Round nine

Report from day nine by Daryl Taylor

The last round of our nine-day tournament began exceptionally at 11.00 a.m. This early start gives the players a better chance of catching international flights, trains and ferries home without the need for overnight travel.

It was also a veritable media circus, with a Finnish national sports television journalist and a cameraman eager to capture the moment as 17 year-old Danish FM Martin Percivaldi took up the black pieces in a bid for first prize and a GM norm against Swedish GM Erik Blomqvist. The two-minute report was broadcast on the nationwide TV1 sports program, and may be viewed online for a further 30 days:

Time reference 15:39–17:52


No smiling for the camera: this is serious now.

One nice feature of the last round from the point of view of news media is that all five games were international encounters, with ties between Iceland and Norway, Denmark and Finland, Iceland and Finland, Sweden and Norway, and Denmark and Sweden. The games were also all hard fought encounters, with no sign of the cynical grandmaster draws that sometimes occur when masters have little to play for and are already thinking of what to buy in the airport shop.

Round nine as it happened:

Board 1 brought together Icelandic IM Einar Hjalti Jensson and Norwegian IM Johan Salomon in my personal choice for game of the day. Neither of these players had set the chess world on fire in this event, but each was determined to give a good account of himself and fly the national flag high until the very end.

The opening was a Semi-Tarrasch variation of the Queen’s Gambit declined, in a line that blasts open the queenside with numerous pawn exchanges at a very early stage. Black’s 13 …Nd7 was the first move not known to the HIARCS GM+ database of previous games played by GMs and IMs. White then slowly deployed his forces in the general direction of the castled black king, while black aimed a Qa8-Bb7 battery at the white centre. I am normally a fan of this technique in blocked positions, but here it was not really warranted.

IM Jensson dealt with this strategy instructively by pushing both centre pawns forward. First the d pawn advanced, inviting capture on d5 by the pawn on e6. Then instead of recapturing, white pushed his e-pawn forward, hitting the black knight at f6 and opening up a line of fire by the white bishop against the position of the castled black king while leaving black’s pawn at d5 to serve as an obstruction to the black forces. It is important to notice here that …Ne4 by black loses to an immediate e6 followed by mate threats against g7. The knight must therefore retreat, leaving black in serious trouble.

This attacking strategy looked very promising, and IM Jensson was promptly up on his feet reviewing the other games, appearing very satisfied with his game. His confidence was justified. White has definite compensation for the sacrificed pawn and IM Jensson explained in the post-mortem analysis that he has often lost with black when playing training games in such positions. The value of these defeats was now demonstrated, as the white attack ran on oiled wheels, and black was reduced to making various increasingly desperate efforts to exchange off white’s aggressive pieces. Every such attempt merely improved the position of those pieces, and when black finally managed to engineer an exchange of queens it was already too late. White’s attack won a piece and black’s passed d pawn was easily rounded up to claim the full point.

In my opinion this was the best-played direct attack seen in the entire tournament, and I warmly recommend a study of this game to average club players. Although Icelandic IM Einar Hjalti Jensson had no more than an average overall tournament, it helped him to finish it on a high note. His Norwegian opponent, on the other hand, should chalk this all down as a learning experience and move on quickly to happier performances in future.

The encounter on board 2 between Danish FM Bjørn Møller Ochsner and Finnish IM Vilka Sipilä was an unusual and keenly contested Sicilian defence. White played the fashionable Nimzowitsch-Rossolimo variation with early Bb5 and black responded with early queen development to b6, recapturing with the queen after white exchanged bishop for knight on c6. White subsequently opened up the game with d4, inviting the traditional Sicilian pawn exchange that brings a white knight to that square. Only on the ninth move did black finally develop another piece to accompany his active queen.

This lag in black’s development encouraged white to play very actively, sacrificing first the f pawn and then the e pawn on move 16. Black took all of the offered material and waited for the storm to break over the next few moves, as white got his queen in among the pawns in black’s kingside to regain the sacrificed material. Black then was left with the problem of completing his development without allowing any breakthrough by white’s remaining active pieces.

This ambition proved too challenging for the Finnish IM. After black began this process with …d6, white’s Na5 effectively constrained the development of black’s queenside, and black had to be content with …Kd7 instead of castling away to safety on the queenside. An exchange of the aggressive white queen for her counterpart could only be achieved at the cost of a pawn, leaving white with an extra pawn and a clear plus in the endgame. The young Danish master’s passed pawns on the kingside were much faster than his opponent’s advancing centre pawns, and though black promoted a pawn immediately after white, the initiative of the first player was by then unstoppable with forced mate on the board.

