By round 3 we can expect clashes between leading players and we were not to be disappointed. The top 4 boards all featured strong players on 2/2 and Sahiti Lakshmi was the only player from the second fraction to come through to 100%.
Deep Sengupta v Wang Yue was, we must admit, somewhat boring. But even then there was a brief flurry in the early middlegame that looked as if it might lead to something.
David Howell v Mark Hebden had a very interesting innovation in 12 0-0-0. Most of us would not have thought of castling into a position where the king was so short of cover. But David had analysed this line when coaching Felix Ynojosa, a youngster who has now returned to Venezuela. The most testing response would have been 13…Rb8, but 13…c5 didn’t seem to be at all adequate. To again play 16…c5 lost and Black could have resigned shortly afterwards. We should try not to repeat our mistakes and to play pawn c5 twice in 4 moves not tempting but embracing fate.
Babu Lalith v Andrei Istratescu – do you really want Siamese twins after only 8 moves? See the game to understand what I mean by this. 18 b3 resulted in White’s position being riddled with holes. 26 Bf1 was essential, but white would only have been clinging on. A master class by the older Romanian-Frenchman against an Indian junior.
Romain Edouard v Das Arghyadip this was the type of game to stir your blood and possibly cause a heart-attack. 14 Nc3 might have tempted Black to play Nxd4, but White would have regained the pawn and had a strong attack. 18 Qf5 was a star move and 18…Nd4 a star response. 28 Bc3 was probably best, e.g. Rxa3 29 Nb8. Romain ran absurdly short of time, but he had assumed it wouldn’t matter. He would win long before move 40. Both players were eventually down to 30 seconds a move. Suddenly it was Black who had the upper hand with two queenside passed pawns. Surely 47…a4 would have won? Instead the dancing stopped and it petered out into a draw. Well, at some stage each player deserved to win and at another to lose. There is a Best Game Prize donated by Horntye Park each year, but I have never heard of one for the most exciting.
Sahiti Lakshmi v Yuri Vovk was an accelerated pairing with the young Indian woman having White against the Ukrainian Vovk brother who lost in the first round. White started well enough and 23 Bh6 looked like a star move, but 23…b3, 24…Rf6 and 27…Rxe5 were very calm. Ultimately White ran out of counter-play.
I objected in the Commentary Room that the players should have slowed down as Chris Ward could not keep up. But it was pointed out that the rate of play is pretty ferocious. Eventually both David Howell and Andrei Istratescu joined us in the Commentary Room. Chris Howell (no relation) had gone home with his family having failed to be awarded another Ukrainian chocolate for his suggestions. His young son Oliver had delighted the commentary room with his win utilising his king to mate his opponent.
Finally the biggest upset of the day had to be 17 year old Samuel Franklin (2179) beating GM Glenn Flear (2472) with the black pieces to reach 2.5/3. We now have 10 digital boards working, but that was not enough to get us to board 12, so I will have to wait until New Year’s Eve to see the game.