HICC – First Five Rounds

Hastings International Chess Congress, dedicated this year to the memory of long-time Tournament Director, Con Power, already looked to be providing a worthy tribute from the first round with some sensational and unexpected results. Accelerated Swiss pairings usually mean that the higher seeds have a fairly easy time for the first round or two and, leaving aside scattered draws and the rare losses which always add a little spice to early rounds, they will only expect to really be put to test as the 100 percenters dwindle to a handful by round 3 or 4. Round 1, played on Wednesday 28 December and rather overshadowed publicity-wise by Ivanchuk’s unexpected but very popular win of the World Rapidplay, was more than a little unusual in that the top 3 seeds managed a single ½ point between them!

On Board 1, the top seed, Indian GM, Setharaman (2645) played White against young Danish FM, Thybo (2352) and, having seen his own Kings-side attack run out of steam, succumbed to a gutsy Queens-side attack. Second seed, Brazilian GM, Fier (2590), did somewhat better and secured draw against veteran Serbian FM, Radovanovic (2351), but probably at some cost to his nerves. Radovanovic, playing White, was anything but intimidated by his GM opponent and sacrificed the exchange, gaining time to advance his already potent connected, passed central pawns and certainly had chances of a win, but his opponent hung on in there and was eventually able to secure a draw by perpetual. Meanwhile, on Board 3, youthful Hungarian GM, Glendura (2582), was playing White against the experienced English IM, Bates (2347), and the latter simply played a better game and won.

The games on the next few boards mostly ended in wins for the higher rated player but Australian IM, Justin Tan (2451) had to be content with a draw with White against the untitled English player, Alaister Hill (2237) and up-and-coming junior, Freddie Hand (2205), secured a draw with White against Croatian GM, Bogdan Lalic (2443). Justin Tan, who is presently studying in England, is certainly a good prospect for the GM title but his progress seems to have plateaued at the moment in the mid-2400s. We will see if he can resume the upward trajectory in the new year.

Of particular interest is the participation of the world’s youngest IM, Praggnanandha (2452), from India, who had a rather disappointing result in the London Chess Classic Festival Open and will see his Elo drop slightly in the January list. In January 2016 he was rated 2177 but had increased this to 2400+ over the next few months and went from being a very promising junior to an exceptional one! And he still hasn’t reached his 12th birthday! Like Tan, his rise seems to have slowed somewhat over the last few months, perhaps because his sudden rise to prominence took everyone by surprise but now his opponents make sure to be better prepared against him, but he is very obviously a huge prospect for the future. He started his campaign here with a win with White against the veteran IM from the United States, Prosviriakov (2236).

The top English seeds, GMs Gormally (2493), Hebden (2492), Arkell (2447) and Flear (2428) all managed to get through the first round with wins.

Surprise results at Hastings did not end with Round 1. The 4th seed. Indian GM, Sengupta (2575), elevated to Board 1 by the failure of the top 3 seeds to win, promptly lost with White to Bobby Cheng (2446), another very promising young Australian IM. Indian IM, Das (2399), drew with his strong, young fellow countryman and 5th seed, GM Karthikeyan (2530) on Board 2, meaning that none of the top seeds now had 100%; more than a little unusual! Board 3 saw Danish GM and 6th seed, Rasmussen (2502, pictured above), defeat English GM, Flear, and on Board 4 was an interesting home pairing of promising junior, FM Haria (2382) with White against GM Gormally in which the young Master came out the victor. Haria has seen his Elo fall in recent months as he struggled to compete with the world’s leading juniors, suggesting he had been somewhat over-rated, but a result like this against an established GM indicates that early optimism as to his potential strength is not entirely misplaced. Board 5 saw another domestic clash between GM Hebden and IM Ledger (2377) which ended in a victory for the GM, maintaining his 100%. On Board 8, IM Bates, who had defeated GM Glendura in the first round, faced his second challenging junior, this time with Black, in the person of the world’s youngest IM, Praggnanandhaa. Undaunted, he drew. There was not such good news for English ambitions on 10 where GM Arkell lost with White to the untitled Italian player Marzano (2186) but Board 18 saw another English junior, Foo (2145), get a good result, beating Spanish FM, Garriga Cazorla (2386).

So, by the end of Round 2 there were 9 leaders on 2/2, of whom the highest seeded (6) was GM Rasmussen, including English players, GM Hebden, FM Haria and Foo.

Meanwhile, top seed, GM Setharaman, had only managed a draw with Black against English FM, Eames (2187), and, having lost on the first day, was languishing near the bottom of the table with much to prove.

Whereas the first two rounds were notable for decisive results, and some very unexpected ones at that, Round 3 saw draws on the top three boards and with the down-floated Foo losing, with Black, to Tan on Board 8, the single decisive result amongst the 100 percenters saw 10th seed, Icelandic IM, Kjartannson (2468), suddenly finding himself sole leader on 3/3, having defeated Haria on Board 4.

Kjartannson’s did not enjoy his position at the top of the pile for very long as he lost to Rasmussen in Round 4, leaving no-one with 100%. This result gave others the opportunity to share the lead. On Board 2 Karthikeyan, with the Black pieces, defeated Marzano, who had had an excellent tournament so far, and Hebden beat the young Danish prospect, FM Hansen (2452), who had held Rasmussen to a draw in the previous round. So, going in to round 5, the leaders were Karthikeyan, Rasmussen and Hebden. Leading the chasing group on 3/4 were seeds 2 and 4, Fier and Sengupta, who were making up for lost ground, and also on the same score was Indian prodigy, Praggnanandhaa. The English players, Flear, Haria and Bates were also in the chasing group.

Rasmussen seized sole lead in Round 5, defeating Karthikeyan, and the down-floated Hebden found his draw with Black against 4 seed Sengupta was enough to secure him sole second place as Boards 3-7 all ended in draws. This flurry of draws gave the opportunity for those in the large group on 2 ½ /4 to move into contention and this many duly took, including 1 and 3 seeds Sethuraman and Glendura and top English seed, Gormally.  So the consequence of all that is that, going into round 6, the top two are threatened by an enormous (19!) and very threatening group, bristling with seeds and prodigies, wishing to usurp them. If Ramussen defeats Hebden he will find himself in a clear 1-point lead but, with a draw, the tournament really is anybody’s!