What’s To Come

I arrived to Brussels today. I will be spending the next week here until I go to play in Moscow for the Aeroflot Open. I will start annotating my games from the event tomorrow. You can expect 13 very hard fought games. A lot of blood was shed in the C-group, with very few draws. I will also provide a play by play of how the players were treated. This was the best organized chess tournament I have ever attended. The whole organizing committee needs to get credit for that.

The tournament report will also have a lighter side, including Holland against The World soccer matches which had some world-class chess names, including the world’s highest rated player.

Congratulations to Hikaru Nakamura for winning the A-group! Hikaru will annotate a game for my blog. I hope to have that game posted on here by the end of February.

I would also like to thank everybody for their support throughout this very long event. It’s always nice to read your positive comments.

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First Trip of 2011

I sit at the Toronto Pearson Airport as I write this quick update. I am about to leave for the longest trip I have even taken, lasting over five weeks. First I will play in the Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee. I have been trying to get into the event for years and even played a qualifier in an attempt to get into the 2010 version of the event. The event is the Wimbeldon of chess, with the best players in the world competing in the top group. The drawing of lots for my section, the C section, will occur tomorrow evening. First round starts on Saturday.

I will then have a week to spend in Europe before my next tournament. I plan to go to Brussels, a place I have never visited. The week should give me plenty of time to regain some lost energy and see a beautiful city. I will also have some time for blogging there.

From there I will go to play in the Aeroflot Open. I saw the list of participants recently. This will be a very strong event. I expect to be rated at about the 25th percentile of the A group. A blitz tournament will follow the event on February 17th. I will be back to Toronto on February 18th.

Sponsors

I am pleased to announce that BMO Capital Markets has agreed to sponsor me during my year of competitive international chess. BMO Capital Markets is an integral component of the Bank of Montreal, one of the biggest and most prestigious banks in the world. I am honoured to have BMO Capital Markets as a sponsor.

I am currently sponsored by three Canadian business leaders: Muir Detlefsen & Associates Limited, Front Street Capital, and BMO Capital Markets. While the financial support of my sponsors is certainly extremely important to me, equally as important is the moral support I derive from my association with such high-class organizations. To have them as sponsors ranks high on my list of accomplishments. My sponsors let me know that I am not on my own in my journey to compete against the world’s best as I try reach new heights, and represent Canada with pride. It’s very encouraging to know that they are behind me every step of the way.

I am grateful for the support of my sponsors, who have made this year possible. They have allowed me to focus on doing what I do best and playing the game that I love. I will honour my association with them by continuing to perform and conduct myself at the highest professional level. I am proud to carry their names on this journey.

You can find the logos of my sponsors on the top banner, and a description of each on the Sponsors Page.

Groningen In Review

The tournament ended much better than it started. Here are the standings from the tournaments website.

Nr Naam Score Federatie M/V Rating TPR
1 GM Bojkov, Dejan 6.5 BUL M 2542 2631
2 IM Nyzhnyk, Illya 6.5 UKR M 2535 2671
3 GM Bluvshtein, Mark 6.5 CAN M 2587 2606
4 IM Brandenburg, Daan 6.5 NED M 2515 2639
5 GM Ernst, Sipke 6.5 NED M 2590 2628
6 IM Van Kampen, Robin 6.5 NED M 2454 2627
7 GM Andriasian, Zaven 5.5 ARM M 2585 2540
8 GM Prohaszka, Peter 5.5 HUN M 2536 2550
9 GM Gupta, Abhijeet 5.5 IND M 2600 2550
10 GM Rotstein, Arkadij 5.5 GER M 2538 2551
11 IM Lobzhanidze, Davit 5.5 GEO M 2496 2471
12 IM Grover, Sahaj 5.5 IND M 2432 2475
13 IM Bok, Benjamin 5.5 NED M 2458 2390
14 GM Baklan, Vladimir 5.5 UKR M 2613 2502
15 FM Naroditsky, Daniel 5.5 USA M 2425 2474
16 IM Van Oosterom, Chiel 5.5 NED M 2426 2398
17 Baghdasaryan, Vahe 5.0 ARM M 2303 2474
18 GM Werle, Jan 5.0 NED M 2578 2466
19 GM Romanishin, Oleg M 5.0 UKR M 2534 2437
20 GM Nijboer, Friso 5.0 NED M 2583 2423

It’s a very interesting picture at the top. There was a six way tie for first place at 6.5/9, followed by a 10(!) way tie for 7th place with 5.5/9. It’s peculiar that nobody finished with 6/9, between the long ties. I have the worst performance rating out of the tying group due to my first round loss and second round pairing against a player rated below 2100. I managed to play four of the five other co-winners.

The standings also show how evenly matched the event was, with many draws. The even field and rating minimum of 2100 in the top section made it possible to achieve norms. Three GM Norms were clinched in the event: IM Nyzhnyk’s third, IM Brandenburg’s second and IM Van Kampen’s second. Nyzhnyk’s norm will qualify him for the GM title and make him the youngest GM in the world!

The tournament was an overall success for me. The event marked my first tournament win since becoming a professional. There was always the fear of not winning any tournaments. It’s not like my competition will get any easier in the near future!

There were pluses and minuses about my play. The collapse in the first round showed a lack of intensity in a dynamic position where I was hanging on by a thread. There was no sense of urgency in my play. The second game was also a bit of a disappointment as I let my advantage slip, believing that precision is not necessary to build my advantage.

Then things turned a lot more positive. The third round showed a very positional win which was based on a positional bind surrounding the c5 square and the weak c6 pawn. The finish was the icing on the cake. The fourth round was a very sharp battle where my opponent collapsed under pressure, with mistakes on both sides. My opponent made the last, and most critical, mistake. The fifth round showed a real endgame grind where I made something out of nothing, in good style.

