Surprise winner at the Italian Championship

by Gerhard Bertagnolli
12/9/2018 – The city of Salerno, south of Naples, was the venue for this year's individual championship in Italy. 12 participants fought for the title of Italian Champion in a classical round-robin tournament. The winner was not one of the favourites, but rather IM Lorenzo Lodici, the surprising but not undeserved winner of last year's under-20 national championship. | Photos: FSI

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78th Italian Championship in Salerno

Salerno is a port city southeast of Naples. The centuries-old Arechi Castle on Bonadies Mountain offers sea views and a museum with medieval pottery and coins. The Salerno Cathedral, located in the city, was built on the ruins of a Roman temple. It has Byzantine bronze doors, a baroque crypt and a marble altar. In the Terraced Garden Giardino della Minerva medicinal plants have been cultivated since the 14th century.

The main industrial products of the city are machinery, food and textiles. The products are mainly transported by container ships, which is why the port of goods is the most important economic factor in Salerno. Pasta used to be an even larger industry, but the factory Pastificio Antonio Amato fell into financial difficulties starting in 2009 and was forced to declare bankruptcy in the spring of 2012.

In 2016, the population Salerno was just under 134,000 inhabitants down from over 157,000 inhabitants in the early 1980s.

Salerno played host to the 78th Italian Championship | Google Maps

The waterfront of Salerno

The tournament was hosted at the "Mediterranea Hotel", a 4-start hotel in the heart of the city. The time-control was 100 minutes for 40 moves, followed by 50 minutes for 20 moves, then 15 minutes for the rest of the game, plus 30 seconds per move from move one. There was one rest day after the sixth round. The 12-player invitational tournament included a prize fund of EUR €14,000, which is above the European average. First place was worth €3,000 euros while last place netted you €600 euros considering that all players received full room and board during the event.

The field

The Chess Federation of Italy (FSI for short) has an interesting system for determining the eligibility for 2018 championship:

  • the first three of the 2017 championship
  • the best four by to the average Elo number over the last 12 months
  • three players a semi-final tournament, held in July
  • the winner of last year's Under-20 championship
  • a wild card

The participants were therefore (here ordered by Elo rating):

Name

Elo

Title

Qualified via

National rank

Moroni Luca

2559

GM

2017 Championship

2

David Alberto

2555

GM

Elo

4

Brunello Sabino

2542

GM

Semifinal tournament

5

Basso Pier Luigi

2529

GM

Semifinal tournament

6

Sonis Francesco

2499

IM

Semifinal tournament

7

Stella Andrea

2497

GM

2017 Championship

8

Valsecchi Alessio

2497

IM

2017 Championship

8

Godena Michele

2463

GM

Elo

14

Lodici Lorenzo

2456

IM

U20-Champion 2017

15

Bellia Fabrizio

2448

IM

Elo

17

Barp Alberto

2429

IM

Wild Card

22

Garcia Palermo Carlos

2391

GM

Elo

37

Average rating

2489

 

A spacious tournament room offered enough space for all participants (pictured here IM Bellia vs GM Stella)

The favourites

Although there was no clear favourite, especially with such a small rating gap among the first seven players on the starting list, odds were certainly with last year's winner Luca Moroni or Alberto David. Moroni took the Italian Championship last year in Caserta ahead of IM Alessio Valsecchi and GM Andrea Stella. David, last summer in Greece, won three tournaments in a row, so he definitely can be dangerous.

An intriguing subplot would be the performance of this year's Under-16 European champion Francesco Sonis.

The big absentees of the tournament were GM Daniele Vocaturo (Italy's No. 1), GM Francesco Rambaldi (he is currently studying in the US and playing few tournaments) and GM Danyyil Dvirnyy.

Luca Moroni and Francesco Sonis

(Left) GM Luca Moroni (Elo 2559) – last year's winner
(Right) IM Francesco Sonis (Elo 2499) became U16 European Champion a few months ago

The tournament

As Caissa would have it, the draw pitted the two top-rated players against each other in the first round. Moroni lost with White against David who showed that he was gunning for the title. Meanwhile, Valsecchi, the 2017 runner-up, had to agree to a draw and Stella lost to IM Fabrizio Bellia. So it was not an ideal start for the players who made the podium in 2017!

Due to illness, GM Stella could not compete in the second round and thus GM David was given a win by forfeit. Moroni got on the scoreboard with a win as well. 

