Chess: Icelandic players are hot stuff

ICELAND has more grandmasters per capita than any other country, writes William Hartston. Some blame the long winter nights, but another explanation is that until recently Icelandic television broadcast only six days a week. Indeed, when daily television began a few years ago, a Reykjavik chess club spokesman protested strongly. Attendances on their club night, previously the TV-free evening, dropped suddenly. 'Mickey Mouse is destroying our chess,' he said.

While EuroDisney languishes, however, Icelandic chess is as successful as ever. Reykjavik has hosted a long series of excellent international tournaments, and this week the town of Kopavogur completed its first such event. The young Icelandic grandmaster Hannes Stefansson took first place; England's Dharshan Kumaran shared second, making his first grandmaster norm.

The following game is typical of the rustic style of many of the Icelandic players, castling on opposite wings and storming their opponents' kings with a rush of pawns. Black's a5, b5 and a4 showed the right spirit, but left the pawn on c6 without a defender. When he let his queen be lured away to look after it with 16 . . . Qb6, Black must have checked that 17. Bxb5 cxb5 18. Nxd5 was not too dangerous, but he overlooked a more brilliant idea. After 18. g6 fxg6 19. Qxg6 White would threaten both Qxg7 mate and Qxe8+. Black had to return the piece, but his king was too exposed to survive. At the end 22 . . . Kxg7 23. Rg1+ leads to a quick mate.

White: Gretarsson

Black: Halldorsson

1 d4 d5

2 c4 c6

3 Nc3 Nf6

4 Nf3 e6

5 cxd5 exd5

6 Bg5 Be7

7 Qc2 0-0

8 e3 Nbd7

9 Bd3 Re8

10 h3 Nf8

11 g4 a5

12 0-0-0 b5

13 Rdg1 a4

14 Bxf6 Bxf6

15 g5 Be7

16 Ne5 Qb6

17 Bxh7+ Nxh7

18 g6 f5

19 gxh7+ Kxh7

20 Qe2 Be6

21 Qh5+ Kg8

22 Rxg7+ 1-0

The unhappy loser of that game had an even worse accident a few rounds later. Playing White against Kristensen of Denmark, he reached the diagram position after 30 moves. White's doubled f-pawns are a weakness, but his active pieces more than make up for it.

There followed 31. Rd8 Ke6 32. Rd6+ Kf7 33. Rd8 Ke6 34. Rb8 (playing for the win) Bf6 35. Na5 Nc2 36. Nxb7 Ne1+ 37. Kg3 (playing for the loss) h5] 38. Nd6? (38. Bc3 gave chances of salvation) h4+ 39. Kh3 Nd3 40. Bc3 (saving the bishop, but . . . ) Nf4 mate.

(Graphic omitted)