SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
I am a big coffee fan…on any given day I drink up to 2 litres of instant coffee (no sugar, no milk… neither shaken nor stirred).
Once I had come down with a bad case of the flu while in San Sebastian, it was coffee that prevented a complete meltdown of my tournament. In the end I even managed to gain 2 elo points! It is amazing what a person can do on auto-pilot!
But there was nothing to be done about my 7th round game against the sympathetic Croat Marko Tratar, however. Unable to sleep more than 20 minutes the night before, and suffering from fever and a bad cough during the game, it was inevitable that I would overlook an elementary tactical shot and that I would suffer my first loss, effectively knocking out all of my chances for first prize:
Here I thought 10 minutes and crashed with 26.Rbf1 ?? completely overlooking the obvious 26…c4!. My next move jumped from the frying pan into the fire: 27.Qxc4? and after 27…Nxg3 I could have resigned with a clear conscience!
I went back to my hotel immediately after the game and stayed there until about noon the next day. During the night I began to feel better: soon I started to sweat and the fever broke. This is always a good sign, and for the last two rounds, even though I was still suffering, atleast I could concentrate enough to avoid any silly one-move blunders.
My young but talented opponent was quickly outplayed in the early middlegame after he decided to leave his King in the centre (instead of castling long) and I built up a powerful position in the centre. My last move (35.Qc3)
was played with the idea of breaking thru to the Black King with the threat of Qc6ch. You could imagine my surprise when he simply castled King side (35…00)
! I had forgotten that Black could still castle!!
As I sat staring at the position, and realized that I had lost most of my advantage, I philosophically mused that this is the price one must play for playing in tournaments while sick! Fortunately, my advantage is still good enought to win, and I quickly found the strongest move (36.Re5!)
and went on to win anyways…
An interesting game. I must have turned down 3 or 4 draw offers, including one after the 4th move! In this position it might seem that White has a good game, as he is threatening Ne4 with a bind. However, I had already anticipated my next move for some time and played 28…Nxe5! After 29.Pxe5 Bxe5 the Black Bishops become very strong and Black has all of a sudden dangerous threats. My opponent soon made an imprecision and Black won handily.
I finished the tournament with 7 points out of 9, curiously just half a point away from the tournament winner, Cuban Aramis Alvarez.
Here we can see Tratar (right), Alvarez (centre) and Alsina (left). The winner gets the traditional Basque hat (I have several from past events).
But the tournament was not a total disaster. I learned something new about endings. In the 3rd round game I arrived at an interesting Queen ending two pawns up that proved too difficult for me to win with only 30 seconds per move. My opponent, the likeable Irish international Sam Collins, was able to claim a 3-fold repetition on the 77th move, but the ending was already impossible to win , even with perfect play, at that point.
Sam Collins, who curiously was also Leon Piasetski’s room-mate during the tournament
The position after 55 moves of play by both sides is below in the pgn-viewer. I give what the Nalimov Table Bases give as perfect play by both sides, just to show you how difficult it is to win!
The problem with this ending is that Black has a super resource that causes White all types of headaches. Namely, when the Black King is in the corner (h8) he can often give his Queen because of stalemates! In the game I tried to avoid this possiblility all together, only to find that I could not make any progress (and then did not realize that I had repeated the position 3 times!).
However, as the Nalimov Table Bases show, White can win only by advancing his King deep into Black’s position and carefully sidestepping the stalemate theme, not once, but twice(!!):
POSITION AFTER BLACK’S 3rd MOVE IN THE NALIMOV TABLE BASE ANALYSIS
White can not take the Queen because it is stalemate. White continues to make progress with the cool headed 4.Qg5
POSITION AFTER BLACK’S 18th MOVE IN THE ABOVE ANALYSIS
An amazing position! Taking the Queen any of 3 ways is stalemate. Incredibly, White can win easily by not taking the Queen!
THE KEY POSITION AFTER WHITE’S 20th MOVE
Curiously, the Black Queen is trapped and can not escape exchange! If Black tries …Qg6 White wins with a Queen check on g7, transposing into a won King and Pawn ending.