Halfway through the tournament (after six rounds), the dark-horse GM Carlos Garcia-Palermo, was in the lead with 5 points, followed by David with 4, and Moroni with 3½. Although Carlos Garcia-Palermo (born 1953) was the weakest player in the tournament by rating, he is certainly not an unknown quantity in Italian chess: he has been a supporter of the Italian women's national team for several years and was among the top 100 in the 1970s. In his heyday, he scored a win against none other than then-World Champion Anatoly Karpov, in 1982. Admittedly, Karpov declined a move repetition, but that should not diminish this scalp. What's more, as a very young player in a simultaneous event he defeated Bobby Fischer!

Back to the tournament...in round seven, Garcia-Palermo's Italian championship chances took a hit, as he lost to Moroni, causing the field to narrow: Garcia-Palermo, together with David had 5 points each, ahead of Moroni with 4½.

In round 8, the two leaders fought, with David winning and thus taking the sole lead.

The top fight of the 8th round: GM Alberto David defeated GM Carlos Garcia-Palermo with Black

Alone in front after round 8: GM Alberto David

Another defeat in round nine ended Garcia-Palermo's title dreams. IM Lorenzo Lodici, by contrast, was on the ascent; after this round, with 6 points he already succeeded in earning his first GM-norm. This confidence boost naturally helped him play well in the final rounds. Garcia-Palermo ended up scoring 5½ points.

IM Lorenzo Lodici made his first GM norm

The leaderboard before the last round looked like this:

Pos

T

NAME

Rtg

PRtg

Fed

Pts

1

GM

David Alberto

2555

2608

ITA

7.0

2

GM

Moroni Luca Jr

2559

2591

ITA

6.5

3

IM

Lodici Lorenzo

2456

2608

ITA

6.5

4

GM

Garcia Palermo Carlos

2391

2534

ITA

5.5

5

GM

Brunello Sabino

2542

2515

ITA

5.5

In the case of a tie, the regulations called for a playoff (two games of 12 minutes plus 3 seconds per move), and if still drawn, then a pair of blitz games with 3 minutes plus 2 seconds per move, followed, if necessary by an "Armageddon" blitz game.

In the final round, David was content with a quick draw against GM Michele Godena, hoping his closest rivals Moroni and Lodici would not get more than a half point. Moroni indeed lost the final round, but Lodici won against FM Alberto Barp and so forced a playoff for the title.

GM David was naturally the favourite against IM Lodici, not least because David had already managed to win such a tiebreak against GM Dvirnyy a few years ago. But what would a tournament be if the favourites always win? Lodici certainly had other plans, and he won clearly with 2:0 against David to become the new Italian champion 2018!

Final crosstable after Round 11

 

The top three together with board members of the Italian Chess Federation

Of the 66 games played, the players with the black pieces surprisingly scored more wins than those playing white.

Under-20 and Women's Championships

For the second time, parallel to the overall championship there was a junior (under-20) championship and a championship among women — both eight-player single-round-robin tournaments. The prize fund was also quite attractive for these: €6,000 per tournament with €1,500 for each the winner!

The women's tournament was well attended, including the best four players from Italy! The top seed was IM/WGM Olga Zimina (Elo 2403) followed by FM/WGM Marina Brunello (2327), FM Desiree Di Benedetto (2300) and IM/WGM Elena Sedina (2262).

After the scheduled seven rounds — as in 2017 — a tiebreak was needed between the two players with 5½ points each: IM Olga Zimina, the defending champion, against FM Marina Brunello. The first rapid chess game was won by Brunello, but in the second game (in a nearly winning position) she blundered her queen, which lead to blitz. The first of these was won by Zimina, the second went to Brunello and so a final game (Armageddon) followed where Brunello chose Black — as it turns out, the right choice. She started the game calmly and Zimina's all-out effort to win boomeranged into a full point for Black!

Thus a successful revenge by Brunello for the defeat in 2017.

Final standings after Round 7

 

The Italian Women's Champion: Marina Brunello 

In the under-20 championship, FM Edoardo De Benedetto won 2-0 in the rapid tiebreak games against FM Francesco Seresin. Thus, Di Benedetto may play next year in the "big leagues". Perhaps he will follow in Lodici's footsteps? His first reaction? "But I want to win without a tiebreak!"

Final standings after Round 7

 

FM Edoardo Di Benedetto — U20 tournament winner

Translation from German: Macauley Peterson

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