Ponomariov catches Nakamura, loses tiebreak

by ChessBase
7/17/2009 – The American GM Hikaru Nakamura had led the tournament from the start, and looked like a slam-dunk winner. But in the last round he drew his game, while former FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov won his, and both finished at 6.5/9 points. Nakamura went on to win the blitz tiebreak games 2-0 and was thus the winner. We bring you games and final standings in our final illustrated report.

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Donostia-San Sebastian Chess Festival

By David Llada

Before we begin a geographical and cultural note: the previous headline to these reports, "Donostia Chess Festival in San Sebastian", does not make too much sense, since "Donostia" is just the basque name for "San Sebastian", so it would be like saying "The Roma Chess Festival in Rome". Actually the official name of the city is "Donostia-San Sebastian".

Panorama de la platja de la Concha de Donostia – Photo by Joanjoc for Wikipedia

Donostia is the main city of the region called Gipuzkoa, and it is here where the roots of the Basque culture are deeper. Most of the people speak "Euskera" (the Basque language) as their first language instead of Spanish, and support for the independence movement is much stronger here than in the neighbour city of Bilbao. Moreover, most of the people in here don't feel Spanish at all, specially after the brutal repression during Franco's dictatorship: in those times, you could end up in jail just for speaking Euskera in public, or for using an "ikurruña" (the Basque flag).

Euskera is one of the few isolated languages in the world, not related to any other spoken language. It has some vocabulary in common with the language they speak in Georgia, and some grammatical structures are said to be similar to the ones of Hungarian and Finish. But it is a mystery where Euskera comes from. Maybe this was the lost language that once upon the time all Europe spoke, or it may have been brought to the region by migratory movements from the Caucasus, north Africa, or even the middle east. There are many theories, all of them fascinating. One thing is for sure: it is probably a very ancient language. Proof for that can be found, for instance, in the Basque word for axe: "haizkora" contains the root "haiz", which means... stone! Things like that make clear that this is a language with some remains from the stone age.

Final standings

The Ukrainian former FIDE world Champion Ruslan Ponomariov was better on Sonneborn-Berger tiebreak points, but according to the regulations he had to play two blitz games – 5+0 min – against US grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura to decide who was the winner of the the tournament.

Nakamura, pictured above, showed his well-known blitz strength by winning both games and taking the title. His performance in this event was 2844, compared to 2843 for Ruslan Ponomariov.

Picture Gallery

GM Hikaru Nakamura, USA. For almost the entire duration of the event San Sebastian seemed a tournament fated to be won by a young player from the other side of the Atlantic, as it happened in 1911 with Capablanca. And, on both occasions, the last player to be included into the field! But apparently there is no Rubinstein this time to make things harder for him. So many casualities that we have christened him "Capamura" (or "Nakablanca", as you prefer).

Ruslan Ponomariov is almost considered a "local player". His "significant other" is a Basque girl, and he is very fond of the Basque culture himself.

Ruslan Ponomariov and his Basque girlfriend Inesa playing foosball

Peter Svidler, the top seeded player, and the only one I know who can play a competitive game of chess while following the live results of cricket matches. First thing he checked on his schedule when I first tried to sign him up for this tournament, was whether it coincided with The Ashes! We managed to bring him to San Sebastian anyway, under the promise that he could follow the test matches from his hotel.

Rustam Kasimdzhanov, one of the most charming and polite people you will meet in a chess tournament. He has played for the local chess club in Donostia, "Xake Gros".

If you are lucky enough, you will find Rustam accompanied by his beautiful – and no less charming – wife, Firuza.

Sergei Movsesian is now solidly installed in the very top of the chess rankigs, a spot confirmed once more after his good result in Wijk aan Zee at the begining of this year.

Anatoly Karpov: The only player people still recognize when you take him out to a restaurant. Being a living legend, Karpov had a disastrous tournament, but it seems that he still loves playing chess from time to time. With no doubt, before his recently announced rematch with Kasparov, he will have to do some serious preparation is he doesn't want to be annihilated.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, the young talent from France, has crossed the 2700 barrier without too much fuss – but at high speed. Now only 19 years old, he is already the second player in France. He achieved an impressive win against Karpov in round three, and Tolia praised the quality of his game: "I knew he was a very good tactician, but he also made two or three moves in our game that really impressed me!"

Paco Vallejo. The Spaniard is not getting too many chances to play in round-robin tournaments, especially in his own country, where he is no longer being invited to Linares, for reasons that are hard to understand – and even harder to explain. In San Sebastian he has already showed us his creative style of play, with a novelty in the third move (3.g4!?) against Vachier-Lagrave.

Julio Granda. The Peruvian Grandmaster is a face that you don't get to see very often in top events lately. Being considered one of the greatest natural talents of the game, his real potential is a mystery. Especially when he is motivated, as it happens to be the case in San Sebastian, where he has the chance to show his real strength.

Pablo San Segundo (in the picture above on the right, next to Felix Izeta, a retired GM from the Basque Country who is also the main promoter of this event). Probably, San Sebastian '09 is the tournament of his life for Pablo – or at least, the strongest one he has ever played. Not being a chess professional anymore – he has a succesful career apart from chess – Pablo has prepared thoroughly and, despite being the lowest rated player, he is a tough one. His only experience at this level was the Ciudad de Madrid tournaments along the nineties, where he already proved what he is capable, being fourth in 1994 and 1998, despite facing the likes of Judit Polgar, Viktor Korchnoi or Vishy Anand.


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