Arkell and Lombaers win in sunny Malta

1/28/2015 – English GM Keith Arkell (2497) and Dutch player Peter Lombaers (2291) shared first place in a round robin in Sliema, Malta, held 9–15 January 2015. Both players scored 6.5/9. The much more experienced GM Arkell was declared the winner on tiebreak, but Peter Lombaers was even more satisfied, since it meant fulfilling his first IM norm. Pictorial report by Piotr Kaim.

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By Piotr Kaim

Wherever you go in Malta, you find something beautiful

Malta is not privy to a large chess tradition except that Valetta, the country’s capital, hosted the Chess Olympiad in 1980. However the country’s chess development has not exactly been terrific since then. Currently, the country’s highest ranked players that are truly active only occasionally break the 2150 Elo threshold.

On the other hand many good things have happened for the last couple of years and thus the chess development in Malta is likely to speed up. In particular, Clarence Psaila, one of the leading Maltese players, has proven to be a very active and competent organizer. As a result there are more and more chess events in the country, many of which are organized under the umbrella of XYChess, a sport organization established and led by Clarence himself.

That was precisely the case with the aforementioned round robin that was organized in the Imperial Hotel in Sliema. I got there by accident. The previous winter I had gone to Malta with my family as a tourist, and during a three-week stay I exchanged a couple of e-mails with Maltese chess players hoping to advertise my chess lessons delivered over the Internet. Unfortunately, I was not even able to meet anybody from the chess community due to social commitments. Nevertheless, the said correspondence led me to the “Chess in Malta” Facebook group and thus I started to receive numerous announcements on chess tournaments in the archipelago. Finally, I got an invitation to a round robin that offered an opportunity to get an IM norm.

This time the norm was way beyond my reach, but I have no complaints about the trip. Malta is a beautiful country and there is a special reason to go there during the winter. In the northern Europe we are 'enjoying' freezing temperatures, provided we do not live in Scandinavia, where things are even worse. At the same time the Maltese enjoy 10-20 ºC above zero. Other reasons for visiting them will be shared in a moment, after I tell you a few words about the tournament.

The obvious candidate for the first place was Keith Arkell, the only GM in the pack. However, as early as in the first round he was upset by a Polish National Master Rafal Przedmojski.

Keith Arkell – Rafal Przedmojski (annotated by Rafal Przedmojski)

