My Return To Reykjavik –

[Editor’s note: Lula is one of the most popular streamers with tens of thousands of fans. She started playing in December 2020, and earned her WCM title in 2024. This article is about her personal experience at the 2024 Reykjavik Open and a short recap of the top-board results.]

The first time I ever played an over-the-board chess tournament was March 2022, in Reykjavik, Iceland. In the two years since then, my chess improved, I played an Olympiad, I started streaming my tournaments… but also, I got much more cynical about chess, I fell out of love with chess, I fell back in love with chess… you know, that cycle we all go through as chess players.

Returning to Iceland in 2024 for the Reykjavik Open is something I didn’t realize I needed until the event was already over, and it became apparent to me that I had fallen back in love with chess… properly.

chess chesscom streamers botez lularobs annacramling reykjavik
The streamer corner of the playing hall. Photo: Hallfriour Siguroardottir.

On my flight from Paris to Iceland, I anxiously solved almost 200 puzzles with the hope that it would make up for the time I didn’t have between this and my last chess tournament to truly learn from my mistakes. My puzzle binge couldn’t make up for real preparation, but it was better than nothing. I’m not used to playing “serious chess” every month, and so the blunders of my February classical tournament were still fresh in my mind.

Even though I just started playing classical chess again, I hadn’t actually played an open tournament since October 2022. Since then, I’d mainly played minor sections, and they can’t begin to compare. In Reykjavik, I only played one person lower rated than me, meaning I went into every game with a true challenge—nothing to lose, and everything to gain. 

In my only game against a lower-rated player, I converted cleanly after winning a pawn from  my opponent’s opening mistake. My opponent tried to go for a last-resort king hunt, but I played accurately to secure the win:

This time, I drew with two players rated over 1800 FIDE, and missed some chances against other higher-rated players. This may not sound like a big deal, or all that positive, but it is to me, because it means I’m starting to get chances against players close to 2000 FIDE. 

My first trip to Iceland was just over a year after I had learned to play chess, and now I’m over three years into my chess journey and able to stubbornly hold minor-piece endgames against guys almost 200 points higher rated than me. I’d call that progress.

In some ways, I was nervous to return to Reykjavik. Last time, I went with a huge group of online chess friends and we explored the city together, cooked food from our home countries, and watched The Shining for the first time. This time, I went alone, I stayed in a hotel, and I didn’t watch any Kubrick films. 

Thankfully, a lot of my friends were going to Reykjavik too, and so I wasn’t actually alone. Last month, I played a chess tournament on my own in Cannes, France, and found it to be a really isolating experience. In Reykjavik, my friends and I prepared for our games together, went souvenir shopping, and mastered the art of driving electric scooters in the snow (although I have some bruises that would say otherwise).

Time and again, it is the amazing people I meet through chess that keep me motivated and excited to play these events. This tournament was also the first time I’d been surrounded by other streamers at a tournament. I finally met WFM Alexandra Botez, Andrea Botez and TheChessNerd, and I reunited with the other streamers whom I hadn’t seen since TwitchCon 2023! Playing all my games in the streamer corner was a change, and it’s great to see the organizers embracing Twitch and YouTube being used to share their tournament with the world.

tallulah roberts lularobs lula roberts chess chesscom wcm woman candidate master reykjavik open
It’s me! Photo: Glenn Mylemans.

Nothing in life is perfect, and unfortunately one of my opponents defaulted on me in the second round of the event. If you haven’t played an in-person tournament before, this means they didn’t show up to the game. I was planning on taking a bye in the afternoon of the double-round day, so I ended up playing only one of two games anyway, and at least I wasn’t so exhausted at the end of the day. I stand by my statement that double-round days are inhumane, and my heart goes out to the Americans who have somehow found themselves playing triple-round days over across the Atlantic.

During the tournament, there is no shortage of fun going on; I’d say Reykjavik is one of the most social tournaments I’ve ever been to. At the opening party, we played bughouse (my favorite chess variant) and, as always, there was a mid-tournament pub quiz and a blitz event!

