News

Round 9 Report

John Saunders reports: world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway won the 2017 Chess.com Isle of Man Masters tournament after holding Hikaru Nakamura of the USA in the ninth and last round at the Villa Marina, Douglas, on 1 October 2017. Magnus Carlsen scored 7½ out of 9 to take the £50,000 first prize, ahead of Hikaru Nakamura and former world champion Viswanathan Anand (India) on 7 points. Tied in fourth place on 6½ were nine players: Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine), Dhopade Swapnil (India), Richard Rapport (Hungary), Vidit Santosh Gujrathi (India), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Mickey Adams (England), Alexei Shirov (Latvia), Emil Sutovsky (Israel).

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Start of game handshake between Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen. 34 minutes later the game ended in a repetition - or did it?

With the leader having 7 points at the start of play and his only viable challenger standing on 6½, we knew at the outset that one or other would be the sole winner, and therefore no tie-break. Good news for arbiters and technical staff but maybe not so great for spectators as many people enjoy the spectacle of a tie-break.

One factor which militated against it being a full-blooded game was that Nakamura had to try and make the running with Black. Those who predicted a bloodless draw were proved right as the game ended in a repetition* after only 18 moves and 34 minutes play. There is a 30-move draw rule here but this stipulation is overridden by the repetition. Carlsen had half-expected (and no doubt prepared thoroughly prepared for) a King's Indian Defence, but when Nakamura instead chose to go down a line first used in the 1978 Baguio City world title match between Korchnoi and Karpov, he found a small new twist which allowed him to force a repetition. Later Carlsen quoted his coach Peter Heine Nielsen's advice to him for such occasions: "If you want to play for a draw, don’t leave anything to chance. Just force a completely drawn ending or a perpetual."

*Re the repetition: it turns out it wasn't a strictly legal repetition under FIDE law 9.2. After 14...Nc2+, when the first of the three putative identical positions arose, the white king still had the legal right to castle later in the game. That was not the case after moves 16...Nc2+ or 18...Nc2+, therefore position 1 is not considered to be identical to positions 2 and 3 under the law. You can see that, legally, White could have made a capture on move 15 with 15.Qxc2 and the white king could later have castled but, interestingly, I have it on good authority that position 1 would still not have been considered identical to positions 2 and 3 even if, on move 15, the white king had no other option than to move, thus ruling out future castling anyway. Had the arbiter spotted this irregularity, the threefold repetition claim would have failed and the game continued (albeit only as far as the next move, when White could have claimed, or else for one further repetition by Black, assuming that the players were still minded to draw in this way).

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 Magnus Carlsen's scoresheet on the left, and Hikaru Nakamura's on the right.

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Arbiter Matthew Carr checks that the rules have been complied with. "Draw by repetition," explains Magnus Carlsen

With first place decided in Carlsen's favour, competitors in three other leading games were in a position to finish level with Nakamura on 7/9 and thus share second prize if they could win. Only one competitor succeeded in doing so. Vishy Anand managed to outplay Hou Yifan from a very arid opening and exploit small positional errors to gain the point. Hugely experienced and successful as he is generally, Vishy will have been glad to re-establish himself in the (for him) unfamiliar territory of open tournament chess and thus banish the memory of his poor showing at the 2016 Tradewise Gibraltar Masters. I imagine it must have been all the more enjoyable for him being surrounded as he was by so many other Indian players for whom he will always be the ultimate inspiration. The Indian feel-good atmosphere at the Isle of Man tournament has been palpable.

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Vishy Anand and Hou Yifan open with a Petroff which became a French Exchange opening

The two other games featuring players within reach of a score of 7 points were drawn. The two Indian players bidding to match the Indian chess legend's score were Swapnil and Vidit, both with the black pieces against Eljanov and Rapport respectively. Eljanov may have had a positional edge in the middlegame against Swapnil but it gradually fizzled, thus capping a fine event for the hitherto little-known Indian GM. At 2532, he was much the lowest rated played in his score group. A TPR of 2768 says it all.

Vidit also had a fine tournament. He had earlier proved his mettle with a black-pieces draw against Carlsen and Rapport's attempts to rough him up with a temporary pawn sacrifice didn't fluster him either. A fairly steady draw ensued.