[Event "XYChess IM Section"] [Site "Sliema, Malta"] [Date "2015.01.09"] [Round "1.3"] [White "Arkell, Keith C"] [Black "Przedmojski, Rafal"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D02"] [WhiteElo "2497"] [BlackElo "2367"] [Annotator "Rafal Przedmojski"] [PlyCount "142"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] {Comments by Rafal Przedmojski} 1. Nf3 {A tricky move when you face an opponent who, like me, regularly plays Dutch.} d5 ({After} 1... f5 {you can avoid main lines by playing 2.e4!? or 2.d3!?}) 2. g3 c6 {A solid move steering towards Slavlike positions. Now, whenever White contemplates c2-c4, he must take into account ...d5xc4 with further opportunities to defend the c4-pawn e. g. with ...b7-b5.} 3. Bg2 Bf5 4. O-O Nd7 5. d4 ({Another option was to develop with} 5. d3 {and Nbd2.}) 5... Ngf6 6. a4 $5 ({Preparing c2-c4. If} 6. c4 {is played immediately, Black can respond} dxc4 {and it is not easy to regain the pawn, e.g.} 7. Nbd2 (7. Nfd2 Nb6 8. e4 Bg4) 7... Nb6 {and White is missing the a4-a5 thrust.}) 6... e6 7. c4 Be7 ({After} 7... dxc4 8. Nfd2 $5 {White regains the pawn and gets a standard advantage in the centre.}) ({Besides, there is no point in protecting Bf5 with} 7... h6 {because - in the absence of the white knight on c3 - 8.Nh4 can be met with 8...Be4.}) 8. Nc3 Ne4 9. a5 a6 ({White is better after both} 9... Nxc3 10. bxc3 dxc4 11. Nd2) ({and} 9... dxc4 10. Qa4) 10. Qb3 Nd6 $5 {You could imagine a more solid setup, but the one I used proved very efficient in the game. My opponent spent a lot of time looking for a clear refutation and did not find one. At the same time, his efforts led to serious time trouble. By the way, during the game I believed that both 10... Ra7 and 10...Qc8 were unnecessary concessions.} 11. Nd2 $5 {A principled move that is often seen in the Catalan. White aims to gain the central advantage with e2-e4.} Bg5 $5 {The idea is to make the e2-e4 as expensive as possible. I had 11...Bg5 in mind while playing 10...Nd6. Otherwise the latter would be silly.} 12. e4 {White is consistent.} (12. f4 Bf6 {and Black is more than OK.}) 12... Bxd2 13. Bxd2 ({Another interesting option was} 13. exf5 $5 {and it was not easy to calculate everything over the board. I would probably continue with } Nxc4 {expecting} 14. fxe6 fxe6 15. Qxb7 Qc8 {and Black nearly equalized.}) 13... Bxe4 (13... Nxc4 $6 {would be too much. Though I believed the only good response was} 14. Bc1 $5 ({There is nothing wrong with the more natural} 14. Bf4 {and then e.g.} g5 15. Bc1 Bg6 16. Qxb7 {and White is much better.})) 14. Nxe4 dxe4 15. Bb4 $6 ({Stronger was} 15. Bf4 $1 Nf6 16. Qb4 Nf5 17. Qxb7 {with a better game for White. Black should try to exchange queens with} Qc8 ({After } 17... O-O 18. Be5 Nxd4 19. Rfd1 c5 20. Bxe4 {White has a huge advantage.})) 15... Nf6 16. Rac1 Qd7 17. Bh3 ({Introducing a very strong threat 18.d5. On the other hand, when it is parried, the bishop will be slightly misplaced. The opponent would have done better had he forgot about assaulting my king. Instead, he could follow a modest idea of regaining the e4-pawn, for instance with} 17. Qa3 Rd8 18. Rfe1 {and then b2-b3, Rcd1, etc. with equal play.}) 17... Qc7 18. Qa3 Rd8 19. Rfd1 Qe7 20. d5 {Very optimistic! The grandmaster is ready to sacrifice the exchange on d5 in order to keep my king in the centre. He could still switch to the safer plan aimed at regaining the e4-pawn.} exd5 21. cxd5 Nxd5 22. Rxd5 cxd5 23. Qa4+ Kf8 24. Rc5 $2 ({After this move I can untangle with ...h7-h5 and Rh8-h6. When the tournament was finished, GM Arkell told me he could stop the above idea with} 24. Qa3 $1 {and} {and I would have had to choose between a draw by repetition with} Ke8 (24... h5 $2 {blunders the Rook due to} 25. Bxd6 Qxd6 26. Qxd6+ Rxd6 27. Rc8+ Ke7 28. Rxh8) ({Or I could attempt very risky play with} 24... g5 25. Rc5 Rg8 26. Rxd5 Rg6 27. Bf5) 25. Qa4+ Kf8 26. Qa3 {and shake hands.}) 24... h5 $1 {After the text I am absolutely safe, while being an exchange up. On top of this my opponent was left with less then 5 minutes on the clock (plus 30 seconds increment)!} 25. Rxd5 e3 $1 {It is important to gain some space for the rooks.} 26. f4 (26. fxe3 Qxe3+ 27. Kh1 Rh6 {was worse. However, after the text my rook can enter the h6-square without being annoyed by the dark square bishop.}) 26... Rh6 27. Re5 Qc7 28. Rxe3 Kg8 29. Rc3 Qb8 30. Qc2 h4 $1 {The advanced h-pawn will be very helpful in the process of converting the advantage.} 31. Bg2 Nb5 32. Rc4 Nd4 33. Qe4 Nc6 34. Bc3 Qa7+ 35. Kf1 Rd1+ 36. Ke2 Re6 $1 {A good move leading to the won endgame.} 37. Kxd1 Qg1+ 38. Be1 Rxe4 39. Bxe4 h3 40. Bxc6 bxc6 41. Rc2 f5 $6 ({More precise was} 41... c5 $1 {As you will see the c-pawn advance will help me a lot in the game. After the text my opponent could stop it with 42.b4. The game should be won anyway, but it would be much more difficult.}) 42. Rf2 $6 Qh1 $6 ({Again} 42... c5 {should be played.}) 43. Rc2 $6 (43. b4 $1) 43... c5 $1 {At last! Now I have a combination of two ideas. The first is to send the king to g4 and the second is to play c5-c4-c3 and then grab the a5-pawn after the forced b2xc3.} 44. Re2 ({Obviously} 44. Rxc5 $2 {is not playable due to} Qxh2) 44... c4 45. Kc2 Qf3 46. Kd1 Qf1 47. Rf2 Qh1 48. Ke2 Qe4+ 49. Kf1 Qd5 50. Bc3 Qd1+ 51. Be1 Kf7 52. Rd2 Qf3+ 53. Rf2 Qd5 {The queen maneuvers give me tempi for advancing the king.} 54. Bd2 Kg6 55. Bc3 Qd1+ 56. Be1 Kh5 57. Rd2 Qf3+ 58. Rf2 Qd3+ 59. Kg1 Qd1 60. Kf1 Kg4 61. Rd2 Qf3+ 62. Rf2 Qd3+ 63. Kg1 Qb1 64. Kf1 Qa1 {White is helpless in the face of the c4-c3 threat.} 65. Rc2 c3 $1 66. bxc3 ({Forced. After} 66. Rxc3 Qxb2 {White cannot avoid the loss of the h2-pawn, not to mention that he cannot reasonably defend against 67...Qg2 mate! }) 66... Qxa5 {And now the passed a-pawn gives me an easy victory.} 67. Ke2 Qa4 68. Kd2 Qc4 69. Kc1 a5 70. Bd2 a4 71. Kb1 a3 {and White resigned since he can neither untangle, nor prevent the threat of 72...Qb3+ and 73...a2.} 0-1

