The tension at the top is almost unbearable as we seem to be heading for a photo finish at the 2016 Icelandic Chess Championship. No fewer than four players are tied with 5 points out of the 7 rounds!
Most eyes were on the matchup between the leaders before the round.
GM Hedinn Steingrimsson – IM Bragi Thorfinnsson
Both led with 4,5 out of 6 so this was a potentially crucial matchup. Bragi decided on playing very solidly here with black.
He went for the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Hedinn went for a setup with Bf4 which has been quite topical in recent years. Bragi played 7…c5 here which entails taking on the islolated queen’s pawn (IQP).
Here Bragi played 13…Bf5 while several top level games had seen …Be6.
Audience members that were on Bragi’s side fear that although black’s position is quite solid, these kind of static technical positions usually suit Hedinn’s style quite well.
Here Hedinn has increased his space advantage a little bit and exchanged off a pair of knights. The general rule of thumb is that the side playing against the IQP should exchange of pieces and control the square in front of the pawn. Both are firmly taken care of here. The main difference seems to be though that black’s light squared bishop is placed quite actively. If the bishop were passive white could aim for a typical plan of tripling the heavy pieces on the d-file and playing e4 at some point simply trying to win the isolated pawn. White still keeps a slight edge of course and in practise it’s usually white playing for two results in such a position, win or draw!
From here Bragi played actively with …Qg6 and an h-pawn push to h4.
This resulted in a trade of queens but at the cost of white winning a pawn. The good news however was that the extra pawn was doubled on the h-file so perhaps not a huge factor.
Bragi got a stronghold for the bishop on d3 and his own passed pawn on the c-file.
Here Hedinn has improved his position close to the maximum. White has a definite edge here but it’s hard to make anything of it. Hedinn decided his only chance was to break here with e4 which results by force in a rook ending. 42.e4 was played.
Bragi played as one should in rook endings, trying to keep his rook active. Probably this rook ending is just drawn all the way. Or as Tarrasch said:
All rook endings are drawn
This was probably the maximum that white could achieve in this ending. Black will have to sacrifice his rook for the h-pawn but he will be in time with his pawns on the queenside. Here Bragi got a bit fancy with 55…a5 which sacrifices a pawn but in return after rook takes, and ..b5 white has to lose time back. At this point it really didn’t matter. The end result was clear, a draw which meant that these two stayed in the lead but could and were joined by other players on 5/7. This turned out to be the only draw of the round!
IM Gudmundur Kjartansson – FM Gudmundur Gislason
The streaking “talented fisherman” on a streak of three straight impressive wins after losing his first three played his namesake in this round. For the sake of simplification we’ll call Kjartansson “Gummi” while Gislason will be “the foreman”!
They played a sharp line in the King’s Indian Defence (KID):
Still plenty of games in the database in this position.
Gummi played an interesting idea with 17.h4 here. The idea is to blunt the attack on the h-file at the cost of a pawn.
No KID player should have to think here. The foreman of course took on g3 with 21…Rxg3
The complications were just starting though!
Here in the post-mortem Gummi though he should go with his king to d4 instead of d2 as in the game. While this position could be debated for a while the king seems surprisingly safe in the middle of the board.
The position got very messy.
Here with the players understandably in timetrouble Gummi blundered badly with 32.e5 which allowed 32…Qc4+ winning material. Gummi was visibly upset and not because of the blunder (which wasn’t his intended move originally) but because of some commotion surronding Hedinn Steingrimsson. Some players had complained about noises from his feet shuffling repeatedly and just before the blunder the arbiter had had a word with him about it and the whole situation cause some disturbance for other players, especially in timetrouble!
GM Hjorvar Steinn Gretarsson – GM Johann Hjartarson
With the draw between the leaders, this opened a door for Johann Hjartarson to join the leaders. He played with the black pieces against Hjorvar who is having a tough tournament. This was another King’s Indian but this time the fianchetto variation.
Johann seemed in fighting mood having just played 20…g5. Hjorvar reacted energetically with 21.e5.
He later sacrificed the exchange:
The computers liked white after 24.Rxe5 Qxe5 25.Re1 Johann though found 25…Bf5
Things probably shifted Johann’s way here after Hjorvar took on h5 instead of taking on c5.
White still held a dangerous initiative but Johann defended well. He then took over and resistance was ended after a short tactical skirmish following the blunder 42.Kf3?
This allowed a very nice sequence with 42…Rxc5 43.Bxc5 Ne1+ with …Nd3 to follow.
When it rains it pours. Instead of getting an ending that was difficult to defend (and most likely lost). Hjorvar walked into a mating net that could only be avoided by giving up more material.
So an important win for the veteran GM Johann Hjartarson who joins the leaders on 5/7 and must be considered in a good position with a relatively easier program in the remaining games if we look only at the elo of opponents.
IM Jon Viktor Gunnarsson – IM Bjorn Thorfinnsson
The opening was the Italian game (Jon Viktor’s second of the tournament) and quite quickly an ending was reached.
White looked perhaps slightly better but ran into trouble when he played his rook to d7.
Here black played 24…Bd6 and was on his way to trap the rook!
Fortunately for Jon Viktor, he got some pawns for the exchange that was just lost and more after the nice 28.Nxb7! in what followed the pawns looked menacing.
This caused Bjorn to give up his nice here with 35…Nxb6 for the pawns. This resulted in a curious ending with two knights vs rook and a pawn and all the pawns on the same wing. Jon Viktor managed to disconnect the black pawns with a timely h5 push and in what followed pick them up.
Jon Viktor played the ending quite nicely and made it looked like a forced win. He managed to maneuver his other knight to e3 and then simply capture on f5 from where the win was easy. Perhaps black could have defended earlier but looked like a nice ending from Jon Viktor who is now also on 5 out of 7 with the leaders.
Meanwhile the last two rounds of the tournament for Bjorn Thorfinnsson can be summarized by this video:
The other two games of the round were not significant for the fight for the Icelandic Championship but we did have the first ever father son duel in the history of the Icelandic Championship:
Johann (the father) said before the tournament. If I end up getting only one single point from this tournament….it will be against the boy!
There was no mercy and the father kept his word 😉
This was the key moment. Orn Leo just blundered with 29.Bd4? which allowed 29…Qxc4!
The 8th round continues today at 15:00 PM local time. Jon Viktor plays a crucial game with white against Hedinn Steingrimsson. Meanwhile, Bragi and Johann have the white pieces in their games with Bragi’s task perhaps the more difficult playing against GM Hjorvar.
Results of the round:
Pairings for the next round: