Alejandro on Americans in Iceland

The Reykjavik Open is one of the best tournaments in the World, no doubt about that. Held every year in the capital of Iceland, this open has obtained the reputation of being not only one of the strongest events of the year, but also one of the friendliest and with the best environment to play in. Iceland itself is an absolutely beautiful country, with amazing sights, waterfalls, geysers and enough touristic attractions to last several weeks. Indeed, Reykjavik attracts many tourists – up to 1.5 million per year, which is almost five times the population of the entire country! The tournament is held in the Harpa concert hall, a beautiful and spectacular building which oversees the bay. When it is sunny, it is possible to see a wonderful view of the surrounding glaciers and snowed in mountains around Reykjavik. In the windy days, you can see (and hear!) the snowstorms from inside the hall, while sipping on some hot chocolate and playing your game.  
icelandpic1 Photo Lennart Ootes, Official website
With “only” one round a day, the event gives enough time for players to walk and explore Reykjavik, and sometimes even attend certain tourist expeditions. There are a slew of side events, which include soccer, a pub quiz, blitz events, tours to waterfalls and geysers, and even a backgammon tournament! That tournament is certainly amazing as a half tourist, half tournament destination, but if one wants to take the event seriously, it is also one of the strongest events of the year. The starting list saw some incredibly strong players at the top: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Dmitry Andreikin, Richard Rapport, Gabriel Sargissian, Ivan Cheparinov, only to name a few. For this reason, many Americans attended the tournament, to face against some of the best players in the World. Some did it seeking norms, others did it for fun, while we even had two people do it as preparation for the upcoming U.S. Championship! iclenadpic2alejo You can find more information on the tournament on the official website or on the reports at, but here I would like to focus on the performance of the Americans that went to Iceland. Fourteen players participated in the Reykjavik Open under the American flag. I am unfortunately not familiar with a few, and since they didn't make it to the DGT boards it is hard to report on their performance, but I hope that Walter Driscoll, Christopher Baumgartner, Lawrence Cohen, Michael Murray, Tom Riccardi and Robert Fischer (!) had a great time in Reykjavik!  
pic3Icelan Peter Giannatos, Photo Lennart Ootes for official website
Peter Giannatos is the person in charge of the Charlotte Chess Club, a venture that is definitely picking up steam and that has GM Ben Finegold overlooking the upbringing of new chess players in the area quite consistently. Trying to get a taste of European chess, Peter traveled not only to this tournament but also to the rapid tournament in Riga which preceded the Reykjavik Open. Not only did Peter get a good taste for international chess, but he also won a whopping 30 rating points! That is not a small feat, by any means.
pic4iceland Peter Giannatos (Finnish hat) and this author overlooking Tatev's superior position against a 2600 GM. Photo Lennart Ootes for official website
Following in rating order, Tatev Abrahamyan is one of the participants in the upcoming U.S. Women's Championship. After a rocky year, it seems that Tatev has finally found some stable ground. Her performance in Reykjavik was superb, winning 22 rating points and playing against some very high rated opponents. She was winning in several of her games, including against near 2600 GM Danyyil Dvirnyy, but her cleanest performance was in the last round against Italian WGM Maria Brunello:
pic5iceland Tatev and Alejandro, Photo Lennart Ootes for official website

[Event "Reykjavik Open 2016"]
[Site "Reykjavik, "]
[Date "2016.03.16"]
[White "Abrahamyan, Tatev"]
[Black "Brunello, Marina"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A00"]
[WhiteElo "2324"]
[BlackElo "2363"]
[PlyCount "99"]
[EventDate "2016.03.08"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. f3 e5 7. Nb3 Be7 8. Be3
Be6 9. Qd2 O-O 10. O-O-O a5 11. a4 Nc6 12. g4 Nb4 13. Kb1 Rc8 14. g5 Nh5 15.
Rg1 f5 16. gxf6 Rxf6 17. Bg5 Rf7 18. Bxe7 Qxe7 19. Qxd6 Qf6 20. Nc5 Nf4 21.
Nxe6 Nxe6 22. Bh3 Re8 23. Nb5 Nc6 24. Bxe6 Qxe6 25. Qxe6 Rxe6 26. Rd3 Rh6 27.
Nd6 Rc7 28. Rg2 Rh3 29. Rc3 Rd7 30. Nxb7 Nb4 31. Rc8+ Kf7 32. Nd8+ Kf6 33. b3
Rxf3 34. Nc6 Re3 35. Rf2+ Kg5 36. Nxb4 axb4 37. Rc4 Rd4 38. Rf5+ Kg4 39. Rxd4
exd4 40. Rb5 Rxe4 41. Rxb4 g5 42. a5 Kh3 43. a6 Re8 44. a7 Ra8 45. Rb7 h5 46.
Rh7 h4 47. b4 Kxh2 48. b5 h3 49. b6 Kg2 50. Rh5 1-0[/pgn]
Konstantin Kavutskiy has been a friendly face in tournaments all around America, and it is good to see him try his luck in European events. In fact, he made a small tour around Europe trying to search for his IM norms, but was always a bit shy of actually obtaining them. His performance in Reykjavik was ok, but he ended up losing just a few rating points in the end.
pic6iceland Awonder Liang, Photo Lennart Ootes for official website
Now come a string of success stories, starting with Awonder Liang Young Awonder went with his father, and had a very solid performance. He was only defeated twice, once by the tournament winner, Abhijeet Gupta and once by super-GM Sergei Movsesian. I chose his game against Gupta to annotate and show, because I think it was one of the key games of the tournament (not just for Awonder, but as a whole) and because it was such a learning experience. But with a 2445 rating performance, a win over GM Henrik Danielsen and drawing two 2500s, the tournament was certainly a success for this young prodigy.

