''I do hope that the good old saying ''the way you meet the year is the way you spend it'' will turn out to be more than just a saying.''
Anish on Reggio Emilia with his game annotations
The remarkable thing about the tournament is that it takes place in two years, with first half ending the 2011 and second starting 2012. Those, who truly love chess and believe the saying that 'the way you meet the year is the way you spend it' is true, should definitely accept the invitation, and so I did.
The town was lovely, even though not of Amsterdam-London-Paris caliber, and thanks to some old churches, shops and mainly the spectacular colorful fountain in the centre of the city, the walks were never without inspiration. Before continuing with the chess-part of my tournament I would like to thank the organizers and players for contributing to the perfectly organized and spectacular event full of fighting chess and cozy dinners. The first few days I was sent to explore the land, so that my family that joins later (on 30th, round 4) will have a steady ground to stand on, upon their arrival. Not only haven't I performed my duty as the explorer very well, neither did I manage to produce a single win in my first four rounds and my score was rather dull, just 1/4.
The beginning was very exciting with an interesting game against Ivanchuk. Though the whole sequence of Bxf7+ followed by Ne6-c7-xa8 might seem very random, I did have a look at it during my preparations. On the first sight position looked promising for Black, but by exchanging queens Ivanchuk made it clear that it's only him who is playing for the advantage. Somehow I escaped and we both weren't sure whether I stood bad at any point, but it does seem that he has missed few opportunities indeed.
My second game, the first with the white pieces, just went all against me, first I got surprised by the opening choice of Alexander Morozevich, who picked Slav and then we got a complex position which I at first overestimated. When I realized the hidden danger that the position contained, it was just too late and with strong move Qd7!, f6!, e5! I quickly ended up in a disgusting position. My hopes to confuse Alexander with Rxa5?? were ridiculous, but the stronger exd4 would not have been much fun either.
I obviously was sneakily hoping to recover already in my next game, when I was playing against Nikita Vitiugov who was also in minus already. The Grunfeld seemed like a fine choice, especially when I got my preparation on board, and nearly an hour as a bonus. Nikita did use his time wisely, however, and managed to get a safe position. I did manage to push for a while, but after few strong moves in the time trouble phase Nikita held the draw convincingly. My second white game, this time against Hikaru, was another disaster. I reached a big strategical advantage in the main-line of the King's Indian, but then again misunderstood the position and on top of it blundered a 2 move variation Bxc5+ followed by Qd4+. I tried to fight on, but it wasn't meant to be.
Being already on minus 2 (and having support of my family), I tried to concentrate and just play well again Fabiano. The sideline of Petroff seemed rather dull and I was expecting a quick draw, as I had done my homework well. Fabiano however had different ideas in mind and after the rather unattractive Nb3 we got a complex game. My position always seemed healthy, especially after I choose the ambitious plan to put my knight on c6 and support the one on e4 with f5!?. It paid off as Fabiano started playing very passively and unconfidently and ended up in a poor position pretty quickly. Just when I played h6 I started blaming myself for not seeing Nxf2! trick, but to my relief there was no defense anyway and on the next move I got the opportunity to sacrifice the poor knight after all and score the first win.
Caruana-Giri (click arrows to follow the game)
It was certainly nice to win a game after such bad start, especially as it was a nice way to conclude the year.
The New Year celebrations were lots of fun, as they are supposed to be. We spent the evening in a cozy restaurant with my family, organizers and the players. Pictures have been made, cakes have been eaten and what not.
I was in a positive mood going into the second half of the tournament, still remembering how the last year ended, but having white pieces I decided to be overcautious. The variation that Ivanchuk chose suited me well, as I got a boring and safe endgame very quickly. I wasn't very optimistic at first, but it was not the day of Vassily Mikhailovich and after few inexplicable errors (mainly h5??) I got the big upper hand and the winning plan was just too natural.
