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... Be7 Looks fine for Black  )
8. exd4 Be7 9. Bd3 O-O 10. Qe2 Nh5 11. Bxe7 Qxe7 12. Qe3 White 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... Rb8 13. O-O Qf6 14. g3 Bd7 15. Ne5 Qe7 16. f4 Nf6 17. Rae1 Rfc8 18. g4! I like this move. White is in no mood to wait around and is not afraid to sacrifice a pawn.
18. Qe2  )
18... Nxe5 19. fxe5 Nxg4 20. Qg3 h5 21. Re2! Rg2 is a serious Threat.
21... f5 This seems forced, but it's obviously a bad sign...
21... a6 22. Rg2  )
22. exf6 Nxf6 23. Ref2! Ivanchuk plays with great tactical energy.
23... Ng4
23... Rf8 24. Rxf6!  )
24. Rf7! Qg5
24... Qxf7 25. Bh7+!  )
25. Rxd7 White is up a piece. The rest requires no comment
25... Rf8 26. h4 Qxd2 27. Rxg7+ Kh8 28. Rxg4 hxg4 29. Qe5+ Kg8 30. Qxe6+ Kh8 31. Qe5+ Kg8 32. 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. h4 The 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. Qxd2 Bxd2 36. Ke2 Bc1! Black needs to control the b2 square
36... Bh6? 37. bxc4 a4 38. Kd3 a3 39. Kc2 a2 40. Kb2  )
37. bxc4 a4 White resigned. The game could continue:
38. Kd3 a3 39. Kc2 a2

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... Qc7 The computer also thinks this is fine, but it looks much less natural to me to walk straight into Ndb5.  )
16. Ndb5! Ba6 17. a3! It's possible Black missed this strong move. Now he has to leave White with two monstrous bishops
17. Nd6? Qc7  )
17... Bxc3 18. Nxc3 Qc7 19. b4! Another precise move. The rook is starting to feel very uncomfortable
19... Rc4 20. Qd2 Rc8 21. e5! Well calculated. Black is busted.
21... Nxe5 22. b5! Rc5
22... Bb7 23. Bxb7 Qxb7 24. Rxe5  )
23. Rxe5 Qxe5 24. Ne4 Qf5 25. Nxc5 Bxb5 26. Ne4 Nxe4 27. Qd8+ Be8 28. Qxc8 Qxf2+ 29. Kh1

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.