Alina L'Ami hears the Call of the North

by ChessBase
3/20/2012 – The Reykjavik Open 2012 took place from March 6–13, and our playing correspondent WGM Alina L'Ami sent us a number of beautiful reports from the Icelandic capital. She was obvious so enthralled by the Nordic country, its people and landscape, that she has written one more massively illustrated report. It is filled with a yearning to go back to Reykjavik next year. Maybe we should join her?

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The N1 Reykjavik Open 2012 took place from March 6 to March 13, 2012, in Harpa, Reykjavik's spectacular new music hall on the harbour, just five minutes' walk to downtown Reykjavik. The event is a nine-round Swiss, the rate of play is 90 minutes for 40 moves, followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game, with 30 seconds increment from move one. Prizes are € 5,000 for the winner, € 2,000 for second place, € 1,250 for 3rd, etc., with a total of € 15,000.

The Call of the North...

It is always a special experience to play a chess tournament in a new place, in a new country, to see its sights and enjoy all that makes it different from one’s own. Its people, its culture, the beauty of its landscape, everything comes together to inspire you for some really creative games – if you have eyes to see and ears to listen. At least for me it works this way and I am very happy to have experienced Iceland this time, thanks to the Reykjavik Open. Here, in case you have forgotten, are the top final standings (after nine rounds of play):

Caruana Fabiano
Sokolov Ivan
Navara David
Jones Gawain C B
Avrukh Boris
Hou Yifan
Maze Sebastien
Danielsen Henrik

Shared second, with seven points out of nine games: Henrik Danielsen, Sebastien
Maze, Gawain Jones, David Navara, Ivan Sokolov, Boris Avrukh and Hou Yifan

With 7.5 points out of nine games, Fabiano Caruana continues to impress us all by winning, unshared, this very strong and famous tournament which takes place every year in the world’s northernmost capital. As you might have seen, things were not decided until the very last moment, until the game between the reigning women champion, Hou Yifan, and the Italian GM ended in a draw, after a fierce struggle.

[Event "Reykjavik Open 2012"] [Site "Reykjavik/Iceland"] [Date "2012.03.13"] [Round "9"] [White "Hou, Yifan"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C78"] [WhiteElo "2639"] [BlackElo "2767"] [PlyCount "94"] [EventDate "2012.??.??"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O b5 6. Bb3 Bc5 7. c3 d6 8. d4 Bb6 9. h3 O-O 10. Be3 h6 11. Nbd2 Re8 12. Re1 {0.16/0} Bd7 {0.12/0} 13. Qb1 { 0.00/0} Na5 {0.00/0} 14. Bc2 {-0.10/0} c5 {0.00/0} 15. d5 {0.00/0} c4 {0.00/0} 16. b4 {0.00/0} cxb3 {0.04/0} 17. axb3 {0.20/0} Bxe3 {0.03/0} 18. Rxe3 {0.32/0} Nb7 {0.32/0} 19. b4 {0.12/0} Nh5 {0.28/0} 20. Bd3 {0.22/0} Nf4 {0.40/0} 21. Bf1 {0.56/0} Rf8 {0.35/0} 22. c4 {0.43/0} bxc4 {0.32/0} 23. Bxc4 {0.28/0} a5 {0.48/ 0} 24. bxa5 {0.52/0} Nxa5 {0.17/0} 25. Qb4 {0.13/0} Nxc4 {0.48/0} 26. Rxa8 {0. 44/0} Qxa8 {0.78/0} 27. Nxc4 {0.33/0} Qa1+ {0.29/0} 28. Re1 {0.13/0} Qa2 {0.21/ 0} 29. Nfd2 {0.17/0} Rc8 $1 {0.10/0} 30. Re3 {0.00/0} Qc2 {0.00/0} 31. Kh2 {0. 00/0 As you can see from our Let's Check evaluation graph on the left the position has been essentially a draw for some time now.} Nd3 $2 {2.48/0} ( 31... Qd1 32. Qb3 Qa1 {etc. would have stayed within the drawing margin.}) 32. Qb7 $18 {2.29/0} Nc5 {2.44/0} 33. Qb6 {2.63/0} Nd3 {2.79/0} 34. Nxd6 {2.16/0} Rf8 {2.68/0} 35. N6c4 {2.26/0} (35. N2c4 {Moving the other knight to c4 was the better option.}) 35... Nxf2 {1.93/0} 36. Qb1 {1.13/0} Qxb1 {1.36/0} 37. Nxb1 {0.95/0} Bb5 {1.85/0} 38. Nba3 {1.41/0} Ba6 {1.27/0} 39. Nxe5 {1.51/0} Re8 {1.46/0} 40. d6 {1.40/0} Bb7 {1.56/0 White is still winning, but now throws it away immediately after the time control.} 41. Nxf7 $2 {0.04/0} (41. Nac4 Nxe4 42. d7 Rd8 43. Na5 Bd5 44. Rd3 Nf6 45. Rxd5 Nxd5 46. Nb7 {was one way of converting the advantage to victory.}) 41... Kxf7 $11 {0.07/0 The plan doesn't work, the young women's world champion has simply dropped half a point.} 42. Rf3+ {0.06/0} Ke6 {0.07/0} 43. Nb5 {0.06/0} Rb8 $1 {0.04/0} 44. Rxf2 {0.00/0} Bxe4 {0.03/0} 45. Re2 {0.00/0} Rxb5 {0.00/0} 46. Rxe4+ {0.00/0} Kxd6 47. Kg3 Kd5 1/2-1/2

