''My games were pretty simple and straightforward- the way I like them to be…''
Anish on Spanish Club Championship 2012

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The team
I must be honest that I already started to miss those days when I was happy to look at the tournament table. At a very unexpected moment (right after my first school exam period was finished), our Spanish team won the National title and I managed to contribute on board three, with a sweet score of 5 out of 6.

This year's Spanish team competition, or as they say the Honor Division, took place in León, a beautiful city, famous in the chess world for the yearly world top class event- Magistral de León. I was looking forward to the tournament for the various reasons, as not only was I eager to show a good result (or at least just play chess!), but also due to my gastronomical preferences (I speak of jamón and Spanish fresh orange juice- I advise!).

Anyway, let's start about chess, as that's what the tournament was about. Our team, Sestao Naturgas (from the city close to Bilbao) was clearly the favorite this year, with Dominguez, Vachier-Lagrave, Romain Edouard and Laurent Fressinet (the new player in the team, who was asked to complete the French trio for this season) and the Spanish players- Del Rio Angelis, Alfonso Romero, Mario Gomez and the fierce supporter Sergio Trigo. Our last year's nemesis Gros Xake Taldea lost some of its strength once Alexei Shirov left Spain, but still there were enough rivals for us and we never expected an easy life.

In team competition it's often important to have a strong leader and Leinier was one, beating a player after player with all kinds of colors. Already last year I noticed that Leinier was in the excellent shape in Spain and was always ordering the best looking deserts at the long Spanish dinners. This year I tried to follow him in some way, taking the same deserts and getting 1.e4 openings in every game with white and Grunfeld with black (OK, the last two might have been a coincidence). The rest of the players had solid tournaments, hardly losing a game and as you know, without losing a game it's hard to lose a match and without losing a match it's hard not to win the tournament and so at the end it seemed very smooth and easy.

First rounds and old friends
My games were pretty simple and straightforward- the way I like them to be (though unfortunately it only happens that way when luck is on my side…). Somehow once it goes well, all the positions suit you and all the moves are asking to be played and variations scream out to be calculated.

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The first game we were paired against Linex Magic and so I had to play Svetushkin with white. One of my teammates, with a smile, suggested that I should mate him. I didn't really take it seriously, but still opted for 1.e4. I considered it a good chance that my opponent was ready to meet the Scotch, since I played two games against David Navara with it (it is a quite funny coincidence, I had two Scotches with Navara and two Italians with Bacrot, while I never played those openings otherwise). Svetushkin, however, wasn't ready to meet the topical system with Nb3 against the Bc5 scotch and very quickly I got an upperhand and a pleasant position. I remember recently someone asked me what my favorite position is. I said, the position where I can play Kh1 and Re1, Bf1. Besides, substituting Kh1 to Kb1 I hardly deviated from my usual plan and pretty soon it became clear that Black's position is pretty hopeless against a straightforward attack.

Next match we played against Reverté Albox, a team with my Bundesliga teammate Mikheil Mchedlishvili and guys from Saint-Petersburg, whom I actually knew pretty well from the days when we still used to live there.

I had to play Sergei Ivanov, a solid grandmaster, who once delivered a lecture for kids in our chess club in St. Petersburg (my first club) on Winaver variation. I can't recall if I played the line already at that time or whether it happened after that lecture. Either way I couldn't continue the theoretical debate in that opening since I was playing with the black pieces. I was surprised to see that recently my opponent switched from Rb1 Grunfeld to a line that is the same, just a tempo down. I saw no reasons not to enter it, even though I knew it would allow a forced draw and I was full of fighting spirit that day. In fact, my opponent had the position twice and both times he played the 'critical' d5. In effect the line is quite harmless for black (I must be honest, I considered it close to be better for black after some extensive analysis) and so the move repetition didn't come as a big shock. Well, as one famous player once told me after a while of silence.. "Draw? Draw!".

The Latinos
Anyway I was up to my third game after we won our second match quite smoothly too, even though I was kindly offered a rest day and a potential, rather seductive 'white' the day after. Sometimes there are some nuances which are more important than the color of the pieces that you will play with (I know many chess players would argue with me) and especially after such short game I was a bit concerned that one more rest day will just get me totally out of the tournament. Our opponents were the team called Equigoma Caja Social Catolica which was made up of Latin Americans (Iturrizaga on board one).

My opponent, Kovalyov Anton, is as Latino as I am Dutch, so I felt it would be an equal fight. I saw no reason not to play another Grunfeld and in fact his Anti-Grunfeld attempt with 1.c4 didn't work after 1...g6! , thus we entered the main Grunfeld and Anton, as expected quickly deviated from the main paths. The good thing about such sharp opening is that once white tries to avoid everything, he will actually end up in more trouble than in any of the main lines. My opponent got me all furious with his opening moves (e3, followed by ignoring poor bishop on f1 with Rd1 and especially Qa3 was more than I could handle) and I think steam was coming out of me already by move 10. With all that steam I managed to come up with a very strong 10...a5!, and got the initiative and the advantage. My opponent stayed pretty cold, took the pawn and pretended as if nothing is going on. Then, even though it was clear to all of us that my position is better, I never really saw the way to materialize my advantage into something. In fact later, when analyzing this fascinating game, I found quite a few attractive ways to play for black. Nevertheless, I wasn't too unhappy with my game, even though when signing under 1/2-1/2 I felt a bit cheated.

