Arctic Chess Challenge 2009 – Final Report

A fairytale above the Arctic Circle

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The Queen of the Arctic Chess Challenge – GM Monika Socko

A fairytale needs a Queen, a Price, a nice twist with a happy ending. Here it is!

During nine days of chess in the land of the Midnight Sun anything can happen! A woman with an Elo of 2449 can even surpass a field of more than 10 strong Grand Masters with an Elo of average 2582 – and a Top Seed of 2656! Last time you got a report GM Monika Socko (2449) and IM Ray Robson (2449) were in sole lead with 5.5/7. They kept the edge all the way even though two more players in the end managed to make a 4-way tie with them. With strong tie-breaks they became the Queen and Prince of this story taking 1st and 2nd place in the Arctic Chess Challenge with a total of 13 GMs, 13 IMs, 1 WGM and 38 titled players among 120 participants!

Top seed was Monika’s own husband Bartosz (2656). He dropped a lot of Elo-points with a TPR of only 2504, but he was so proud of his wife that he was one big smile all week long anyway! Monika Socko made the tournament of her life with 7/9 and a TPR of 2639, that actually deceives a bit. You know that she in fact met a few IMs who performed far above expected so actually she met a stronger field than number’s show. She just simply did not meet these high rated GM of form that would raise her TPR.

Monika said she was very tired in the last round and hence she did offer a tactical draw on move 10 as white versus IM Marijan Petrov from Bulgaria. She knew she had a great tie-break before the last round so she could afford it since it secured her one of the Top Spots for certain. A draw in the game GM Berg (2610) – IM Robson (24491) was all she needed to win it all. The strategy worked out fine and Monika sent shock waves through her male Grandmaster colleges with a stunning victory! Monika Socko played her best games in the first 6 rounds when she made an incredible 5.5/6!

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IM Ray Robson – GM Monika Socko

The Prince of this story is US Wonderboy Ray Robson. The 14-years old American Junior Champion 2009 has been on many occasions so close to a GM-norm, that he really must be releaved to finally get his first norm! We might even dub Ray as the King of Arctic Chess, because in the long run – when Ray Robson is 2700+ and an American Chess Star – what will still be remembered from this tournament is Robson’s first GM-norm – it was as good as a victory for this ambitious player.

The way this GM-norm was earned was also impressive. In the last round he did have to fight for his life with black versus the only Super GM who was still in race for first place! After the Dragon Sicilian opening, Robson got a position that looked drawish when a rooks ending was established at move 27, but then white slowly made progress and ended up with a clearly better position, where many of the observing Grandmasters thought white was winning (game below). GM Emanuel Berg said after the game that he was only one tempo short of winning. Analysis indicate that he is right, and pawn up in a simplified position was not enough for victory.

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GM Berg (in front) – IM Robson

It was quite crowded when the last game of Arctic Chess Challenge ended. GM Emanuel Berg had only a minute left on his clock, but he couldn’t possibly lose this game. Wonderboy Ray Robson was in time trouble in several games at ACC, but his time management in the last game was good and he achieved his first GM-norm in style by drawing a hard fought game!

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GM Berg had to win to get into Top-Three

With a weaker tiebreak compared to three leaders before the last round, GM Berg knew he had to win to get 1st place. When he didn’t, it became a 4-way tiebreak where Emanuel Berg ended up 4th. Money was then split so he still earned 1400 Euros and was quite pleased by his performance over the chessboard. The reigning Swedish Champion played some nice attacking chess in Arctic Chess Challenge and he won three games in a row from 6th to 8th round versus IM and GM opposition. His win as white over IM Bruno in 7th round and win against GM Sulskis in the 8th round you can see below. Look at how GM Berg takes his pieces home to base with such provoking moves as 9.Bd3-Bf1?! and 10.Qg4-d1. In fact all his pieces are undeveloped after 10 moves, but since IM Bruno didn’t try to use his development in an aggressive fashion with an early f6-break, the Swede managed to turn the tide and win in attack as he so often does.

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Two Bulgarians: IM Marijan Petrov – GM Julian Radulski

IM Marijan Petrov (2479) from Bulgaria deserved a better destiny. With no losses, he fought the top tables in the second half of the tournament and in round 7 he scored an important win over IM Kalle Kiik (2475) in a Modern opening as black (see below). With sober defensive play he took what was offered to him and the move 21…e5! gave him control over the complications. When Kiik became too aggressive with 23.Rdd7, the game turned in black’s favor and Petrov managed to win.