Rafal Przedmojski sends the message: “I beat him!”

In the second round, just after that game, the Polish player then beat Peter Lombaers, another player that would finish in shared first. Unfortunately, during the rest of the tournament Rafal was less fortunate and eventually ended on a 50 per cent performance.

Meanwhile, GM Arkell steadily made up for the first round loss by beating five opponents and scoring three draws. He told us his best game from the tournament was his seventh round win against FM Glenn House.  

Glenn House – Keith Arkell (Notes by Piotr Kaim)

[Event "XYChess IM Section"] [Site "Sliema, Malta"] [Date "2015.01.13"] [Round "7.2"] [White "House, Glenn L"] [Black "Arkell, Keith C"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A08"] [WhiteElo "2230"] [BlackElo "2497"] [Annotator "Piotr Kaim"] [PlyCount "80"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] {Comments by Piotr Kaim} 1. e4 g6 2. Nf3 Bg7 3. d3 c5 4. g3 d5 5. Nbd2 Nc6 6. Bg2 e6 7. O-O Nge7 8. Re1 O-O {The game transposed into one of the King's Indian Attack main lines.} 9. h4 h6 10. e5 $6 Nf5 11. Nf1 f6 $1 12. exf6 Qxf6 13. N1h2 e5 {Otherwise White could block Black's centre with 14.Ng4 and then, sooner or later, Bc1-f4. After the text Black is already better, so White should rethink a couple of previous moves. Maybe his first inaccuracy was 10. e5?} 14. Ng4 Qd6 15. Nfh2 Be6 16. Nf1 Qd7 17. Ngh2 Rf7 18. c3 Raf8 19. Re2 b5 20. Bd2 c4 $1 {Black extends his central command. Once he gets rid of the d3-pawn, the e-pawn will be able to go forward.} 21. Be1 cxd3 22. Qxd3 e4 23. Qc2 Ne5 24. Rd1 Qc6 25. Ne3 Nf3+ $1 26. Bxf3 exf3 27. Red2 ({The text compromises the king's defence. However, it was forced. After} 27. Nxf3 Nxe3 28. Rxe3 Rxf3 29. Rxf3 Rxf3 30. Qxg6 Qd7 {White is a piece down with inadequate compensation.}) 27... Nxe3 28. fxe3 Bf5 29. Qb3 Be4 {The bishop solidifies the Black centre and calls for his colleagues to join the assault on the weakened king.} 30. Bf2 Qd7 $1 {The threat is 31...Qh3 and 32... Qg2 mate. White is forced to place the king in the corner and then to strangle him with his own pieces.} 31. Kh1 Qh3 32. Rg1 Be5 33. Qxb5 {and White resigned as he did not want to see} Bxg3 $1 34. Rxg3 Qxg3 $1 35. Bxg3 f2+ 36. Nf3 Rxf3 37. Qf1 Rxg3+ 38. Kh2 Rg2+ 39. Kh3 Rg1 40. Qxf2 Rxf2 {and Black wins easily.} 0-1

Closing ceremony: GM Keith Arkell (in the middle) with the organizer Clarence Psaila (left)
and the chief arbiter Adam Raoof

The second joint winner was the Dutch player Peter Lombaers who fulfilled his first IM norm. The success was entirely deserved, as he displayed good endgame technique as well as tactical resourcefulness. In short, his play was both entertaining and efficient. Just look at how he beat an experienced Swedish IM.

