Biel 2019 Rapid: Leko's exemplary endgame play takes Biel by Storm!
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.
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:
His third win was a nice counterattacking game against the mercurial Jorge Cori:
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.
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:
He then latched on Maghsoodloo's error late into an endgame:
Maghsoodloo - Shankland
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 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.
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 - Vidit
Nico must have been short of time in the following crazy position, as he blundered to lose a dynamically balanced position:
The current tournament standings look like this:
|1||GM Peter Leko||7||0||10||0||10|
|2||GM Sam Shankland||7||0||9||0||9|
|3||GM Parham Maghsoodloo||7||0||8||0||8|
|GM Santosh Vidit||7||0||8||0||8|
|5||GM Jorge Cori||7||0||7||0||7|
|6||GM Nico Georgiadis||7||0||6||0||6|
|7||GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov||7||0||5||0||5|
|8||GM Sebastian Bogner||7||0||3||0||3|
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!