The leadership was whittled down from ten to two players as the top five boards fought for supremacy. After another hard-fought round, the front-runners are now Mickey Adams of England and Jan Gustafsson of Germany. Both profited from early slips by their Indian opponents (Humpy Koneru and GN Gopal respectively) to win in some comfort.
There was a curious contrast between the games on board one and two. The top board, between Chanda Sandipan and Etienne Bacrot started with an interesting line of the Nimzo-Indian and you would have put money on an entertaining game ensuing. Board two between Mickey Adams and Humpy Koneru, however, started with a Petroff Defence (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6) at which most chess fans groan inwardly as it often results in a sterile draw. But the outcome of these two games was not so easily predicted. Sandipan-Bacrot certainly started well, with the Indian seemingly in some trouble but perhaps Bacrot went wrong somewhere as his opponent managed to level things in the early middlegame and a draw followed.
If Humpy Koneru was hoping to block her way to a draw, she was sadly disappointed as she misjudged her strategy at a very early stage of the game (possibly as early as move 7), giving the English grandmaster exactly the sort of positional advantage which he was seeking and which suits his style. He had a bit of trouble extricating his pawn-snatching knight from the opponent’s position but played carefully and made no mistake.
Board three saw a more stereotypical Petroff Defence as French colleagues Romain Edouard and Laurent Fressinet agreed a draw after 24 moves.
Board four… another Petroff! That’s a threefold Petroff repetition on three adjacent boards – could the three Black players make a package draw claim at this point? No, that’s just a silly thought that crossed my mind (I’m a bit light-headed from lack of sleep) but perhaps FIDE could think about introducing one of their hugely popular new rules along these lines (the principle being that anything stopping people actually playing chess must be a good thing).
But Ruben Felgaer of Argentina and Daniel Fridman of Germany made a pretty good fight of their Petroff in what was a sideline of this much-maligned defence. Fridman had bishop for knight but Felgaer’s knights stood well as he tried to dominate the position. He won a pawn but it was only a double one and the game eventually steered into a level knight and pawn ending.
31-year-old German grandmaster Jan Gustafsson joined Mickey Adams in the overnight lead when he defeated GN Gopal of India. Like Adams, Gustafsson gained a big advantage from the opening as the Indian seemed to lose his way. Gopal fought back hard but a line of mean-looking advanced white pawns were not to be denied.
With top women’s seed Humpy Koneru going down, there was an opportunity for her rivals to steal a march on her. Two of them did so. The new women’s leaders are last year’s top women’s prize winner Nana Dzagnidze of Georgia and Natalia Zhukova of Ukraine. Nana had a fairly comfortable win against a much lower rated player Adeoye Dasaolu, but Natalia faced rather opposition in the form of Spanish GM Josep Lopez Martinez. Playing Black, she seemed worse out of the opening but Josep overplayed his hand and Natalia wrested the advantage, winning a piece around the time control.
One other regular contender for the top women’s prize, Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant, fell out of contention when she went down to a shock defeat against English amateur player Philip Tozer. This game was a good advert for the French Defence, with Black demonstrating that the queenside offensive against a queenside castled king is quite likely to outstrip White’s pawn storm against the black monarch.
As readers of my Gib reports in earlier years will probably recall, I usually like to taunt readers back in the UK and elsewhere with stories of the balmy weather we enjoy here at the southernmost tip of the Iberian peninsula (in stark contrast to the sheer awfulness of British weather in January). I try to make myself sound like one of those Alan Whicker TV travelogues which the Monty Python team satirised so beautifully in their Whicker Island sketch… “here… in the sun-kissed, tropical, Mediterranean paradise of Gibraltar… where the carefree, sun-tanned residents stroll along the palm-lined boulevards and live out their lives in the lap of luxury”… well, you might have noticed a deafening silence on the subject so far. I realise that I am probably “off message” vis-à-vis the sort of thing that the Gibraltar Tourist Board would want me to write, but I share a birthday with George Washington (a severe handicap for a journalist) and cannot lie to you, gentle reader. The weather for the first few days was distinctly average. Not cold (as per the UK) but decidedly rainy and windy. I was getting geared up to crow about how much better it had become (and could have done so had I written this on Friday and Saturday, both of which were exceedingly nice, with blue skies and sunshine) but as I write (on Sunday at the crack of dawn) there appears to be a very high wind (known as “The Levanter”) whipping round the hotel. But I can still just about get away with a short-sleeved shirt. Honest. Wish you were here, all the best, from your Uncle John…
Gibraltar International Chess Festival, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Gibtelecom International Chess Festival 26th Jan – 4th Feb can be followed on-line at www.gibraltarchesscongress.com Live streaming with commentary is available every afternoon with Grandmaster Stuart Conquest. This year the tournament boasts a new broadcasting suite with the very latest technology installed by Gibtelecom. These commentaries are broadcast live on the congress website www.gibraltarchesscongress.com
The festival’s total prize fund of £112,500 is one of the highest in the world for an event which is open to all. The Masters has £96,600 in prizes, and there are two Challenger Tournaments, each lasting five days, with prizes for each of £5,500. Two five-day Amateur Tournaments are also played, with prize money of £2,300 each.
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– GM Susan Polgar