Peter Lombaers – Bjorn Ahlander (Notes by Peter Lombaers)

[Event "XYChess IM Section"] [Site "Sliema, Malta"] [Date "2015.01.09"] [Round "1.4"] [White "Lombaers, Peter"] [Black "Ahlander, Bjorn"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C56"] [WhiteElo "2291"] [BlackElo "2406"] [Annotator "Peter Lombaers"] [PlyCount "113"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] {Comments by Peter Lombaers} 1. e4 {This was the first time in a long while that I played 1.e4. I like the Max Lange Attack, but nobody goes into that line. That's why I prepared an interesting sideline.} e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Bc4 Nf6 5. Ng5 $5 ({This is the sideline. Objectively it is not very good, but it has nice surprise value. The normal line is} 5. O-O Nxe4 ({My favourite Max Lange Attack occurs after} 5... Bc5 6. e5 d5 7. exf6 dxc4) 6. Re1 d5 7. Bxd5 Qxd5 8. Nc3 Qa5 9. Nxe4 {with an approximately equal position.}) 5... Ne5 6. Bb3 h6 7. f4 hxg5 8. fxe5 Nxe4 9. Bd5 Nc5 ({The strongest is} 9... f5 $1 { and White is struggling. The move 9...f5 was once played by Michael Adams.}) 10. O-O Ne6 11. Qf3 Qe7 12. Nd2 g4 {Black's idea is to force a trade of queens after 13.Qxg4 Qh4.} 13. Qf5 $1 ({After} 13. Qxg4 Qh4 14. Qxh4 Rxh4 {White can regain the pawn with} 15. Nf3 Rh8 16. Bxe6 dxe6 17. Nxd4 {, but the resulting endgame is better for Black. In particular, the e5-pawn is in the way of White's bishop.}) 13... Qh4 ({This is of course the principled reply. My opponent showed during the whole tournament that he is an aggressive player so the text was consistent with his nature. An entirely different option was} 13... g6 {and White has to allow the exchange of queens:} 14. Qxg4 Qh4 15. Qxh4 Rxh4 16. Ne4 $5 {- the last move shows the difference as compared to the line after 13.Qxg4. Once the g7-g6 push is done, White can gain the f6-square. Still there is no advantage, but the position is better than the one discussed in the previous note.}) 14. Qxf7+ Kd8 15. Ne4 Qxh2+ 16. Kf2 Be7 17. Bxe6 {Of course it was too late to worry about my queen.} dxe6 ({He probably thought this was the safe way to play. Another option was} 17... Rf8 {and Black wins the queen, but White gets a lot of compensation:} 18. Qxf8+ Bxf8 19. Bg5+ Ke8 ( 19... Be7 20. Rh1 {and White wins back the queen with an advantage}) 20. Bf5 { - it's a very unclear position and White's chances are excellent, especially in a game played over the board.}) 18. Rh1 $1 {He was starting to run low on time and I presented him with this move that added even more fuel to the fire.} Bh4+ $6 ({Not the best reply. He should have taken the rook with} 18... Qxh1 { Now White will win the queen, but Black gets a lot of material in return:} 19. Bg5 Bxg5 20. Rxh1 Be3+ 21. Ke2 Rxh1 {. Black has two rooks, a bishop and two pawns for a queen. However, with the black king so exposed White will always be able to give a perpetual. It might even be possible to play for more e.g.} 22. Nf6 $1 Rh8 (22... gxf6 $2 23. exf6 {and Black gets mated}) 23. Qxg7 Re8 24. Qxg4 {- the black pieces are still in a mess so he will need a lot of time to develop. Meanwhile White can try to advance his g-pawn. At any moment it is also possible to give a perpetual so White isn't risking anything.}) 19. Ke2 Qxg2+ 20. Kd3 Bd7 $2 ({Now Black is really lost. The only move was} 20... Qxh1 {and White should have continued with} 21. Bg5+ Bxg5 22. Rxh1 Rxh1 23. Nxg5 { . Compare this to the previous note. White has captured an extra bishop, so he must be better than after 18...Qxh1.}) 21. Bg5+ {And now I just win a piece.} Kc8 22. Rxh4 Bb5+ 23. Kxd4 Re8 24. Qf2 {It appears there is no direct win, so I force a trade of queens.} Qxf2+ 25. Nxf2 g3 26. Ne4 g2 27. c4 Bc6 28. Rg1 b6 29. Rxg2 Kb7 30. Rf2 Rf8 31. Rxf8 Rxf8 32. Rf4 Rh8 33. Bh4 {I wanted to avoid any counterplay by Black, so I prevented his rook from entering my position. Now I target the g7 and e6 pawns.} a5 34. Ng5 Bd7 35. Ke3 Kc6 36. Nf3 Kb7 37. Rg4 Bc6 38. Nd4 Rh7 39. Nxe6 Bd7 40. Nf8 Bxg4 41. Nxh7 Be6 42. Kd4 c5+ 43. Kc3 b5 44. b3 a4 45. Be7 b4+ 46. Kb2 a3+ 47. Kc1 Kc6 48. Ng5 Bf5 49. Bf8 g6 50. Bd6 Kb6 51. e6 Kc6 52. e7 Bd7 53. Ne4 g5 54. Bxc5 g4 55. Bxb4 Be8 56. Bxa3 Bg6 57. Kd2 {Black resigned. This was of course a very nice game to play as the first game of a tournament! The whole opening is dubious, but it has a lot of surprise value.} 1-0