I got a good position out of the opening in the sixth round but then failed to put out my opponent’s initiative. This was a lost opportunity. The seventh round showed little promise after getting an equal position after the opening with not many realistic winning chances for both sides. The long battle did not change anything.

The eighth round was a great game. After getting a clear advantage in the opening I executed well to finish in style. A clean win, with opening preparation getting a lot of the credit. The ninth round was a quick draw to secure first place.

After having some time to reflect and analyze my games, I noticed that my play was full of diversity. My wins were all different in the event, from a positional win in the third round to a razor sharp win in the fourth, to an endgame grind in the fifth, to good opening preparation in the eighth. I was able to show good skill in all parts of the game in this tournament. I hope I will be able to show such universality in my future tournaments as well, because it is impossible to have success in chess unless you play what the position asks for, instead of playing for a number of personal strengths. It’s also interesting to note that I did not have a worse position in any of my games after the first round!

The Groningen event had a daily bulletin online. It was in Dutch. Below are photos, with description above. A Tournament Book is also coming, for which I have analyzed my game against Baklan.

The winners (photo taken from the daily bulletin). From left to right Brandenburg, Nyzhnyk, Ernst, Bojkov (and son), Van Kampen, and myself (somewhat distracted).

IM Nyzhnyk being interviewed by local television. I was interviewed minutes earlier…

Bojkov-Bluvshtein.

Gupta on third board and Van Kampen vs Andriasian on fourth.

Tournament Logo.

View of the playing hall from the bleachers.

Arbiter area.

Top 8 boards, all equipped with DGT Boards.

And so ends my report on Groningen. I came back a week ago and I will be leaving in less than a week for my next journey. I will post a few more times before I leave…

The Finish-Rounds 6-9

Round 6

I was running hot to win four games in a row but “only” come tied for first. The last four rounds would decide everything at the top. I was paired with black against the 14 year old IM Nyzhnyk, rated 2535, who won last year’s event a full point ahead of the field, scoring a spectacular 7.5/9. Nyzhnyk is one of the current rising stars in the world of chess.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.12.27”]
[Round “6”]
[White “Nyzhnyk”]
[Black “Bluvshtein”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[ECO “A00”]
[PlyCount “86”]
[EventDate “2010.12.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.12.26”]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Bb4+ 4. Nbd2 O-O 5. a3 Be7 6. e4 d5 7. cxd5 exd5 8.
e5 Nfd7 9. Bd3 c5 10. O-O Nc6 11. Re1 a5 12. Bc2 Re8 13. Nf1 cxd4 14. Bf4 Qb6
15. Rb1 Nf8 16. h3 Be6 17. N1d2 Ng6 18. Bg3 f6 19. exf6 Bxf6 20. Bd3 Bf7 21.
Qc2 Nf8 22. Bd6 g6 23. Bc5 Qd8 24. Rxe8 Qxe8 25. Bxf8 Qxf8 26. Qb3 Qe7 27. Qb6
Rc8 28. Rc1 Kg7 29. Nb3 Qd8 30. Qxb7 Rb8 31. Qxc6 Rxb3 32. Qc2 Qb8 33. Rb1 Be6
34. g4 Rb7 35. Qc6 Bf7 36. g5 Be7 37. Nxd4 Bxg5 38. Ne6+ Bxe6 39. Qxe6 Rxb2 40.
Rxb2 Qxb2 41. Qxd5 Qxa3 42. Qxg5 Qxd3 43. Qe7+ Kg8 1/2-1/2

I played the same 3…Bb4+ line that I played against GM Fressinet in Corsica. This time the result of the opening was different.

White has not been fighting for an advantage in the opening and is currently down a pawn. I played the obvious 14…Qb6, which defends the d4 pawn and attacks b2. Even though the pawn at d4 might be lost at one point or another, it should not be parted with easily. It is a nuisance for white. The game continued with 15.Rb1 Nf8 16.h3 Be6 17.N1d2 Ng6, where black has a clear but small advantage due to white’s lack of play and the doubled, but extra, pawn.

The pawn structure has changed substantially since the last diagram. Black no longer fears for the d-pawns but is having difficulties generating clear play. White’s initiative is an annoying one to play against. With Bc5 followed by Qb3 being the current way for white to generate play. It is not clear how black should make progress. 22…Rxe1+ 23.Rxe1 Nb4 24.Bxb4 axb4 25.Qb3 Qd6 would have given black better practical prospects, even without the extra pawn. In the final position black has two bishops and it is easier to play for his side, as white’s initiative has vanished.

The game continued with 22…g6 23.Bc5 Qd8 (23…Qc7 24.Bxd4!) 24.Rxe8 Qxe8 25.Bxf8 Qxf8 26.Qb3, and white created black some problems, soon reaching the position below.

White is making it hard for black to make any progress. I should have played 28…Qc7 29.Qb5 Ra8 with the idea of playing 30…a4. Baby steps type of progress. I willingly gave back the pawn in an attempt to activate my forces with 28…Kg7 29.Nb3 Qd8 30.Qxb7 Rb8 31.Qxc6 Rxb3 32.Qc2 Qb8, leading to a sharp position where both sides have their own aces.

My opponent offered me a draw with his last move 39.Qxe6. I did not want to accept the draw but was disappointed at the thought that I had let my advantage slip. I underestimated the strength of 39…Rf7 40.Qxd5 Be3! 41.fxe3 Qg3+, where black regains material and stands better. Of course, white’s 40th move is not forced, but black still has an advantage. In the game I played the liquidating 39…Rxb2 40.Rxb2 Qxb2 41.Qxd5, and upon realizing that after 41…Bh4 42.Qc5 black does not even have a hint of an advantage, I allowed a perpetual with 41…Qxa3 42.Qxg5 Qxd3 43.Qe7+ Kg8.

