Round three

Report from day three by Daryl Taylor


The temperature in Sastamala is currently hovering only a few degrees above freezing point and we are once again at that time of year when a slight change in wind direction can suddenly bring the snowploughs out on the roads. Play in our tournament starts at 3 in the afternoon and by half past 5 it’s already getting dark outside, but at least on this occasion there is no need to warn the players at an international invitation event about Nordic weather conditions and their effects on the psyche.

Monday brought us to round three of our tournament, with several interesting pairings on offer:

My game of the round was seen on board 1 where Norwegian GM Jon Ludvig Hammer faced his compatriot IM Johan Salomon. This began as a main line Nimzo-Indian with early …c5. The game followed the database with a slight change of move order by IM Salomon on the 9th turn before finally reaching new territory when black sharpened the struggle by maintaining the pin of white’s king’s knight with 12 … Bh5. This new move was played instead of capturing immediately on f3 or retreating the bishop to e6 in order to defend the isolated queen’s pawn. In fact black is offering this pawn as a sacrifice, and white duly took up the challenge by driving the bishop away with g4. After exchanging it for his own cleric on the next move, white snaffled the d-pawn, exchanging a pair of knights into the bargain.

It is not immediately obvious that black has gained much compensation for the sacrificed centre pawn. The advances on the kingside obviously make the position of the castled white king look slightly draughty and white’s queen is a target in the centre, but this is really not much to write home about. The machine evaluation suggests that white has an edge of about half a pawn after his 16th move.

Black nevertheless played the position optimistically, seeking an exchange of bishops on a3 and thereby working his queen into the b2 square. Instead of meekly retreating his own exposed queen, on the other hand, white plunged her into the thick of the fight at d7 and then reinforced this active approach by bringing the king’s rook to the d-file, so both players were using the queen to lead the attack on the 7th rank.

If black’s 20th move …Re8 was intended to threaten white’s e-pawn, then he may have missed the point that the …Rxe3 capture on the next move steps straight into a forced mate beginning with a queen for rook sacrifice. Let’s call this a warm-up exercise for the average to strong club player. The move 21 …Nb4 chosen instead has the feel of a second-best alternative to keep the attack going when black should really cut his losses and make some defensive moves instead. The follow-up with 22 …Nxa2 continues the same theme, but now with more serious consequences. Black needs to acknowledge his defensive frailty and put this knight back on c6 before the roof caves in.

However, errors at the chessboard are like bananas: they come in bunches. Black’s petulant …b5 push on the next move only sends white’s rook to the square it was heading for anyway, setting up the very nice tactical finish that follows black’s final error of …Qxb3 on move 25. As the main exercise, our readers should now study the diagram and try to spot how GM Hammer brought home the point. The sequence is not entirely forcing, but the alternative defences are utterly hopeless for black.

Johan Salomon


Jon Ludvig Hammer


Board 2 brought together Finnish IM Mika Karttunen and the young Danish FM Martin Percivaldi, who has already shown himself more than capable of holding his own against all comers in our event. This game was a Krause Attack in the Slav that followed known GM theory until white’s 16th move. IM Karttunen’s decision to defend the b pawn laterally by stationing a rook at d2 can hardly be worse than the previous approach of retreating white’s knight to d1, and an interesting game is available by both routes. Black has an obvious problem unravelling his kingside, but there is no clear way for white to secure any substantial advantage. This did not stop white from trying, but the resulting endgame of bishop, knight and three pawns against two bishops and two pawns was never going to be more than equal and the players soon agreed to call it a day and conserve their energies for future rounds.

The tussle on board 3 was another of those uncompromising Finland-Sweden matches, a Najdorf Sicilian played out between Finnish IM Vilka Sipilä and Swedish GM Erik Blomqvist. White selected the popular Adams attack with early h3 and g4, but departed from familiar theory by retreating the attacked queen’s knight to e2 instead of a2 on the 10th move. I do not pretend to understand much about the Najdorf nowadays, and I have no idea whether black’s decision to castle queenside was ultimately well-motivated, but IM Sipilä promptly castled in the opposite direction and then set about carving up black’s already windy queenside like a Sunday roast. GM Blomqvist’s position rapidly became difficult and then finally untenable. He resigned on move 26.

Board 4 was the venue for a trip down memory lane for me as Icelandic IM Einar Hjalti Jensson essayed the exchange Ruy Lopez with 5 0-0 against Swedish GM Axel Smith, who responded with the pin variation. This is one of those lines that I enjoyed discussing as a young club player, because black can offer a piece by leaving his attacked bishop on g4 and playing …h5 with an instant attack against the castled white king. Modern theory has nevertheless shorn this line of its terrors for both sides, and GM Smith chose instead to retreat the bishop to h5.

The game continued along a known line for a few more moves until white chose the ambitious 11 d4, which is hardly any worse than the previously played d3. A superficial review of the position reveals that white has an extra pawn and a broad pawn centre, but black is ahead in development – not least because the h-file is already open leading down to the weak white pawn at h3. In other words, black is getting a watered down version of the kingside attack without giving up a piece.

Black accordingly castled to safety behind the massive pawn phalanx on the queenside and then set about molesting the already loosened fortress of the white king. This was enough to open the h-file and mobilise the heavy artillery along this line. White was able to force an exchange of queens, but this did not break black’s domination of the kingside. Black was first to reach the 7th rank and soon found a tactic to convert the positional edge into a material one after white tried to follow suit. After a hopeless defence white resigned a piece down on move 43.

Danish FM Bjørn Møller Ochsner and Icelandic IM Guðmundur Kjartansson are separated by just one Elo rating point in favour of the player with the lesser title. Their game on board 5 accordingly ended in a draw, but not before some interesting manoeuvring in a middlegame that was essentially a hedgehog with no knights on the board. The thematic …b5 break opened the c file, enabling an exchange of all four rooks and leaving white with a remote pawn majority on the queenside. This was rapidly followed by an exchange of queens to reach an endgame with four bishops and twelve pawns evenly shared. Half of this material was exchanged off over the next 14 moves to reach a level endgame with three isolated white pawns against three connected black pawns. Black probably has the better of this, but such advantage as there was in the position soon slipped away.

So after three rounds we have a clear leader in our event. Finnish IM Vilka Sipilä has 2.5 points ahead of three chasing GMs and FM Martin Percivaldi, who has made a fine start as the youngest and lowest-rated competitor, and must now be odds-on favourite to secure his final IM norm. The field is spread out nicely with six rounds to go.