful Lake Biel, the summer Festival has always been the antithesis of the January chess festival at the wet, windy, freezing Dutch seaside village of Wijk aan Zee.

The Biel festival's main event has always been a high level tournament, usually a round-robin Grandmaster tournament, though Biel has thrice - in 1976, 1985 and 1993 - hosted World Championship Interzonal tournaments. 

The Biel Chess Festival of 2008 is much smaller than in its 1980s and 1990s heyday. Now there is competition from many places, especially the giant games festival in Pardubice and the rapid/Chess 960 extravaganza in Mainz. To add to Biel's problems, FIDE scheduled its Sochi Grand Prix tournament against Biel, making many top players unavailable. Morozevich, who with Karpov holds a record three Biel wins, would have returned this year but for the Mainz clash.

Dozens of world class players - from Tal and Smyslov to Anand and Carlsen - have competed in Biel - but not all players' memories are sweet; Anand lost a 6-move game here in 1988 while Korchnoi walked into a one-move checkmate two minutes after resuming an adjourned game in 1986. 

However for Magnus Carlsen, the 17-year-old bidding to overtake Anand at the top of the world rankings, Biel has only positive associations.

Biel 2005 was Carlsen's first high category tournament , and though he finished last the then 14-year-old certainly did not disgrace himself, scoring 4/10.

Biel 2007 saw Carlsen's first win of a high category tournament and one year later the Norwegian teenager is bidding to become the youngest world number one in history. 

So far in Biel 2008, Carlsen has looked exceptionally relaxed. Unusually, he did not travel to Biel with his father but instead came with friends his own age, chessplayers of decidedly modest strength. After his games, Carlsen can often be seen in the public analysis area analysing his friends' games amidst many smiles and much laughter. The teenage superstar is left in peace to enjoy his spare time - a far cry from cities like Wijk aan Zee or Morelia where Carlsen can hardly appear in public without being swamped by fans or media.

The Swiss media do of course make their demands of Carlsen. After his second win over Pelletier he completed a 45 minute interview with local, national and international media. Carlsen handled all questions with good grace, including a off-the-wall "Do you fear ending up like Bobby Fischer?" and the personal "How much money do you earn?" and "Do you have a girlfriend?"
Magnus Carlsen analyzes, Photo Cathy Rogers

Rather fruitless debate has raged over whether Biel deserves to call itself a super-tournament. Alex Onischuk considers that "Last year was definitely a super-tournament. This year it's almost a super-tournament!"

Yet appearances can be deceptive. Biel 2007 was a lower category than 2008 but with 10 players rather than 6, and with big names like Radjabov and Grischuk, it felt more like the traditional super-tournament.

Onischuk also had an explanation for why Biel might be downgraded in some people's eyes: "People haven't yet got used to seeing Magnus as a really top player, like Anand or Topalov." 

Admittedly, Carlsen has not looked like a world number one so far in the first half of the tournament, notwithstanding the fact that he is tied for first with Evgeny Alekseev.

Both of Carlsen's wins have come from persistence rather than dominance, beating only the two tailenders, Bacrot and Pelletier. If he is to reach the world number one position by the end of this tournament, Carlsen will need a 4/5 finish - possible but extremely difficult, especially with the Black piece three times in the final five games. 

Carlsen has already had two strokes of luck. In the first round he was the recipient of a half point donation by the local hope Yannick Pelletier, one of the stars of Biel 2007. That game gave Carlsen a boost and began the  psychological destruction of Pelletier. 

Positon after 42.Kf3

Pelletier had been defending patiently against Carlsen's optimistic winning attempts and now finds the simplest way to force a draw; exchanging to a pure opposite coloured bishops endgame.

42...Ng4! 43.Nxg4 hxg4+ 44.Kxg4 Ke6 45.Bc4+ Ke7 46.Kf3 f5 47.Ke2 Kf8 48.Kd3 Bf6 49.b3 Bb2?!

The start of a crazy manouevre which only succeeds in totally immobilising Black's bishop on a5. After the game Pelletier showed that 49...Ke7 50.Bg8 Bd4! would lead to a simple draw, e.g. 51.b4 (A normal plan like 51.Kc4 Bf2 52.Kb5 leads directly to a draw after 52...Kd6 and 53...Kc7.) 51...Bf2! 52.a5 cxb4 53.a6 b5 and the rest is easy for Black.

50.Bd5 Ba3?