I was not very happy with the draw. I let my advantage slip, even though it was not an easy one to convert. I had problems putting out white’s initiative and eventually got into a messy later stage of the middle game. This was followed by me not taking all possible chances by not playing 39…Rf7. On the flip side, it is a positive sign that I got a good position on the black side of my preparation and was fighting for a win the whole game.

Round 7

There had to be a change of transportation starting this round since, Ullrich, our driver up until now, had withdrawn from the tournament and gone back home. Fortunately, I was able to share a cheap taxi ride to the round with Gisbert and Jonathan Carlstedt for the next two rounds, and with Jonathan for the last round (since Gisbert withdrew by then too). I felt like it was important to come to the game well rested with minimal transportation.

I was paired against IM Brandenburg, rated 2515, with the white pieces. My opponent had been having an exceptional tournament so far but I felt confident about the upcoming game.

The opening was a Benko. I was a bit surprised by my opponent’s choice, simply because he has been playing different openings of late. We reached a position that I had played before.

I had played 12.Nh4 h6 13.Qc2 Qd7 14.f4?! in the game Bluvshtein-Reeve (2009 Canadian Open). The main line of theory recommends 14.Bb2 g5 15.Nf3 Qf5 16.e4 with comfortable play for white. In this game I tried 12.e4 Ba6 13.Bf1 Qc8 14.Be2 Bxe2 15.Qxe2 Qa6, where black got exactly what he wanted out of his opening choice in easy play surrounding the pawn break with c4 and freer piece development, with open files on the queen side. We soon reached the position below.

Black is threatening to exchange everything on the queen side with 19…c4. I wanted to complicate the matter as much as possible and played 19.Na2 , with the possible idea of Nb4-c6 in answer to c4 at some point. However, I failed to make things interesting due to my opponent’s thematic liquidation which occurred after 19…Qxe2+ 20.Kxe2 Bxb2 21.Rxb2 c4 22.bxc4 Nxc4 23.Rc2 and I was only able to complicate matters because my opponent did not play the more forceful 23…Rxa4 24.Rhc1 Rca8, equalizing easily and probably agreeing to a draw after 25.Nc3 Rb4 26.Na2 Rba4, with both sides having nothing better than a repetition.

I was happy to reach this position not because it is advantageous for me, which it is not, but because there was still some life left in the position. I played the complicating 30…Ra4, trying to make my opponent nervous by creating him some problems with the pin on the fourth rank. But my opponent played precisely and put some landmines along the way with 31…f5 32.exf5 (32.Kc1 fxe4 33.Ne2 Rd1+ {33…Rd2 followed by 34…Rd4 is also possible} 34.Kxd1 Nb2+ with a drawn endgame) gxf5 33.Kc1 Kf7 34.f3 Nd2 35.Rxd4 Nb3+ 36.Kd1 Nxd4 37.f4 Kg6 38.h3 h5 and we reached the position below.

It’s important to know when to stop playing for a win, sense the danger, and force the draw. Black intends to play 39…h4 and invade my position with his king. In this position, there are a lot of ways for white to force a draw, but it’s important to not play recklessly. A few moves ago I was still playing for a win, but upon calculating the line 39.Ke1 h4 40.g4 fxg4 41.hxg4 Nf3+ 42.Kf2 Nh2, I realized that it is not me who will be able to play for a win here, or in positions after 40.Kf2 hxg3 41.Kxg3. I am not worse in both of those positions, but it is black who can play for a win, due to minimal initiative. I would have to play accurately to force a draw. I played the straightforward 39.h4 with the idea of locking up the position and creating potential weaknesses on f5 and h5, killing any action. I offered a draw after this move, which was quickly accepted. After 39.Kf1 black might still have played on…

Overall, I saw this game as a missed opportunity, for different reasons than the previous game. I never actually stood better in this game as it was very balanced from the start. After misplaying the opening I had to count on my opponent to make mistakes, which he did not. But this was a missed opportunity on paper, since I was playing a lower rated opponent with the white pieces.

Round 8

One of the earlier days, while talking to Robin (my 5th round opponent) I said that I always wanted to play the strongest opponents possible in an attempt to learn and improve. So Robin asked me if I would be happy to be paired against the top rated seed, GM Baklan, the next day. I said that it would be great. I didn’t get what I asked for the following day, but I got it in the 8th round.

I was to have the white pieces against GM Baklan, rated 2613. Early in events tournament situation does not really come into play, but it is absolutely essential in people’s play in the last few rounds. In a way, this was a must win for both players, more so for my opponent. I was half a point ahead and only a win would get my opponent back into contention for first place. For me, I knew that this was my last white game of the event (this was my fifth white) and if this round would not be a must win for me, the last round certainly would be if I intended to try to win the event. Taking this into consideration, it was clear that my opponent would try to play something very dynamic and double-edged, taking risks along the way. Here is the game.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.12.29”]
[Round “8”]
[White “Bluvshtein”]
[Black “Baklan”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “A00”]
[PlyCount “59”]
[EventDate “2010.12.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.12.28”]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. Nge2 Re8 6. a3 Bf8 7. Ng3 d5 8. Be2
dxc4 9. O-O c5 10. dxc5 Bxc5 11. Bxc4 Nc6 12. b4 Bf8 13. Bb2 b6 14. Nce4 Nxe4
15. Nxe4 f5 16. Ng3 Kh8 17. Rc1 Bd7 18. Qd2 Re7 19. e4 fxe4 20. Nxe4 Be8 21.
Qf4 Bg6 22. Rfd1 Qb8 23. Qh4 Ne5 24. Bb3 Nf7 25. Nf6 h6 26. Nd7 Qb7 27. Qg3
Rxd7 28. Qxg6 Rad8 29. Rxd7 Qxd7 30. Bc2 1-0

