Round six saw draws all round for the leading group of six on 4/5, which gave a chance for yet more players to catch up. However, only one player managed to exploit the opportunity, namely Bogdan Lalic. The Croatian-registered grandmaster is the main danger as regards the return of the trophy to English hands this year (though he is not the only one - Manx resident German IM Dietmar Kolbus, whom I mentioned in an earlier blog, is on 4 and could yet win the title for the Isle of Man).
So the final week will start with Stuart Conquest, Nigel Davies, Danny Gormally, Mark Hebden, Gawain Jones, Bogdan Lalic and Lawrence Trent in the lead on 4½, with a further 11 players on 4 who are still in with a decent chance of the title.
The most notable story of the first week has been the performance of the tournament's youngest player, Felix Jose Ynojosa, who is 12 years 6 months old. Something tells me we're going to see and hear quite a lot of that name in the future so we'd better establish correct pronunciation right now - it's Ee-no-HOS-a (sound the 'h' as in the Scottish 'loch' - please don't imitate the dodgy pronunciation of the BBC reporter who interviewed Felix for BBC South-East). Felix has made quite a stir in junior chess circles since his arrival in the UK and he's now being coached by GM Nick Pert (for a photo of the two together, see this page on Nick's website).
Felix came to the UK from Venezuela with his family (his older sister Angelica also plays chess) a few years ago and nows lives in Berkshire. He is registered as an English player. This page on the Berkshire Junior website gives a good run-down on his latest achievements, while veteran talent-spotter Leonard Barden identified him as one to watch in his May 31 column in the Guardian, along with the two talented London-based 13-year-olds, Yang-Fan Zhou (also doing well in the British, having beaten IM Richard Pert in the first round) and Samuel Franklin.
Leonard Barden compared Felix's London Junior performance last Xmas with that of Nigel Short at the same age, and there is another near-parallel with the English super-GM in Felix's performance this week in Liverpool. In 1977 Nigel Short, aged 12 years 2 months, made national headlines by beating ten times British champion Jonathan Penrose in the third round of the British Championship. Short's round six score that year was 2½/6 whereas Felix, just 4 months older, has already chalked up 4/6. That works out at a TPR of 2418 so far, so he could be on course for an IM norm. Felix's progress has been very impressive. After a first round loss to Jonathan Hawkins, he displayed mature technique to defeat Dave Ledger, then drew games with Steve Barrett and IM Simon Knott. In round five he comfortably defeated the Indian player Venkat Tiruchirapalli. But in round six he went one better and defeated the highly experienced and dangerous IM Graeme Buckley...
Ynojosa,F (2101) - Buckley,G (2401) [B22]
GBR-ch Liverpool (6), 02.08.2008
1 e4 c5 2 c3 e6 3 d4 d5 4 exd5 exd5 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 Be2 Bd6 7 dxc5 Bxc5 8 0-0 Nge7 9 Nbd2 0-0 10 Nb3 Bb6 11 Nfd4 Ng6 12 Be3 Nce5? 13 f4 Nc6 14 Qd2 Re8 15 Bd3 Bd7 16 Rae1 Nge7 17 Qf2 Nc8 18 Qf3 Be6 19 Qg3 Bc7? 20 Nc5! Qf6 21 Nxb7 Nxd4 22 Bxd4 Qh6 23 Nc5 Ne7 24 Nxe6 fxe6 25 Rxe6 Ng6 26 Rxe8+ Rxe8 27 Bxg6 hxg6 28 Qf3 Re4 29 g3 a5 30 f5 Be5 31 Bxe5 Rxe5 32 fxg6 Qxg6 33 Kg2 Kh7 34 Rf2 a4 35 Rd2 Qb1 36 a3 Qc1 37 Qf4 Qe1 38 Rf2 Kg8 39 Qxa4 Re2 40 Qa8+ Kh7 41 Qf8 Rxf2+ 42 Qxf2 Qe4+ 43 Kh3 Qe6+ 44 g4 g5 45 Qf5+ 1-0
What struck me about this game was Felix's intelligent game plan. Buckley has a strong preference for tactical mayhem in his games, but Felix steered him into an innocuous system (Sicilian c3 transposing to Exchange French) where Buckley couldn't generate any tactics. By move 12 it was evident that Black was far less comfortable with the positional nature of the game than his young opponent and a slip on move 19 was instantly exploited by the 12-year-old. Felix won two pawns and liquidated to leave himself with a straightforward technical win.
This was actually Felix's second win against Buckley, whom he beat in the King's Head Rapidplay earlier this year on his way to first place with 5½/6. Later, at the May Richmond Rapidplay, Felix added another IM scalp to his belt by beating Malcolm Pein in the second round on his way to 4/6 in what was an extremely strong one-day tournament. He obviously has a huge talent. It will be very interesting to see how he fares in the second week.