TYLER LONGO | Reykjavik, ISL | 2014/03/05 (2014/03/11)
Hello! I decided to write about my experiences travelling to the N1 Reykjavik Open in Iceland. I’m travelling in a group of five Canadian players, including Geordie Derraugh, Daniel Abrahams, Alex Ferreira, Jonathan Farine, and myself. There are 12 Canadians total playing in the event, including GM Hansen and IMs Panjwani and Porper.
Full disclosure: I’m awful at writing… but there will be guest writers over the coming days.
Arrival – Tuesday March 4
Geordie and I took a red-eye Monday evening and arrived at Keflavik airport at 6:30 AM, the morning of Round One. The airport is about an hour out of town, so after loading up on some snacks and adult beverages at the duty-free, as we had heard food/drinks are extremely expensive in town, we hopped on a shuttle to the city. I wish I could say it was scenic, but the weather was a bit dreary.
Our group rented a spacious apartment with a full kitchen and two bedrooms. Dan, Alex and Jonathan had arrived the morning before and were already settled in. On their free day, they had already explored the city and thankfully did some grocery shopping.
After a quick nap we were off to the tournament for Round One. The tournament is being played in a beautiful new music hall called Harpa, right on the harbour. The whole building is based on an open modern concept, with hallways connecting the various large rooms. The playing hall is large and spacious, and overlooks the Reykjavik harbour, with the two adjoining rooms used for live commentary and skittles. The organizers are doing a great job, and the whole tournament feels extremely professional.
Round 1 – Tuesday evening
In Round One I played black against Gudmundur Kjartansson, a friendly 26-year-old IM from Iceland. I decided that I was going to use some of these lopsided matchups to work on my dismal opening repertoire, so I tried to go for a Hedgehog type position I was unfamiliar with. Unfortunately my lack of comfort showed and I was slowly and completely outplayed.
The real story of Round 1 was Dan drawing 2700-rated Li Chao on board 2, an amazing result! He was even winning at one point. Alex had jokingly promised to buy Dan two beers if he had won, so we all agreed one drink was fair.
Round 2 – Wednesday March 5
Wednesday would be the only day with two rounds played. In the morning I played white against a 1500-rated Icelandic player. I achieved a great position in the Semi-Slav, with a big centre and a bishop pair. Slowly he ran out of space and around move 27 his position crumbled.
Round 3 – Wednesday evening
In the evening round I was black against Johan-Sebastian Christiansen, a 15-year-old master from Norway. I got a decent Reti position which I prepared out of the opening. Unfortunately I used most of my time for the first 20 moves, and found myself with only about 30 minutes to make the time control. The position was more or less equal until he allowed 25… c4!, after which Black is clearly better. Despite my lack of good technique (which was witnessed in all its glory by Henrik Carlsen, Magnus’ father… apparently some faces of disgust were made) I eventually won. I only had time to quickly annotate it.
Unfortunately in Round 3, Alex and Geordie were paired against each other, a pretty miserable situation after travelling this far for a tournament.
My score is now 2/3, a great start! In Round 4 I’ll be white against Alexandr Ponomarenko, a 21-year-old IM from Ukraine. Tomorrow morning we are going with a group from the tournament on a tour of the Golden Circle, which includes some of Iceland’s geological wonders, as well a quick stop to Bobby Fischer’s grave. I’ll share some more impressions of Reykjavik and Iceland over the coming days.
Golden Circle Tour – Thursday March 6
On Thursday, our group woke up early to take part in a tour of Iceland’s Golden Circle. There was so much interest from players in the event that the organizer sold enough tickets to fill two buses! The route took us to some of the geological wonders in central Iceland. Our first stop took us to Þingvellir, where the North American and European tectonic plates are drifting apart and form a spectacular rift valley. Our tour guide mentioned that this was an extremely popular spot for divers, as the visibility in the lake at the rift is unparalleled in the world. Unfortunately the visibility wasn’t ideal, but we still got some nice shots.
It’s amazing how the conditions change in a second here: One moment it will be snowing and you can barely see in front of you, and a few minutes later the sun will come out and you can see for kilometers. Our guide pointed out that this winter has been particularly rough, and most residents had to use winter tires this year (which I found hilarious coming from Toronto).