The opening is a typical Nimzo Indian with white playing the e3 and Nge2 idea. My opponent played a line which I have become familiar with,  and against good opposition. In the game Bluvshtein-Moiseenko I continued with 7.d5, playing a new an interesting idea where I sacrificed a queen. In the game Bluvshtein-Onischuk I deviated earlier and played 6.g3 (instead of 6.a3). It was clear why my opponent chose this line. I had dubious (I am being optimistic) positions in both games, both of which I managed to win. I had a new idea in hand. I played the interesting 7.Ng3 d5 8.Be2 dxc4 9.0-0 c5 10.dxc5 Bxc5 11.Bxc4 Nc6 12.b4 Bf8 13.Bb2 b6. I have been avoiding the use of any exclamation marks because none of my moves had any special strength. I do feel that my idea as a whole is a strong one, especially speaking in practical terms. So far, I have been creating problems for my opponent. Leading up to this position, I had blitzed all my moves and was still in my preparation. My opponent had already spent more than 30min. I have an advantage. Mission accomplished out of the opening.

Now it’s time to actually do something with white’s advantage. I played the strong 14.Nce4! Nxe4 15.Nxe4. For a long time I was calculating 15…Qh4 16.f4 Bb7 17.Ng5, where white can count on having an advantage due to the poor placement of the black queen. I assumed that my opponent would not play 15…Qxd1 16.Rfxd1 Bb7 17.Nd6 where black must give up a bishop and defend a worse endgame where he will have no realistic winning chances. The tournament situation came into play here.

My opponent played 15…f5?!, which is objectively not the best move but might be a good practical decision. Black complicates the issue. I made a series of precise moves with 16.Ng3 (attacking f5) Kh8 17.Rc1 (threatening Bb5) Bd7 18.Qd2 (intending to play e4 or Rfd1). My last few moves all had direct threats or intentions, but that is not what made them strong moves. All of them improved the harmony of my pieces and placed them on better squares, while also creating immediate problems for black, giving white a clear advantage.

All of white’s pieces are well placed and it feels like a final blow should be on its way. But where is it? Black has been able to defend his king. It is time to create new problems for black. I played the strong 25.Nf6! (Threatening 26.Nxh7 and 27.Bc2) h6? (the awkward 25…Nd6 was necessary to offer any more resistance, 25…gxf6 26.Bxf6 wins white material) 26.Nd7 Qb7 (26…Qe8 27.Ba4 with deadly consequences) 27.Qg3!, after which white’s position is completely dominant. Black cannot stop all of white’s threats, which include 28.Rc7. The game continued with 27…Rxd7 28.Qxg6 Rad8 and we reached the position below.

Now it is time for the final blow, and it came with 29.Rxd7 Qxd7 30.Bc2! and black resigned since 30…Ng5 is answered with 31.Qxh6+, winning the knight.

There is no doubt that this was my best game of the tournament. This game showed great execution in all stages of the game, but the one I was most impressed with was the opening. Good home preparation gave me a clear advantage to work with out of the opening, as well as extra time on the clock. This is what I knew I needed to improve when becoming a professional chess player. It’s one thing when this is done against a 2400 and it’s a completely different thing when it is against a 2600. Upon winning the opening battle, I was able to maintain pressure and keep the punches coming, which was done with high quality. A very “clean” game all around.

Round 9

I entered the round in a four way tie for first with Bojkov, Brandenburg and Nyzhnyk. I was to played GM Bojkov, rated 2542, with the black pieces, while the other two leaders played each other. I knew that a draw in the last round would probably give me a tie for first, since Brandenburg is a very solid player by nature, and both players might be satisfied with a strong event with GM norms made. Everybody wants to win in the last round, but nobody wants to lose it. Black is usually the one who is trying to secure a draw in such last round scenarios. There was not much of a game, but here it is.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.12.29”]
[Round “9”]
[White “Bojkov”]
[Black “Bluvshtein”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[ECO “A00”]
[PlyCount “18”]
[EventDate “2010.12.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.12.29”]

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 Nc6 4. Nf3 Bc5 5. O-O a6 6. c3 d6 7. Bb3 Ba7 8. Re1
O-O 9. h3 Be6 1/2-1/2

The infamous “GM Draw” of the last round, with both players playing it safe. The other two leaders drew soon after. I was happy to clinch my first tournament win as a professional. It was not done in style in the last round, but sometimes safety has to come first. If I had the white pieces it would be a different type of a game. With my draw offer following my 9th move, it was up to my opponent to decide whether he wanted to play a long game or settle for a draw. The draw offer on my part also had the intention of finding out if my opponent had a serious fighting mood, so that I could adjust accordingly, and make all three results a possibility if a battle ensues.

There was a six way tie for first place when the smoke cleared. Considering my start, I was very happy with my result. It’s not easy to regroup after tough losses. I feel like I did that very well to get back into contention. It was a good way to finish 2010.

I will post “Groningen In Review” next, with standings, a tournament review, photos, and more afterthoughts.

Back Into Contention- Rounds 2-5

I had other problems following the first round, including finding a ride back to the hotel. I was very fortunate to attach myself to three German commuting players following the first round. I was to get a ride from them (to the hotel and back) until the sixth round. More on the friendly Germans later.

