Hawaii GM Challenge (Part 1/2)

by Alejandro Ramirez
3/25/2015 – Hawaii is full of possibilities, from hiking and snorkling to the ever popular whale watching - which we were able to attend thanks to the organizer's efforts - but at some time in every chess festival the main event begins. The Hawaii GM Challenge pitted together three strong grandmasters and a wildcard in a strong quadruple round robin in both rapid and blitz.

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Hawai'i Chess Festival

The festivities in Hawaii continued with very packed schedules. The early morning activity was whale watching! Even though this meant waking up at about 7 a.m., I was still ok with it considering it was about 10 a.m. Dallas time.

Players of all levels signed up for the tour

Hawaii is unique in that its water is very clear, and you can go up to any random shoreline,
ook down and see fish. This was taken just on the docks.

Hou Yifan posing for her favorite photographer, Wang Qian, also her mother...

...while hiding from the paparazzi...

Samy Shoker and Niclas Huschenbeth enjoying on-board breakfast

The bus took us directly to the docks were we boarded our ship. Things were a little slow as we didn't move for a while, but it was compensated by a hearty breakfast to kick off the day. After we were well on our way the only logical course of action was to enjoy the scenery from the top deck.

Born to be at sea: Sam Shankland

More than a few parasailers could be spotted

Honolulu at the distance

The World Champion seemed quite pleased with the photo opportunities

Sabrina Chevannes also had fun, though her hair didn't agree with the wind.
Here she is next to FM Josip Arik, director of the Chess Informants.

Not a whale, but we did spot a couple of submarines. Waikiki Beach, where the tournament was held, is only a 10-15 minute drive to Pearl Harbor, a catalyst of the US involvement in World War II and still a strategically important military base today.

We went out pretty far into the ocean to try to find the whales...

Organizer Beau Mueller and his family

After a couple of hours without sightings, Sabrina Chevannes and I decided to sit down on a couple of chairs in a lower deck, simply enjoying the sea breeze and catching up on life. Out of nowhere, a whale jumped out of the water in front of us! I frantically tried to take a picture but was too late.

Somewhere in this sea of blue you can see the tail of a Humpback whale.
It isn't a National Geographic photo, but it is prove that I saw one!

People rushed to our side of the ship, where we were comfortably sitting, but it was too late. The whale did not resurface. Since most people were unable to see anything and the tour had a "whale guarantee" the passengers received free tickets for a whale watch tour in a future date, but our schedule seems too packed to be able to take advantage of this.

GM Challenge

Finally it was time for the main event. The GM Challenge was a quadruple round robin event, with half of the games being played in rapid format and the other half in blitz. The rounds were split into two days, the first on Thursday after the whale watching and the second on Sunday evening, to wrap up the event.

Players drawing their pairing numbers

The participants were grandmasters Samuel Shankland, Timur Gareev and Hou Yifan. They were joined by the winner of the fundraising contest for the Hawaii Chess Festival. However, the first winner was not a chess player! He declined his invitation and another winner had to be elected... who also declined his invitation! Despite being a chess player he did not feel ready for the strength of the event (despite the fact that the grandmasters would have played with a strong time handicap against him). Instead the winner suggested a suitable replacement: IM Shinya Kojima, from Japan! At a strong 2403 Kojima is no pushover, and is Japan's strongest player.

Round One

Round one-three were played in rapid format (25+5'), while four-six were blitz (5+2'). The first indication that this would be a close event game in the very first round:

