In Switzerland, the 51st annual Biel Chess Festival is now well underway and continues through until the start of August. First contested in 1968 – where there was a “Master Open” – Biel is now well established as one of the best and most enduring fixtures on the international chess calendar, with grandmaster invitational tournaments since 1976, when England’s Tony Miles won, interspersed with three Interzonals (then an integral part of the world championship cycle).
The marquee event of the Biel Chess Festival is the Accentus Masters, a small six-player double-round robin headed by World Champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway. It also includes two elite-level players in Shakryiar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) and defending champion Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France); the 7-time reigning Russian champion Peter Svidler and the Czech Republic No.1, David Navara; with last but not least, the young local Swiss Grandmaster Nico Georgiadis, making his debut in a top closed event.
Making all the early running was Carlsen and Mamedyarov, who with a brace of quality wins apiece, held the co-lead in the tournament on 2.5/3. But in such a small tournament, the key to victory usually points to who beats up the most on the bottom seed – and being a sub-2600 player, Georgiadis had to expect he was set for a tough time of it.
And indeed the local Swiss hope soon found just how tough it was going to be, as reality hit hard when his adventurous play at the board soon crashed to a trio of successive loses. Certainly, an auspicious start for Georgiadis – but his next opponent was a rampant Carlsen, who had got off to one his best starts to a tournament in years, and many predicted a massacre.
But when things got complicated, it transpired to be what could possibly be a costly ‘Swiss miss’ for Carlsen, who might well be kicking himself later in the tournament for not converting his big advantage – and the draw also cost him 4 rating points, almost wiping out the big gains he made with his opening back-to-back wins over Navara and MVL.
Accentus Biel Masters:
1-2. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), M. Carlsen (Norway) 3/4; 3. P. Svidler (Russia) 2.5; 4. D. Navara (Czech Republic) 2; 5. M. Vachier-Lagrave (France) 1; 6. N. Georgiadis (Switzerland) 0.5.
Photo: Could it prove to be a big ‘Swiss miss’ for the world champion? | © Lennart Ootes (Biel Chess Festival)
GM Nico Georgiadis – GM Magnus Carlsen
Accentus Biel Masters, (4)
French Winawar, Armenian System
1.e4 e6 The French Defence will have come as a complete surprise for Georgiadis, who no doubt would have been primed and prepped for Carlsen playing into the Lopez or the Pirc. 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Ba5!? This offbeat line in the Winawer first came to prominence when another World Champion, Mikhail Tal, used it in an attempt to bamboozle a young Bobby Fischer at the Leipzig Olympiad of 1960. It went on to gain respect and universal acceptance in the late 1970s and 80s, and subsequently dubbed the “Armenian Variation” as the theory behind it was pioneered and enriched by a group of Armenian players, the most notable being world candidate Rafael Vaganian. 6.b4! This has always been regarded as the best continuation for White. 6…cxd4 7.Qg4 Kf8 8.Nb5 Bc7 9.Qxd4 Nc6 10.Qc5+ Nge7 11.Nxc7 Qxc7 12.Nf3 b6 So far so theory: White has a slight edge in this position after 13.Qc3 – but it could well be that Georgiadis, taken totally by surprise by Magnus playing a) the French Defence and b) the Winawer Armenian System, has ‘stumbled’ into this line, and didn’t like the scenario he faced and opted instead for safety with the trade of queens. 13.Qd6 Qxd6 14.exd6 Nf5 15.Bf4 f6 16.g4 A little sharper was 16.Bb5 but after 16…Bb7 Black has full compensation for ceding the bishop pair with his potential central hold of the board. 