Round 2

I was paired up against Erik Sparenberg, rated 2095, who drew a 2400 in the first round. This was supposed to be a game to get me back on track.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.12.22”]
[Round “2”]
[White “Sparenberg”]
[Black “Bluvshtein”]
[Result “0-1”]
[ECO “A00”]
[PlyCount “108”]
[EventDate “2010.12.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.12.22”]

1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. Be3 Bg7 5. Qd2 Nbd7 6. Nf3 c6 7. a4 O-O 8. Be2
Qc7 9. Bh6 e5 10. h4 exd4 11. Nxd4 Nc5 12. Bxg7 Kxg7 13. Bf3 Re8 14. O-O-O h6
15. Qf4 Qe7 16. Rhe1 Bd7 17. Re2 Qe5 18. Qd2 Rad8 19. g3 b5 20. axb5 cxb5 21.
Ndxb5 Bxb5 22. Nxb5 Rb8 23. Nc3 Rxb2 24. Qd4 Reb8 25. Qxe5 dxe5 26. Nd5 Ne8 27.
Ne3 Na4 28. Rd3 Nc7 29. Nc4 Rb1+ 30. Kd2 Nc5 31. Rd6 Nb5 32. Rd5 Na4 33. Re1
Rxe1 34. Kxe1 Nac3 35. Rxe5 Nd4 36. Nd2 Rb2 37. Bd1 Ra2 38. Nb3 Nxb3 39. cxb3
Ra1 40. Rd5 Nxd5 41. exd5 Kf6 42. Kd2 Ke5 43. Be2 a5 44. f4+ Kd6 45. h5 Kxd5
46. Bc4+ Kd4 47. Bxf7 Ra2+ 48. Kd1 gxh5 49. Bxh5 Kd3 50. Ke1 Rg2 51. f5 Ke3 52.
Kd1 Rxg3 53. f6 Rg5 54. Be8 Kd3 0-1

The opening was another interesting Pirc Defense. Soon enough we got the unbalanced type of a position that I was looking forward to when deciding to play this opening.

White is planning to play the simple 20.Bg2, followed by 21.f4, which would give him a clear advantage. Black needs to act fast in order to take advantage of white’s currently misplaced bishop. I played 19…b5! which sacrifices the pawn, but only temporarily. The game continued with 20.axb5 cxb5 21.Ndxb5 Bxb5 22.Nxb5 Rb8 23.Nc3. 23.Nd4 maintains the pawn for now but gets white into a world of trouble after 23…Na4 24.b3 Qc5!

I don’t have many options here and I played 23…Rxb2! which I had planned before I played b5. The game continued with 24.Qd4 Reb8 25.Qxe5 dxe5, where black has a clear advantage. White could not play 24.Kxb2 Na4+ 25.Kb3 Nxc3 26.Qxc3 Rb8+ 27.Qb4 Rxb4 28.Kxb4 Qb2+ 29.Kc4 Nd7! with black winning easily.

By the time we reached the position above, I had made a few imprecise moves. My opponent should have played 36.Bg2, after which it is unclear why I would be making a claim for an advantage. Fortunately, my opponent played 26.Nd2? Rb2 27.Bd1 and we reached the position below.

I saw the win in this position from far away and I quickly played the strong 37…Ra2! where the threat of Ra1 is unstoppable. My opponent tried to defend with 38.Nb3 Nxb3 39.cxb3 Ra1 40.Rd5 Nxd5 41.exd5 where the endgame is easily winning for me. I won without any serious difficulties.

This was not an easy game. It was disappointing to let the advantage slip against a much weaker rated opponent. I knew that it would take much better play to win the games that were coming up…

Round 3

I was paired to play white against the untitled Aljoscha Feuerstack, rated 2404.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.12.23”]
[Round “3”]
[White “Bluvshtein”]
[Black “Feuerstack”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “A40”]
[PlyCount “59”]
[EventDate “2010.12.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.12.23”]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 dxc4 4. e4 b5 5. a4 b4 6. Na2 Nf6 7. e5 Nd5 8. Bxc4
Bf5 9. Nf3 e6 10. O-O Be7 11. Bd2 a5 12. Nc1 O-O 13. Nb3 Nd7 14. Qe2 N5b6 15.
Bd3 Bxd3 16. Qxd3 Nb8 17. Qc2 h6 18. Be3 Qd5 19. Nfd2 Rc8 20. Nc5 Qd8 21. Nde4
Ra7 22. Rad1 Nd5 23. Bc1 Nd7 24. f4 Nf8 25. f5 exf5 26. Rxf5 Nc7 27. Qe2 Nce6
28. Qg4 Kh8 29. Nxe6 Nxe6 30. Rxf7 1-0

I was playing fast until move 14, having prepared this line before the event. I felt like it was still for black to figure out how he will try to equalize. It is no easy task and my opponent quickly ran into problems.

Already at this point black finds himself structurally worse. 16…c5 is answered with 17.Qb5, with black having problems with the a5 pawn. The game continued with 16…Nb8 17.Qc2 h6 18.Be3 and black soon found himself in a bind without any play, and with a weak c6 pawn. The move 17.Qc2 is important in that it helps fix the pawn on c6, as 17…c5 was a threat.

White has been dancing around the c5 square and improving the placement of his pieces. Black has been unable to create any play but the queen on d5 looks quite comfortable. It is clear that sooner or later white will need to launch an offensive on the king-side. The game continued with 20.Nc5! Qd8 21.Nde4 Ra7 22.Rad1 Nd5. White has been improving the position of his pieces while black has been maneuvering his pieces around without a specific purpose. Black has little choice but to wait… The idea of taking the queen off d5 was with the hope of eventually capturing on c5, even though dxc5 will always give white a very strong outpost on d6.

Black is thinking about playing Nd7 and Nf8 to be better prepared for white’s upcoming offensive. Black would also like to relieve some of the tension in the position by exchanging some pieces, since he has substantially less space. I decided that it was time to start marching my f-pawn and played 23.Bc1 Nd7 24.f4 Nf8 25.f5 exf5 26.Rxf5 Nc7. I decided to hide my bishop on the 23rd move because it will be an important attacker on the black king later on. We arrived at the position below.