There was still the matter of norms to settle. Nino Batsiashvili and Bharathakoti Harsha already had their norms in the bank so last-round defeats, though hardly ideal, did not affect them. But one aspirant to the title made the most of his opportunity. Michael William Brown had a tough pairing (were there any other kind here?) against the formidable Hungarian GM Zoltan Almasi whom he needed to beat to get his precious GM norm. Actually both players tried hard to win, so credit too to Almasi for making it a two-way challenge. The actual moves were quite cagey until towards the end of the game but then the excitement hotted up as the pressures of the situation and tournament fatigue took their toll. Mistakes were made but they were outweighed by Brown's accuracy as the finishing line came into his vision and he focused on giving mate whilst keeping an eye open for the many perpetual check pitfalls strewn along his path. My congratulations to the 20-year-old young man from California who played so resourcefully and gave us all some entertainment along the way.

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Bharathakoti Harsha lost in the last round but gained his first GM norm

 

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Nino Batsiashvili lost in the last round but secured her final GM norm and title anyway

 

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Michael William Brown (USA, right) needed to beat Zoltan Almasi of Hungary to gain a GM norm - and achieved his objective

Jim Tarjan: Bloody Hell!

From a young Californian to a... senior one. I just stopped myself there. The adjective 'old' is regarded as a little rude used in this context in the USA, so I am given to understand. (We Brits tend to be less euphemistic in this regard.) As I tactlessly pointed out on Twitter, Jim Tarjan is even older than me. That was intended as mild joke against myself but I have now added insult to injury by referring to Jim in another tweet yesterday as '69-year-old Jim Tarjan'. I apologise unreservedly for adding four years to Jim's age. This lapse was unaccountable and unforgivable, all the more so as I carry around in my head Jim's exact birthday as I happen to share the same day (but not the year) with him, and I have known right through this event that he is exactly one year older than me. All I had to do in composing that tweet was think of my own age and add one – and I blew it.

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 The irrepressible Jim Tarjan (USA) faced former women's world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk (Russia) and won

Anyway, after that profuse mea culpa, I must congratulate Jim Tarjan on closing out the tournament with another notable win. During the course of the event he has managed to beat, not one, but two, Russian former world champions – first Vladimir Kramnik, now Alexandra Kosteniuk. All nine of his opponents held the full GM title (only in the Isle of Man, folks) and his performance rating was an eye-watering 2671. That's 259 points more than his current published rating. Just sit back and admire those stats for a moment. I wasn't the only person impressed by the man's performance and his beguiling demeanour as was made obvious at the prizegiving when Jim was given the longest and warmest round of applause of any of the prizewinners, including the overall winner. After the prizegiving, I went up to Tarjan, shook his hand and congratulated him. Then, unable to think of anything more to say (in contrast to my habitual logorrhoea when sat in front of a word processor), I found I could blurt out nothing more articulate than "your performance... bloody hell!" At which point he laughed and echoed my vulgar Britishism with a simple "yes... bloody hell!" Lovely man.

His win against Kosteniuk came down to a tactical oversight losing the exchange. But these moments cannot be so easily downplayed or dismissed as Kramnik and Carlsen did when commenting on Kramnik's blunder in round four. Of course, it is OK to describe such moments as a blunder but it is important to stress that they don't come out of a clear blue sky. Top players can play an infinity of games, in simuls and against weaker players, and make practically no blunders at all because their opponents play routine, unimaginative chess and don't set them enough problems of sufficient complexity to solve. Blunders are nearly always the result of pressure being placed on a player by a resourceful, creative or imaginative opponent. Of course, Jim Tarjan is just such a player – once a grandmaster, always a grandmaster. He had to play bloody well against Kramnik and Kosteniuk to put some real pressure on them in order to give himself a chance of eliciting a blunder from them in the complications, and then capitalise on it accurately, and he should not be denied full credit for it. This is something that sports commentators call 'forcing the error' and we should acknowledge its existence in our own field of competitive sport.

That concludes my daily round reports. Hope you've enjoyed them, though I've no doubt I've missed a thousand and one stories of interest from up and down the pairing list. That's inevitable but also one of the joys of open tournament chess – every game of chess has its own story to tell. If only there were time and space to tell them all.

My profoundest thanks go to tournament director Alan Ormsby for inviting to perform this pleasurable task in the Isle of Man. Incidentally I'm not quite done as I shall now pen a report on the prizegiving, with a few more photos to enjoy and a word or two about those random pairings. It's been a lot of fun and I hope to catch up with you all soon.

"I play and prepare on Chess.com"
GM Hikaru Nakamura
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