Harikrishna wins Edmonton International

by Sagar Shah
7/5/2015 – The 10th Edmonton International was held from the 19-28 June 2015 in Edmonton, Canada. The closed round robin event with ten players is into its tenth year. First organized in 2006, the main intention was to provide the local players with an opportunity to make IM and GM norms. This year the tournament was won by Indian GM Pentala Harikrishna, whom we interview in this report.

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Harikrishna wins Edmonton International

The thing that makes this tournament special is that players rated just about 2100 get a chance to play against 2700+ opposition. This has been relatively successful with the strength of chess players rising in Edmonton and the Alberta province. There were five extremely strong grandmasters with an average rating of 2690. They were Ivanchuk (2733), Harikrishna (2733), Wang Hao (2704), Shankland (2656) and Ganguly (2625). The five local players had an average of 2268, which was more than 400 points less than the GMs. The five players were IM Aman Hambleton (2446), FM Vladimir Pechenkin (2314), Dale Haessel (2180), Agnieszka Matras-Clement (2269) and Robert Gardner (2163).

Last year’s winner Vassily Ivanchuk was back in Edmonton to defend his title…

…but India’s number two Pentala Harikrishna was just unstoppable

Harikrishna began the tournament on a superb note as he won his first round game against GM Samuel Shankland. This was followed by four wins on a trot and with a score of 5.0/5 he was already 1.5 points ahead of others. A draw with Ivanchuk in round six and against Ganguly in seven was followed by a win against Pechinkin in the penultimate round. It all boiled down to the last game. Harikrishna had a point’s lead over the field but if he lost his game against Wang Hao, they both would be tied on 7.0/9 and the Chinese player would edge past him on tie-break.

Right from the opening, the Indian player was in trouble. Wang Hao had a pleasant risk-free position and was pressing with ease. Harikrishna had to call upon his best defensive skills to bring himself out of the perilous situation that he was in. Finally he managed to do that, hold the draw, and win the tournament with a one-point margin.

[Event "10th Edmonton GM 2015"] [Site "Edmonton CAN"] [Date "2015.06.28"] [Round "9.2"] [White "Wang, Hao"] [Black "Harikrishna, Pentala"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A29"] [WhiteElo "2704"] [BlackElo "2733"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "133"] [EventDate "2015.06.20"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 Bb4 5. Nd5 Nxd5 6. cxd5 Nd4 7. Nxd4 exd4 8. Bg2 O-O 9. O-O d6 10. Qc2 Bc5 11. b3 Bg4 12. e3 Qd7 13. Bb2 Bf5 14. e4 Bg6 15. d3 Rfe8 16. Kh1 Rac8 17. f4 f6 18. Qf2 Qb5 19. Bxd4 Qxd3 20. Bxc5 dxc5 21. Rad1 Qa6 22. Rfe1 Qd6 23. Qb2 Rcd8 24. e5 fxe5 25. fxe5 Qe7 26. h4 Bh5 27. Rd2 g5 28. hxg5 Qxg5 29. Qc3 {[#]White is clearly better – his central pawns are well placed and Black has almost no counterplay. But from here on, Harikrishna starts to play with great energy.} Rd6 $5 {Not the best but Harikrishna tries to confuse his opponent with unorthodox moves.} 30. Rf2 $1 Qg7 (30... Rh6 {is met with the cool} 31. Kg1 $1 $16) 31. Re3 (31. Qxc5 $5 Rxe5 32. Rxe5 Qxe5 33. Qxc7 $16 {wins a pawn and Black's counterplay is under check.} Qe1+ $2 34. Rf1 Qxg3 35. Qb8+ Kg7 36. Qf8+ $18) (31. g4 $5 {could have been a very interesting idea to deflect the bishop from supporting the rook on e8.} Bg6 (31... Bxg4 $2 32. exd6 $1 Qxc3 33. Rxe8+ Kg7 34. Re7+ Kg8 35. dxc7 $18) 32. g5 Bh5 33. Qh3 Bg6 34. Rf6 $18 {would have sealed the game in White's favour.}) 31... Rg6 32. Kg1 (32. e6 $16 {was much better.}) 32... Rg5 33. e6 Qxc3 34. Rxc3 c6 $1 {Once the central pawns are broken, the win becomes difficult for White.} 35. dxc6 bxc6 36. Re3 Bg4 37. e7 Rg6 38. Rc2 Kf7 39. Rxc5 Rxe7 40. Rxe7+ Kxe7 41. Bxc6 { Material has been drastically reduced but still White is a pawn up and Black has to play carefully.} (41. Rxc6 $6 Rxc6 42. Bxc6 Kd6 $11 {Thanks to the activity of the black king this should be an easy draw.}) 41... Kd6 42. Rc3 Rg5 43. Be4 Ra5 44. Rc2 h5 45. Kf2 Bd7 46. Rd2+ Kc7 47. Bd5 Rc5 48. Ke3 Rc1 (48... Bc6 {would have given better drawing chances.}) 49. Bf3 Be8 50. Kf4 Rf1 51. Rc2+ Kd6 52. Rc3 Rf2 53. a3 a5 54. Kg5 Rh2 55. Rc8 (55. Rd3+ Kc7 56. Re3 Kd8 57. Re2 Rh3 58. Kf4 Bf7 59. b4 $16 {White definitely has more chances here than in the game as his pieces are much better co-ordinated and the rook on h3 stands uncomfortably.}) 55... Bd7 56. Ra8 a4 $1 {With this move Harikrishna must have heaved a sigh of relief. The game is now within the realms of a draw. } 57. bxa4 Ra2 58. Ra6+ Ke7 59. a5 (59. Bxh5 Rxa3 60. g4 Rxa4 $11 {should not be too difficult to hold.}) 59... Rxa3 60. Kf4 Ra4+ 61. Be4 Bb5 62. Ra7+ Kd6 63. Ke3 Ra3+ 64. Kf4 Ra4 65. Ke3 Ra3+ 66. Kd4 Ra4+ 67. Ke3 {A very interesting last round battle.} 1/2-1/2