So young and so good – Hou Yifan's games are a delight to watch.
She is becoming a model for us, the women players. And not only us!

The game with a backdrop of Reykjavik harbour

Some might say that Fabiano got lucky, that the Chinese star was completely winning, but no matter how clear things look outside the system, inside of it is always a different story. There are emotions, tiredness, the stake they are fighting for, plus the human brain which, as you may know, is not a machine. All in all you need a bit of luck on your side to come first, especially in such a tough tournament as the Reykjavik Open, with many strong players fighting for the top spots: luck with the pairings, with the colours, with the opening choices and so forth.

How does she do it? Bulgarian GM Ivan Cheparinov kibitzes a Hou Yifan game

Chess is ageless: I really enjoyed watching this young boy closely following the games of his idols from his favourite his favourite spot, in the front row, the closest one to the stage – even if it is sometimes too much for him to stay awake.

Nowadays you have to be extremely tough, ready to play under any circumstances – after all, chess is our profession. There was a double round, a bit of unusual one: rounds six and seven were played in the same day, which requires not only a fresh brain but also a fit body – you know: “Mens sana in corpore sano”. On that day Fabiano scored two full points, and he is currently number six in the live rating list!

The tournament hall at 09.30 in the morning

Being able to watch such high class chess in a very beautiful location is not the only reason for the increasing popularity of this special tournament. Its organizers simply refuse to rest before things are solved, before they know you are happy. And they always learn from the previous edition, making the next one even better. To me, it looks like the entire nation, the local authorities, the sponsors, the politicians, they are all weaving an atmosphere which is difficult to describe.

The only detail which might have disturbed the more sensitive players was the music. Harpa, which is also a concert hall, is a great building, but sometimes high singing notes were able to find their way into the playing area. On the arbiters’ table, a full box with ear plugs was available for players who wanted to isolate themselves from any disturbing factors. As for the next year, I understood there will be a sound proof tournament hall – which makes me wonder: whom or what will we then be able to put the blame on for our poor performance?!

The Chinese ambassador, Su Ge, entertaining the chess public with his wry humour

Match of the Century Museum

Starting from March 2nd and lasting until the 15th of June, a special gift has been given to us chess players: a wonderful exhibition in the National Museum of Iceland, The Match of the Century – 1972 Fischer-Spassky!

