When Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972, with it, Iceland also entered chess folklore by being the host country – and it sparked a chess boom on the tiny Nordic island. Chess remains tremendously popular in Iceland – the game’s high status has translated into international success where, despite a population of only 338,000, with 14 grandmasters, they have more GMs per capita than any other country in the world.
But with these favourable stats, Iceland hasn’t yet produced a cult chess hero, as near-neighbour Norway has in Magnus Carlsen – however they do have a tournament that is achieving near cult-like popularity worldwide, the Reykjavik Open, now staged inside the sparkling Harpa Concert Hall, a stunning and shimmering piece of glass architecture at the ocean’s edge.
The 34th edition of the GAMMA Reykjavik Open, which ran 8-16 April, attracted a truly cosmopolitan 238-player field for the top-rated Open, with no fewer than 30 grandmasters doing battle for the main prize – and the mix also included 19 Americans who made the transatlantic trip.
However, with so many grandmasters in the field, a logjam at the top was inevitable. And indeed, after the dust had settled by the end of yesterday’s very eventful final round, there was an eight-way tie on 7/9 for first place. The bragging rights to the title was therefore only decided on who had the best tiebreak score, and that went to Romania’s Constantin Lupulescu, ahead of the 15-year-old Iranian star Alireza Firouzja – the deciding factor being their highly-entertaining round 7 clash.
1-8. GM C. Lupulescu (Romania), GM A. Firouzja (Iran), GM N. Grandelius (Sweden), GM G. Jones (England), GM M. Parligras (Romania), GM T. Petrosian (Armenia), GM A. Tari (Norway), GM A. Gupta (India) 7/9. Top American: GM Andrew Tang, 6.5/9.
Photo: Lupulescu’s very dramatic win over rising teenage star Firouzja ultimately proved decisive | © Fiona Steil-Antoni / Reykjavik Open
GM Alireza Firouzja – GM Constantin Lupulescu
GAMMA Reykjavik Open, (7)
French Classical, Steinitz/Boleshevsky variation
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 Theory-wise, the Winawer variation (3?Bb4) is more popular – but the Classical French is a very solid option. 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 Be7 There was a time, not that long ago when 7…Qb6 was almost universally played – but 8.dxc5 or even the complicated 8.Na4 Qa5+ 9.c3 cxd4 10.b4 Nxb4!? 11.cxb4 Bxb4+ 12.Bd2 seems to be all “worked out”. But to my mind, holding back on …Qb6 is not only canny but ultimately could be the best strategy for players looking to play the French more dynamically. 8.Qd2 0-0 9.dxc5 Qa5!? 10.0-0-0 This is all standard fare in the Steinitz/Boleshevsky variation – but Lupulescu (an expert in this line, which featured in a recent survey for NIC Yearbook 129) ups the ante with his dangerous waiting move to see which side White will castle. And when White does castle long, the trap is sprung as he sacrifices a pawn to blow the queenside open for his all-out attack. 10…b6 11.Bb5 Nb4 12.a3 bxc5 The game now becomes “complex” – and that’s exactly what Lupulescu wants! 13.Bxd7 Bxd7 14.axb4 cxb4 15.Nb1 Rfc8 16.Nd4 A necessary preparatory move for White, as the immediate 16.f5 fails to 16…Ba4! and the Black attack quickly crashes through. 16…Qa2 White may well have the extra piece – but Lupulescu is still in his theory, and he has the dangerous attack! And it is not easy for the talented young Iranian star to defend here, as Lupulescu has the pawn storm of a5-a4-a3 bludgeoning a path to the White king. 17.f5 Counter-attacking is the best way for White to defend. 17…exf5 18.Rhf1 The alternative of 18.Qd3, giving a little “luft” for the king and looking to attack down the f-file with Rhf1, and possibly a Qb3, was perhaps the better way to play here. 18…a5! The trouble for Firouzja is that Black’s attacking-plan of pushing the a-pawn up the board regardless is easier and more fun to play than White trying to defend! 19.Nxf5 Bxf5 20.Rxf5 Unfortunately, right now, White has no counter-attacking chances, and his king is entombed on c1 – so Black crashes on regardlessly with his plan of pushing the a-pawn. 20…a4 21.Bd4 a3?! Yes, the a-pawn is the more dangerous pawn, but first playing 21…b3! was the winner, as now there’s no defence after 22.c3 a3! 23.bxa3 Bxa3+ 24.Nxa3 Qa1+! 25.Nb1 Ra2 26.Rf2 Rc2+! and Black’s attack is winning. 22.e6! It’s not a game-saver as such, but, suddenly, with the e-pawn now also in the mix, Firouzja has good counter-attacking prospects whilst at the same time being able to regroup his pieces to better defend. 22…f6 Black can’t play 22…fxe6? as now 23.Qe3! axb2+ 24.Kd2! Qa5 25.Qe5! and White has dramatically turned the tables. 23.Qd3 b3 24.Rf2 Ra4 25.c3 Rxd4! The only logical way to continue the attack. 26.Qxd4 Bc5 27.Qd2 No, not an oversight: White didn’t “miss” an unlikely win with 27.Qxd5 that threatens e7+ followed by Qd8 mating, as Black has the nice little zwischenzug – in-between move – of 27…Be3+! where after 28.Rdd2 axb2+ 29.Kd1 Qxb1+ 30.Ke2 h6! 31.e7+ Kh7 32.Kxe3 Qe1+ 33.Rfe2 Qg1+ 34.Kf3 b1Q! the second queen will also now cover a saving check from White on the b1-h7 diagonal. 27…Bxf2? But this is a blunder, as Black miscues the attack by missing the clinical kill with 27…axb2+! 28.Qxb2 and now 28…Bxf2 easily wins due to the strength of the b-pawn and the vulnerable White king. 28.Qxf2 Qa1 29.e7? When you are under the cosh of a relentless attack for so long, understandably you tend to miss critical moves that can keep you in the game – and that’s just what happens here. Firouzja, no doubt with his judgment clouded by time trouble, was probably still thinking how to defend after the correct sequence of 27…axb2+, and he misses his big chance to save the game with the correct 29.Rxd5! a2 30.Qf5!! A saving resource that forces the game into an equal ending after 30…axb1Q+ (The vulnerable Black back-rank comes into play now, as after 30…Rxc3+? 31.bxc3 b2+ 32.Kd2 axb1N+ 33.Qxb1! wins on the spot.) 31.Qxb1 Qa6 32.Qd3 Qxe6 33.Rd8+ Rxd8 34.Qxd8+ Kf7 35.Qc7+ Kg6 36.Qg3+ Kf7 37.Qc7+ and Black can’t escape the perpetual, as any resulting king and pawn ending is winning for White with the b3-pawn being easily picked off. 29…a2 [see diagram] The difference in the positions means now that 30.Qf5 goes down in flames to 30…Rxc3+!! 31.Kd2 (The (full) point being that 31.bxc3 axb1Q+ 32.Qxb1 Qxc3+ is a nice epaulette mate theme!) 31…Qxb2+ 32.Ke1 Re3+ 33.Kf1 Qe2+ 34.Kg1 Qxd1+ easily winning. 30.e8Q+ Rxe8 31.Qf5 d4 0-1