The annual Rilton Cup in Stockholm, Sweden is just one of a smorgasbord of traditional Opens held throughout Europe over the Christmas and New Year holiday period, and one of the very best of its category. The most eminent is, of course, Hastings – the world’s second longest-running tournament, behind the New York State Championship that dates back to 1878 – that has now reached its 93rd edition: but Groningen is up to 55, Zurich 40, while the Rilton Cup itself is fast approaching its half-century, by now reaching its 47th outing.
Initially, its funding came from an ‘anonymous’ donation in 1971 from Tore Rilton (1904-85), a local chess-loving doctor who simply wanted to give back to the Swedish chess community. But when the organizers tried to thank their new benefactor by mail, all their letters were returned unopened. And when they called by phone, his secretary explained that the doctor did not receive calls.
The only thing the organizers could think what to do to mark his very generous donation was to rename their tournament the ‘Rilton Cup’. And when he died 12-years later, a considerable sum of money was further bequeathed to the tournament from the Dr. Tore Rilton Memorial Fund – the mission being to ensure the funding of the Rilton Cup tournament forever!
Running 27th December through to 5th January, this venerable tournament always straddles the new year. It also comprises a formula tried and tested by the tournament organizers that’s also itself something of a smorgasbord: one or more graduated sections in addition to the top-ranking Rilton Cup itself. This year’s edition was one of the best in recent years, with 126 players in the Rilton Cup (including 25 top grandmasters); just under 112 in total in the ‘Rilton Elo’, for players under 2200, plus two Opens for those rated under 1800 with a further 100 or so players.
And in arguably one of the most dramatic final rounds in the tournament’s long and distinguished history, and with just one point separating sixteen players, all 8 of the top boards proved to be decisive, blood-thirsty affairs.
But the big overall decider for all the marbles was the top board clash between the co-leaders, Norway’s GM Johan Salomon and Russian GM Kiril Alekseenko, with the Russian emerging the winner, scoring 7.5/9 to take the title.
Photo | © Lars OA Hedlund (Official site)
GM Johan Salomon – GM Kirill Alekseenko
47th Rilton Cup, (9)
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Bf4 Nc6 The Slav Exchange is normally a good bet for a draw. 5.e3 Nf6 6.Nc3 Bg4 7.Qb3 Na5 8.Qa4+ Bd7 9.Qc2 e6 10.Nf3 Bb4 This move is slightly more riskier. Safer has been 10…Rc8 11.Bd3 Be7 12.h3 0-0 13.0-0 h6 14.Ne5 Nc6 with an equal game. 11.Bd3 Nh5 12.Bg5 f6 13.g4 White has to react energetically here if he wants to take anything from this position. If 13.Bh4 g5 14.Bg3 Rc8 15.Nd2 Qe7 It’s not so easy for White here, as Black will have a ready and easy target on c3 that will prevent White trying to take advantage of the weakened kingside. 13…fxg5 14.gxh5 h6 Black want’s to steer the game into muddy waters where both sides have to be wary of the dangers. Previously seen here has been the safer 14…Qf6 15.Ne5 Nc6 16.Nxd7 Kxd7 17.Rg1 Raf8 18.a3 Bd6 that worked out well for Black in Lagashin-Mammadzada, Moscow 2017 (0-1, 54). 15.Bg6+ Ke7 16.h4? This is just too slow – and it is hard to figure out what White’s thinking was here, as he has a very good and natural attacking option with 16.Ne5! that also denied Black easy access to the critical c4 square. 16…Nc4! Alekseenko seizes his big opportunity – and it is amazing just how quickly White capitulates now after missing a beat with 16.Ne5! 17.a3 There’s no time even to try and exchange off the problematic knight. If 17.Bd3 Nxb2! 18.Qxb2 Qa5 19.Kd2 (Even worse was 19.Rc1 Ba3! 20.Qb1 Bxc1 21.Qxc1 Rac8 22.Kd2 Rhf8! and Black’s rooks are crashing through on both wings.) 19…Rac8 20.Rac1 Rhf8 and the Black rooks dominate the board with the White king caught in the middle of the board. 17…Qa5 18.Rc1 Bxc3+ If the queens stayed on the board, White may have had some hopes of saving the game, as Black’s king security is just as bad as White’s king – but the queens are coming off, and with it, White has pawn structural problems to deal with going into the endgame. 19.Qxc3 Qxc3+ 20.Rxc3 Nxb2 21.hxg5? By now it is clear that Salomon has no wisdom! He had excellent chances to save the game by immediately activating the rook with 21.Rc7!? with the threat hanging in the air of Ne5 – and this leads me to suspect he simply hasn’t realized yet that Black has a far better option than the automatic recapture of the pawn. 21…Rac8 [see diagram] It’s only now Salomon begins to realize he facies difficulties holding this position, as Black has a very subtle finesse coming. 22.Rc2 Rxc2 23.Bxc2 Rc8 24.Bd1? Salomon thinks he’s still in with a chance of saving the game – but he’s overlooked one critical thing. However, in reality, White was faced with accepting he had an awkward endgame defence even with best play after 24.gxh6 gxh6 25.Kd2 Nc4+ 26.Ke2 Nxa3 27.Bd3 Be8! as Black has a winning advantage. 24…Ba4! 0-1 Salomon resigns, realizing that after 25.gxh6 gxh6 there’s no way to avoid a heavy loss of material with the looming threat of the Black rook coming to c1.