This was far from a clean game

[Event "Hawaii GM Challenge"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.??.??"] [Round "1"] [White "Hou, Yifan"] [Black "Kojima, Shinya"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B10"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "117"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] 1. e4 c6 2. d3 d5 3. Nd2 e5 4. Ngf3 Bd6 5. d4 exd4 6. exd5 Nf6 7. dxc6 Nxc6 8. Be2 O-O 9. O-O {Perhaps not trying to show any real preparation, Hou Yifan uses a variation that seems rather passive against Kojima's Caro-Kann. Hou Yifan hopes to outplayer her lower rated opponent... but the contrary happened! } Qc7 10. Nb3 Bf5 11. h3 Rfd8 12. Bg5 Rac8 13. Bxf6 gxf6 14. Nh4 Bg6 15. Bg4 Rb8 16. Bf5 Kh8 17. a3 a5 18. Kh1 Bf8 19. Nc1 Qf4 20. g3 Qg5 21. Qf3 Ne5 22. Qe4 Nc4 23. Bxg6 hxg6 24. Nf3 Qh5 25. Nd3 Qxh3+ 26. Kg1 Bh6 27. Rfe1 Kg7 28. Rad1 {It is clear that everything has go wrong for White. She is down a pawn, her king is unsafe, and she has no obvious plan of fixing her position. However, it is always important to finish off your opponents when you can, sometimes they simply come back from the dead if you let them.} Be3 {right idea, wrong execution.} (28... Ne3 $1 29. fxe3 Qxg3+ 30. Kf1 dxe3 $1 {the threat is Rxd3 followed by Qf2 mate.} 31. Re2 Re8 $1 32. Qd5 Rbd8 33. Qxb7 Re7 $1 {The queen runs out of squares from which she can defend the f3 knight.} 34. Qxe7 Qxf3+ 35. Ke1 (35. Kg1 Rd4 $19) 35... Qh1#) 29. Qh4 $1 Qxh4 $6 30. Nxh4 Bg5 31. Nf3 Rd7 32. Re4 Rbd8 33. a4 {Black's conversion of his extra pawn is far from trivial. Kojima was also falling low on time now, and starts to make further mistakes.} f5 34. Re2 Bf6 35. Kg2 Nb6 36. Ra1 $5 {The start of a cool rook lift.} Rc7 37. Nfe1 Nd5 38. Ra3 Rdd7 39. Rb3 Re7 40. Rxe7 Rxe7 41. Rb5 Nb4 42. Rxa5 Nxd3 43. Nxd3 {White recovered her pawn and is now slightly better. The World Women's Champion (for a couple more weeks) does not forgive.} Rc7 44. Rc5 Re7 45. Kf3 Bg5 46. Rc4 Bf6 47. b4 g5 48. a5 g4+ 49. Kg2 Re2 50. Kf1 Re7 51. Rc5 Kg6 52. Nf4+ Kg5 53. Nd5 Re5 54. Nxf6 Kxf6 55. Rxe5 Kxe5 56. b5 Kd5 57. Ke2 Kc5 58. a6 bxa6 59. bxa6 1-0

Sam Shankland meanwhile completely swept Timur Gareev off the board, despite missing the next pretty tactic:

Shankland was always in control against Gareev

[Event "Hawaii GM Challenge"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.03.??"] [Round "1"] [White "Shankland, Samuel L"] [Black "Gareev, Timur"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B65"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r4rk1/pp3ppp/4b3/q2Np1b1/2B1P3/3Q4/PPP3PP/1K1R3R b - - 0 16"] [PlyCount "12"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.03.25"] 16... Rfc8 17. Bb3 (17. h4 $1 Bd8 (17... Bh6 18. Ne7+ {forks the rook and the king.}) (17... Bxd5 18. Bxd5 Be7 19. Bxb7 {forks the rooks and nets White at least a pawn and two rooks for a queen.}) 18. b4 $1 {and the queen is surprisingly trapped!}) 17... Qc5 18. Qg3 h6 19. Qxe5 a5 20. Qd4 Ra6 21. Qxc5 Rxc5 22. a3 {White went on to convert his advantage.} 1-0

Round Two

Kojima was visibly upset with his result, not only letting Hou Yifan go but also losing the game. This might have affected his concentration, and when you play against Gareev there is no room for error:

[Event "Hawaii GM Challenge"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.03.25"] [Round "2"] [White "Gareev, Timur"] [Black "Kojima, Shinya"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D15"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "77"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 dxc4 5. e3 b5 6. a4 b4 7. Ne2 e6 8. Ne5 c5 9. Nf4 Bb7 10. Bxc4 Nbd7 (10... Qc7 {keeps chances alive for both players.}) 11. Nxf7 $1 {Clear and effective, the rest is not happy for Black.} Kxf7 12. Nxe6 Qb8 13. Nxc5+ Ke8 14. Nxb7 Qxb7 {Material is "even" at three pawns for a piece, but Black's king is permanently weak and the central pawns roll... Black cannot even take them for free because it would expose his own king.} 15. O-O Be7 16. e4 Nb6 17. Bb5+ Kf8 18. Re1 a6 19. Bf1 h6 20. a5 Nbd7 21. e5 Ne8 22. d5 Bc5 23. Qf3+ Kg8 24. Bc4 Kh7 25. Bd3+ Kg8 26. Bc4 Kh7 27. Qe4+ g6 28. Qh4 Kg7 29. d6 Nxe5 30. Rxe5 Bxd6 31. Rd5 Qc7 32. Qd4+ Kh7 33. Bf4 Rd8 34. Rd1 Bxf4 35. Rxd8 Bd6 36. Rxd6 Nxd6 37. Qxd6 Qxc4 38. Qd7+ Kg8 39. Qd8+ 1-0