Harikrishna and Wang Hao analysing that fateful endgame which decided the champion of the event

After the tournament, Harikrishna was scheduled to play the Greek Chess League (which has been postponed due to the 5th July referendum). In between packing his bags and catching the flight he was kind enough to answer a few questions for the readers of ChessBase.

Sagar Shah: Congratulations Harikrishna for winning the Edmonton International with a superb score of 7.5/9. How does it feel to win a tournament ahead of great players like Ivanchuk, Wang Hao, Shankland and Ganguly and that too with an extra point?

Pentala Harikrishna: Thank you Sagar. I feel happy to win Edmonton International by one point. I was leading from the beginning and at some point even had a one and a half point margin! Surprisingly it all came down to my last round against Wang Hao. Had he won the last round he would have won the event. In fact he had advantage throughout the game. I defended well in the end to escape with a draw.

Harikrishna receives the winner’s trophy from the organizer Micah Hughey

SS: The tournament had a weird format – five extremely strong grandmasters and five comparatively lower rated players (one IM, one FM, one 2200+ and two 2100s). Considering that you were rated nearly 300 points more than half the field, wasn’t it a risky decision to play in such an event?

PH: The idea of the organiser is to provide local players with a chance to play against top-class opponents. That is the reason why you have five strong GMs and five local players. I never thought it was risky for my rating until your question! Even now I don’t know if it was risky or not. I was given the opportunity to play a closed event and had heard nice things about the organizer and organization from other GMs who have participated in the tournament in the past. So, that was enough reason for me to play!

The second last seed of the event, Dale Haessel (2180) has
played in all the ten editions of the Edmonton International

SS: What was your aim for this event?

PH: I was preparing for each game as I do for every normal event. I had nice time and enjoyed playing there. That helped me to play good chess.

SS: You were the only player who could beat all the non GM opponents. (Shankland also defeated all non GM opponents but he lost to two GMs). What was your strategy when playing against them?

PH: I had five whites and four blacks for this event and I won all my white games except against Ivanchuk, although I had some chances in that game as well. I played the same way against a non GM or a GM. I had more whites against the Canadians, so maybe that helped a bit.

A day prior to the start of the tournament Harikrishna visited the Edmonton Chess Club and
played blitz against anyone who wanted to try him. Here he is facing a local player Tristan Tran-Ly.

SS: Samuel Shankland has been one of the most solid players in the world recently. At the World Team Championships he was able to draw against all the top GMs like Aronian, Gelfand, Leko, Grischuk, Ponomariov and also you. It must been a huge boost for you to win against him especially in the first round itself?

PH: Sam has been doing pretty well recently and he is improving as a player. He is very strong at preparation and a very solid player in general. It was nice to win against such a player in the first round.

Sam was not his usual solid self in Edmonton: he drew only two games, winning five and losing two.

SS: Let us discuss one specific position in your game with Shankland:

Our readers would do well to take ten minutes on the clock and
try to calculate the consequences of the move 32.c6 in this position.

SS: Here you came up with the beautiful combination starting with the move 32.c6. How did you understand that this was the critical position in order to do something concrete and also see that at the end you had the move 36.Qf1 which was absolutely crushing. Can you take us through your thought process?

