Ice, Ice Baby - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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This year marks a momentous milestone anniversary for the chess world, being half a century on from Bobby Fischer v Boris Spassky, the most famous of all world championship matches, strategically held in neutral Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1972, and perceived worldwide to be a microcosm of the Cold War between USA and the Soviet Union, that was contested over the chessboard by the two Superpower combatants.

The match ignited a global chess boom, and Iceland entered chess folklore by being the host country. Chess still remains tremendously popular in Iceland: the game’s high status has translated into international success and, despite a population of only 366,000, the tiny Nordic island has more Grandmasters per capita than any other country in the world.

Reykjavik also has another long-standing chess tradition, with its popular annual international open dating back to 1964 that has been won in the past by elite-level players such as Mikhail Tal, Wang Hao, Levon Aronian, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Anish Giri.

The 2022 edition of the Kvika Reykjavik Open is now underway and runs 6-12 April inside the Harpa Conference Center, the magnificent splendour that is a sparkling and shimmering new piece of stunning glass architecture at the ocean’s edge, which opened in 2018. There is a cosmopolitan field of 250-players vying for the title – but it will be extremely hard-going for anyone to better Tal’s impressive 12.5/13 winning score at the inaugural event.

Two grandmasters though, Lukasz Jarmula (Poland) and Hans Niemann (USA), are on Tal’s track with perfect starting scores of 3/3 – but Niemann can consider himself lucky, as the reigning US Junior champion should really have lost in the second round to the Indonesian women’s No 1, IM Irine Sukander, in a truly amazing and wild barnstormer of a game that had the online fans at Chess24 cheering right to the very end.

Buckle up and enjoy!

Photo: © Thorsteinn Magnusson/Kvika Reykjavik Open

 

IM Irine Sukandar – GM Hans Niemann
Kvika Reykjavik Open, (3)
Sicilian Defence
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Bb5 The Closed Sicilian/Grand Prix Attack system that was popular in the 1990s. 3…g6 4.Bxc6 bxc6 5.d3 Bg7 6.Be3 Rb8 7.Nge2 d5 8.exd5 White missed a trick here. After 8.Bxc5!? Rxb2 (If 8…d4 9.Na4 Qa5+ 10.c3 dxc3 11.b4! Qc7 12.Naxc3 and White is on top.) 9.Qc1 Rb7 10.Qa3 with the advantage. 8…cxd5 9.Bxc5 d4! Much stronger than 9…Rxb2 10.Qc1 Rb7 11.Qa3 etc., as noted above. 10.Ne4 f5 11.N4g3 Qd5 The powerful, centralised queen creates many problems for White. 12.b4 Qxg2 13.Qd2 Qd5 14.Bxa7 Ra8 15.Bc5 e5 With a gloriously random position reached, and it is only move 15! 16.c4 More accurate was 16.f4!? first. 16…Qc6 17.f4 Bh6 And now we begin to reach the stage where, if anyone knows what’s going on, please send a postcard to the players! 18.Rf1 Better and stronger was stepping out of the pin right away, with 18.Qb2! Rb8 19.0-0-0!? Qxc5 (Wrong would be 19…exf4? 20.Bxd4! Nf6 21.b5 Qe6 22.Bxf6 and there’s no escape with 22…0-0 as the engines gleefully point out that 23.Nh5! f3+ 24.Nef4 Bxf4+ 25.Kb1!! gxh5 26.Rdg1+ Kf7 27.Rg7+ Ke8 28.Re7+ is winning.) 20.bxc5 Rxb2 21.Kxb2 exf4 22.Nf1 Bb7 23.Nd2 (The only move in the mayhem. After 23.Rg1? f3! 24.Nxd4 Bg7 25.Kc3 Ne7 26.Nd2 0-0 27.Rb1 Nc6! and all the tactics, pins and tricks work heavily in Black’s favour.) 23…Bxh1 24.Rxh1 Ne7 25.Kc2 Bg7 26.Nxf4 Kf7 27.Nf3 Ra8 28.Ng5+ Kg8 29.Kb2 Bf6 30.Nf3 Rc8 and there’s not much left in the game with the c-pawn soon to fall. 18…Nf6 19.Qb2 Rb8 20.Ba7 Rb7 21.fxe5 There’s nothing like a quiet tournament game! 21…Ng4? The game is increasingly becoming a complicated rollercoaster ride for both players, as they try to fathom out all the complications on the board – but this move should have been costly for Niemann. Correct was 21…Rxa7! 22.b5 Qe6 23.exf6 0-0 24.a4 Qxf6 and, quite frankly, literally anything and any result is possible. 22.Bxd4 Nxh2 23.b5 Qg2 24.Rf2 Qh3 25.c5 In the heat of battle, it is hard not to convince yourself that two connected passed pawns stomping down the board can’t be wrong, but much stronger was 25.Qa3! just stopping the Black king from castling, all but forcing now the awkward retreat 25…Bf8 where now 26.c5! Ng4 27.Qa8 and Black can’t castle, as happens in the game, which offers an unlikely lifeline. 25…Ng4 26.c6 Re7 27.b6 And honestly that should be that, remembering Aussie GM Ian Rogers’ sage piece of useful information in such a scenario, that “two passed pawns on the sixth beat almost everything, up to a royal flush.” 27…0-0 28.Qb3+ Be6 29.Qb4 Ree8 30.b7 Qh4 31.c7? [see diagram] Giddy with excitement, your head will be telling you that the two pawns on the seventh surely will see your opponent offering up a resignation soon, but this is, in fact, the start of an amazing table-turner in this Lou Reed-infused walk-on-the-wild-side game! To win, White should have played first 31.Bc5! f4 and only now 32.c7 – the subtle difference proves crucial in the end. 31…Nxf2 32.Kxf2?? Unwittingly, White hasn’t picked up yet that there’s a sting in the tail with a forced mate after taking the knight. And amazingly, the only way to survive was with the remarkable sequence churned out by the engines, with: 32.Rd1! and now 32…Nxd1 33.b8Q f4! 34.Bc5 Nb2! 35.Bxf8 Rxf8 36.Qd6 Nxd3+ 37.Kd1! (If 37.Qxd3? fxg3 38.Nxg3 Qf4! 39.Qb2 Bc4!! 40.Qdc3) 37…Qh3 38.Qbb6 Bxa2 39.Qxd3 fxg3 40.Kc2! Bg7 41.Qbd6 Qg4 and apparently the game is just a “0.00” dead-draw, claims our silicon overlords! 32…f4 33.Rg1 fxg3+ 34.Ke1 g2+ 35.Kd1 Qg4 Equally as good was 35…Rf1+ 36.Kc2 Qg4 etc. 36.b8Q Rf1+ 37.Qe1 Qxe2+!! 0-1 And White resigned, the point being that Sukandar had missed the mate after 38.Kxe2 Bg4#

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