Tournament win!

Nothing tastes as good as a tournament win. It has been a long time since I did well in a tournament, so this result was very welcome. Apart from the result, I really liked the tournament. Chania is a great city, the Cretan food is wonderful and the weather was as good as it could be in late April.

After 5 rounds I had 4 out of 5 with draws against two good players. In round 6 I had to face German player Nathanael Poysti with the black pieces and I won in the endgame. In round 7 I was White against strong Greek IM Dimitris Alexakis (2484). I didn’t achieve much with White and I had to be extremely careful not to end up in a bad position. I think I did a good job in keeping things together, but in mutual time trouble I missed my chance:

Koen Leenhouts (2417) – Dimitris Alexakis (2484)

Here, I was calculating a number of moves and my initial preference was to go 37. axb6 as Black can not take the queen, because the pawn will promote. Play will continue 37…axb8 38.Qxb6 and White seems to be a healthy pawn up. However, I thought I had a better option and I went for 37. Qc8+ Kg7 38.Rh1 and my plan was to remove my king and threaten mate on h8, while my queen is keeping an eye on his rook. I missed that Dimitris had a strong idea of his own: 38…Nxg4! 39.Bxg4 Rd8!

This looks scary with Rh8+ and f5 coming. Fortunately, I could bail out with 40.Qc1! Rh8+ 41.Kg3 Rxh1 42.Qxh1 f5 43.Qa1+ Kh7 44.axb6 and I will play Qa7+ when Black is best advised to give a perpetual, as happened in the game.

With 5,5 out of 7 and having faced most of the best players, I was in quite a good spot to seriously fight for first place. My chances increased when I won with Black in round 8 in a long endgame where a draw was within reach for my opponent on numerous occasions. So, before the last round first place was shared by me, GM Martin Petrov (2554) and FM Spyridon Naoum (2301). The pairings were in my favour: I had to play Spyridon as White, whereas Martin faced Alexakis as Black, not an easy pairing.

This last round game was one of the weirdest games I have ever played. My plan was to calmly push for a win, but already after 11 moves the situation had changed dramatically.

Koen Leenhouts (2417) – Spyridon Naoum (2301)

My last move was 11.0-0?? and while I was completing my move, I realized what I had done to myself. Spyridon quickly played 11…Bd4+ and when I move my king to h1, the knight on g3 will be trapped after he pushes his pawn to h4. So, there was nothing better than to go 12.Rf2 Bxf2+ 13.Kxf2 and just pretend like nothing had happened. Lots of other players gathered around the board to see my red face and my opponent full of self-confidence.

I did realize very well that this spot was not that easy for my opponent either. All of a sudden he was in a winning position with quite some pressure on his shoulders. So, I just played move by move and gradually improved my position until the moment I was no longer worse and some moves later I was even clearly winning. But now it was my turn to get overconfident and I squandered my advantage and even blundered to end up in a losing position. While Spyridion was calculating his way to the win, he stumbled into a threefold repetition which I happily claimed. It took some time to convince my opponent and the arbiters, as can be seen on the picture above, but in the end the draw was agreed.

As Petrov and Alexakis agreed to a draw as well, this meant that first place was shared. After some waiting, it became clear that I ended in first place. That was a nice surprise! I remember at least 4 tournament where I was in a similar situation and just barely missed first place, sometimes by a really, really small margin.

Hopefully, more good things are about to happen. At least I feel my play is back on track. Maybe I am not as strong as I was in 2016 and 2017 where my Elo was above 2500, but things are better than they have been for the past two years. Let’s see what the next tournament will bring: Limburg Open in Maastricht, from June 3 until June 6.