Teenagers 2, Grandmaster 0! (I think)

by admin on March 20, 2009

Note: In the first version of this post I got a very important name wrong, and I have corrected it throughout. — DM

Michael Aigner, of “fpawn” blog fame, is fond of complaining about all the youngsters who snap up the top prizes in northern California tournaments. Well, judging from my current visit to Norway, Oslo seems to have the same “problem”!

I arrived at the Oslo Chess Club last night (Thursday) around 6:30 PM, half an hour before the beginning of the six-and-a-half-th round in the club championship. I’m calling it that because it was not a scheduled round, but a day for making up games that had been postponed from previous rounds. Next week will be round seven, the final round, and of course all the games from prior rounds have to be complete before then.

When I arrived at the club, the only person there was Leif Johannessen, a grandmaster, who was sitting in the office that you can see at the end of the hall in the second photo in my previous entry about the Oslo Chess Club. He had read my blog, and he was glad to catch me up on what was going on in the tournament. The leader was Nikolai Getz, who is all of 17 years old, and has 5 points out of 6. Last week Getz really made waves by beating Johannessen himself! It was the first time that Getz has beaten a GM. I was told by someone else that the game appeared in an Oslo newspaper; unfortunately, I can’t link to it because the chess column is not online.

Johannessen told me that Getz is a student in a chess program for high schoolers that is run by GM Simen Agdestein. You’ll appreciate what an amazing opportunity this is when I name-drop the names of a couple other students in this school. Have you ever heard of Magnus Carlsen? Jon Ludwig Hammer? Both GM’s, both with ratings north of 2500. According to Johannessen, both of them are graduating this year (it’s a three-year program), so Agdestein is going to lose his two prize pupils. But it sounds as if the talent level is not going to drop off TOO far, with students like Getz in the school!

Last night’s opponent for Johannessen was another talented youngster named Roar Elseth Nikolas Mellem, a FIDE master (which means his rating is over 2300). Leif was expecting a tough game; one of the bystanders said that they drew the previous time they played. I did record the moves of this game, so I will be able to show you the crucial position after I have a chance to analyze it myself. Johannessen sacrificed a pawn in the opening but I thought he was in no real danger. However, he spent several moves on a plan to win the pawn back, and Mellem took advantage of the opportunity to mount an attack on the kingside. Johannessen won two pawns on the queenside, but then Mellem played a nice rook sacrifice that appeared as if it would lead to a draw.

Then things got crazy! Johannessen had about one minute left for seven moves, and Mellem had about two. It looked to me — but remember, I haven’t analyzed it yet – as if Johannessen picked the wrong way to decline the sac, and then Mellem was able to offer a second rook sac that could not be declined. They then blitzed out about ten forced moves, and when the smoke cleared (and time control passed), they were in an endgame where Mellem had a queen and three pawns versus two rooks and no pawns. It was getting late by this point, so I left for my hotel. However, I feel almost certain that Mellem, who had played so well, wasn’t going to let this endgame out of his grasp. So I think that Johannessen went down to his second straight defeat.

If that’s correct, it means that the co-leaders going into the last round are … Getz and Mellem! They are both 5-1. No one can catch up after all the unplayed games are finished. So it looks as if it will be Getz vs. Mellem for the club championship next week. [This paragraph is incorrect because I was assuming it was Elseth who had beaten Johannessen, which would have given Elseth a score of 5-1. Mellem's score was a more modest 3½-2½. Sorry about the confusion.]

As I was riding home on the bus, I started daydreaming about what a great thing it would be if there were a match between Oslo and San Francisco junior players. I don’t think San Francisco really has anyone who could compete with Magnus Carlsen, but I would love to see Sam Shankland take on Hammer and Danya Naroditsky play Mellem and Nicholas Nip or Steven Zierk play Getz. But why does it have to be a dream? There’s no reason it couldn’t happen! Both clubs (I’m referring to the Mechanics Institute and Oslo Chess Club) have computers. The Oslo club appears to have only three computers, so they might have to bring in some laptops if there were going to be more than three boards, but I assume that’s a solvable problem.

In a way it’s a logical matchup. Both are cities of about half a million people. Oslo probably has a slight advantage because it’s a national capital and thus tends to attract the best talent from the whole country, while San Francisco has to compete with places like Los Angeles and New York. However, if you’re talking about juniors that advantage should be negated somewhat, because most juniors don’t have the freedom to move anywhere they want (at least until they get to college age). Such a match would be more meaningful than, say, Dallas versus Oslo, because Dallas’s players would be mostly imported from Europe. By contrast, all of San Francisco’s players would be homegrown.

Leif Johannessen and John Donaldson, if you’re reading this, why don’t you send each other an e-mail and see if you can set up a match on ICC?

Anyway, back to last night. Of the other games, I thought the most interesting one seemed to be between FIDE Master Ole Christian Moen and Daniel Kovachev (whose picture appeared in my last blog post about the Oslo Chess Club). Kovachev as Black seemed to have the advantage most of the way, and prevailed in a tricky K+P endgame. In the post-mortem, Moen was trying this way and that to save a draw, but it looked as if nothing quite worked.

I played a few 10-minute games for fun, against Sverre Johnsen (whom I mentioned last time) and also against the father of a junior player who was playing in the tournament. I’m pleased to report that I felt much less nervous this time and played more like myself. Sverre is about to travel to Thailand, where his wife comes from, for a month, and he will play in a tournament there. I wished (and wish) him good luck.

For those who weren’t playing in the tournament and who weren’t playing skittles games, the main excitement was watching the Carlsen-Aronian games from the Amber tournament in Nice, France. I wasn’t sure whether we were watching the blitz game or the blindfold game. Although, as I mentioned in my previous post, Carlsen rarely if ever comes to the Oslo Chess Club, his virtual presence was nevertheless felt!

In my next post, after I get home, I will have some analysis of the Mellem-Johannessen and Moen-Kovachev games, as well as photographs. Now it’s time for me to get some sleep!

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