The final error. There was still time for 50...Ke7! 51.Kc4 Bd4! 52.Kb5 (52.b4 Bf2 53.bxc5!? Bxc5 54.a5 Kd6! could even lose after 55.a6? b5+ 56.Kxb5 Kxd5 57.g4 fxg4 58.f5 Bf2 -+) 52...Kd6 53.Bf7 Kc7 54.Bxg6 Bf2 55.Bxf5 Bxg3 and White will have only one pawn left on the kingside - not enough to win.

51.Kc4 Bb4 52.Kb5 Ba5 53.Bc4 Ke7 54.Kc6 Kf6 55.Bd3

Now Black has run out of moves and must allow a kingside breakthrough.


55...Ke6 loses to 56.g4! fxg4 57.Bxg6 g3 58.Be4 Kf6 59.h5 Kg7 60.f5 Kg8 61.Bd5+ Kg7 62.Kb5 and Black, as usual, runs out of moves.

56.h5! gxh5

56...Kg7 57.hxg6 Kxg6 58.g4 is worse.

57.Bxf5 Kf6 58.Be4 Kg7 59.Bf3 Kh6 60.Kb5 Kg6 61.Bd1 Kh6 62.Be2 Kg6 63.Bf3 Kh6 64.Bc6 1-0

The h pawn will be lost after 65.Be8 and a waiting move. 

The next day, Pelletier felt even worse after ruining a dominant position against Cuban second seed Lernier Dominguez. 

Position after 21....h6

A heavy-duty Grunfeld has turned in White's favour and Pelletier now begins a beautifully calculated forcing line. 

22.Qd7! Nc5 23.Bd5! Nxd7 24.Bxa2 Nc5 25.Bxf7+ Kf8 26.Bxe8 Nxb7 27.Bxg6! hxg5 28.fxg5+ Kg8 29.Be4

The point - White wins the sacrificed piece back.


29...Rf8 30.Bd5+ Kh7 31.Rxf8 Bxf8 32.Bxb7 is hopeless for Black.

30.Rb1 Bxe5 31.Rxb7?

It was necessary to keep the rooks on with 31.Bxb7 after which Pelletier considered White's position to be winning. Now Dominguez escapes with a freakish draw - thanks to Pelletier's nemesis, opposite coloured bishops.

31...Rxb7 32.Bxb7 Bf4! 33.h4 Bg3! 34.h5 a5 35.Bc6 Kg7 36.Kf1 Bf4 37.g6 Kh6 38.Ke2 Be5 39.g4 Kg5 40.Kf3 Bg7 41.Ba4 Bf8 42.Bb3 Bg7 43.Bd1 Bf8 44.Ke4 a4 45.Bxa4 Kxg4 Draw 

The impact of these two games has been plain to see - Pelletier has not troubled the scorers since round 2. 

Carlsen had his second piece of good fortune in round 2 when he somehow did not injure himself severely falling from the stage when the top games were being played. Engrossed in his thoughts, Carlsen took a short-cut and plummeted onto the area where the Open games were in progress.

However, showing the aplomb of a Olympic gymnast whose attempted vault has just gone awry, Carlsen picked himself, dusted himself down, and earned an easy draw with Black against Alekseev.

In future Carlsen displayed due caution and took the stairs from the stage when he wished to watch the Open tournament. 
GM Alexander Onischuk, Photo Cathy Rogers

Chess Life Online readers may remember how close Alexander Onischuk came to upsetting Carlsen at Biel 2007 and the American was in the mix at the halfway point. Unfortunately, his chances have decreased after his loss today against Dominguez:


Onischuk is coming off two disappointing recent results, in Foros and Poikovsky,  but he feels that he showed glimpses of improved form in Poikovsky which he has taken into Biel.

"Overall I didn't win any and I lost six games," said Onischuk. "But both events were really strong. In Foros I was not in my best form but in Poikovsky I played OK but still scored minus two. What to do? However I feel like I got my form back in Poikovsky." 

"Now I am a little bit tired, of course, but I always like to play here [in Biel]. I think this is my fifth time here and only the first time I didn't do so well. I like the idea of a chess festival. In the Ukraine they like chess but there were still not many spectators at Foros. Here there are always many people watching the games." 

Whether Onischuk can repeat his 2007 success in Biel probably depends upon his key final round game with Black against Carlsen. Life in a super-tournament, even a friendly one, was not meant to be easy. 

Biel Chess Festival 2008
Standings after 6 rounds

1. Magnus Carlsen 2775- 4.5

2. Lenier Dominguez 2708- 4
3. Evgeny Alekseev 2708-3.5
4. -Alexander Onischuk-2670 3.0
5. Etienne Bacrot 2691-2.5
6. Yannick Pelletier 2569-0.5