Black is trying to get one of his knights settled in on e6, where it will be a strong defender. Almost all of white’s pieces seem to be ideally placed. But the queen is not doing much on c2 and needs to be moved to g4. The game ended with 27.Qe2! Nce6 28.Qg4 Kh8 29.Nxe6 Nxe6 30.Rxf7, after which my opponent resigned. The attack will finish off black’s position within a few moves.

This was a good game. My opponent did not do much wrong but landed in some very serious trouble due to the positional bind he was in. Overall, the game was very smooth.

Round 4

I was paired against IM Migchiel De Jong, rated 2404, with the black pieces. A lot of leaders were losing points and the point I lost in the first round was becoming forgotten in the standings.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.12.24”]
[Round “?”]
[White “De Jong”]
[Black “Bluvshtein”]
[Result “0-1”]
[ECO “A00”]
[PlyCount “74”]
[EventDate “2010.12.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.12.23”]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 6. Bc4 e6 7. Be3 a6 8. Bb3
Na5 9. Qd2 Be7 10. f3 Qc7 11. g4 Nc4 12. Bxc4 Qxc4 13. g5 Nd7 14. O-O-O b5 15.
Kb1 Bb7 16. h4 g6 17. h5 b4 18. Nce2 e5 19. hxg6 fxg6 20. Nb3 a5 21. Ng3 a4 22.
Nc1 b3 23. cxb3 axb3 24. Nxb3 O-O 25. Qh2 Rf7 26. Rd2 Nf8 27. Qg2 d5 28. Rc2
Qa4 29. Nc1 d4 30. b3 Qd7 31. Bd2 Ba6 32. Nf1 Rc8 33. Rxc8 Qxc8 34. Nh2 d3 35.
Be3 Ba3 36. Qd2 Rc7 37. Ng4 Rc2 0-1

I played the Sicilian Defense for the first time in 2010. My opponent did not play the opening very accurately and we ended up in a balanced position early on.

It’s clear what white wants to do, with his idea being 17.h5 followed by 18.g6. The same cannot be said for black. I should have played 16…Ne5 17.h5 Qc7, with a relatively comfortable position for black. Instead I played 16…g6? , with the idea of stopping white from playing g6 and intending to force the white knights back with b4 and e5. The game continued with 17.h5 b4 18.Nce2? e5 19.hxg6 fxg6 20.Nb3, where black stands no worse.18.Na4! e5 19.b3 Qc8 20.Ne2 would have given white an advantage as black does not have any clear plan but has created himself some weaknesses on both sides of the board.

Black’s pieces are well placed and it now appears to be safe to castle short. I played the interesting 22…b3!? 23.cxb3 axb3 24.Nxb3 0-0 in an attempt to open up the white king and make white worry about his general safety before I castle myself. It was a positional pawn sacrifice. Of course, 22…0-0 was also possible. In the game, white has problems generating play.

By the time we reached this position black is clearly better. Once again, all the black pieces are well placed. The knight on c1 holds the white position together. I had different options here, and I did not choose wisely. I should have played 32…Ba3! 33.Nh2 Bxc1, followed by 34…Bd3, giving black a clear advantage. I had problems finding something forced in some of those lines and chose to avoid the idea. Also good for black was 32…d3 33.Rc3 Bb4 34.Ne3 Bxc3 35.Bxc3 Rc8, with a clear advantage for black. I assessed the final position with black up an exchange as unclear and avoided it in favour of the weaker 32…Rc8? 33.Rxc8 Qxc8 34.Nh2 d3 35.Be3 Ba3 36.Qd2 Rc7. My idea of 32…Rc8 was rather positional in nature, as I tried to exchange the white rook, since it is a good defender for the king. Everything comes down to calculation in the end…

My opponent played the weak 37.Ng4 Rc2, and resigned, clearly missing the pretty finish that comes after 38.Qa5 Rb2+ 39.Ka1 Rb1+ 40.Kxb1 Qc2+ 41.Ka1 Qb2mate. From far away I had missed that in the line 37.Qa5! Rxc1+ 38.Bxc1 Qc2+ 39.Ka1 Bc5 there is 40.Be3!, where black has nothing better than a draw after 40…Bxe3 41.Qd5+ Kh8 42.Qe5+ Kg8 43.Ng4 Bxg5!.

A game that had its share of mistakes from both sides. Fortunately, my opponent collapsed under pressure. The outcome could be different against a stronger opponent…

Free Day

The free day was set for Christmas Day. At such events, the free day starts the night before. I had the pleasure of going to a restaurant called The Black Sheep with the three Germans I was commuting with up to this point. The food was great!

FM Krause, Ullrich (left) and Jacoby, Gisbert

FM Hess, Christian (right) and myself

All three players love the game of chess and it was good to be in that environment. Gisbert has made a name for himself for being one of the owners and founders (!) of Chessbase. Gisbert was also a second of Hubner at some of his Candidates Matches back in the day. Gisbert and Christian are from Hamburg, while Ullrich is from Lübeck.

All three Germans withdrew from the event, at different stages. Christian withdrew from the event after five rounds as his illness got more serious. Ullrich was very unhappy after scoring 1/6 in the event and also withdrew. Gisbert withdrew after eight rounds as his illness was getting more serious. It’s an interesting question of whether it is right for players to withdraw from tournaments. It depends.

As an invited player, who is getting conditions, I do not have the right to withdraw from an event just because I feel like it, as my withdrawal will hurt the organizer. Organizers spend resources on bringing me to an event and while I am accepting these conditions I also accept that I will play the whole event. Of course, if a serious illness or emergency comes up, organizers might be understanding.