A demolition

In the other game Sam Shankland surprised Hou Yifan in the opening, obtained a slight advantage and converted in grandmaster fashion. A very nice game from the American who moved to 2-0.

Round Three

In the third round, and the last rapid of the day, Kojima chose a very solid approach against Shankland. Neither side gained anything and a draw was eventually reached.

In the Hou Yifan-Gareev game the World Champion was again outplayed. In mutual time pressure there were several inaccuracies, though no major mistakes, and the American grandmaster was able to take the game down with his passed a-pawn.

Hou Yifan started with a grim 1.0/3 after losing to Gareev

Round Four

Kojima again found himself in a better position against Hou Yifan, but this time the World Champion came up with a clever resource:

Grandmasters are tricky, World Champions are resourceful

[Event "Hawaii GM Challenge"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.03.??"] [Round "4"] [White "Kojima, Shinya"] [Black "Hou, Yifan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B36"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "5rk1/1p4q1/3R3p/8/2P1b3/pP3pP1/P4Q1P/5B1K b - - 0 38"] [PlyCount "3"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] 38... Qb2 39. Rd2 $4 {Completely missing the opponent's reply} (39. Kg1 $14 { White's extra pawn gives him the better chances, though Black has plenty of resources, no doubt.}) 39... Qxd2 {oops!} (39... Qxd2 40. Qxd2 f2+ 41. Bg2 f1=Q#) 0-1

Kojima is still not sure what hit him

Meanwhile the Gareev-Shankland game was not an affair for the faint of heart. You can find the game further below, but be warned:

Yes, that is 1.d4 Nf6 2.g4....

Round Five

Kojima gave too much respect to his opponent, Gareev, and instead of punishing Black's wild play he fell into a passive position. With the initiative Gareev created good opportunities for himself and finished things off with a simple, but nice, combination:

[Event "Hawaii GM Challenge"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.03.??"] [Round "5"] [White "Kojima, Shinya"] [Black "Gareev, Timur"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D02"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "1k6/1p3pb1/p2rr2p/q5p1/3p2P1/2P5/PPQR1PP1/K2R2N1 w - - 0 26"] [PlyCount "6"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] 26. cxd4 Rc6 {Chances are about even. White has an extra pawn but sometimes in Blitz that is not as important as having active pieces. In a standard game I would give an edge to White.} 27. Qf5 $4 {But these are the types of things that can happen if you are not careful.} Qxd2 28. Rxd2 Rc1+ {Gareev made this move and Kojima reached for his queen, only then realizing that Black had no intention of capturing...} (28... Rc1+ 29. Qb1 Ree1 $19 {and the back rank weakness is fatal.}) 0-1

Meanwhile the Hou Yifan-Shankland game was unclear. The American had a better position at a certain point, but played the endgame badly. White obtained a winning position but kept missing her chances, until Shankland obtained a draw.

Round Six

Gareev sacrificed all his pieces on the kingside against Hou Yifan, but he was unable to break through. The Chinese player consolidated her extra material and won without problems. Meanwhile Sam Shankland continued with his good results and outplayed Kojima convincingly.

These are the standings so far in the GM Challenge:

There are six more games, so basically anything can happen, but Shankland does goes into day two with a solid one point lead over Hou Yifan and Gareev.

Day One Games

Select from the dropdown menu to replay the games

We will bring you the report of the final day of the GM Challenge, as well as a brief overview of the International Open in our next report.


Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez has been playing tournament chess since 1998. His accomplishments include qualifying for the 2004 and 2013 World Cups as well as playing for Costa Rica in the 2002, 2004 and 2008 Olympiads. He currently has a rating of 2583 and is author of a number of popular and critically acclaimed ChessBase-DVDs.


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