The fourth day of the European Individual Championship for Small Nations was pretty demanding on the players, with the tournament’s second double round. With fatigue accumulating as a result of the relatively heavy schedule, it could be expected of the players not to expend too much energy, but the prospect of the upcoming free day seemed to eliminate any such reservations and the day was once again full of combative chess and decisive results.
As we have just crossed the mid-point of the tournament, a clear leader has emerged in the face of Andorran Grandmaster Oscar De la Riva Aguado, who enjoys a comfortable lead with 5.5 points out of 6 games. De la Riva won both his games today, though in vastly differing fashion. The morning game, against Tito Kahn, remained balanced all the way up to the time-control on move 40, but then the grandmaster’s experience prevailed: by constantly setting his opponent little problems, De la Riva managed to finally surround and win a pawn, and then concluded the game with a neat little mating tactic. Once again it was proven that a large rating advantage by no means guarantees an easy victory in the face of stout resistance! In the afternoon, however, the Andorran had an easier time: he quickly obtained a clear advantage after unsuccessful opening play from Peter Kirby, which he converted with yet another mating tactical strike; a thematic day for the tournament leader!
Most rating favorites emerged victorious from the morning ordeal, though not without effort. Fred Berend’s game against Andreas Kelires featured slow maneuvering and never strayed far from equality; until, that is, the young Cypriot blundered an exchange. Despite some inventive efforts to complicate by Kelires, the experienced International Master from Luxembourg didn’t falter and scored a valuable point. He was later followed by his compatriot, IM Michael Wiedenkeller, who won his game against Oliver Said in a tough endgame. Black handled the position much better and was more than once on the verge of winning earlier, but he missed several chances and, as a consequence, lost most of his advantage. However, he then proceeded to win the game all over again, and successfully. The two Luxembourg IMs shared second place after the morning round, one full point behind De la Riva.
Igor Efimov’s game against Olaf Berg was a very complicated affair, where White made a positional queen sacrifice for rook, bishop and pawn, betting on the good coordination of his forces. Objectively, he held an advantage, but Black defended resourcefully in the unusual position that resulted, making full use of his queen’s agility to create problems. Just as White’s efforts to force some gains appeared to be nullified by Berg’s competent defense, a serious error allowed Efimov to force decisive material gains. This exciting battle even eclipsed the nice attacking game of Massimiliano Maccapani against Renato Frick, where Black’s risky opening play was met by a series of sacrifices, starting with a couple of pawns, to be followed by a whole piece. The black king was caught in the center and eventually didn’t manage to escape without material losses, giving the San Marino player his first point of the event. Finally, Peter Kirby and Antonis Antoniou drew a fairly uneventful game in a relatively blocked position, where neither player’s efforts brought any dividends.
Tiredness may well have played a factor in the afternoon games, affecting not only Kirby (who lost to the leader) but also others. Said chose a very risky variation of the Scotch against Berg and was punished in convincing fashion. True, Black’s position contained a lot of defensive resources, but in a practical setting it was very difficult to handle correctly. White had all the threats, and once he got his chance he pounded on his opponent, finishing the game with some nice tactics. Meanwhile, Antoniou continued his drawing streak, this time against Frick. White obtained some initiative in the Berlin Ruy Lopez that was debated, but it never really reached significant proportions. After the former Cyprus champion sacrificed a pawn to simplify the position, White’s advantage was merely symbolic; the draw was agreed in a rook ending. The other local representative, Kelires, battled out one of the longest games of the day with Maccapani. Having obtained a pleasant position already from the start, he maintained his pressure all the way to a typical endgame of rooks and opposite-colored bishops, where he had a positional advantage. Long maneuvering ensued, with Kelires slowly but surely improving his position, as White failed to anticipate the danger. In the end, White’s position collapsed, as he first lost the base of his pawn chain and then had his king caught in a mating net.
Michael Wiedenkeller won his game against Tito Kahn, who had a really difficult day today, meeting the two players topping the standings! White seized the advantage early on in the game and steadily increased it by advancing his central pawns to gain a lot of space; this was followed by an invasion into Black’s camp via the c-file. Kahn tried to obtain counterplay, but couldn’t stop his position from deteriorating further; soon he had to give up a piece and, eventually, the game as well. This result left Wiedenkeller still one point behind De la Riva, and the only player able to mount a realistic challenge to the Andorran in the fight for tournament victory. On the contrary, his compatriot Berend went down to Efimov in a long and tough game. Berend tried to change the unfavorable course of the game with a piece sacrifice in the middlegame, but his opponent succeeded in extinguishing White’s initiative and carrying the extra piece over to the endgame. At some point he returned it to emerge with an extra pawn, and he handled the technical phase with sufficient accuracy to bring home the point.
Saturday is a free day for the players, but certainly not devoid of tournament-related activity: a morning excursion to the traditional village of Lefkara will be followed by a wine-tasting experience and a delicious lunch, while an open blitz tournament is scheduled 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.