Our next stop took us to Gullfoss, a picturesque waterfall located in the canyon of Hvítá river. As someone who sees Niagara falls on a regular basis, I suppose I’ve been desensitized to waterfalls over the years, but this one is a sight to see. From a distance, it looks like a small waterfall:
Alex, the pioneer that he is, decided to walk over the chain into a restricted area to get a closer look. After seeing this, almost all 70 chess players in the group followed him. When you get closer, you can see some amazing views of the water plunging into a crevasse below
Our next stop took us to Haukadalur valley, an area with multiple geysers, including the frequently erupting Strokkur geyser. I’ve now learned first hand there are multiple stages to witnessing a geyser erupt: The first time, you’re in the area but completely don’t expect it. You ask your friends which one of the multiple geysers is going to erupt seconds before it happens, and then it scares the living daylights out of you. The second time, everyone is standing really close with their camera trying to get footage of it erupting, but the moment you let your guard down, it erupts and scares you all over again:
Our final stop was a newly founded Bobby Fischer Centre in Selfoss, with multiple pictures and paraphernalia from the 1972 World Championship match, and from his final days in Reykjavik. The former president of the Icelandic Chess Federation gave a great speech about that match and his experiences with Bobby. The trip also included a short stop to Fischer’s final resting place, in a small cemetery at a church near the Centre.
Round 4 – Thursday evening
The trip took us back to Harpa just minutes before the round, so I didn’t really have time to prepare for my game against IM Alexandr Ponomarenko. I played something I’m comfortable with, and had an acceptable position out of the opening. The interesting moment arose when he responded to e4 with e5. I responded with Raf1, after calculating a long variation which we played in the game. Unfortunately after the intended Rxf4 Qxf4 Bxb7, I assumed he could not play Qxd4 as I would just take on d8. Too bad my rook is pinned. One day I’ll learn the rules. I played on for a few moves in a losing ending, before calling it a day. I don’t have as much time to annotate my games in detail as I would have liked, but I present it here regardless:
Both Eric Hansen and Raja Panjwani were on the top boards in Round 4, and so far it looks like all the Canadians are playing well. You can see their results here.
In Round 5 I’m playing Marcel Marentini, a 2155-rated player from Switzerland. Friday is the first day where we can sleep in, so I look forward to being well rested for the round.
Round 5 – Friday March 7
Today was the first day that there were no activities planned, and no morning round. As a result, most of us slept in for the first time in days. We spent the afternoon preparing for our games and walking around the city, which included a brief visit to the Icelandic Phallological Museum (I’ll leave it at that).
Speaking of preparation, some players in our group prepare for their games in unusual ways (Jon, when he finds out he’s playing someone one of us has already played earlier in the event: “How was his handshake?… It’s so relevant!”)..
In Round 5 I was black against Marcel Marentini, a 2155 player from Switzerland. So far in this event, all of my white opponents have played 1. c4 against me, a move which you rarely see at my level in Canada. Marcel was no exception. We ended up transposing into a Queen’s Gambit exchange variation, and at some point I decided to ambitiously grab a pawn but allow him to attack my weak king. Then I grabbed a second pawn, and he got some more counterplay. Then I grabbed an exchange, because at this point I may as well. Eventually I gave the exchange back, and despite a couple missteps, had a winning Q+R ending. It was an extremely complicated game where I basically never had the initiative. Thankfully, I had all the material. My score is now 3/5, which I’m extremely happy with, given I’ve played up four times now. My goal coming into the event was to have a performance rating over 2200, and I’m hovering around that right now.
After the round, our group went to one of the local pubs for a couple of drinks around 10:00 PM. It was interesting to find out that apparently last call is 5:00 AM (in Canada it’s 2:00), and they don’t usually get busy until far later at night. Our game tomorrow is earlier in the afternoon, so we planned to have a later night and experience the nightlife another evening.
Round 6 – Saturday March 8
The weekend rounds both start at 1:00 in the afternoon, so after a quick breakfast at our flat it was down to business. I was white against Awonder Liang, an extremely young FM from the US who has broken enough age-related records to have his own Wikipedia page. I got a playable position out of the opening, but I started making some small inaccuracies that made it extremely difficult to develop my kingside. I lost in 49 moves. I was pretty disappointed in myself as until this game I felt like I was playing pretty well, but for some reason for this game I couldn’t really put up a fight.