[Event "Reykjavik Open"]
[Site "Reykjavik, Iceland"]
[Date "2016.03.09"]
[White "Liang, Awonder"]
[Black "Gupta, Abhijeet"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B67"]
[WhiteElo "2405"]
[BlackElo "2634"]
[PlyCount "80"]
[EventDate "2016.??.??"]
[WhiteClock "0:01:13"]
[BlackClock "0:30:58"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bg5 e6 7. Qd2 a6 8.
O-O-O Bd7 9. f4 b5 10. Bxf6 gxf6 11. Kb1 Qb6 12. Nf3 b4 13. Ne2 a5 14. f5 e5
15. Ng3 h5 16. Qd5 Rc8 17. Bb5 Qc7 18. Bc4 Nd8 19. b3 Ke7 20. Qd3 Nb7 21. Qe2
Nc5 22. Nd2 h4 {A very complicated position, hard to say typical of the Rauzer
Sicilian, but you can definitely see that the structure stems from this
opening. Black has positional problems, such as his king on e7 and a hole on
d5, but he hopes activity will compensate for it.} 23. Ngf1 (23. Nh5 Bh6 24. g4
Bc6 $17) 23... Bh6 24. Ne3 Bxe3 25. Qxe3 a4 26. g4 axb3 27. cxb3 Ra8 {An
invitation for Awonder to go for it... the American is not shy, but maybe he
should have excercised some restraint.} 28. g5 $2 (28. a4 $1 bxa3 (28... Bxa4
$1 29. bxa4 Nxa4 30. Bb3 $5 {with still a crazy position.} (30. Rc1 Nc3+ 31.
Rxc3 bxc3 32. Qxc3 $13)) 29. g5 {and black has no attack down the a-file.})
28... Qa7 29. gxf6+ Kxf6 $1 {Going forward with the king! One tempo or one
check separates black from life or death} 30. Rhg1 Rh5 31. a4 Nxa4 32. Qf3 (32.
Qxa7 Nc3+ 33. Kc2 Rxa7 {leaves Black up a pawn.}) 32... Nc5 $1 33. Kc2 (33.
Qxh5 Qa1+ 34. Kc2 Ra2#) 33... Qa2+ 34. Kc1 Rc8 $1 {Very nice move, and
probably what Awonder missed.} (34... Rh7 35. Qe3 $13) 35. Rg6+ {sheer
desperation.} (35. Qxh5 Nd3#) (35. Rdf1 Nxb3+ 36. Qxb3 Qxb3 37. Nxb3 Rxc4+ 38.
Kb2 Rxe4) 35... fxg6 36. fxg6+ Rf5 $1 37. exf5 Bxf5 {White is getting mated.}
38. Ne4+ Nxe4 39. g7 Qa3+ 40. Kc2 Rxc4+ 0-1[/pgn]
Justin Sarkar also had a brilliant showing in Reykjavik. Despite his slow start with 1.5/2, he bounced back in an incredible way. He lost to Mamedyarov in round four, but he won three straight after that, including a win against Danyyil Dvirnyy. After losing to Sargissian in round eight he bounced back yet again with a strong win against GM Hannes Stefansson. A win in the last round would have given Justin a GM norm, but he lost to the talent Aryan Tari and will have to be content with taking home 12 rating points. Not bad at all! Another excellent performance was done by Marc Esserman. Seeking his GM title, Marc was definitely on fire in Iceland. He played against five grandmasters, including 2700 prodigy Richard Rapport and veteran Alexander Beliavsky, and only dropped a full point against Sergey Grigoriants from Russia. Marc was certainly en route to a GM norm and showed excellent chess. His game against Rapport was certainly hard for me to understand, but seemed to be in style for both of these players!
pic7iceland Marc Esserman, Photo Lennart Ootes for official site

[Event "Reykjavik Open"]
[Site "Reykjavik, Iceland"]
[Date "2016.03.09"]
[White "Rapport, Richard"]
[Black "Esserman, Marc"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A06"]
[WhiteElo "2720"]
[BlackElo "2458"]
[PlyCount "94"]
[EventDate "2016.??.??"]
[WhiteClock "0:54:47"]
[BlackClock "0:29:01"]