The bad luck for Petrov was that all these IMs over-performed. He was not the only one kicking GM-butt and then he faced IMs instead of the needed three GMs to play for a GM-norm. Even as late as 8th round Petrov was only paired against an IM when he met Ray Robson on 1st board! When Petrov met his second GM, Monika Socko, in the last round he accepted the short draw in 10 moves. He would have put up some fighting chess if he could score a GM-norm with an win. Anyway – IM Petrov got 3rd place, 1400 Euros and he impressed by not losing a single game.

GM Julian Radulski (2539) was traveling together with Petrov and in fact he didn’t lose a single game either! Two Bulgarians above the Arctic Circle did play 18 games with no loss. Radulski was in huge problems vs. Norwegian GM Hammer (2583) as white in 7th round (game below) where 23…g3 was a nice shot winning a piece for some pawns. After 28…Bxf4? Hammer’s winning chances vanished and GM Radulski drew this game and then same result in 8th and 9th round which gave him 5th place on best tie-break of 6 players with 6.5/9.

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IM Luca Shytaj

The Italian IM Luca Shytaj (2455) did come to Tromsø with only one goal – taking his 2nd GM-norm! The 23-years old Shytaj did play excellent chess throughout most of the tournament, although he lost a good position against GM Rasmussen in round 5. With an impressive win where nearly everything was pure preparation, and only took 40 minutes, he blew GM Malakhatko out of water and got up at +4 again – enough for a GM-norm. In the last round Luca Shytaj needed a draw with the white pieces against 1st seed GM Bartosz Socko (2656). Socko on his side was playing for prize money and to save his skin without losing too many Elo-points, so obviously the GM-norm was not at free take. Also IM Shytaj had to fight for more than 50 moves, as Ray Robson did, and in the end he did achieve the object and earned 2nd GM-norm.

After exchanging Queens early in the Sicilian defence, Shytaj did get a small plus but Socko soon got the upper hand, and with the greedy 29…Bxg4! he would have claimed a big edge. Instead Bartosz Socko committed a blunder by taking the other unprotected pawn with 29…Bxd4. It run into tactics with 30.Rad1 Bc3 31.Rd5! and everything turned around when white took the advantage! IM Shytaj went for the needed draw and when he offered it at move 38, Bartosz Socko of course accepted (see game below). A great run for the Italian that brought him GM-norm and a 6th place at ACC 2009 with 6.5/9 and a TPR of 2616.

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FM Stokke, GM Jon Ludvig Hammer and WFM Tjølsen from Norway

GM Jon Ludvig Hammer (2583) became the best Norwegian with 6.5/9 and a TPR of 2556. The 19-years old friend of Magnus Carlsen will now start his studies at the University of Oslo after ending his chess college education together with Magnus.

FM Kjetil Stokke from Norway got his 2nd IM-norm and even WFM Katrine Tjølsen got a WIM norm. Before the last round 4 players could reach a norm and they all needed a draw. It was Ray Robson, Luca Shytaj, Kjetil Stokke and Katrine Tjølsen. As in a real fairytale they all achieved their goal! Stokke by offering an early draw, but all the rest by hard fighting. As Wonderboy Robson and IM Shytaj, WFM Tjølsen got it in a long game with some drama. The 16-years old girl got an excellent position against GM Matthew Turner (2517) as black but she blew it and ended up in a bad ending that even looked lost at some point.

The drama doesn’t stop there. Tjølsen had flight tickets at 17:00 O’clock – ordered by her new teacher and coach at NTG, GM Simen Agdestein. That was quite optimistic since the last round started at 11:00 O’clock and Tjølsen had to fight both the GM and time. In the end she managed to draw the GM in 64 moves and take well deserved WIM-norm – her second. But she lost the fight against time and did not catch the flight. In fairytale good things happen, and the sinner, GM Agdestein, had ordered new tickets only 4 hours later. In that way Tjølsen got the chance to take her prize, be part of the closing ceremony and even get her flight home to Oslo the same evening.

Nicolai Getz from Oslo, another of those NTG students of Agdestein, deserves his 5 minute of fame. He ended the tournament by beating GM Heikki Westerinen and then drawing the strong GMs Malakhatko (2570) and GM Khenkin (2634). 17-years old Getz became the best non-titled player with 6/9 and a 14th place. His TPR was impressive 2496 and he secured the IM-norm with one round to go. Even FM Arkadiusz Leinart (2390) from Poland took an IM-norm before the last round. He was surpassed by the strong German GM Igor Khenkin in the 9th round but his TPR was 2465. The funny thing is that this guy now has 7 IM-norms! He also passed the 2400-barrier and will get his well deserved title at the next FIDE congress. This 18-years old IM-elect from Poland has an earlier IM-norm from Gausdal, so I guess his vibes for Norway are good. This means that no less than six norms were scored in this year’s Arctic Chess Challenge – come and score your norm next year!

