Biel Masters: Brkic and Donchenko blaze out of the blocks with 4½/5!

by Tanmay Srinath
7/27/2019 – The Biel Grandmaster tournament has entered its only rest day, after five gruelling days of chess. Along with this flagship event, a nine-round Masters Tournament is being organized for players above 2000 Elo. The top seed is newly minted member of the 2700 club Jeffery Xiong, who faces stiff competition from fellow American Gata Kamsky and Israeli Tamir Nabaty. With 34 GMs and 22 IMs there are a lot of norm chances as well! After five rounds, Croatian surprise package Ante Brkic and German Alexander Donchenko lead the tournament with 4½ out of 5, followed by a host of players on 4 points. | Photo: Simon Bohnenblust / Biel Chess Festival

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2019 Biel Masters Tournament

While the Grandmaster Tournament is definitely the cynosure of all eyes, the strong Master Open has made steady progress since day one. It has seen upsets, misses and clinical finishes since the beginning, and with four rounds to go it enters its rest day on the 27th. Gata Kamsky started very strongly with 3/3 and so did Alexander Donchenko, but while Gata made two draws in the next two rounds, Donchenko continued to play fabulously and went on to reach 4½/5, where he was joined by Ante Brkic, who managed to beat Salem Saleh in Round five. Xiong and his countryman Kamsky join a host of players trailing the leaders by a half point, and with four rounds to go this is shaping up to be an exciting tournament! Here are some fascinating moments:

Round 1

The first round witnessed an upset and a half (!) with two 2200+ beating and holding Grandmasters respectively. Let us take a look at those positions:


Black out-rates his opponent by a whopping 332 points, yet was completely outplayed in an Advance Caro-Kann. Sedlak managed to escape to this ending, where he hoped he would have opportunities to draw owing to his R+B being theoretically superior to R+N. However, White now showed surprisingly good technique to convert this endgame. The objective assessment — White is probably close to winning, as his doubled passed f-pawns are more of an asset than a liability.


In the other mini-upset, GM Jaime Santos Latasa couldn't make the best use of the chances he got, and in the endgame he fluffed a big one:


White is definitely better in this ending, as Black's pawns are rather weak and his pieces are passively placed. Here the best plan to advance was 40.♔f3 followed by attacking the artificially isolated d4-pawn. It then becomes very difficult for Black to find a good defence. Instead, the inaccurate plan started with 40.c6 allowed the 2203-rated Baltic to hold on.


There was another curious game, where GM Rinat Jumabayev was struggling to outplay WIM Gulmira Dauletova. It took an error from White in the endgame for Black to finally get an advantage:


Here the best way to curtail Black's initiative on the kingside was with 42.♗f1! followed by slowly advancing the queenside pawns. There I can see no way for either side to claim an advantage. White started to go astray with 42.b1?! and it allowed Black to slowly outplay his weaker opponent and win the game.


Round 2

Round two saw Dronavalli Harika hold on in a worse position against Salem Saleh:


Saleh had to go 36...♜e7! defending the e6-pawn tactically. He is then ready to improve his king, while White's pieces are already well-placed, with no scope of improvement. This factor could have given Black great winning chances. Instead, 36...h6? allowed White to simplify favourably with 37.xe6 and Harika managed to save half a point.

Salem is not having a great tournament — with a loss and a draw to lower-rateds he is on 3½/5 | Photo: Baku Olympiad

Vaibhav Suri attacked ferociously as Black against Rahul Srivatshav and won a piece, but couldn't consolidate when it mattered the most:


Here Black had to bring the last piece into play with 30...♜c8, in order to meet 31.♕e5 with 31...f6! after which White's best move appears to be resignation! Instead, the immediate 30...f6? played in the game allowed Rahul to generate serious counterplay with 31.c4+!g7 32.xf4, and the youngster's efforts were not in vain — Suri allowed the perpetual with an inaccuracy and the game ended up as a draw.

The youngster channelled his inner Houdini when it mattered most! | Photo: Nikilesh Jain

Round 3

Jeffery Xiong won an instructive double rook and opposite coloured bishop endgame by understanding the subtleties better than his opponent - here is the critical juncture of the game:


Here Black must have expected Xiong to retreat with the bishop, maintaining the bishop pair. Instead, Jeffery played the surprising 20.xd5! giving up the bishop pair to enter an opposite-coloured bishop situation. The idea behind this move is very simple — White wants to attack the overextended kingside, and he removes an important defender. Now Black will face problems irrespective of the way he chooses to recapture. The pawn capture maintains material equality, but severely restricts the light-squared bishop. In the game, Black chose 20...xd5!? but it didn't help much — Jeffery soon won a pawn and the game.

