by John Saunders
It always happens, doesn’t it? You laud a player to the skies, and he promptly loses. Following my report on ‘the Great Bu’ (and the accompanying story, for which some unnamed scribe at ChessBase.com awarded me the accolade of ‘one of the worst puns in chess history’ – only “one of”, guys? – easily the worst ever, surely?), Bu Xiangzhi was trampled underfoot by Ukrainian GM Efimenko in round nine. “I am sick as a parrot”, quipped the likeable Chinese player – well, he didn’t, but I’m sure he would have done had we had the chance to interview him. My apologies to Bu for putting the kiss of death on him. Actually, I’ve thought of a handy little scam I could run on superstitious GMs. It goes something like this: “either you hand over 10% of your potential winnings or I’m going to write an article before your next crunch game predicting an easy win for you.”
So, a set-back for Bu Xiangzhi, but good news for four other players as well as his conqueror Zahar Efimenko. It means that six people can now take first prize. As I write this, the tenth round has already started and the two Chinese players Bu and Ni Hua have already drawn with each other. This means that only Efimenko can now take outright first prize by beating Nakamura. Should he fail to do that, we will have either a two-way or three-way play-off for the first prize of £12,000. The new and rather complicated rules for this are posted on our home page. Bu Xiangzhi is slightly better placed to win because of his better average of opponents’ ratings (which means he can sit out the first round of a three-way play-off and/or choose colour in an Armageddon game) but otherwise everyone starts equal. In another variation from usual practice, the six players in the hunt for first prize are to play their games on the morning of the last day in order to leave enough time for possible play-offs in the afternoon. The rest of the round ten Masters tournament games start at 3pm as usual.
Round 9: Bu Xiangzhi vs Zahar Efimenko
Back in the mix: Hikaru Nakamura
Round nine was rich in norms. Viktorija Cmilyte achieved a GM norm after drawing with the formidable Ukrainian Alexander Areshchenko. There was a big Aussie celebration after Zong-Yuan Zhao won his final game to clinch his final GM norm. He already has the rating so he becomes Australia’s third GM ever after Ian Rogers and Darryl Johansen. It was especially fitting that Ian Rogers was here to congratulate him in person.
Robert Bellin beats Emanuel Berg
Finally, England’s Robert Bellin clinched a GM norm at the age of 55 – i.e. even older than the writer of these lines. Robert was one of the first wave of the ‘English chess explosion’ and it is quite remarkable that we should still be experiencing these ‘after-shocks’ so many years later. Perhaps there is a mini-trend starting, with Robert’s norm here and 60-year-old Jeff Horner’s clinching of his IM title at the last Monarch Assurance Isle of Man International some quarter of a century after getting his first two norms. As the ‘baby-boomers’ start to retire, or have more time on their hands, they return to the chessboard to complete unfinished business from the 1970s and 1980s. Perhaps, rather than pushing money into junior chess, England should think about funding its older players so that the country can annex a few world senior championships.
Which brings me to Jon Speelman: his rating has slipped to the unfeasibly low figure of 2497 but this has annoyed him sufficiently to come out with all guns blazing in Gib. Rounds 2-9 saw him playing what was effectively a category 16 tournament against players rated from 2607 up to 2670 and he emerged with a plus score and a TPR of around 2700. In many ways this run of major opponents suited Jon very well. He still relishes the challenge of playing against the ‘big guys’ but is perhaps less efficient than he was at grinding out wins against the sub-2500 people. Just look at the photo: the glasses are off and he looks like a guy who means business.
Bu Falters, New Grandmaster Born in Gibraltar!
by Manuel Weeks
In the 9th round Ukrainian grandmaster Zahar Efimenko managed to defeat Chinese GM Bu Xiangzhi who looked ready to win the Gibtelecom masters with a record score. In a Sicilian Najdorf he managed to squeeze his opponent until he could play the beautiful bishop below.
Here Efimenko unleased the sacrifice 44.Bxa6! This allowed white to create a winning passed pawn.
This has now set up a grandstand finish with Bu and Efimenko leading with 7.5 points of 9. Bu has to meet his countryman Ni Hua while Efimenko has to play against American star Hikaru Nakamura. It is still possible for both the leaders to get beaten and be jumped over at the last hurdle.
Ni Hua achieved his final round chance bye defeating grandmaster Vadim Malakhtko in a Petroff defence where the Chinese representative broke down the black defenses by a sacrificial attack.
Here Ni Hua played 24.Nxf7 to uncover the black king, after 24…,Kxf7. 25.Bxg6+ the result was no longer in doubt.
The other prestigious prize to be decided today will be who will be the leading lady in Gibraltar, Going into the last round both Victorjia Cmilyte and Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant share the lead with a group below them ready to pounce if both of them fail to score in the last round.
Chasing the Women's Prize: Ketevan Arakhamia and Viktorija Cmilyte
Congratulations must be given to Viktorjia who by drawing against Ukrainian GM Areschenko achieved her first grandmaster norm which is the first step towards the coveted title of Grandmaster. Scottish IM Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant defeated Norwegian legend Simen Agdestein in a critical game for her women's title aspirations.
Here Arakhamia-Grant played 20.Nd5! winning material
Australia's Third GM: Zong-Yuan Zhao
There is one young man who will always remember the 2008 Gibtelecom International Chess festival. Australian Zong-Yuan Zhao by winning yesterday has fulfilled all the requirements laid out by the World Chess Federation and has become only the third grandmaster in Australian chess history. Many congratulations were given to this likable young man yesterday as he joined this elite group. Chessplayers come from far and wide to play in Gibraltar knowing that they will have the chance to gain the performance standards to become a titled player.
The third competitor to gain the grandmaster norm is experienced International Master Robert Bellin from England. After coming back into competitive chess recently he has recovered some of the energy and hunger which led him to be one of the most successful UK players of the distant past. Robert has shown that it is never to late to come back and fulfill some unfinished business over the chessboard, we wish him well in his quest for the GM title.
Scottish IM/WGM Ketevan Arakhamia beat GM Simen Agdestein
"Roald Amundsen! Edvard Grieg! Ole Gunnar Solskjaer! Simen Agdestein! Can you hear me, Simen Agdestein? Scotland gave your boy a helluva beating!"
The top three boards will start at the earlier time of 10am in order to ensure time enough for a playoff for the title and the first prize of 12,000 pounds. There is no sharing of the first prize in the Gibraltar masters so there always fighting chess in the last round as players try to capture the first place outright.