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Biel 2019 Rapid: Leko's exemplary endgame play takes Biel by Storm!

by Tanmay Srinath - 22/07/2019

The 2019 edition of the Biel Chess Festival began with the rapid tournament. With all three formats being used to determine the overall winner, the players are egged on to show their versatile bests. Peter Leko turned back the clock with a commanding performance to take the tournament by storm - sole first with 10.0/14! His subtle endgame play granted him 3 wins, which was enough to finish ahead of the top seed Sam Shankland and his nearest competitors Vidit Gujrathi and Parham Maghsoodloo. Jorge Cori sparkled and drowned in equal measure with the prodigious Abdusattorov to finish on 50% while home favourites Georgiadis and Bogner failed to impress. A detailed report from Biel by Tanmay Srinath.

The 2019 Biel International Chess Festival kicked off with the rapid section in the Grandmaster Tournament. The format this year is rather unique - 8 Grandmasters will compete for the top place over a series of 28 games(!) that include 7 classical, 7 rapid and 14 (two way) blitz encounters. The points are awarded as such:


Classical: 3 points for a win; 1 point for a draw; 0 point for a loss

Rapid: 2 points for a win; 1 point for a draw; 0 point for a loss

Blitz: 1 point for a win; ½ point for a draw; 0 point for a loss


With such an intensive schedule, the players will no doubt need to pace themselves, and appropriately decide when to push hard and when to take it a little easy. The field in Biel this year is a mix of youth and experience, led by the 2018 USA Champion Sam Shankland. Former World Championship Challenger Peter Leko makes a comeback to closed tournament play after a long hiatus, and India's No.3 Vidit Santosh Gujarathi will be hoping to get back to winning ways after a couple of average performances in recent times. Current World Junior Champion Parham Maghsoodloo and the one of the youngest GM's in recent times Nodirbek Abdusattorov will be the dark horses in this tournament, along with the fighting Peruvian No.1 Jorge Cori. Nico Georgiadis and Sebastian Bogner add some Swiss flavour to complete the roster.

The participants of the GM tournament | Photo: Biel Chess 2019

Peter Leko is known as one of the most solid players of the game, but what prevented him from winning a lot of major tournaments was his safety first approach. At his best however, he is a beast in the endgame, and the Biel Rapid witnessed his famous squeezes in full flow.


We shall start by looking at a seemingly drawn endgame against Vidit:



These kinds of positions look deceptively simple to play - all Black has to do for counterplay (apparently) is to push his a-pawn as far as it can go and then trade it for one of White's passers (whenever they do arise). However, it sometimes rains from a clear blue sky. In Rapids, what is necessary is a clear plan of action, and I feel that this is something Vidit doesn't have here. The comps do suggest a defense after Ne8!, intending to meet Ra8 with Ke7, but I am not sure the position after Ra7+ Ke6 e4! is holdable with little time on the clock. Vidit chose the far more natural Kg7?!, but it allowed Peter to favourably regroup with Kh3 and Ng3. The important point being that Kh3 cannot be met with Rf2 as Ng3 Rxf3 Kg2 traps the rook as Nf5+ is coming up. A further error then cost Black the game.

Leko then went on to give Uzbek prodigy Abdusattorov a lesson in the art of accumulating small advantages:



White's position looks pretty, but he has no weaknesses to attack and his knights have no good squares. Leko has a clear plan of advancing his f-pawn to create threats on the kingside. He went on to convert in in 37 moves.

His third win was a nice counterattacking game against the mercurial Jorge Cori:



After mutual errors, the players reached the following position. White's only chance for dynamic equilibrium lay in c5! sacrificing a piece, but shutting out the light squared bishop after fxe4 c6. Instead, Cori's move d6? only worsened the situation, and the game was over a move later.

Leko would have had a 4th win if not for some inaccurate play in the endgame against Maghsoodloo:



Peter should have played Qa4! retaining some pressure after Qe8 Qb3! and it is not clear to my eyes how Black should equalise. Instead, his game move Qc3 allowed Parham to slowly unravel and save a crucial point.


With an unbeaten +3, Peter now leads the tournament going into the classical section. With him back to near his best, the chess world is definitely a better place! This hopefully is the catalyst of Peter's return to the 2700 club and the revival of his playing career.

