Life conspired against us for there to be a report on the congress before today. Life also conspired against us to know the number of players in the Masters. We are used to using fillers so that everybody gets a game. But there were other problems. A number of Bangladeshis wanted to play, but they applied for visas very late and that made matters difficult. Indonesians had similar problems. The new and oddly named, ‘World Cities Championship’ in the UAE, had 32 qualifiers. But only 23 teams entered. England was asked to field a team very late in the day. That affected David Howell, Simon Williams and Stephen Gordon. But the knockout event wasn’t due to finish until 29 December. Stephen was unable to go due to ill-health and Yang-Fan Zhou took his place. He managed to arrive back in time for Round 1 on the 28th. David withdrew finding the commitment too much for him. Simon should start playing today after two half point byes.
Anyway, there were no major surprises in Round 1. I was unable to attend Chris Ward’s excellent commentaries during play, as I acted as a filler against the young Ravi Haria and managed to wear him down after seven hours play. But some people did express touching concern about my physical health.
Due to the Accelerated Pairings there were already hotly contested pairings at the top. But Sarunas Sulskis (LTU) GM won in double-quick time against Anders Gjerdrum Hagen (NOR). He then came straight to the Commentary Room and went through his game, entertaining the spectators.
Yang-Fan Zhou (ENG) IM v Kaido Kulaots (EST) GM was an exciting affair. It was probably the game of the round and must be a candidate for the £100 Horntye Park Best Game Prize. The GM seemed to wreck his kingside, but this provided a springboard for a dramatic kingside attack after he sacced a piece. Yang-Fan’s brother was in the audience, but he didn’t show what must have been his keen disappointment.
Rui Gao (CHN) IM v Gawain Jones (ENG) GM was a more sedate affair. Chris chided Gawain for selecting 1…e5, feeling it lacked ambition. In a sense that is the reverse of the truth as Gawain is still trying to develop by becoming more familiar with a greater variety of openings. No player is complete until they understand both sides of a Ruy Lopez. Anyway, drawing with black against an up and coming 2450 IM is nothing to be ashamed of. Somebody in the audience commented that a 2400 would seek to beat a 2200. But I don’t think that’s the same. The nature of the draw in chess means that white can afford more errors than black. 2450 players make relatively fewer mistakes.
The upset of the round was the loss of Andrey Sumets (UKR) GM v Gudmundur Kjatansson (ISL) IM. Black had an advantage in the early middlegame, but this was eventually dissipated. On move 60, Andrey went horribly wrong, forcing the youngster’s knight into a more aggressive position, instead of checking with his rook.