From March 6-13 I played in a very enjoyable event: the Reykjavik Open, held in the chess-crazy country of Iceland.
The Reykjavik Open is a strong international tournament that has built an outstanding reputation over the years. Icelanders are known to take their chess very seriously (I believe they have the highest number of Grandmasters per capita, plus who can forget the famous 1972 World Championship match?), and I was excited to spend a week-and-a-half in this small but welcoming country.
The result was a GREAT experience. Everything about this event was classy, and I enjoyed Reykjavik tremendously.
My first-round opponent did not show within 30 minutes of the start of the game. This is often an unavoidable occurence, but the rub is that a forfeit win can derail IM and GM-norm seekers before they're even out of the gate (under FIDE rules you cannot score a norm with a forfeit victory). Needless to say, it's also disappointing to travel so far and face the prospect of not getting a game in the very first round.
I alerted the arbiters, and - to their great credit - I was almost immediately found a replacement opponent: an Icelandic player named Hrannar Jonsson.
Hrannar made a significant mistake in the opening (15.dxc5? - 15.bxc5 was roughly equal), but I am very grateful that he could step in on such short notice (he had come to spectate, but ended up playing the whole tournament!).
I played another Icelander in round two, and this was also a pretty smooth game:
In round three I faced one of the big guns: the Ukrainian GM Yury Kryvorchuko, clocking in at 2666 FIDE. He played a solid line in the Nimzo that gave me a very small edge with the bishop pair. A critical moment arose after 19...Ba6, when instead of my move 20.Qc2 (leading to mass exchanges and equality), I had a good opportunity for more with 20.Bb4! (a move I hadn't considered at all).
This game was my first experience on the elevated stage area at the tournament. It was really cool to be playing on the same level (stage-wise, not strength wise! :) ) as titans like Fabiano Caruana, Hou Yifan, and David Navara. Dozens of spectators followed the games, and the top boards were broadcast on the Internet.
Round four was another solid draw - this time against GM Stelios Halkias of Greece.
This set me up for a great opportunity in round five: a matchup against the current Women's World Champion, Hou Yifan! I annotated this game for Chess Life magazine and repost the comments here.
I'll remember this one for awhile. By the way, did you spot the Chess.com jacket!? :)
Rounds five and six were played on the same day - the only time we broke from the relaxed one round per day schedule. The US players were joking that we had the "American advantage" since we're all too used to slaving away in two-round-a-day tournaments. I scored a nice win in the morning:
I failed to convert a pawn-up ending against German master Klaus Friedrichs in the evening:
I think if I had won this game I would have been within striking distance of a GM-norm.
Down the stretch, I played my best game of the tournament against Peter Doggers (founder of ChessVibes):
Unfortunately, I ended the tournament with a soul-crushing loss to GM Erwin L'Ami:
I gotta say, L'Ami nerves were much better than mine in the rook ending. After 53.Ra6 I thought I had sufficient activity to draw (and this is probably true), but in the second time scramble I played a couple disoriented king moves (68.Ke2?! instead of 68.Ke4!, and especially 69.Kd1?, when my king proved to be in a terrible position in view of his rapidly advancing pawns and ability to create various mating nets on the back rank.
I netted 4 or 5 FIDE points in total. More importantly, this was good experience in the bank.
The closing ceremony was held at the city's capital building. It was a friendly atmosphere with snacks, champagne, and speeches from Icelandic dignitaries and tournament organizers. Super-GM Fabio Caruana won the tournament with an extremely impressive 7.5/9! I also wanted to congratulate another American player, FM Teddy Coleman, who secured his final IM norm in Reykjavik.
For the tournament players reading, I HIGHLY recommend that you attend the 2013 Reykjavik Open. You won't regret playing chess and visiting Iceland!