But as amateur players who come to enjoy playing chess and pay the entry fee, it is their right to withdraw. To take vacation time to play in an event is supposed to be for enjoyable. If that enjoyment stops, withdrawal appears to be fair game. Seven players withdrew from the event at one stage or another. The event had 56 players in total. I am not sure I ever saw such a high percentage before!

I spent most of Christmas Day preparing for my next game and resting. I felt like I had fully recovered from my cold, but wanted to stay on the safe side with a quiet day.

Round 5

I was paired against the young IM Robin Van Kampen. I knew that this would not be the last time I would play Robin, since we are also playing in the same section of Tata later in January.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.12.26”]
[Round “5”]
[White “Bluvshtein”]
[Black “Van Kampen”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “A40”]
[PlyCount “111”]
[EventDate “2010.12.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.12.25”]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. Nf3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 Bd6 7. g4 h6 8. h3 b5
9. cxd5 exd5 10. Bd2 Nb6 11. Bd3 Qe7 12. O-O-O Nc4 13. Kb1 Rb8 14. e4 b4 15.
Nxd5 cxd5 16. e5 Nxd2+ 17. Rxd2 O-O 18. exd6 Qxd6 19. Ne5 Ba6 20. Qc6 Bxd3+ 21.
Rxd3 Qd8 22. Rc1 Rc8 23. Qxc8 Qxc8 24. Rxc8 Rxc8 25. f3 Nh7 26. a3 Ng5 27. axb4
Nxh3 28. Ra3 Rc7 29. b5 Rb7 30. Ra5 Ng5 31. Kc2 f6 32. Nc6 Nxf3 33. Kc3 f5 34.
gxf5 h5 35. Kd3 Nh4 36. Rxa7 Rxb5 37. Ne7+ Kf8 38. Kc3 Rb8 39. b4 Re8 40. f6
gxf6 41. Nxd5 Nf5 42. b5 Rc8+ 43. Kd3 Rb8 44. b6 Nd6 45. Nxf6 Rb7 46. Nd7+ Ke8
47. Rxb7 Nxb7 48. Nc5 Na5 49. b7 Nc6 50. Na6 h4 51. Ke3 h3 52. Kf2 Kd7 53. d5
Nb8 54. Nxb8+ Kc7 55. Nc6 Kxb7 56. Kg3 1-0

I went for the Shirov Attack variation in the Meran. An exciting opening led to a rather dry liquidation into a rook and knight endgame, where I thought the game would be played for two results, where black attempts to equalize for a long time.

Black still needs to equalize. White will decide whether he will try to play a3 and create problems for black or play Rd2 and Rc2 in an attempt to exchange rooks and invade black’s position with the king through b3 and a4. Black played the resourceful 25…Nh7 26.a3, after which we both missed the strong 26…Nf8! threatening to trap the knight, with the position being very much equal. The game continued with 26…Ng5 27.axb4 Nxh3 28.Ra3, where I hoped that my doubles pawns would be a strength, not a weakness, due to the activity of all my pieces.

All endgame manuals claim that it is very important to activate your king in the endgame, often at the cost of pawns. I will not argue against that! I played the strong 31.Kc2! f6 32.Nc6 Nxf3 33.Kc3, activating my king and intending to play Kb4 and Rxa7 next. My advantage in the position lies strictly in the activity of my king, even though I am temporarily down a pawn.

After some shuffling of the pieces we reached this position. 40.Nxd5 is not promising after 40…Nxf5, as black is the one with a better pawn structure. My opponent had missed the strong 40.f6! gxf6 41.Nxd5, where it is clear that black is the one trying to hold on to his pawns. My pawns are further advanced and black’s pawns are loose. My rook is also the more active of the two. Of course, a lot of calculation went into the move, but it is important to note the breaking of black’s pawn structure, as the main goal of the idea.

Black is in trouble. The game ended soon after 42…Rc8+ 43.Kd3 Rb8 44.b6 Nd6 45.Nxf6. The best remaining chance for black was 42…Rd8 43.b6 Rxd5 44.b7 Rb5 45.Ra8+ Kf7 46.b8Q Rxb8 47.Rxb8. I was calculating the final position in-depth during the game. White should be winning, but black will create a lot of technical difficulties with his outside passed pawn, forcing white to play precisely.

This was a good game all around. It was certainly a strategic choice to try to go for the endgame and grind out the full point, but one that I feel quite comfortable doing. The endgame was not an easy one for black. It was good to come out on top in this long battle.

This was my fourth consecutive win and I joined the group of leaders at 4/5. I felt good about my play at this point but I also knew that this was just the beginning and that I only put myself in a position to have a chance to succeed. The hardest part was to come.

Tough Start

I was scheduled to fly out of Toronto late on December 18th. Europe was hit hard with a lot of snow and European airports were canceling a lot of flights. Fortunately, the Amsterdam airport was not one of those. With a four hour delay, I was off to Amsterdam in the early hours of December 19th. Upon arriving to Amsterdam in the afternoon of the same day I took a train going to Groningen. The train ride lasted about 3 hours and was smooth and comfortable.

It was about a 15min walk to the hotel. The organizers put the invited players at the Hampshire Hotel. Nice place all around and very close to the city center. Below is a photo of the hotel lobby.

View from my hotel room.

It was good to arrive to Groningen two days before the start of the event and settle in. I was looking forward to go out and see the city in my free day. Upon arriving to Groningen I caught a cold. Groningen was colder than Toronto. Everybody complained about getting sick at one point or another during the event. I have never seen this many players withdraw from a tournament before, most of them due to illness. More on that later.

I felt like I still needed to see the city the day before the tournament started and fortunately the city center was about a 10min walk from the hotel. The city center is centered at Grote Markt. Standing tall at 97 meters is the Martini Tower, overlooking the city. The tower was built almost 500 years ago.