PH: I saw that 31…Ra3-a5 does not work. Therefore I played 31.b5. My opponent missed 36.Qf1 at the end of the combination. 31…Rc3 is interesting but the computer points out that after 32.c6 bxc6 33.Nc3 dxc3 34.Rxc3 Qxd4 35.Qf2 Qxc3 36.Qxf5 white will be pawn up in an opposite colour bishop endgame which is probably winning [all these variations can be played over on our javascript board below].

SS: And here Ng5 was extremely strong. Instead you continued 37.Rxf8. What was it that you missed?

PH: I saw that 37.Ng5 Qb8 38.Qxf5 Ra1 39.Bf1 [ed: here 39.Kf2 wins] 39…Rxf1 40.Kxf1 Qb1 41.Kg2 Qb7 42.Kh3 g6. White will be pawn up but it is far from winning. The computer points out the cute trick here with 38.Bd5!! instead of Qxf5. After 38.Bd5 Rxd5 and now 39.Qxf5.Black does not have Qb7+ and White is clearly winning. The move I played in the game is winning too. It takes a little longer but I don’t mind!

[Event "10th Edmonton GM 2015"] [Site "Edmonton CAN"] [Date "2015.06.20"] [Round "1.2"] [White "Harikrishna, Pentala"] [Black "Shankland, Samuel L"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A14"] [WhiteElo "2733"] [BlackElo "2656"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "89"] [EventDate "2015.06.20"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 e6 4. O-O Be7 5. c4 O-O 6. b3 c5 7. Bb2 d4 8. e3 Nc6 9. exd4 cxd4 10. Re1 Qb6 11. d3 Nd7 12. a3 a5 13. Nbd2 e5 14. Qc2 f6 15. Ne4 Rd8 16. Rab1 Nc5 17. Nxc5 Bxc5 18. Bc1 Qc7 19. Nd2 Be7 20. Ne4 Be6 21. f4 exf4 22. Bxf4 Qd7 23. c5 Re8 24. Qf2 Ne5 25. Bxe5 fxe5 26. Qe2 Rec8 27. Rec1 Ra6 28. Rc2 Bf5 29. b4 axb4 30. axb4 Ra3 31. b5 Ra5 $6 {[%cal Gc5c6]} ({Harikrishna gives this variation in his interview.} 31... Rc3 $5 32. c6 $1 bxc6 (32... Rxc2 33. Qxc2 bxc6 34. b6 $16) 33. Nxc3 dxc3 34. Rxc3 Qd4+ 35. Qf2 Qxc3 36. Qxf5 $16 {This leads to a opposite coloured bishop endgame which should be better for White.}) 32. c6 bxc6 33. bxc6 Rxc6 34. Rxc6 Qxc6 35. Rb8+ Bf8 36. Qf1 (36. Qf3 $2 Ra1+ 37. Bf1 Bc8 $17 {And now Ng5 is not so strong as the queens will be exchanged.}) 36... Qc7 (36... Bc8 $2 37. Ng5 $1 Qf6 38. Rxc8 $18) 37. Rxf8+ { According to Harikrishna this move takes time to win but as long as it is winning he doesn't really mind.} (37. Ng5 {was the faster way to win. But as Harikrishna points out in the interview, it is important to find the little tactical nuances here.} Qxb8 38. Bd5+ $3 {Just to distract the rook from a5 and also to make it block the a8-h1 diagonal which is so crucial for the queen to check from b7.} (38. Qxf5 Ra1+ 39. Bf1 (39. Kf2 $1 {Hari doesn't mention this move. This is the easiest way to win as after} Qb2+ 40. Kf3 $18 {You reach a no check position.}) 39... Rxf1+ 40. Kxf1 Qb1+ 41. Kg2 (41. Kf2 Qc2+ 42. Kf3 Qd1+ {which not so clear play.}) 41... Qb7+ 42. Kh3 g6 $16 {The computer assesses this in favour of White, but for humans, the position is not so clear.}) 38... Rxd5 39. Qxf5 Qb1+ 40. Kg2 {and now there is no Qb7+.} Qc2+ 41. Kh3 Qc7 42. Qxh7#) 37... Kxf8 38. Qxf5+ Qf7 39. Qc8+ Qe8 40. Qc1 Qe7 41. Ng5 g6 (41... Qa7 42. Qc8+ Ke7 43. Qe6+ $18) 42. Nxh7+ Kg7 43. Ng5 Ra3 44. Bf1 Rb3 45. h4 1-0

SS: You raced ahead with a score of 5.0/5 and then played Ivanchuk in the sixth round. Knowing Ivanchuk, it was obvious that he would go all out to beat you, and at the same time it is extremely difficult to prepare against him as he plays all the openings that exist! How did you prepare for that game mentally and also chess wise?

