"…there was not that much hope that we would catch them, or at least that was the feeling I had…"
Anish on Spanish league "Division de Honor" with the game annotations.

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Spanish paradise of chess
This year again, I was back in Spain to help my team Sestao fight for the highest spots in the National Team Championship, with the classy name Division de Honor. Just like last year, we were amongst the clear favourites, having some players from the very top, Dominguez and Vachier Lagrave, both being on a good wave lately, and a very solid tail including Romain Edouard, Salgado Lopez, Alfonso Romero and Gabriel Del Rio.

Compared to last year, we were playing without Fressinet, AKA-'François', if you remember, but in return we got an extra strong Spanish board, as Salgado Lopez, who right before the event turned Spanish champion, joined our team.

The location of the tournament, was the legendary chess city of Linares, which this year for a whole month was a Spanish paradise of chess, hosting various events, such as the above mentioned Individual Spanish championship and many many others (in one of them my girlfriend shared first place- yeah, yeah!).

There were no surprises, the game was starting at 17:00 and the last one at 9:30 (definitely clinching some record for the biggest difference in the starting time), the plate of jamon was always there when needed and so the league was as always- great.

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A smooth first round and the second with ''Magic''
In the very first round we were paired with our main rival of the previous years- another Basque team, "Gros". Somehow this year the match went very smooth for us. Our first three boards were pretty unfortunate, Dominguez couldn't put any pressure with white on Bacrot, Vachier Lagrave didn't use his chances in the opening against Van Wely and myself I had a very disappointing game as well against Arkadij Naiditsch, a very high rated German player. In this game I picked up an old bad habit that I still can't get rid of (despite numerous efforts), I went for the Petroff defense with the black pieces. Naturally I was already slightly better in the opening, as my opponent was vigorously pushing my pieces towards the best squares. Unfortunately (despite the fact that I have won quite a few games in petroff), the drawing tendencies are pretty high and once I reached a very comfortable edge, there was no easy way to break through and so the game ended in a draw. On the bright side, our last three boards dominated their opponents and the final victory was never in doubt.

The second round was easy for us too, we played the team called "Magic", but against us the 'magic' didn't really work and both me and my team were victorious on that day. My game was a very creative advanced Caro Kann versus Svetushkin. We reached a non-standard closed position, as black managed (or white managed?!) to close the position with c5-c4. I played an over the board novelty with g2-g4!? and eventually we got a very unbalanced position which I felt should be at least fine for me. Soon my advantage was about to crystallize, but then I played a little too primitively and the position should have been defendable for my opponent. However, towards the end, my opponent made one mistake after another and thus I managed to win the game.

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Pessimistic feeling!
The third round was still quite easy, as we played the outsiders, the team called "Ajedrez con Cabeza". I was punished for allowing cxd5 in Slav as my teammate Ivan Salgado Lopez harshly put it. To be frank I did have some chances here and there, against an unambitious Spanish IM, but one way or the other, after hours of trying, I never came close enough to victory.

Round 4 turned out to be quite crucial, as we played the co-leader, a very solid team "Solvay". The match turned out to be very tough; the problem being that Solvay is one of the only teams which can match us on the last boards. On the top boards as well, our rating advantage is quite minimal, as myself, for example, had to play with my good friend Parimarjan Negi, a very talented Indian player. Our game was incredibly complicated half strategic half tactical fight and my extra 80 points of rating were never felt. However, one way or the other I ended up on the right side of the fortress. Practically speaking I still had some chances of some miraculous breakthrough, but it was me who ended up in the lost position, after blindly grabbing the poisoned pawn. At the end I abused the bad luck of my teammates and being 2 points down, I offered a draw in a bad position and my opponent didn't hesitate too much before accepting it.

In fact I don't know how it happened, but the match was pretty hopeless for us. Delchev, board 4 of Solvay conducted a genius intuitive attack against Romain and Salgado Lopez couldn't fight his trainer, experienced Ubilava.

This meant that Solvay took sole lead and there was not that much hope that we would catch them, or at least that was the feeling I had, in hindsight, quite a pessimistic one.

We were luckier!
The next round as well, our team played somewhat uninspired, and my short (but highly complicated) draw with Vallejo didn't contribute much.

Game analysis: F. Vallejo Pons – A. Giri (click arrows to view the annotation)

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In fact, it was a miracle that we made a draw, as our third board, tired, yet genius, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was on the verge of defeat for pretty much all of the game. His save didn't bring us much happiness until the next round, when suddenly the team of Solvay stumbled and lost (the round before they made a draw) and since we beat the team called "Equigoma" we caught Solvay in the standings.

Against Equigoma, I was paired with Iturrizaga. I finally managed to win another game, since my opponent repeated a game of his where I had a simple improvement. He defended extremely well in the time pressure, but I managed to pose him more and more problems and, at the end already in a pretty bad position, he blundered the game away.

Game analysis: A. Giri - E. Iturrizaga (click arrows to view the annotation)

Before the last round the situation was pretty unique. We were ahead by a half a point on tiebreak, but our opponents played a weaker team. In fact, we both were striving for 6-0, but once the game started, it became very clear to me that it won't be 6-0 neither in our match nor in the match of our competitors. In fact, we were simply luckier, as suddenly a flash of a genius hit our French boards and Romain managed to save a terrible position and Maxime won a brilliant game.

Game analysis: . Vachier Lagrave – C. Cruz (click arrows to view the annotation)

Game analysis: F. Libiszewski – R. Edouard (click arrows to view the annotation)

Nice finish with 15-course dinner!
Myself I won a very sweet game as well, this time against Moskalenko. It started very nicely, as I managed to use my preparation for the 3rd tiebreak game with Julio Granda. If you remember, the 3rd tiebreak game never happened, as I lost 1,5-0,5 on the day of the tie-breaks; nevertheless my hard working second back then, Jan Smeets, prepared an improvement upon my first game, which I lost, in hope of my striking back in the second game.

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The position out of the opening was by no means better for Black (me), but my play seemed very natural to me and so I quickly got the time advantage and soon the initiative. The theme was a trapped rook (a peculiar configuration, white: Rook on h3, pawns on h2 and f3, black: pawn on h4 rook on f4). 5-1 it was, and since our competitors managed "only" 4,5-1,5, we once again became the Champions of Spain.

Game analysis: V. Moskalenko – A. Giri (click arrows to view the annotation)

This pretty much secured our great mood (as I mentioned before, my girlfriend had an excellent tournament as well) and so we were all happy, even Romain Edouard (those who know him, understand what I am talking about. Just kiddin', Romain).

We finished the event with a delicious 15 (maybe more, but I lost count)-course dinner and even to wake up at 7:30 the next morning to catch the flight didn't seem like such a problem.

In fact it was, but then again, I am telling you too much. On the agenda is Grand Prix in Paris, so till soon!