Beware Sam! The old generation is not gone just yet! | Photo: Biel Tournament Page

Sam Shankland didn't quite start sprinting just yet, but some of the positions that he won serve a frightful warning for his fellow competitors:



Nico's last chance of saving the game was Rb6! trying to exchange a pair of rooks. Instead, after Rd3? Sam won a pawn by force after Bxe6! Rxe6 Rcc7 and soon converted.

He then latched on Maghsoodloo's error late into an endgame:


Maghsoodloo - Shankland

White is close to a draw despite the pawn minus, due to both pawns being on the same side of the board. Had Maghsoodloo been precise here with Qd7! he would have been able to defend successfully. Instead, Kh2?? allowed Qe5! with decisive threats, and the game was soon finished in Black's favour.

Despite winning two games, Sam could not catch up with Leko, who won 3. His technique in a few of the draws left a lot to be desired:



With Vidit struggling for form, Shankland should have capitalised here with Bb6! and Qd7, keeping firm control of proceedings. Instead, Sam went for it immediately with Qb4?! and soon had to wriggle out with a piece sacrifice to force the draw.



With Bc6! Sam could have obtained a nearly decisive advantage. The idea is to support the pawn from b7 while preventing the rook from blockading it on the a-file. White should soon win the Bishop for the pawn (Nd3-b4-c6 is just one of the ideas, the other is to run with the king to the queenside) and then the two pieces collect the weak kingside. Bd3?! in the game was far weaker, and allowed Black to save the game.

With 21 games still to go, there is enough time for Sam to get into top gear, but one thing is clear - he isn't the one and only favourite to win the tournament.

Sam's hopes of winning the tournament are well and truly alive, but he will disappointed for not winning the rapid leg. | Photo : Biel Tournament Page

Vidit and Maghsoodloo managed to make it to tied third, while the rest of the participants struggled for consistency. Here are some interesting moments:



Bogner's torrid tournament is something to forget as soon as possible. Here his preparation was mixed up so bad that after the mistaken Bd6? the shot Nxd5! gives White a near decisive advantage. Instead, Be7! maintains a slightly worse, but defensive position.


Cori's oscillations continued with this game. Here he missed the cute shot f6! the point being that after Rxg1 fxe7 Rg2+ Qxg2! he wins an exchange by force after fxg2 Nf6!


It was essential to eliminate the knight with Bxd7! retaining hopes of saving the game. Instead, Nodirbek allowed it to g5 after which it was impossible not to shed material. Cori made no further mistakes in converting.


Bogner played a5??, a seemingly natural move, overlooking the deadly c4! after which the pawn endgame that is forced after Rb4 Rd6+! Ke7 Rb6 is won. Instead, Kf6 was the best way to retain drawing chances.


Nxc6? lost an exchange after Qxc6 Nd4 Bxe2. Instead, a4 maintained a tense position with mutual chances.

Vidit has had a topsy turvy start but recovered towards the end. | Photo: Biel Tournament Page

Bogner - Vidit

Here the complex c6! would have saved the day for Bogner. Instead, the timid Qc2 allowed Vidit to take over with cxb6! and the Indian No.3 never looked back after that.


e2-e4 was played, allowing Black to take en-passant if he wanted to. According to me, Nico should have done so, as his game continuation Bb7 instantly lost an exchange after Bh3! Vidit smoothly converted after that.

Nico must have been short of time in the following crazy position, as he blundered to lose a dynamically balanced position:


Rd7! maintains the balance after subsequent accurate play. Instead, Qxh5, the most natural move in the position, loses instantly after Bxg5 hxg5 Qxe4+!.

Nodirbek pulled back no punches, and finished on a creditable 5/14. | Photo: Biel Tournament Page

The current tournament standings look like this:


1GM Peter Leko7010010
2GM Sam Shankland70909
3GM Parham Maghsoodloo70808
GM Santosh Vidit70808
5GM Jorge Cori70707
6GM Nico Georgiadis70606
7GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov70505
8GM Sebastian Bogner70303

With 21 games to go, the 2019 edition of the Biel Festival promises to be a cracker!

About the Author

Tanmay Srinath is an 18-year-old chess player from Bangalore, Karnataka, currently pursuing both chess and engineering at BMSCE Bangalore. Tanmay is also a Taekwondo Black Belt, who has represented the country in an International Tournament in Thailand. He is a big fan of Mikhail Tal and Vishy Anand, and sincerely believes in doing his bit to Power Chess in India!