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Column by GM Eric Hansen: Isthmia Open 2012

Eric Hansen

Eric Hansen (photo by Arman Karakhanyan)

Canadian GM Eric Hansen has just launched his personal website at

He kindly allowed Chessdom to re-post the entry about the Isthmia Open where he obtained first GM norm.

As a bonus for Chessdom readers, Eric annotated the decisive victory from the final tournament round.

Isthmia Open by GM Eric Hansen

It was a last minute decision for me to play this August tournament as I had been playing tournaments back to back for over a month.

After some pressure from a couple friends, I decided to go to this tournament because it was close to Athens and time needed to be filled before the Istanbul Chess Olympiad.

I decided the day before the tournament started that I was not going to return to school in the fall and instead play a year of chess. It was a big burden off my shoulders!

Well, it turned out to be a very good decision because the playing conditions seemed to relax me right away. The weather was great, it was one game a day, and I had a great social group throughout the event that made the whole thing feel like a vacation.

The tournament started off professionally – I played the first two games against lower rated and won without much difficulty.

The crucial part of the tournament was rounds 3-6 where I was paired up each game against a strong GM. This was a real test of my stability because I never had so many games in a row against that level of competition.

Fortunately, I managed to get good positions in each game as well as manage my clock quite well. The positions for the most part didn’t leave equality much and the right result was achieved.

But holding with the black pieces without difficulties gave me a real sense of confidence since I suffered a few hard losses with black earlier in the summer.

Eric Hansen Panama

I won good games against an IM and FM in round 7 and 8 which put me in a very good position to make a GM norm. I would need a draw vs Greek GM Ioannis Nikolaidis (2562) as black.

I had never been close to a GM norm before but I just reacted by relaxing as I did every other day. I had come to almost all my games without specific preparation and done well so I decided not to change anything.

I got Nikolaidis to indicate his intentions when he declined my draw in the Anti-Grunfeld opening. He had a reason to play with white and fight for the top prizes.

Fortunately, I had some ideas in the specific opening and got a dynamic position that I felt very comfortable with. He went for a risky continuation and I played pretty well to punish it before finishing the game when he got in time-trouble.

GM norm, 2670 performance, and a big prize for shared first place! It was the highest performance of my career and it put me in very high spirits after this tournament for the upcoming Olympiad a few days later.

Download game in PGN format / Eric Hansen on Twitter

Nikolaidis Ioannis 2562 – Hansen Eric 2472
Isthmia open 2012, Korinthia, Round 9

I needed a draw in this game to make my first GM norm.

1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 d5 3. cxd5 Nxd5 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2
I noticed my opponent preferred this setup. He has a good reason because it is more flexible than normal Grunfeld lines. White will try to provoke some weaknesses before castling or pushing d4.

5…Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Nf3
Not the most testing. Rb1 and h4 both give black more problems. Rb1, Qa4, followed by Ba3 is the normal setup to try to prevent black from developing normally with c5 Nc6 and b6.

The start of my plan to avoid white’s advantages in this line. 7… O-O 8. O-O c5 9. Qa4 Nd7 10. Rb1 h6 11. Qa3 $14 1-0 (38) Huebner,R (2590)-Savon,V (2595) Sukhumi 1972.

8. O-O Qd7
The start of an interesting plan with b6 and Bb7 and maybe queenside castling. I also offered a draw here with the hopes that my opponent would be confused and unfamiliar and decide to take it.

9. d4 b6 10. Bf4
10. Ne5 Bxe5 11. dxe5 Qxd1 12. Rxd1 Bb7 = Black should be ok here with good chances of getting a better endgame after Na5. 10. e4 Bb7.

10… Bb7 11. d5!? Na5 12. e4
The problem with this plan. Black has avoided weaknesses and now has a free hand to attack the white center. 12. Ne5 Bxe5 13. Bxe5 f6 14. Bf4 O-O-O! Is what my opponent missed. My move order was interesting because I have the option of queenside castling compared to other lines. 15. e4 e6 16. Bh3 f5 is unclear.

12… c6 13. c4
13. Ne5 Bxe5 14. Bxe5 f6 15. Bd4 cxd5 16. exd5 O-O =

13… O-O
I decided not to calculate even though I felt it was objectively best to take the pawn. Some lines were unclear to me and I took the practical decision. White’s space advantage is more symbolic.

14. Rc1 cxd5 15. exd5?!
c4 is too weak to allow this. 15. cxd5 Rfc8 =

15… Rac8 16. Ne5 Bxe5 17. Bxe5 Nxc4 18. Ba1 Nd6
I found an active and clear way to defend.

19. Re1
19. Qd4 f6 -/+ And then black just proceeds to try to trade off everything. White cannot organize Bh3 in time 20. h4 Rxc1 21. Rxc1 Rc8 22. Re1 Rc2 23. Kh2 Nf5 24. Qf4 Rxa2 -+

19… Nf5 20. Qb3 Rxc1 21. Rxc1 Rc8
As we can see white is too slow and the d5 pawn is also a weakness.

22. Rd1 Qd6!
Standard Grunfeld move which controls a lot of squares and prevents d6 tactics.

23. h4 Qc5 24. Qb2 f6 25. Qe2 Rc7 26. Kh2
26. g4! Nd6 (26… Nxh4? 27. d6 exd6 28. Bxb7 Rxb7 29. Bxf6 +-) 27. g5 Qc2 with unclear play.

26… Kg7
After a bit of moving now black is ready to play Nd6 followed by Bc8-Bf5 with an improvement of his pieces.

27. h5 Bc8 28. Rd2 Qc4
Using the material advantage to improve my queen with the threat of a trade.

29. Qf3 Qc1 30. Rd1 Qg5
Relieving the tension first before turning to the offensive

31. hxg6 hxg6 32. Kg1 Nd6 -/+ 33. Qa3 Bg4
Now that black is fully developed the game ends swiftly

34. Re1 Qd2 35. Rf1
35. Qe3 Qxe3 36. fxe3 Rc2 -+

35… Be2 36. Rb1 Bd3 And black wins the back rank and with it the game 0-1

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