A Medias Kings tournament, minus the sparkle

FOR most of the past week, I’ve been trying to follow the Medias Kings tournament that was going on in Romania. The first time I heard about this tournament, I thought it would be an interesting event, seeing how the organisers had invited some of the top players in the world to compete.

Leading the pack of six players in this double round-robin event was the Norwegian grandmaster, Magnus Carlsen, who is currently the second highest rated player. Then there was Russia’s Sergey Karyakin who was once the youngest grandmaster in the world, and still an immensely talented player.

Also in the field were Vasily Ivanchuk, the Ukrainian grandmaster who has climbed back to being No.5 in the world, top American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, who had won the strong Wijk aan Zee tournament earlier this year, and Azerbaijan grandmaster Teimour Radjabov, who had recently competed in the Candidates elimination tournament.

Of course, this event being held in Romania meant that there would also be a place for a Romanian in the tournament, and it fell to Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu to complete the sextet of players. Nisipeanu isn’t very well-known but he is not unknown either. In 1999, he made it to the semi-finals of the FIDE world chess championship, and six years ago, he won the European individual chess championship.

But former successes count for nothing in this Medias Kings tournament, as Nisipeanu, the lowest rated player in the field of six, found himself outclassed by most of his rivals. Most of his rivals, that is, except one. If not for Ivanchuk’s form, Nisipeanu could have found this tournament an embarrassment. Ivanchuk was so listless that I got the impression that his mind was elsewhere and that he was in Romania only to fulfil an obligation to compete.

However, the Ukrainian grandmaster was not the only disappointment of the tournament. Broadly, I found the whole event rather below my expectations and uninspiring. Still, there were some redeeming moments, such as in this game below, which was played in the fifth round.

Vasily Ivanchuk – Sergey Karyakin

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3 0-0 6.0-0 d6 7.h3 (In case you are wondering what the players are up to, they are playing an ultra slow variation of the Guioco Piano. In my opinion, a not very inspiring choice except that soon, I was surprised by the exciting direction that the game was going to turn.) 7…Ne7 8.Re1 Ng6 (Even Black has the luxury to waste two moves in relocating his knight to a presumably better square on g6.)

9.Nbd2 c6 10.Nf1 d5 (By allowing this centre pawn thrust, White indirectly admits that Black has already equalized.) 11.exd5 Nxd5 12.Ng3 (White cannot win the e5-pawn by 12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.Rxe5 because of 13…Bxf2+ and the bishop cannot be captured due to the queen check on f6.) 12…h6 13.Bb3 Re8 14.Bd2 (I really don’t know. Until here, White’s game looked passive to me. Wouldn’t 14.d5 be a better choice?) 14…Bb6 15.Qc2 Be6 16.Rad1 (White continues to play mechanically but with this move, he totally cuts off his queen from the main playground which is the kingside. But then, 16.Nxe5 is still not possible because of 16…Nxe5 17.Rxe5 Bxf2+, etc) 16…Bxh3! (See Diagram 1)

(Black does not miss the opportunity. After this sacrifice, White is in deep trouble. Capturing the bishop loses, for example, 17.gxh3 Qf6 18.Kg2 Nh4+ 19.Nxh4 Qxf2+ 20.Kh1 Qxg3 and threatens checkmate next with …Qxh3.) 17. c4 Ndf4 18.c5 Nxg2 19.cxb6 Qf6 20.Nh2 Nxe1 21.Rxe1 axb6 (Only a miracle can save White now. Despite the recent pieces exchanges, Black hasn’t let up on his attack on the white king. The position is close to winning.)

22.Bc3 Be6 23.Re3 Nf4 24.Rf3 Qh4 25.Bd2 Bg4 26.Qc4 Be6 (With this move, Black exchanges off the bishop and removes possible counter-threats against his f7-square.) 27.Qc2 Bxb3 28.Qxb3 Re6 29.a3 (White cannot afford to allow the black rook to capture the a2 pawn which would then expose his king to a back rank mating attack.) 29…Rae8 30.Qb4 (White tries to keep control of the e1 square but it is useless. Note that 30.Qxb6 loses to 30…Qh3 31.Bxf4 exf4 32.Rxf4 Re1+ 33.Nhf1 Rxf1+ 34.Nxf1 Re1) 30…Rf6 31.Qe4 Ree6 32.Ne2 (See Diagram 2)

(With his next move, Black signals his readiness to simplify into a winning endgame.) 32…Nxe2+ 33.Qxe2 Rxf3 34.Qxf3 Rg6+ 35.Kh1 Rf6 36.Qg3 Qxg3 37.fxg3 Rd6 (Faced with the prospect of losing a fourth pawn to Black, White decided to give up the game.) 0–1

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