Peter Lombaers congratulated by the arbiter Adam Raoof

Apart from the main group with the IM norm, there were four other round robin tournaments in the same venue. Their winners were Collin Pace (Malta, 2113), Ron Sammut (Malta, 1756), Peter Musgrove (England, unrated) and Clarence Psaila (Malta, 2048) – yes the last mentioned guy was the organizer. 
 
The next tournament in Malta that might interest ChessBase readers is the Lucky Dino Open, scheduled for May 20-26. It will be held in the same venue as the January round-robins. In the group A (for 1850+) the prize found is EUR 1,500 and the first prize is EUR 700. Since there will be no GM invitations, there is a high probability the prize money will go to average players like (some of) you and me.

Should you feel the least bit interested, allow me to give you just a few touristic tips. You do not need more, since wherever you go, you will find something beautiful or extraordinary. The country is a small archipelago, just 316 square kilometers, comprised of three inhabited islands and a number of uninhabited ones. You can get nearly everywhere by a city bus, which is the main public transportion. The obvious idea is to go to Valetta and see the Grand Master’s Palace built by the Knights of Malta in 1571; today it is home to the House of Representatives as well as the office of the country’s President. You may also go to Wied iz-Zurrieq and then take a fine boat trip along the picturesque Maltese waterside rocks.

Aside from that, the country is a gamblers’ heaven, so if you get bored with typical sightseeing, not to mention the opening preparation, you can always visit a casino with roulette, blackjack, slot machines and the like.

The archipelago’s population is only slightly above 400,000, but the small nation preserved its ancient language despite a long history of political dependence on others. The Maltese language is quite similar to Arab. On the other hand nearly everybody speaks English, which is the second official language of the country and, besides, most people speak Italian as well.

Finally, if you contemplate the trip, please note that Maltese prices are rather modest compared to those in Western Europe and only slightly higher than those from Central Europe.

Final standings

Photo gallery

The organizer Clarence Psaila, the two winners Keith Arkell and Peter Lombaers and the chief arbiter Adam Raoof

Collin Pace won one of the lower groups

The Imperial Hotel: the nice patio in front of the playing hall

The report’s author, Piotr Kaim, and his wife Dobromila Smolak while visiting Malta

The cafe on the backside of Sliema’s main shopping centre

Maltese specialty: an elegant bay window

A concert in front of the Grand Master’s Palace in Valetta

The courtyard of the Grand Master’s Palace

The courtyard: one more look

The verdant Maltese landscape

Another look on the rocks

Photos by Dobromila Smolak and Duncan Vella


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