Kovalyov A. - Giri A. (click arrows to view the analysis)

After such a nice warm up I got a rest day and was a bit disappointed to realize that my next opponent Christian Bauer from Gros Xake Taldea is way too unpredictable to make any real use of the day. Well, I had a nice day, trying to stay away from Chessbase software and unsuccessful attempts to prepare for the next game. That day, we played another team which was considerably weaker than us, Foment Martinenc, and we managed to beat them as well.

Few lucky wins!
Our match with Gros went pretty smooth. Somehow all the games quickly evaporated into draws and all we were left with were two endgames in which both, me and Lenier, were clearly dominating.

Unlike Lenier's Berlin, my game started with a sharp Taimanov, after a rare transposition- 1.d4 e6 (are you sure not e4?) 2. Nf3 (yes, I am sure) c5! (are you?) 3. e4 (ok, no!). In fact, I was happy to play against Taimanov variation, since I spent quite a while trying to get it to work again (I won a few nice games with it somewhere in the year 2009, but since then I started to drift away from it).
Christian played a rare, but interesting and popular system. I happily remembered having a brief look at it and finding a nice and simple antidote. We got into the French structure quickly, but after a while things started to seem way less clear than on the computer screen. Nevertheless, I managed to get what I wanted, after we both missed a screaming opportunity for black and got a pleasant endgame. I was pretty happy with the way the endgame went, but on the other hand it was again that Kh1, Re1, Bf1 kind of position and so things weren't that difficult. Probably my opponent could have defended better somewhere, but when I saw him breathing out heavily at some point once I stood up from my board, I realized he was not having any fun with it and neither would anyone else in his place.

Giri A. - Bauer C. (click arrows to view the analysis)

Already at this point it became absolutely clear that nothing can stop our team this year and I was also very happy with my individual performance, playing some interesting games and scoring some points.

My next game I thought would be my toughest in the tournament as I had the black pieces against a very well-prepared and dangerous opponent, Ganguly. And, indeed, he decided to check me in the main-line of Grunfeld. I thought it was a bit rude for him to enter the very main-line and I made my best efforts to remember my pretty careful analysis and leave him no hopes. I managed to remember the easy solution that we had on white's positional effort with Rb1 and knight maneuver to d2 via d4-b5-d4-b3. The position we got seemed as equal as it seemed during my preparation. In fact, I was thinking that the draw would be agreed soon, but at some point I noticed that actually during the last two moves the situation changed from ultra-symbolically better for my opponent to ultra-symbolically better for me. Ganguly decided to liquidate into a drawn, but slightly unpleasant rook endgame.
I obviously turned down his draw offer, even though I didn't really have any illusions as the position was just too drawish. Since that point I played pretty quick as there was not that much for me to do. I exchanged a rook, pushed some pawns, exchanged some of them and tried to pretend that I was actually trying, moving my king up and down. After one more attempt to push my king forward I noticed that Surya started to hesitate. Probably just out of stubbornness he decided not to let my king cross the d-file and made a waiting move with the king, instead of the rook. This allowed e4! which Surya, in effect, blundered and very surprisingly the position suddenly became totally lost even though we both had just a pair of pawns left.

Ganguly S. - Giri A. (click arrows to view the analysis)

This point was too much, but on the other hand, as I defended myself against complaining Laurent Fressinet (who these days is called "François" by his French colleagues, for some mysterious reason), "It wasn't my fault". We drew that match and our rivals were already left far behind.

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The sweet victory
The next game was starting 7 hours earlier than usual (to say 10 AM wouldn't reflect the situation to its full extent) and so my only hope was that my Spanish opponent, Cuenca Jimenez, would take it even more painfully than I did. This time I really tried not to play 1.e4, but eventually it was anyway Maroczy Dragon that we ended up in (I tried my best, I promise, 1.nf3, 2.c4..). I tried to surprise my opponent with Bf2!? which is very clever in case black tries the usual plan of Qb6 Rfc8 Qd8. My opponent, however, replied very interestingly with Be5 and e6 which is a known plan, but a better version for him with my bishop on f2. To put it shortly, the game remained balanced till the point when my opponent started to make pretty average-to-bad moves after I sacrificed my exchange. It all wasn't however as simple as it sounds, since I was close to blunder throughout the game, starting with missing Bxe4! trick twice in the opening and some perpetual in the endgame.
Fortunately, as I already mentioned, I was lucky enough to spot the blunders on time and stayed unpunished for showing up behind the chess board so early.

With 5/6, I was a bit sad about the tournament being already over, but then again, too greedy is also not good.
It felt great to be a part of such sweet victory by our very nice team. Somehow things worked out perfectly with the players being in shape and an excellent team spirit and atmosphere throughout the tournament.

On the last day, me and the French trio travelled to Bilbao and finished the league with the usual: chess politics discussion in French and jamón in Spanish.