The Groningen Chess Festival has not been a successful event for me. The start was very
promising with 4 out of 4, but after the rest day on the 25th of December, I more or less gassed out and managed to score only 1,5 out of 5.
Still, it is always great to play this tournament because it has a long tradition and is well organized. Moreover, the Christmas holidays make for a great atmosphere and the
‘Afterchess’-events, usually every evening in the famous cafe Hooghoudt are a great addition. The Afterchess included a Blitz tournament on the 23rd of December, followed by a
Fischer-random tournament a couple of days later, both with small money prizes. Also, the other evenings saw interesting alternatives like the popular ‘hands and brains’ and a mellow version of bughouse. It should be mentioned that these after chess events are dangerous to anyone who wants to seriously compete for the first prize in the main tournament since the beers at the cafe are really very good! This makes it very difficult (if not entirely impossible!)
to leave in time for some much-needed sleep as so to be 100% fresh for the next round game in the tournament.
Despite a poor result, there were a couple of games that I played which I enjoyed a lot. My tournament started with two very shaky games and frankly, I had already come to terms that I
would lose my game against Mighiel de Jong, as his attack seemed absolutely crushing. My opponent didn’t continue his strong play and after 40 moves I suddenly had a winning endgame on the board. Apparently good fortune does not always favor the bold. In the next round I won a good game with Mikhail Ulybin:
My opponent, despite being rated only 2453, is a strong player but with one major weakness: he always ends up in terrible time-trouble. In fact, I have the feeling he is simply waiting for time-trouble to happen; in our game, it took him five minutes to make the first move, followed by another two minutes think for the second, and this routine I saw him repeat in several other games in the tournament. Precious time down the drain that was needed to solve the problems in the position in the diagram after 34 moves. Black is probably slightly better but white’s position is far from terrible. Look what happened next:
35.Nh3?? played with just a couple of seconds on the clock.
35.e6 was necessary. After the next move white is losing material.
White cannot parry both …Rxc3 and …Rxg3+ (the f2-pawn is pinned!)
38.Qc8+ Re8 White resigned.
My opponent recovered from this loss quite well and managed to beat a couple of top seeds to finish on 6,5 out of 9.
My best game I played in round 4 against the dangerous Thomas Beerdsen:
A Catalan came on the board and black quickly came under a lot of pressure. This is the position after 23…Rfd8? Which apparently was the losing move. The required was 23…Qc5! (good luck with that one!) and black stays in the game. At the moment Black is threatening 24…Bf8 so the sacrifice on g6 is now forced, but is it also winning?!
30.Bd2! This is an important resource. Black is forced to sacrifice back some material but white’s attack remains strong even though it is difficult to see how white will bring extra pieces to the attack.
The position looks rather unclear, but after
36.Rxd8 Bxd8 37.Rb8!
Black somewhat remarkably is defenseless against the threats. If the bishop on d8 moves then Qh7+ decides and after the move played in the game
37…Qd5 There follows:
40.Qg7+ Ke8 41.h4 Black is out of constructive ideas and the h-pawn decided the game.
The tournament continued on the 26th of December. My game with Nicolas Lubbe, who was also on 4 out of 4, was a hard-fought draw. In round 6 I lost from a better position with Alexander Fier. His exchange sacrifice was maybe not entirely correct but I thought it was also very brave.
This is the position after 22.Bh6. In a Grunfeld Indian defense, Black is trying to make progress on the Queenside where white has a couple of weak pawns and black has the potential to create a strong passed pawn. White in the meantime has copied AlphaZero with the h2-h4-h5 plan. That plan often continues with h5-h6 at some point but I was already not entirely happy with what I was doing so I went for a repetition which I thought was more or less forced:
22… Bg7 23.Bf4 Be5 24.Bh6 b4!?!
Usually, I am a fan of such exchange sacrifices but this one I simply couldn’t believe. I took the exchange but played inaccurately after, trying to find a forced win, missed another draw and in the end a miserable zero was on my scoresheet. That loss I followed up in style with another one against Shant Sargsyan, who admittedly is a very strong player, but it would have been good to put up at least a bit of a fight. My win in round eight against Nico Zwirs brought me back in contention for a good prize but unfortunately, I saved the worst for last: my choice to play the Dutch Defense against Artur Davtyan was a poor one. I simply lacked any understanding of the opening and after 15 moves I was already looking at a strategically hopeless position.
The position after my first mistake 1…f5?
Instead of 1…f5 black has a bunch of good moves available. 1..d5 is decent. Another good choice would have been 1…Nf6. Probably some other moves are playable as well but risky. 1…f5, on the other hand, is definitely too much.
So chess wise the tournament was slightly disappointing for me, but for the rest, it was a great end of the year. The tournament was won by Dutch IM (most likely soon GM) Liam Vrolijk, who edged out Hagen Poetch from Germany on tie-breaks; congratulations to both! I wish all readers the best for the next decade and who knows we will meet on the chessboard soon again! 🙂