One of the great things about playing this tournament is that not only do you get to play in the same tournament as some of the big names of the game – you can do that at Bunratty – but it’s that we qualified to play in the same tournament as some of the big names. And there’s a fair few here – Mamedyarov, Liren Ding (recognisable because he’s on crutches after breaking his hip in May), Svidler (two-time Bunratty champion of course), Jakovenko (who drew with Fitzsimons in the Olympiad), Andreikin, Naiditsch, Harikrishna, Vallejo Pons, Granda Zuniga, Leko, Howell, Speelman (who played Constantin in round 1) – and, of course, Magnus Carlsen, the world number 1.
Unlike last year, when 16 of the top 32 in the world were playing but were rarely really seen outside of game time, Carlsen has been a constant presence outside the rounds. We first saw him down at breakfast on the first morning, chatting with his Valerenga teammates. He didn’t play round 1, but as myself and Constantin went up to our room after that round to get phones and wallets, the lift doors opened and Carlsen walked out. On Saturday, I joined the queue at reception to see what tours were available, and found I was behind Carlsen, who was asking about hiring the tennis courts. On Sunday, I went for a wander of the hotel grounds to see what facilities were around, and arrived at the 5-a-side football pitches just as Carlsen arrived for a game. The sight of the world number 1 – arguably the greatest player of all time, a millionaire businessman a fortnight away from a world title match – going for a kick-about with his mates is really refreshing to see; he seems like a genuinely very down-to-earth guy.
Although he didn’t play round 1, he did play round 2, and did so in shorts, which are technically against the tournament rules. But then, who’s going to kick out Carlsen? Shorts are gradually creeping back into fashion in the playing hall as a result – but just as he’d started a trend, he changed it himself in round 3, when he turned up in a suit blazer and short, both emblazoned with “Plag Magnus”, his app which lets you play Carlsen at various ages (from 5 – novice level – to 23, which is top GM level); it was like being in the Crucible for the snooker. And knowing that you’d come through qualifying to play in the same snooker tournament.
He was back in shorts for today’s draw against Liren Ding – he’s dropped 3½ points this tournament, which means he’s now just 3½ points ahead of Caruana in second place – and meanwhile, in the same tournament, St Benildus were going up against a Danish team, Brønshøj, who had an IM on 1, an FM on 3, and a 2000+ on 6; this is rather stronger than we would have expected at this stage of the tournament. And the match started with controversy, as a photographer – a girlfriend of one of the Danish team apparently – started taking a series of flash photos. This went on for more than five minutes – probably 15 photos in total; she took individual team photos of their team by going the full way along behind us, and then down the row across from us – with the flash going off right in my eyes – and then started up behind us again. At this stage, I’d had enough – I’d also, in a not coincidence at all, realised I’d messed up my opening already – and got up and told her to at least turn the flash off. “I have two more minutes”, she argued, but I couldn’t really back down at this stage and told her no more flash photos and then called the arbiter in. She technically did have two more minutes – you’re allowed take flash photos in the first ten minutes apparently – but as John later said, you’re allowed say “Good luck” to your opponent in the first ten minutes too, but if you say it after every one of your moves, you’ll quickly get told to shut up.
John was first to finish, and having finally finished his academic paper yesterday, the pressure was off and he was able to take a draw off an FM today. He had been in trouble and had his opponent alternated moves in a combination, he would have been in bigger trouble, but the way the game went, he had a zwischenzug to win his opponent’s queen for rook, piece and pawn, and the game was drawn very shortly afterwards. This now means that everyone on our team has picked up a titled draw, with the exception of William, who hasn’t actually played any titled players.
But things went downhill after that. I had tried a Dutch against an English, which went badly as my opponent simply played d3, e4 and easily got a winning position. William had been doing well against a Benko, but dropped a pawn about 20 moves in and never really recovered.
Meanwhile, myself and John had reverted to the Blue Bar to watch the remaining three games. We had drawing chances in each, but shortly after we started watching, Kevin was pinned back in a minor piece ending awaiting a fatal intrusion, and was first to fall. Constantin had a decent initiative out of the opening, but then lost the thread and was being pinned back, while Dylan had a completely drawn position – rook, two minor pieces and four pawns each, with the pawns on e-h each – and then inexplicably sacced a bishop on a pawn. He got two for it, and was now in a desperate scramble to hold on.
But in the end, there was no joy in either game. Constantin gradually got squeezed out by another IM – as IMs are wont to do – while Dylan was still holding a draw as the game went past the five-hour mark. But it started to slip shortly after, and as the sixth hour came, he was under big pressure, having played on increments for the previous two hours. In fact, the game went on so long that my laptop battery died before the end of the game, and we switched over to watching on the mobile instead. Finally, on move 100, his opponent swapped off the rooks to leave a won B+2 v P ending, and Dylan resigned, having had a draw in the bag for most of the previous 70 moves.
So another tough lesson, and another hefty defeat. Only Dylan – against the Welsh team – has actually won a game, and yet overall, we’re only 1½ points off our expected score. We finish up tomorrow with a match against one of the bigger names in the tournament – Italian side Lazio, who have two more FMs.