In the first half of the annual memorial tournament to the Third World Champion, Vassily Ivanchuk has dominated the competition.
One of the world’s oldest elite tournaments is the annual memorial to the third World Champion. The Capablanca Memorial in Cuba has been played almost every year since 1962 and, by often featuring the world’s strongest players, has truly done honor to his legacy. This year is no different as the elite field boasts an average rating of around 2700.
At the half-way point, after five rounds, Vassily Ivanchuk of Ukraine is dominating the competition. He has 4 points, a full point-and-a-half ahead of his closest rivals. His winning ways started with a nice effort in Round 2 against Zoltan Almasi of Hungary:
Ivanchuk, Vassily vs. Almasi, Zoltan
Capablanca Memorial |Cuba |Round 2 |14 Jun 2016 |1-0
cxd4?!I don't think it is good to release the tension this early.
( 7... Be7Looks fine for Black )
8. exd4Be79. Bd3O-O10. Qe2Nh511. Bxe7Qxe712. Qe3White has a nice position. He has a free hand on the kingside while Black is struggling for counterplay, and the bishop on c8 is poorly positioned. 12... Rb813. O-OQf614. g3Bd715. Ne5Qe716. f4Nf617. Rae1Rfc818. g4!I like this move. White is in no mood to wait around and is not afraid to sacrifice a pawn.
( 18. Qe2 )
18... Nxe519. fxe5Nxg420. Qg3h521. Re2!Rg2 is a serious
Threat. 21... f5This seems forced, but it's obviously a bad sign...
( 21... a622. Rg2 )
22. exf6Nxf623. Ref2!Ivanchuk plays with great tactical energy. 23... Ng4
( 23... Rf824. Rxf6! )
( 24... Qxf725. Bh7+! )
25. Rxd7White is up a piece. The rest requires no comment 25... Rf826. h4Qxd227. Rxg7+Kh828. Rxg4hxg429. Qe5+Kg830. Qxe6+Kh831. Qe5+Kg832. Qxd5+
Ivanchuk followed with two wins against the local stars, Leinier Dominguez Perez and and Lazaro Bruzon Batista — both times with the Black pieces. I was particularly impressed by his play against Dominguez in Round 5, as he found a brillant way to maintain the tension:
Dominguez Perez, Leinier vs. Ivanchuk, Vassily
Capablanca Memorial |Cuba |Round 5 |14 Jun 2016 |0-1
a5!Black has the more active position, but Whites position is very solid and it's not clear how to break through. Ivanchuk expertly maintains the tension by preventing a capture on c4. White is almost in zugzwang. 34. c3?
( 34. h4The computer recommends this move, but this is very hard for a human to play. In addition to not doing anything productive, White is weakening his kingside. )
34... Qd2!Well calculated. There is no stopping the a-pawn 35. Qxd2Bxd236. Ke2Bc1!Black needs to control the b2 square
( 36... Bh6?37. bxc4a438. Kd3a339. Kc2a240. Kb2 )
37. bxc4a4White resigned. The
game could continue: 38. Kd3a339. Kc2a2
The other players have just not been able to get off the ground. Indeed, there has only been one decisive game not involving Ivanchuk. That was Almasi’s win over Bruzon, which was almost over before it started when Bruzon made an error early in the middlegame:
Almasi, Zoltan vs. Bruzon Batista, Lazaro
Capablanca Memorial |Cuba |Round 4 |14 Jun 2016 |1-0
Rc5?This move is an error and White is able to create some
problems in the center.
( 15... Qe7!This is natural and strong. I'm not sure what Bruzon was worried about. )
( 15... Qc7The computer also thinks this is fine, but it looks much less natural to me
to walk straight into Ndb5. )
16. Ndb5!Ba617. a3!It's possible Black missed this strong move. Now he has to leave White with two monstrous bishops
( 17. Nd6?Qc7 )
17... Bxc318. Nxc3Qc719. b4!Another precise move. The rook is starting to feel very uncomfortable 19... Rc420. Qd2Rc821. e5!Well calculated. Black is busted. 21... Nxe522. b5!Rc5
It’s clear that Ivanchuk is the man to beat, but he is a very streaky player and can lose a bunch of games just as easily as he puts together a bunch of wins, so the tournament is not over. Still, the Capablanca Memorial is one of his favorite tournaments — he has won it six times— so only a fool would bet against him walking away the champion yet again.
Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 7 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.
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