The first time I went to Iceland to play chess, I thought it was going to be really serious, because it’s such a prestigious and well-known event, but the organizers love to have fun, and Reykjavik has some lively bars for such a small city. There’s a place called “The English Pub,” and you can pay to “spin the wheel” with the chance of winning an unnecessary number of beers. I don’t like beer, so I didn’t spin the wheel, but I did contribute to other people doing so. I once saw somebody win an entire yard of beer.

Reykjavik is such a social event that even my opponents wanted to chat before and after the games, with one telling me that he and his friends would spend another week after the tournament travelling around Iceland. One of my opponents actually told me he had taken the week off sick from work in order to come to the tournament (and if his boss asked, he totally wasn’t there).

I had done a lot of the tourist activities two years before, including a trip to the Bobby Fischer museum and Fischer’s grave, as well as visiting the Icelandic “golden circle” and the Blue Lagoon. This time, I had come strictly to play chess… and visit Reykjavik’s cat café.

cat cafe chess jahnyermjukur jon ulfur hafthorsson chesscom reykjavik open
Relaxing at the cat café. My friend Jon was the one chosen to be sat on by the cat. Photo: Tallulah Roberts.

Among my opponents, I also played against a folk musician from the Faroe Islands, and the Swiss system even paired me with the only Guernsey player at the whole tournament. For those of you who don’t know, I’m from Jersey, one of the Channel Islands between England and France. Guernsey is the second-largest Channel Island, after Jersey, and so of course we have a fierce rivalry.

Thankfully, our two nations were able to make peace as I drew with the 1834-rated Guernseyman Garth Owen in the seventh round of the Reykjavik Open. War averted.

In my second draw against a higher-rated player, I defended a bishop endgame with a worse pawn structure. In this game, I played 1.d4! in classical chess for the first time since the Olympiad: 

chess reykjavik open tournament harpa iceland
Harpa, the venue of the Reykjavik Open. Photo: Tallulah Roberts.

As well as boasting the most beautiful all-glass tournament hall, the Reykjavik Open is the kind of tournament where you are sure to see chess legends and players of all ages and nationalities. I counted no fewer than 27 chess grandmasters signed up for the event, including legends like Ukrainian GM Vasyl Ivanchuk, as well as up-and-coming talents.

GM vassily ivanchuk vasyl chesscom chess chucky
GM Vasyl Ivanchuk. Photo: Tallulah Roberts.

This year, I was following the games of WCM Bodhana Sivanandan, a young English talent who was very close to getting her first win over an IM. Unfortunately she missed a forcing sequence and traded into a losing position. Also very close to an impressive win was fellow Brit Oscar Pollack, who was crushing a GM until exhaustion got the better of him and he hung a rook. Classical chess is an endurance battle, and sometimes things come down to stamina.

I was amazed by WGM Miaoyi Lu from China, who got her fourth (and unneeded) IM norm this tournament, and drew with four grandmasters, and beat a fifth one. 

WGM maioyi lu chinese Woman grandmaster chess
WGM Miaoyi Lu. Photo: Tallulah Roberts.

The winner of this year’s Reykjavik Open was top seed Romanian GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac, who scored 7.5/9. In second place was tournament regular GM Sebastien Maze, who was very close to winning but misplayed his final round endgame, taking it from a win to a draw, and scoring 7/9. GM Paulius Pultinevicius came third, also on 7/9.

Final Results | Top 10

You can see the full results here.

In the end, I scored 3.5/9, the same score as the first time I came to Reykjavik. Only this time, I had much harder opponents, and I am really happy with my performance. Even though I lose something like 5 rating points, I think I played at a much higher level than all of my previous over-the-board events, and I’m proud to say I didn’t make any big blunders. I also had SO MUCH FUN, which is, let’s be honest, the main thing about going to a chess tournament as an amateur chess player.

On my way back to the airport at 4 a.m., I saw Sundhnukur, Iceland’s volcano which had erupted that very same week, spouting lava into the pitch black night. Even from eight miles away, the glowing lava was impressive and I ended my already extraordinary trip to Iceland with seeing an active volcano for the first time. 

The Reykjavik Open tournament was a nine-round Swiss with a time control of 90 minutes for the first 40 moves plus 30 minutes for the rest of the game, with a 30-second increment from the first move. It was held from March 15-21 2024.

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