Getting back on 50% was more than nice, but with Hikaru still going strong (having huge plus), I had no thoughts of showing any ambitions. As a result, my next game, against Morozevich, I decided to play safe and even though the position we got with QGD got pretty sharp, neither of us wanted to take too much risks. I did expect that Alexander would deviate from the move repetition, but having pressed too hard the game before he probably wasn't intending to experiment again.
I felt very fine going into the 8th round and I decided to try the king's pawn this time. Vitiugov surprised me with his Kann. While I was aware of the latest developments, I suddenly remembered an old weapon that I had seen and quickly analyzed a year or two back. Nikita didn't trust me and decided to go for the most critical continuation. As a result we got a crazy position with Black being on a defensive side, unable to solve his problems with the king stuck on e8 and my bishop on d6 leaving it no hope to ever castle. I was worrying that I may not have enough resources, but once I spotted c4! and f5! I got my optimism back and Nikita cracked under the pressure, taking on f5 and letting me win the exchange back achieving a free advantage. Later he did have better ways (mainly that after a5+ he could play Ka7! instead of Kc7?, with idea Qf2+ Ka8! Qb6 c5!), but in time trouble we both missed the resource and the game ended well for me.
Giri-Vitiugov (click arrows to follow the game)
As the leaders started losing to each other I suddenly wasn't on a very bad position in the tournament and I did have a small hope that Hikaru will give me some chance, even though I had the black pieces. My choice of Petroff turned out to be excellent, speaking in hindsight, as Hikaru first tried to show some ambition and then changed his mind and offered a draw. Such changes are rarely good and even though my position wasn't any better at that point I refused the draw and as it often is, the game became by definition one sided. After few inaccuracies from the white side I had an opportunity to win a pawn with Nxc3!, but being scared of my knight getting stuck in there after Bd2! I decided not to enter the complications. The line continues with d4! Rxe8 Rxe8 Re1 Rd8! now I was even worried about Re5!? Bxe5 fxe Rd5! and though I did think Black should be fine, I had huge doubts about the future of my knight on c3. After hesitating for a long time I choose the safe option, which would be strong too, if not for a fascinating resource that we both missed- Bd4!! which he could play after Qb5, as the intended Na4? fails to a truly brilliant b3! Nxc3 Bxf6!! Nxd1 Reg1! and White just mates. After Hikaru missed this opportunity, I was already evidently pressing and even though he could have certainly put up a better resistance the direction of the traffic was already clear.
This win had suddenly brought me on the first position, together with Hikaru and Morozevich and having white pieces in the last round I was full of optimism.
My opponent in the last round, Fabiano, had also started winning the games by the end of the tournament, so it was clear that the game would be a tough one. Opening with 1.c4 I was ready to play chess without heavy opening battles and as expected we quickly got on an unexplored territory, both having no clue, obviously. His idea Be6 Nd5 Bd7!? seemed strong, but taking on d5 felt too early to me, and after d4! I got a pleasant edge. His position was nevertheless solid and fearing the time trouble I decided to keep it safe with e4!?. After strong c5!, which I had expected, the position suddenly seemed too drawish to me and being under some pressure I decided to call it a day and offered a draw rather impulsively. One of the reasons was that at the end, instead of my final move Rd4 I almost played f4? which fails to f5! and after noticing this trick I just decided that we had played enough. The final position is more than unpleasant for Black, who is simply risking to lose his weak d-pawn, as I have a very strong plan of tripling followed by f3! (idea I had underestimated for esthetic reasons), h4! and Bh3!.
And so it happened that at the end my +2 score was enough for an unshared victory something that probably nobody had expected. The rest of the evening was spent in pure happiness, as you can imagine and I was delighted to have received a beautiful trophy that will now proudly stand in the middle of my trophy-closet.
Now another big event, Wijk aan Zee, is about to start and the chess year will go on, with a lot more events to follow, and I do hope that the good old saying ''the way you meet the year is the way you spend it'' will turn out to be more than just a saying.