The top seed is playing steady chess — he is on an unbeaten +3 so far. | Photo: US Chess Federation

Ante Brkic had slipped under the radar so far, but he announced his ambitions with a striking 19-move miniature over the second seed of  the tournament, Nabaty:


It was time for damage control - 16.dxe5 ♞xe5 16.♗e2 with equality. Instead, 16.xb7? was overly ambitious, and Tamir was punished for his pluck after 16...a5!, with the game ending a few moves after.


GM Ante Brkic making a statement in Biel - shared 1st with 4.5/5! | Photo: Flickr

There are a lot of youngsters playing in the event, the pick of the lot being Gukesh D and Vincent Keymar. Both are performing rather well at the moment — Keymer is on tied second with 4/5 while Gukesh is a half point behind, having beaten Vaibhav Suri before losing to co-leader Donchenko in round five.

Gata Kamsky started strong as well, with 3/3. Here is the turning point of his third round game against GM Moussard:


Black is slightly better, but has no clear plan to break through. White should be fine as long as he keeps the rooks on the board. The waiting move 23.b3!? made some sense here. Instead, he blundered with 23.f1? and after 23...e5! Kamsky managed to exchange rooks and invade White's position.

Former FIDE World Championship challenger Gata Kamsky is on 4/5. | Photo: Simon Bohnenblust / Biel Chess Festival

Round 4

Round 4 saw draws on the top two boards, while Xiong won to join the leaders. There were a few decisive results lower down, notably Gukesh's win against Suri:


17...♝f6! was a better way of asking White to prove his compensation for his missing pawn. Instead, after 17...f8 Gukesh got a soaring initiative with ♗f4! and never looked back.


The second youngest GM in the history of the game has played well so far. Can he go further in the last four rounds? | Photo: Niklesh Jain

Round 5

Round five saw a lot of action on the leader board. The first two boards ended in tame draws: Erdos - Xiong and Petrosyan - Kamsky. Brkic continued his fine run with a counterpunching as Black in a Ruy Lopez against Salem:


As scary as White's position appears, the best way to defend and attack (yes, the e6-pawn is a major factor!) was with 19.g3!. It looks counterintuitive to allow the black queen full access to h3, but White's initiative with his passed e-pawn should not be underestimated. The position remains a mess, but only White can be better! Instead, 19.g3?! allowed Black to slowly round up the e-pawn with 19...b7! after which he steadily accumulated his advantages to win.


Donchenko out-muscled Gukesh in a Maroczy after the latter went wrong in the early middlegame:


Something has gone wrong for Black in the opening — he is unable to play both ...♛b6 and ...♞c5 in time. Here it was better to bring the knight immediately to c5 and hope White messes up. 15...e5!? was interesting, but allowed 16.c5! after which White is clearly better. Alexander converted flawlessly from there on.


Vincent Keymer came to life in this round, destroying Martirosyan's King's Indian with a nearly perfect game! Here is the only chance he gave Black:


Here the only realistic chance for Black lies in counter-intuitively exchanging a pair of knights — 29....♞xe4! 30.♘xe4 b4! and the disadvantage is curtailed to manageable levels. Instead, 29...e6? allowed Vincent to activate his queen, after which he ruthlessly executed the black king.


With four rounds to go, the tournament promises an exciting conclusion!

Standings after Round 5 (top 17)


The elite group has a rest

Let us return to the GM group players. On the 26th a few of them took part in an excursion planned by the Biel Chess Organizers. Here are some pictures from the excursion:

Enjoying lunch Hotel Bozingeberg | Photo: Simon Bohnenblust / Biel Chess Festival

A cheerful Vidit with Leko and his wife | Photo: Simon Bohnenblust / Biel Chess Festival

The energetic Leko giving an interview on the rest day! | Photo: Simon Bohnenblust / Biel Chess Festival

Players, commentators and other members | Photo: Simon Bohnenblust / Biel Chess Festival

Playtime?! Vidit discussing a few things with Tal Baron | Photo: Simon Bohnenblust / Biel Chess Festival


Tanmay Srinath has been writing for ChessBase India since quite some time now. His tournament reports and depth of analysis have been widely appreciated. Pursuing a full-fledged career in engineering Tanmay doesn't get enough time to pursue chess, but he loves to follow top-level encounters and analyzes those games with his Fat Fritz engine. We hope you find his analysis useful in your games.


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