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GM Amon Simutowe and a Polar Beer at the playing venue

GM Amon Simutowe from Zambia represents all those players coming to Tromsø from other five continents. The longest trip was conducted by IM Aleksandar H. Wohl from Australia – at almost exact the opposite side of the globe as Tromsø. The Polar Beer from North looks a bit more aggressive than GM Simutowe from South on this picture, and with 5.5/9 Simutowe never got over his first round loss due to forfeit by not showing up.

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Morten Sand and GM Bachar Kouatly

Morten Sand (left) is legal adviser of Tromsø 2014 and adviser of Arctic Chess Challenge. His friend GM Bachar Kouatly came to Tromsø with a team from the French chess magazine Europe Echecs for the last weekend of Arctic Chess Challenge. GM Kouatly became the first French Grandmaster in 1989 and among other things you can see two lovely videos from Tromsø at the site of Europe Echecs.

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GM Susan Polgar and GM Simen Agdestein

Susan Polgar also visited friends in Tromsø and supported the US super talent IM Ray Robson. Susan got the idea of Robson playing in Tromsø as it would be a good chance for him to score a GM-norm, and with the publicity his result provided for the tournament, it was a gift from heaven. You should also check out Susan’s wonderful pictures of the city of Tromsø at her own blog where she has a label for Arctic Chess Challenge.

I caught the former World Champion for women with GM Simen Agdestein outside the playing venue on Wednesday. GM Agdestein was one of the organizers in this tournament and among other things he arranged football events and tough Mountain climbing.

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Tshepo Sitale and Chief organizer Jan S. Berglund

This is Tshepo Sitale from Botswana (left) on stage at the closing ceremony. He and Ray’s mother Yee-chen Robson got the idea of presenting Mr. Arctic Chess Challenge himself – Chief organizer Jan S. Berglund – with some chocolate and a document with kind words and praise for this special tournament. They got the idea at the Barbecue last night and you can read this handwritten paper at this link.

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The Medalist: Monika Socko, Ray Robson, IM Marijan Petrov

So the fairytale ends. Here you see the players taking Gold, Silver and Bronze – the huge underdogs in this tournament – GM Monika Socko (2449), IM Ray Robson (2491), IM Marijan Petrov (2479). None of these players have an Elo over 2500! As you know by now, they made a 4 way tie-break with Super GM Emanuel Berg (2610) with 7/9. All four players got 1400 Euros each – but since the medalists impressed the most – they deserved a picture alone to be remembered!

Official standings after 9 rounds – the 15 best that all got prize money. Arctic Chess Challenge 2009, Norway. The prize fund was 13.850 Euros:

1. GM Monika Socko, 2. IM Ray Robson, 3. IM Marijan Petrov and 4. GM Emanuel Berg – all 7.0/9

5. GM Julian Radulski, 6. IM Luca Shytaj, 7. GM Jon Ludvig Hammer, 8. GM Allan Stig Rasmussen, 9. GM Yuri Drozdovskij, 10. GM Igor Khenkin – all 6.5

11. GM Vadim Malakhatko, 12. GM Sarunas Sulskis, 13. GM Bartosz Socko, 14. Nicolai Getz, 15. GM Matthew Turner – all 6.0

120 players in total

Official link with results, games and much more – Arctic Chess Challenge 2009

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A view from the Island of Tromsø to the mainland. Photo: Beate Forsaa

This is how we want you all to remember Tromsø! Beautiful nature where Ocean is surrounded by high Mountains. Where light is quite special with the Midnight Sun summertime and the Aurelia Borealis – which is green and magnificent to watch on in the sky. We even have a special light at wintertime we call blue shimmering. Since the sun is away, only some sunlight gets through the horizon, and when it is snowy with a blue sky, the light gets quite special. The city of Tromsø is a contender for the 41st Chess Olympiad in 2014.

This article with all except one photos was conducted and written by Sven Wisløff Nilssen, a former runner up in the Norwegian Junior Champion 1989 and Correspondence Chess Champion of Norway 1995 with a ICCF-rating of 2517. He wrote the official daily reports from Arctic Chess Challenge 2009 which was presented at one of Scandinavia’s most popular Chess Blog’s, Sjakkfantomet.

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