This loss means that the tournament that began so promisingly for IM Vilka Sipilä ended on a very low note for him. Leading after the first three rounds, he completed the event in ninth place with 3.5 points out of 9. IM Sipilä was nevertheless the only player to beat the eventual winner of the tournament, and indeed he did so in only 26 moves in the third round.

The game on board 3 featured Icelandic IM Guðmundur Kjartansson against Finnish IM Mika Karttunen. This was another Slav defence to the Queen’s Gambit, with black rapidly deploying the queen’s bishop to f5 and then completing the central diamond with an early …e6. This is really nothing more than a reversed version of the Mason variation that we saw played with white so many times in previous rounds.

IM Kjartansson hit the Slav bishop with Nh4 and IM Karttunen gave the game a new character by shifting this piece to e4, thereby goading white to kick it back by playing f3. The position differs from a London System insofar as black has not yet created a bolt hole for the bishop at h7, so it could only retreat to g6 and it was then exchanged for the knight a couple of moves later. Recapturing with the h pawn opened up the h file allowing further pressure against white’s already slightly softened kingside. White then parried the threat against the h2 pawn by playing g3 and brought the king to f2 to support this point, whereupon black renewed the threat with …Bd6 and white parried by Be2, connecting the rooks.

With his kingside attack making good progress, black now also began operations in the centre, first capturing on c4 and then pushing forward with …e5. This looked a little hasty in view of the fact that black had not yet castled and white had the bishop pair. White also began creating positional threats of his own with 16 Rac1, forcing black to reinforce his control of the b5 square with …a6.

Watching in the commentary room, we had assumed that white’s next move 17 d5 was unplayable due to … Nb6 or even …Nc5, but IM Karttunen instead responded to it with …c5. This immediately changed the overall character of the game. White supported the passed d pawn with e4 and regrouped as black expanded rapidly on the queenside.

Black’s next move …Nh7 looked positively bizzare in view of what followed. Perhaps the idea was to bring the knight to g6 via f8, but in any case white promptly took the initiative on the kingside with h4, recapturing on h4 with the rook to pin the knight. Black then “castled by hand”, walking the king over to g8 to protect the knight again as white doubled rooks on the h file. This means that the knight formerly only pinned to the rook was now pinned to a threat of mate. White brought his own knight around to join in the fun on the kingside and black dropped his free knight back to f8 and up to g6 (defending the rook in the corner). Finally black dropped the bishop back to f8 to reach a quite extraordinary position. If only the pawn at g7 was a rook or a knight(!):


Perhaps even more remarkably, there was no clear way for white to punish black for seemingly tying himself up in knots like this, and black then slowly unravelled his position. On the other hand, driving white’s knight away from the kingside with …g6 on move 32 actually left black with a knight in the corner that had no legal moves at all, and then 33 …Bc5 was definitely over-optimistic. This drops the black c pawn, giving white a pair of connected passed pawns on c4 and d5. Black’s corresponding passed pawn on b4 was going nowhere anytime soon. His attempt to drum up some counterplay with 37 …f5 came too late and soon white was pushing the two passed pawns down the board supported by a bishop pair against two unco-ordinated black knights. Black held on for a few more moves until it became clear that white would promote both of these pawns, and he then resigned on move 51.

This win took IM Guðmundur Kjartansson onto a final score of 5 points out of 9, which meant fifth place in the final standings. The last round loss meant that IM Mika Karttunen finished with the highest tie-break score in a group of three players with 3.5 points, which secured seventh place.

Board 4 was the venue for an English four knights game between the two heavyweights, Swedish GM Axel Smith and Norwegian GM Jon Ludvig Hammer. There are so many transpositional possibilities here that it’s not easy to tell at what point the players were breaking new ground compared to previous GM theory, but the general character of the game was clear by about the 12th move. Black’s general strategy is based on an early push of the e pawn to e4, where it exerts a cramping effect on white’s play. Former World Champion Garry Kasparov was very fond of this idea.