16…Nfd4 17.Nxd4 Nxd4 18.0-0-0 e5 19.Rxd4!? A radical approach, but Georgiadis may well be right here in fearing that Carlsen might have outplayed him in the middlegame and picking off the stranded d6-pawn. At least with the exchange sacrifice, chaos ensues – and when you are playing a much stronger opponent, Simon Webb’s sage advice, in the chapter “How to Trap a Heffalump”, in his timeless tome Chess for Tigers, was to head immediately for chaos! 19…exd4 20.Bb5 A tad over-ambitious. The simple solution was 20.Be2!? holding onto the g-pawn, with White’s ideal set-up now being Kb2, Rd1 and Bf3, where it is hard to see how Black could ever win this. 20…Bxg4 21.Re1 g5 22.Bg3 Rd8 23.Re7 h5! 24.h4 Forced. 24…gxh4 25.Bf4 The d-pawn is White’s only hope. 25…Bf5 It takes the unbeating heart of a computer to calmly find the best way forward amidst the chaos here, and that was with 25…a6! 26.Bc6 (If 26.Bxa6 Rd7 27.Re1 Ra7! 28.Bb5 Kf7! and Black is successfully unravelling his pieces.) 26…d3! 27.c3 (Not 27.cxd3? Rc8! 28.Rc7 Rxc7 29.dxc7 d4! easily winning, as after …Kg7 the c8 queening square is fully-controlled by Black’s rook and bishop.) 27…Rc8 28.Bxd5 Rxc3+ 29.Kd2 Rc2+ 30.Kxd3 Bf5+ 31.Ke3 Rh7 and Black has maximised the unravelling process of his pieces with a winning advantage now. 26.Rxa7 Rh7 27.Rc7 Bd7 For reasons that will soon become very clear, much better first was the unhuman king run as far away from the influence of White’s bishop-pair as possible, with 27…Kg8 28.Bc6 Kh8 29.a4 and now 29…Bd7! 30.b5 h3 31.Bxd5 Rg7! where Black does have genuine long-term threats with his h-pawn as his rook gets into the game via the g-file. 28.Bc6 h3 29.Kd2 [see diagram] It’s only now that I begin to wonder if perhaps Carlsen here got a little confused, as Georgiadis didn’t play the more obvious 29.Bxd5 h4 30.Be4 Rh5 31.Rc4 Rg5! 32.Rxd4 Rg4! and as the dust settles, Black is better – but it is all still very confusing, and Black will have to take care going on to convert the win from here. 29…Rg7?! A very strange move from the world champion at a critical point in the game. It’s certainly a very complicated position, and even after the better continuation 29…h4 30.a4 Ke8 31.Bxd5 Rg7 32.Rc4 Bxa4 33.Rxd4 I don’t even think that Carlsen can win from here anyway – but he has ‘chances’, unlike now in the game. 30.Bh6! Bxc6 31.Rxg7 I also wonder if perhaps Carlsen had simply overlooked this simple capture (which comes with the added of the saving discovered check), thinking his h-pawn was simply queening after 31.Bxg7+? If so, it’s a really big miss by a reigning world champion! 31…Rxd6 32.Rg5+ The discovered check picks off both of Carlsen’s ‘Harry pawns’. 32…Kf7 33.Rxh5 Bb5 34.Rxh3 Re6 35.Rf3 Kg6 36.Bf4 There are still a few tricks for Georgiadis to navigate, and he was very short of time by now, but the reality of the situation is that the Black pawn formation and the opposite-coloured bishops guarantee the draw. And perhaps angered by how he’s handled this game, Carlsen stubbornly plays on, but the draw is inevitable now. 36…Rc6 37.Bg3 Rc4 38.Rd3 Kf5 39.Rf3+ Ke6 40.Rd3 f5 41.f3 f4 42.Bf2! Georgiadis avoids the last trick. If 42.Bxf4? Ba4! 43.c3? dxc3+ wins the bishop. 42…Ke5 43.c3! This nicely clarifies things, as it forces further trades that leads to the draw. 43…Rc6 After 43…dxc3+ you end up with a very sterile position after 44.Rxc3 d4 45.Rxc4 Bxc4 46.a4 Kd5 47.b5! Bb3 48.Kd3 Bxa4 49.Bxd4 Bxb5+ 50.Kc3 Be2 51.Bxb6 Bxf3 52.Bc7 Ke4 53.Bxf4 and a draw. 44.Rxd4 Rh6 45.Kc1 Rh3 46.Rd2 Rxf3 47.Bd4+ Ke4 48.Kb2 The b6 pawn is going nowhere, White has full control of the f2 square to stop the path of the f-pawn, so he simply gets his king off the back-rank first. 48…Rd3 49.Rxd3 Kxd3 50.Bxb6 Ba4 The draw is assured – the rest is just playing out to the second time control at move 60. 51.Ba7 f3 52.Bg1 Kd2 53.Ba7 Bd1 54.Bc5 Ba4 55.Ba7 Ke2 56.c4 d4 57.Bxd4 Kd3 58.Ba7 Kxc4 ½-½