1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 c5 4. O-O g6 5. c4 d4 6. e3 Bg7 7. exd4 cxd4 8. d3
Nc6 9. Re1 O-O 10. a3 a5 11. Nbd2 Nd7 12. b3 Nc5 13. Ne4 Nxe4 14. Rxe4 Bf5 15.
Rh4 f6 16. Rf4 Qd7 17. Nh4 Bh3 18. Bxh3 Qxh3 19. Nf3 e5 20. Rh4 Qd7 21. Bh6
Bxh6 22. Rxh6 Qg7 23. Rh4 Rae8 24. b4 axb4 25. axb4 Nxb4 26. Qd2 Nc6 27. Re1 g5
28. Rhe4 f5 29. R4e2 h6 30. Qb2 Re7 31. Qb5 Rfe8 32. Nd2 Qf7 33. f3 Kg7 34. Nb3
Qh5 35. Rf2 Qg6 36. Nc5 Na7 37. Qb4 Qd6 38. Rb2 Qc6 39. Nxb7 Nc8 40. Rf1 e4 41.
fxe4 fxe4 42. dxe4 Qxe4 43. Nd6 Nxd6 44. Qxd6 Qe3+ 45. Kg2 Qe4+ 46. Kg1 Qe3+
47. Kg2 Qe4+ 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
Alexander Shabalov used this opportunity to practice for the upcoming U.S. Championship. He had a good showing, and had several strong grandmasters against the ropes. He won some rating and overall had a good tournament, but I think he will want to do even better in the U.S. Championship. It seemed to me as if he wasn't showing his real openings, saving them for the upcoming event in April, but even then he managed to obtain near winning positions against Cheparinov and Agdestein.

[Event "Reykjavik Open"]
[Site "Reykjavik, Iceland"]
[Date "2016.03.11"]
[White "Agdestein, Simen"]
[Black "Shabalov, Alexander"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "D20"]
[WhiteElo "2610"]
[BlackElo "2520"]
[PlyCount "137"]
[EventDate "2016.??.??"]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e3 Nf6 4. Bxc4 e6 5. Nf3 a6 6. O-O c5 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8.
Qxd8+ Kxd8 9. Nbd2 Ke7 10. Be2 Bd7 11. a3 Rc8 12. b4 Ba7 13. Bb2 Ba4 14. Rfc1
Nbd7 15. Kf1 g6 16. Nc4 Ne4 17. Bd3 f5 18. Ke1 Bc6 19. Nfe5 Nxe5 20. Bxe5 Rd8
21. Be2 Rac8 22. f3 Nf6 23. Bf4 Bd5 24. a4 Nh5 25. Bg5+ Nf6 26. h3 Rd7 27. Nd2
Rxc1+ 28. Rxc1 e5 29. Rc8 Bb6 30. Bc4 Ke6 31. Ke2 Bd8 32. Nb3 Be7 33. b5 Bxc4+
34. Rxc4 axb5 35. axb5 Rd5 36. Bxf6 Kxf6 37. Nc1 Rxb5 38. Nd3 Ra5 39. Rc7 Rb5
40. g4 Ke6 41. gxf5+ gxf5 42. e4 f4 43. Rc8 Kf6 44. Rh8 Kg7 45. Re8 Bf6 46. Rc8
Kg6 47. Rc5 Rxc5 48. Nxc5 b5 49. Nd3 Bg7 50. Ke1 Kg5 51. Kf1 Kf6 52. Ke2 Bf8
53. Ke1 Bd6 54. Ke2 Ba3 55. Ke1 b4 56. Nc5 Ke7 57. Kd2 Kd6 58. Nb3 Kc6 59. Kc2
Kb5 60. h4 h5 61. Nd2 Kc5 62. Nb3+ Kc4 63. Na5+ Kd4 64. Nc6+ Ke3 65. Nxe5 b3+
66. Kxb3 Be7 67. Ng6 Bd8 68. Kc4 Kxf3 69. Kd3 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
shabalovcheparinoviceland Shabalov vs. Cheparinov, Photo Lennart Ootes
Last but probably not least is myself. I entered the tournament as the highest rated American, and ended up scoring as many points as Shabalov and Esserman, but lost one rating point. I had a great time in Reykjavik, and my tournament was going well after the fifth round when I drew super-GM Gabriel Sargissian with black, but after losing to Tania Sachdev (who was absolutely on fire, scoring a GM norm and winning best woman's prize), I had trouble bouncing back.
AlejandroPic8 GM Alejandro Ramirez, Photo Lennart Ootes
The trip also served for me as a recruitment center for potential Saint Louis University students. SLU will be starting with its elite chess program this Fall, one of the participants of this event will be joining as us a student this year! Overall I cannot recommend participating in the Reykjavik Open enough. The tournament is, for European standards, a stone throw away from New York, it is extremely friendly and very strong. I hope that more Americans show up to Iceland next year, and that we have as strong of a showing as we did this year! GM Alejandro Ramirez is currently one of the hosts of"> Today in Chess, filmed at the STL Chess Club. 

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