Lots of exciting chess was on offer on the third day of the European Individual Championship for Small Nations, that takes place in Larnaka, Cyprus, from April 22-30. A well-deserved rest after yesterday’s grueling double round recharged the batteries of the twelve participants, and the result was some fierce and tumultuous battles. From a competitive viewpoint, the main game of the day was that between the two interim leaders, with 2.5 out of 3, GM Oscar De la Riva and Oliver Said.
While for the top-seed Andorran grandmaster a share of first place could be seen as business as usual, his Maltese opponent, the lowest-rated player of the field, could be considered the pleasant surprise of the first few rounds. In any case, it’s not ratings that play chess, but the players themselves, and De la Riva had to work hard for his eventual victory, in the longest game of the day. Caught by surprise by his opponent’s admittedly risky choice of variation, he spent oceans of time in the opening and early middlegame, in order to navigate the hidden reefs unscathed, while the Maltese player hardly spent any time during this phase. The Andorran managed to acquit himself excellently though, and by the time real time pressure approached, he was enjoying an endgame with a clear extra pawn. While the whole technical process took quite some time (and probably wasn’t all flawless), the result was never in doubt and was eventually recorded.
Today was clearly White’s day, as the first players won their games with only a single exception. The beating received by Black commenced somewhat unexpectedly though, in the game between Renato Frick and Peter Kirby: the latter emerged from the opening with a perfectly good position, and further play only brought the game closer to a bloodless draw; until, that is, Black carelessly overlooked a simple geometrical motif that cost him a piece and the game. Shortly afterwards, Fred Berend concluded his game against Massimiliano Maccapani victoriously. Exploiting a serious space advantage and much more active pieces, the Luxembourg International Master increased the pressure and eventually delivered a couple of decisive blows with his knights. In the meantime, Antonis Antoniou spoiled a very promising position against Tito Kahn and had to allow Black the only half point of the day. The Cypriot inexplicably decided to forego the win of a pawn when he had the chance, and from that moment the players exchanged errors at various points. In the end, just when Black’s position seemed to be on the verge of collapse, a swift counterattack allowed him to force perpetual check.
The remaining two games were the most exciting of them all, and greatly unbalanced. The number two- and three-seeds of the tournament, Michael Wiedenkeller and Igor Efimov, managed to enliven a quiet Slav Defense with their creative play. Black sacrificed a piece for three pawns, thus liberating his pieces and obtaining a rolling central pawn mass, but White was not to be outdone and kept creating threats with his pieces, not allowing Black to fully coordinate his forces. Black gradually budged and fell at a disadvantage, and the game was decided in time pressure, when Black allowed a deadly knight fork. Meanwhile, Olaf Berg beat Andreas Kelires in a very complicated battle. After some early fighting in the center, the Faroese player emerged with two pieces for a rook and some pawns, but with the significant asset of a powerful passed pawn on c6. This pawn created great difficulties for the young Cypriot, restricting the freedom of his pieces, and eventually proved to be his undoing: when it finally reached the last step before promotion, material losses were inevitable and so Black resigned.
After the first four rounds, De la Riva is the sole leader, with 3.5 points, closely followed by Berg and Frick at 3, while IMs Wiedenkeller and Berend lie, along with Said, a further half point behind. The fourth day of the tournament should help further clarify the situation in the standings, as two rounds will be played. A heavy burden on the players’ shoulders, no doubt, but on Saturday they will be rewarded with a free day, a most enjoyable excursion (that will also include wine-tasting!) and a fun blitz tournament in the evening!
The event is organized by FIDE, the Cyprus Chess Federation (KYSO) and the European Chess Union, with sponsorship from the Larnaka Tourism Board and the Municipality of Larnaka, and takes place at the Larnaka Museum Historical Archives from April 22nd to April 30th. Full coverage of the event can be found at the official website, http://larnaca2014.fide.com, with results, standings, news and photo galleries. All games are transmitted live via the official website, also with real-time computer analysis.