We spent some time preparing for the game the night before, and Alex and Jon both decided to play a similar variation of the French. They were also on side-by-side boards. Early in the round, I wandered over to to see the same position on both boards after the 7th move. I can only imagine what their opponents must have been thinking when they noticed their Canadian opponents were playing the same moves against them (they both immediately deviated when I walked by).
Saturday night was the Even Steven tournament, a blitz event where lower-rated players get time odds depending on their Elo difference. Of all the blitz events I’ve played in at open tournaments, this one was by far the most enjoyable. It was extremely casual, even with multiple titled players. Almost everyone had a beer by their side. I didn’t play particularly well but that’s OK… I even lost to Geordie which is pretty surprising given our past blitz results.
After the blitz tournament on Saturday, our group decided we should try to experience the nightlife. I can honestly say it was one of the more enjoyable nights I’ve had in a long time. We went to a pub at around midnight, and the first thing we noticed was a large wheel hanging over the bar with multiple slots with different drink amounts ranging from 1 beer to 8 beers (I’ll get a picture of it soon!). You pay 2000 kr (about $20) to spin it; after quickly calculating the expected value of the proposition, and realizing it was a slight ripoff, Jon and I split a spin anyways and immediately won 8 pints (an 18-1 shot). Our group ended up spinning it three more times that night, and somehow won 8 pints again twice more.
In general, Icelanders are extremely friendly. The pub was completely packed, but many people made a point to approach us and strike up a conversation. Our group ended up getting split up as we were all busy talking to our new friends, including a handful of Icelanders, a delightful couple from England and a mother and daughter from the US. In the end I had a lot of free drinks that night, a favour I’ll have to repay one day! At the end of the night, Alex was extremely popular as everyone wanted to buy his shirt, but they were disappointed to find out they would have to travel all the way to Canada to find their own. We stayed until last call around 5 AM.
Round 7 – Sunday March 9
Obviously some of us were a little exhausted for the early afternoon round on Sunday. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the hall, were the multiple cameras trying to get an interview with Garry Kasparov, who’s visiting the tournament as part of his campaign for FIDE presidency. He’ll also be on site tomorrow.
I was paired against Tobias Hellwig, a 2180-rated player from Germany. I really didn’t have time to prepare, but my opponent did as he immediately side-stepped all the Queen’s Gambit Accepted variations that I’m comfortable with by playing 2. g3. Regardless, I got a great position with a free attack on his king, and was completely winning at multiple points during the game. Unfortunately, I again used too much time in the opening and found myself with about 10 minutes to make 20 moves. I missed the best continuation a couple of times, and eventually lost my advantage. I then compounded my error by stubbornly continuing to play for a win, and of course I then lost. It was extremely frustrating to say the least, but I’m still having a good tournament with 3/7, and a performance rating hovering around 2100. At least our group is performing far beyond their level, as Jon won again against a master and now has 4.5/7.
Tomorrow I’m paired against Dagur Kjartansson, a 1600-rated player from Iceland. We’re also hoping to do a Northern Lights tour, weather permitting. I also promise there will be more pictures in the next entry (I haven’t taken anywhere near as many as I would like).
Round 8 – Monday March 10
On Monday the round didn’t start until the evening so we had a free morning and afternoon. Most of us decided to take it easy and prepare for our games but Edward Porper and Dan Kazmaier, two Canadians from the west coast, decided to rent a car for the day to do some exploring of a nearby volcano, and invited some of our group along. Daniel Abrahams ended up being the only one of us to accept their offer, and set off to the Harpa to meet them at 9:30 am. Unfortunately, the rented smart car was a little light for Icelandic weather and they found themselves struggling through thick clouds, heavy winds, and unplowed roads. For several stretches the car couldn’t top 30 kilometers per hour, and at one point was felled by snow getting stuck in the chassis. The trip was abandoned before the desired end when it was decided that the car could not both make it all the way to the volcano and back to Reykjavik in time for the tournament, and also that the car might end up stranded too far from civilization. Turning around had to be assisted by a couple of human pushes since the road was too small, even for the smart car. At least it sounded like a great adventure (and secretly I’m a bit jealous as the morning was a complete wash)
Before the round I snapped a couple of pictures of Harpa and the playing hall:
The weather is still pretty dreary:
Garry Kasparov was in Reykjavik as part of his campaign for the FIDE presidency, and stopped by the tournament hall for a book signing and a very awkward speech before the round. It was extremely busy so getting a good picture was hard, but Jon managed to snap a shot of him signing a copy of My Great Predecessors for my friend Daniel Wiebe:
In Round 8 I was white against Dagur Kjartansson, a 1662 from Iceland (with a great handshake!). I went for another Colle-Zukertort, a position with which I’m extremely comfortable, but at some point I overestimated my chances and started making some mistakes. I completely missed the defensive resource 19… Bc6, and overreacted so I decided to sacrifice an exchange for a protected pass pawn and some attacking chances. From that point on I kept making some inaccuracies, but thankfully Dagur never really capitalized on them and I eventually won on move 34. Neither of the last two rounds I’ve played has been ideal, and I suspect the length of the tournament is taking its toll (I haven’t played a long open tournament in a couple of years now).