The unpredictable Ivanchuk opens with 1.e4 against
WIM Agnieszka Matras-Clement who recently moved to Alberta.

PH: I have played many games against Ivanchuk but it is hard to predict which opening he will choose. So when I play against him, I try to preserve my energy for the game by resting! It was an interesting game. He missed a trick in the early stages and his position became worse. However, he defended well.

SS: And against Surya Shekhar Ganguly? You had been travelling with him for many days before you came to Edmonton and also you have been training partners for quite some years now, preparing openings and working on chess together. It is extremely difficult to play against someone who knows you so well. How did you approach this encounter?

PH: We played in Gibraltar this year as well. It is not easy to play against a person with whom you are preparing. Somehow we manage to play some openings which we haven’t looked at together.

[Editor’s note: The same question was asked to Surya Shekhar Ganguly and this is what he had to say about facing his training partner, “It’s always very difficult to play with someone whom you train with, and it gets even more difficult if that player has a humble rating of 2740! It’s hard to find lines which we haven't seen together. But then we also work with other players too. So there is always some way out.”]

Ganguly and Harikrishna in good spirits before the start of their game

SS: From 2004 to 2013 you were in the 2600s. And in the past two years you were not only able to break into 2700 but also steadily increase your rating. As on today you are 2740 and 19th in the world rankings! What really changed in the last two years? Some secret improvement technique that you would like to share with the readers?!

PH: 2005 was an excellent year for me and around April, 2006 I was 2682. At that time I was World number 25! From 2007 until 2010 I used to have solid results with few rating points here and there. From 2010 onwards, my motivation came back in chess and I started enjoying playing and working on the game more than before. 2011 Asian Championships was a big break for me. After that, I received an invitation to play in Wijk Aan Zee in the B group in 2012, which I won and qualified to play in the A group in 2013. Playing in Wijk A helped me a lot.

I feel nothing changes or improves at once. It is no secret that I worked on chess earlier as well. Sometimes results may not show up as quickly as one expects, but the work won’t be wasted if it is done in a proper way. Surya and I started working around 2011-2012 and his contribution to my opening repertoire has played a major role in my improvement. There are couple of others who have helped me with their ideas, whom I wish not to name.

I joined Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) in June2010. BPCL played an important role in supporting my chess activities.

17/17! That was Harikrishna’s score at the simul held on 19th of June

SS: What are your next tournaments and future plans?

PH: I will play Greek, Turkish and Spanish league, World cup (if I qualify by rating) Isle of Man, and Qatar Masters.

Ganguly and Harikrishna trying the crabs in New Jersey, where they spent a few days
prior to the Edmonton International with their friend GM Magesh Chandran

SS: And lastly, before I let you go, please tell us: How were the crabs?! ?

PH: I was happy to crack a crab properly for the first time!

SS: Thanks a lot, Hari, for your time and efforts. Really appreciate it.

Participants of the 10th Edmonton International: WIM Agnieszka Matras-Clement, Pentala Harikrishna, Surya Shekhar Ganguly, Wang Hao, Dale Haessel, Samuel Shankland, Aman Hambleton, Robert Gardner and Vassily Ivanchuk

Pictures from the Facebook page of Alberta Chess Association


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Sagar Shah is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant and would like to become the first CA+GM of India. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder of the ChessBase India website.
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Ajay Annamareddy Ajay Annamareddy 7/6/2015 04:28
Very well written. I always like Sagar's articles for his spirit to inculcate some chess knowledge in the reader with puzzles, e.g. the recent one on Wei Yi is another incredible example. I must commend chessbase for their support to him to cover various nice events.

Also, congratulations Hari. I have been following Hari and Humpy games for the last 8-10 years (when I started having access to internet). They have been house-hold names in my part of the country in India. Hari has been doing steadily well in the last few years, hope he will go the next level soon (top 10!). Many best wishes from his fan :)
bronkenstein bronkenstein 7/6/2015 01:31
Looks like quite nice event (reported with some delay thou =)

Bravo Hari!
Vam Vam 7/5/2015 11:39
I wonder why he and Anand aren't working together...
Karbuncle Karbuncle 7/5/2015 09:21
A few of these strong Indian GMs have also taken an interest in ICCF competition as well. A friend of mine recently drew Sasikiran on ICCF, and I'm currently playing a complex Catalan as white against GM Sethuraman. Nothing winning yet, but I'm liking my chances thus far.
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