White quickly took steps to liquidate the advanced e pawn, following this with a swift exchange of light squared bishops and queens. There was little to tell between the sides, but a further exchange of white knight for black bishop left an endgame with all four rooks on the board, a white bishop facing a black knight, and seven pawns each. Black’s pawn structure was compromised by doubled c and g pawns, but there were no passed pawns on the board. The black knight also soon hopped into a hole at d3 on move 20, and it seems fair to say that black stood no worse at this point.

Black’s 26th move bringing a rook to c2 seems to have been based on the overoptimistic idea that black could somehow break through on d2. White nevertheless had time to drive the rook back and then snap off a loose pawn at b7, thereby creating a passed a pawn. Suddenly running short of time, black then offered his knight in return for seventh rank absolute, but instead of accepting this, GM Smith chose a playable but unusual defensive method that black may not have considered in any depth. This led black to sacrifice a rook for white’s bishop, reaching an endgame with rook and knight for black against white’s two rooks, but unfortunately even on its starting square, white’s passed a pawn was a source of major concern. The sacrifice proved unsound, but black was already in trouble, so perhaps the gamble was soundly motivated, but GM Smith held his nerve and advanced the passed a pawn to secure a reasonably comfortable win and third prize in the tournament ahead of his opponent.

Board 5 was the primary focus of our media circus, where tournament leader Swedish GM Erik Blomqvist was cast in the role of Goliath against his young challenger IM-elect Martin Percivaldi, the lowest-rated player in the tournament now playing for a GM norm and a share of first prize. The opening was a Carlsbad variation of the Slav defence; a combative choice by both players suggesting that neither would be content with a draw.

With the TV cameras rolling, play developed along a known line until the Swedish GM showed some specialist knowledge with 13 Nxe5, giving black a choice of minor piece exchanges. The outcome slightly weakened the position of the castled white king, but black’s so far uncastled king also had a choice of rather draughty destinations, either towards the already blown open kingside or straight into white’s readymade queenside attack. On the other hand, both players had the option of exchanging the queens to take the edge away from such attacking ambitions.

The queen exchange came on the 18th move, enabling white to take the weak pawn at f6. Black then decided to stop worrying about loose pawns and focus on active piece play, first castling queenside and then, perhaps questionably, using another move to bring the king to b8. Although this prevents white from immediately forcing an exchange of bishops, it may have been more accurate to push the weak h pawn forward at this point. Black instead focused on active piece play and white took the pawn at h7, establishing two new remote passed pawns on the kingside.

Watching from the commentary room, we thought that black was in trouble now, but established and would-be grandmasters see a lot further than ordinary mortals, and in fact the position with rook, knight, bishop and five pawns against rook, two bishops and three pawns is a lot more finely balanced than it seems. Aggressive play by black kept white on the defensive until a temporary piece sacrifice resolved into a rook and pawn endgame with just one extra passed pawn for white. The black king was cut off from impeding this pawn, but black’s active rook was able to force compromises in white’s queenside pawn structure and the game eventually transposed into a drawn king and pawn endgame. Perhaps simply for the sake of the cameras, the game was played out to a televised stalemate finish on the 49th move. Time to shake hands and talk to the journalist…

So David and Goliath had fought to a standstill and to a result that was pleasing to both. A draw left GM Erik Blomqvist with outright first prize and the title of Nordic Champion, whereas IM-elect Martin Percivaldi had taken second prize and gained a GM norm. To the credit of both players, they had also reached this result through a genuine contest and not merely by sharing the spoils. Martin Percivaldi also completed the event unbeaten, which is a quite extraordinary achievement in itself. He may be excused if he is still kicking himself about the half point dropped to IM Jensson in round five!

So the final standings gave us gold and silver medallists with no need for tie-breaking, and a bronze medal awarded to GM Axel Smith after a tie-break with GM Jon Ludvig Hammer. This means that the lowest-rated competitor took the silver medal and the highest-rated player finished fourth. The new Nordic Champion is GM Erik Blomqvist from Sweden, who finished the event with six wins, two draws and just one loss, which was to Finnish IM Vilka Sipilä in round three.


Our three medallists: Nordic Champion GM Erik Blomqvist (middle), IM-elect Martin Percivaldi (right) and GM Axel Smith.

We thank the competitors for an excellent tournament and we hope to see all of them playing in Finland again. We also thank the organisers for a superb event that has provided a fine display of our sport. Finally, I thank everyone for reading these daily reports and sharing your comments.