Ofcourse, even knowing what I know now, I doubt that I would be able to win this ending with 30 seconds a move. Perhaps if I had half and hour on the clock I could. Simply, the technical problems involved in the winning process demand White to play more precisely than what 30 seconds a move allows for.
It is worth pointing out, before leaving this theme, that these endings where White has two extra pawns (f-pawn and h-pawn) are not easy in general to win for the superior side. For example,the famous Rook and Pawn ending (below) is a relatively simple draw. White can not make much progress (Black can blockade one pawn and the other is right next door) and if Black limits himself to avoiding making any really stupid move, he will never lose. Any decent endgame text will explain in 5 minutes all you need to know to draw with Black.
I was not the only Canadian playing in San Sebastian this year!
Leon Piasetski also participated in the tournament. The 58 year old ex-Montrealer is on a several month trek in Europe in search of his GM-title. I have to hand it to Leon, at his age most IMs would just stay at home…
However Leon has always been one to break with conformity! He had disappeared in the mid-1990’s for 15 years teaching english in Japan, and building a solid reputation for excellent work in that field. A google search will lead you to some of his published writings on the subject.
Now that Leon has taken a break from working, he has decided to put in some serious work into achieving the GM-title. In San Sebastian his play was solid and seemed to me to be almost of the same high quality as when he played in the 1990 Manila interzonal. In this tournament he played Black against 3 GMs, and while he only scored half a point, each game was interesting.
Leon should be playing in Metz , which starts this coming weekend. Anton Kovalyov and I are also slated to play.
The San Sebastian International Open Chess Tournament is a long standing event on the european circuit, and I played for the first time in 1999. Since then I have tried to participate whenever I could find the time, and on more than one occasion I tied for first (or won outright). I like the organization (always professional) I like the city (one of my favourites in the whole world) and I like the tournament because it always has a strong contingent of GMs and IMs.
This year the tournament was held in the new installations of the local chess club: Gros Xake Taldea.
This club opened just last year and is the most impressive chess club that I have seen in Europe, or any where in my travels (with the exception of the Argentine Chess Club
in Buenos Aires). Occupying several floors in a sports institution, which the local city hall has given rent free, the local amateurs have invested very heavily in creating a very hi-tech chess club with dozens of rooms with electronic screens on the walls, perfect for tournaments, lectures and training.
The room of the club where the top 40 boards were played was named after local GM Felix Izeta
, a former team member of mine from the late 1990’s when Barca
won the Spanish Team Championship for the first time in 33 years! Since then Felix has been out of competitive chess, but has made millions in business (online betting). His generous support for the Gros Xake Taldea has meant much to the San Sebastian chess community.
Here we can see GM Felix Izeta being honoured at the chess club (last year).
FINALLY, LET ME CORRECT A BIT OF CHESS HISTORY
Contrary to popular belief, the famous San Sebastian tournament of 1911, which saw the brilliant european debut of Capablanca, did NOT take place at the Casino (above)
The first few years that I played in San Sebastian, I heard rumours that the tournament was indeed not held at the Casino, but instead in a hotel that has since been demolished , to make way for the Kursal. Several years ago I wanted to find proof of this and since then I have spent many hours googling , but I have been unsuccessful in finding proof. (This does not mean that there is no proof, however!)
The evidence that I have uncovered so far indicates that 100 years ago the Casino was an unlikely place to play a tournament, since there was a live band playing right outside the Casino 18 hours a day! Back then San Sebastian’s Casino was one of the most popular sites in all of Europe, attracting high-rollers, royalty and professional gamblers from all over the world.
It is most likely that the inauguration of the 1911 tournament took place at the Casino, but that the games themselves were played at the official hotel where the players were staying, several hundred metres away.
The problem with finding proof of this is that the newspapers of the day have not yet been put on the internet, and also that much of the written material is in the Basque language (which I do not understand at all!). However, one day I will find the time to leisurely spend a week or so and find where the microfilms of newspapers from that day are stored….
The closing ceremony of the most famous tournament in the world up to that point in history.