I decided to climb the tower to see the beautiful view from the top.

Below are a few photos of the view.

It’s narrow at the top of the tower.

Then it was time to back back down…

Also present at Grote Markt is the City Hall

and the Grand Theatre

It was interesting for me to see a burger vending machine, which people actually used!

Groningen has a lot of canals. The problem is that at this time of the year the canals were frozen, rendering boats useless in winter time.

It was time to finally play some chess. I was having trouble sleeping my first two nights in Groningen, as I woke up at 3.30am. It was probably a combination of jetlag and my cold. I was still feeling confident about the first round. Maybe too confident.

The Tournament

The playing hall was a ways away from the hotel and a car or a bus was needed as a form of transportation. Fortunately, I ran into Yochanan Afek (faithful readers will remember him from Nuremberg) that day. Yochanan was able to squeeze me into a car driven by Robin van Kampen’s mother and a few other top Dutch juniors.

We arrived to the playing hall early for the registration. Organizers know that some players don’t show up to tournaments even though they said they would, so early arrival is necessary to avoid any first round forfeits. Those first round forfeits are dangerous because they can single-handedly kill norm chances.

We were to play the tournament at the Sports Center of the Groningen University, in a big gym.

The playing hall was spacious. Each board had an individual table which made the event more comfortable for the players. The organizers had 8 DGT boards for live online transmission.

Round 1

I was paired to play against Vahe Baghdasaryan, rated 2303, with the white pieces. This was not one of my better games. Below is the game.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.12.21”]
[Round “?”]
[White “Bluvshtein”]
[Black “Baghdasaryan”]
[Result “0-1”]
[ECO “A00”]
[PlyCount “84”]
[EventDate “2010.12.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.12.21”]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. e3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Nf3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 Bd6 7. Be2 O-O 8. O-O
dxc4 9. Bxc4 a6 10. Rd1 b5 11. Bd3 Bb7 12. e4 e5 13. dxe5 Nxe5 14. Nxe5 Bxe5
15. Bxb5 Bxh2+ 16. Kf1 Qc7 17. Be2 Be5 18. Bf3 Rfe8 19. Bg5 a5 20. Na4 c5 21.
Rac1 Bf4 22. Bxf4 Qxf4 23. Nxc5 Rac8 24. Qa4 Qh2 25. g3 Bc6 26. Qxa5 Rb8 27. a4
g6 28. Rc4 Ng4 29. Nd3 Rxb2 30. Qc5 Ra2 31. Bg2 Bxa4 32. Rdc1 Bb5 33. Qg5 Bxc4
34. Rxc4 Ra1+ 35. Rc1 Rxc1+ 36. Qxc1 Qh5 37. Qc6 Rd8 38. Nf4 Nh2+ 39. Kg1 Rd1+
40. Bf1 Rxf1+ 41. Kg2 Qf3+ 42. Kh3 Ng4 0-1

I was trying to get the move order right, but I had more than this prepared. I played a new idea here with 15.Bxb5 Bxh2+ 16.Kf1!. 16.Kh1 was previously played but the king is safer on f1. 16.Kxh2 does not work because of 16…Qc7+, followed by 17…cxb5.

The live transmission showed that I played 15.Kf1? Bxh2? 16.Bxb5, getting the same position with a different move order. I got a lot of questions about this dubious novelty that I never actually played.

The idea behind 16.Kf1 is to play a position with a better pawn structure, with the hope that white’s better pawn structure, in that black has more pawn islands, will more than compensate for the weakness of the king.

This position saw the beginning of the critical stage of the game. I played 24.Qa4? which allowed 24…Qh2. At the time, I did not realize how annoying the queen on h2 would be. This surely showed in the game. The game continued with 25.g3 Bc6 26.Qxa5 Rb8 and black had compensation for the pawns. Stronger for black was 25…Nxe4 26.Nxe4 Ba6+ 27.Ke1 Red8 28.Rxd8 Rxd8 29.Rc4 Qg1+ 30.Ke2 Qc1 where white finds himself in very serious danger.

Black has just play the prophylactic 27…g6. I started to play a sequence of imprecise moves at this point. I played 28.Rc4 Ng4 29.Nd3 Rxb2 30.Qc5 Ra2, where I ran into trouble with my pieces being tied down to the defense of the king, as black creates more threats. A sequence of relatively weak moves by me. 28.Rd4 was preferable, as well as 29.Rd2 Ne5 30.Qc3! which holds white’s position together well. 30.Qe1 was also stronger than the text. The problem at this stage of the game was that I started running low on time and I did not sense the danger.

In the position above I played the very weak 32.Rdc1?. After 32.Re1 black is better but it is hard to break through. I could not play 32…Bb5 33.Qxb5 because of the mate that follows after 33…Ne3+! and I was left with a lost position down an exchange. The rest of the game was smooth sailing for my opponent.

Tough loss. I do not remember the last time I lost to an opponent with this rating while having the white pieces. It has not happened since I became a GM. But these losses happen. I feel like this game brought me back to earth. After working so much on chess, I felt entitled (even if only subconsciously) to good results, especially against lower rated players. I feel like I was anticipating mistakes out of my opponent instead of just playing as I am capable of.

I felt psychologically defeated. In a chess world dominated by quantitative measurement (FIDE ratings) this loss meant a lot. Before the tournament started I was already looking forward to playing the top seeds and try to win the tournament. I had anticipated this because I have been starting tournaments very well recently. I knew that it would take a lot to get back into contention, but I also knew that the first round does not make or break the tournament. In these moments, it’s important to forget about the past and focus at the games one move at a time.

After a few rounds it became clear that my opponent from the first round is heavily underrated, as he defeated a player rated just under 2500 in the second round and drew the top seed (with black) in the third round.