Was it the field or the format? This year’s Reggio Emilia Tournament, the 54th edition of the event held in the small northern Italian city at the start of the new year, proved to be one of the most entertaining events in recent memory, with a large number of decisive games, an epic collapse by American GM Hikaru Nakamura and a stunning come-from-behind victory for 17-year-old Dutch star Anish Giri, who won the first of what likely will be many elite tournament trophies in the coming year.
Nakamura dominated the first half of the event and appeared to be coasting to an easy victory before three losses in the final three rounds enabled his rivals to catch up. By contrast, Giri started with two losses and two draws – ordinarily enough to doom one’s chances in a 10-round elite event. But he scored five points in his next six games, including a Round 9 win over Nakamura, to finish alone in first.
Reggio Emilia’s organizers benefited from an intriguing cast of characters who enjoy mixing it up, including Nakamura, Russian star GM Alexander Morozevich and mercurial Ukrainian veteran Vassily Ivanchuk, along with a contingent of hungry youngsters represented by Giri and young Italian GM Fabiano Caruana.
But the Italian organizers also adopted what has become known as the “Bilbao Rules,” a scoring system in which wins are worth three points and draws one instead of the traditional one point for a victory and a half-point for a draw. With a win now three times more valuable than a draw, players tend to fight longer and harder, and those like Giri who start out poorly still have a fighting chance of getting back into the mix.
In Reggio Emilia’s final round, Giri drew with Caruana, while Nakamura was losing to Ivanchuk and Morozevich was blowing a won game against fellow Russian GM Nikita Vitiugov, giving Giri 16 “Bilbao” points to 15 for Nakamura, Morozevich and Caruana.