The most followed match of all times, the Cold War struggle on a chess board

This is the corner where I simply could indulge myself for... well, hours on end

You can imagine there was a lot of tension going on, too much actually. Various events of a curious nature took place during the championship. On one occasion, Fischer requested that the chairs being used should be opened up and examined. This was to ensure that no hidden devices had been placed within the chairs. One evening, the head of the technical department of the police in Reykjavik produced data that seemed to indicate that something was wrong with one of the chairs. The leather was removed and a detailed search took place. Nothing suspicious was found. A piece of the chair broke off during the search and was kept as a souvenir by one of the officers working security at the event. All this based on information given by Kristinn Oskarsson, retired policeman.

Spassky's signature – could someone let me know what is written underneath his name? Addendum: Anton Gubanov of St. Petersburg, Russia, told us that it is: "BSpassky" in Russian – in Cyrillic "БСпа́сский".

Fischer's signature. Unfortunately, nobody cares about the museum's signs: it is not allowed to touch nor to lean over the items on display. And yet everybody does it, so that's why the autograph is less visible nowadays.

Do you think this is the actual time on the clocks after the last game finished?! In
the background the position before Fischer's final move, 41...Bd3+!, in game three.

The chess pieces they used during the match

Postcards with the final position of each game

Entrance tickets of spectators for the match in Reykjavik

The menu for the closing banquet, which included

  • Wild Icelandic Mountain lamb grilled in the old Viking way
  • A suckling Pig barbecued
  • Potato Salad – Mixed green Salad – Viking Sauce
  • Vikings blood wine, cooled with ice from Vatnajökull

Fischer's original scoresheet for the 11th game...

... and Spassky's, so much neater than his opponent's

Sorry for the poor quality of the pictures and the shadows of my hand holding the camera. The scoresheets are behind showcase glass and difficult to photograph.

Fischer's final resting place at Laugardaelakirkja church

After so much chess, it's time to relax...

The Pearl (Perlan) is a remarkable building, constructed in 1988, unique in Iceland and probably in the whole world. It is located on Oskjuhlid hill, atop huge tanks in which natural hot water is stored for heating the city. The glass dome contains a rotating restaurant serving fine cuisine.

The oldest house in Reykjavik, built in 1762, dedicated to Crafts and Design

I've never seen such colourful houses, with sides painted in different colours

If in 1972 the Chess Match of the Century was played under the influence of the Cold War, in 1986 this little white house became the site of pivotal negotiations of international significance. Two of the world's most powerful leaders, Reagan and Gorbachev, met here to discuss what is now considered as the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

Landscapes and colours

"I landed on Mars" is one's first impression of the Icelandic countryside. Craters. Solidified lava in the coal-black mountains on which a shy vegetation is struggling to shine… glaciers, mountains, volcanoes and waterfalls, geothermal areas and strange beaches… These lucky Icelanders guys are straddling two continents, and they have the best of both!

Half in jest, half in earnest, Icelanders say that they have no forests because they have nothing to hide. And they really don’t! Such tough characters and yet full of joy, full of life – it’s hard to believe, if you consider the power of nature they have been struggling with for centuries.

I have seen colours and landscapes only a painter with an extraordinary imagination could produce – the turquoise of the water in the Blue Lagoon, the lakes or the Ocean: it’s simply a free happiness pill that the nature is offering you.

Pitch black lava beach

As a colour contrast: the Skógafoss waterfall

Hafnarfjörður is a port town located about ten km south of Reykjavík. It is the third most populous city in Iceland and famous for having one of Iceland's largest settlements of "Huldufolk" (Hidden People). That includes: elves, dwarfs and other mystical beings.

Wooden racks where fish is drying

In Iceland dried fish (hardfiskur or harðfiskur) is a delicacy to be enjoyed. For some it is a TV snack instead of more unhealthy chips or sweets. Several types of fish are dried, most commonly haddock, catfish and flounder. Haven't tried that yet, but I am planning to come back!

Time flies when you're having good time. I'm already seriously thinking of writing back to the organizers to get an invitation for next year's edition. I can only recommend that our readers consider joining me.


The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 11 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

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