Hopefully I can recover tomorrow with the black pieces against Sverrir Orn Bjornsson, rated 2126 from Iceland. Tomorrow features another Hart House match-up, this time between Jon and Geordie. It’s unfortunate that we travel halfway across the Atlantic to face who we normally do on a Friday night. Alex jokingly vowed never to travel to a chess tournament again unless everyone has identical ratings, to avoid these unfortunate in-house pairings.
Round 9 – Tuesday March 11
Tuesday was the first day where the weather was more cooperative. Most of the snow had melted, and the sun actually came out for the first time. As a group we had discussed taking a visit to the Blue Lagoon, a natural outdoor spa about an hour outside of Reykjavik. The trip was extremely expensive though (almost $100), so only Alex and Jon decided to go. Geordie, Dan and I decided to take a trip to the Pearl, a glass structure on top of a large hill in downtown Reykjavik used for geothermal water storage. The visibility was great today, and you could get some outstanding views of the city and the surrounding mountains. When we went on the Golden Circle tour, our tour guide pointed out a new “skyscraper” in downtown Reykjavik, which was causing a fuss with some of the locals (I guess they feel it’s an eyesore). By Toronto standards, it’s tiny, but it’s unique enough in the skyline that you can distinctly see it from the Pearl.
For the ninth round, I was black against Sverrir Orn Bjornsson, a 2126-rated player from Iceland. I played the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, my main response against 1. d4, and it was immediately clear that he was uncomfortable. I won a pawn quickly in a queen-less middlegame, giving him some counterplay, but nothing serious. Throughout the game I had a good position, but over the next 30 moves I was having trouble finding the best way to untangle my pieces. Eventually I got in time trouble (again), and just blundered the game away. I didn’t have time to annotate this game, and it’s extremely complicated, but the losing mistake was 32… Rf8 which just gives up an exchange by force. I was extremely annoyed with myself. Throughout the tournament I’ve been having trouble converting great positions, and have even stubbornly turned some of my winning positions into losses, when they should at the very least be easily drawn. After we ate dinner, some of the guys pointed out that getting good positions against stronger players is the first step towards improving; I just need to work on converting them into wins. I’ll probably spend more time working on my endings over the next few months.
Alex, Geordie, and I withdrew after this round, as the flights back to Toronto were significantly cheaper tomorrow than on Thursday. My final result then is 4/9, with a performance rating of 2045, and gaining 13.5 Elo. My goal was to perform over 2200, so I didn’t quite meet my goal, but I feel like I played at that level for at least the first six rounds. The last three rounds were a different story, and I’m sure fatigue and the dreary weather were both factors. Jon is having a great tournament worth mentioning, and is gaining some 50 Elo (his K is still 30 as he’s newly established, but this is still a great result).
I’ll write one more entry tomorrow, as we have a few hours to kill before our evening flight and plan on doing some more exploring.
More coverage of the 2014 Reykjavik Open
The tournament runs March 4 to 12. Most rounds start at 16:30 Reykjavik time (11:30 EST/12:30 EDT), but weekend rounds are at 13:00 (8:00 EST/9:00 EDT) and the final round is at 12:00 (8:00 EDT).
- Visit the official site;
- check the results page;
- watch the live stream with FM Ingvar Johannesson and WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni;
- … and check back here for updates from Tyler about our Toronto players in Reykjavik!