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  • FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss: Round 6 Report

    Published: 16 Oct 2019

    Round 6 Report

    John Saunders reports: The FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss is now just beyond its halfway stage and the leadership has thinned down to two players, Fabiano Caruana (USA) and Wang Hao (China), as round six concluded at the Comis Hotel, Isle of Man. Caruana and Wang Hao defeated Vladimir Fedoseev (Russia) and Luke McShane (England) respectively to move to a score of 5 points. Seven players are tucked in behind them on 4½: Parham Maghsoodloo (Iran), David Anton Guijarro (Spain), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Nikita Vitugov (Russia), Kirill Alekseenko (Russia), Levon Aronian (Armenia) and world champion Magnus Carlsen (Norway). Wednesday is a rest day and the battle is rejoined on Thursday.

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    Fabiano Caruana was back to his best form against Vladimir Fedoseev (photo: John Saunders)

    Fabiano Caruana replied to Vladimir Fedoseev’s Sicilian with the Moscow move Bb5 (rapidly becoming the hallmark move in this event) and was soon on top. He considered his opponent’s 9...0-0 to be a mistake. So does Stockfish, incidentally. (The database shows that one of the main contenders here, Parham Maghsoodloo, played 9...0-0 successfully a few months ago, so it will be interesting to see who is right if the move crops up again.) Certainly White’s cramping bishop on d6 seemed excellent compensation for a sacrificed pawn. Fedoseev’s 16...Ba6 looked palpably wrong, allowing White to turbo-charge his queenside play and secure a powerful passed b-pawn. The attempt to break out with 22...d5 just seemed to make matters worse. The rest was just a matter of defusing a few cheapo attempts.

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    A short draw but a very entertaining one ensued between Parham Maghsoodloo and Alexander Grischuk (photo: John Saunders)

    Parham Maghsoodloo versus Alexander Grischuk saw the Iranian GM, playing White, grab a hot e5-pawn in a Ruy Lopez line where none had dared before. It looked as though he had it all figured out (maybe in home analysis). Black was able to regain the pawn and stop the white king from castling but, despite the slight awkwardness of White’s set-up, Parham got the game under control and a perpetual ensued.

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    The psychological hang-over from his game against Fabiano Caruana may have affected Luke CShane against Wang Hao (photo: John Saunders)

    I expect that many of Luke McShane’s British fans feared the worse for him in round six, wondering if he would be able to put behind him the disappointment of only drawing with Caruana via an overwhelming position and the tiredness of a long and unsuccessful game. So it proved: though McShane’s attempts to chip away at Wang Hao’s big centre were largely successful, he missed a couple of ways to level the game in the later middlegame. Wang Hao’s play in the latter stages was flawless and quite in the Carlsen/Caruana class.

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    Spectators were treated to a Magnus Carlsen classic when he met Alexei Shirov in round six (photo: John Saunders)

    The pairings were kind to Magnus Carlsen, giving him a second successive White and he took full advantage, defeating Alexei Shirov in a beautiful, subtle game. Shirov played the Petroff, albeit in a somewhat un-Petroff-like way. In many ways this was classic Carlsen, nursing his opening edge and waiting to see if his opponent compromised his position in any way. Shirov tried 21...d4 which looked reasonable at the time but resulted in a pawn dropping further down the line. The pawn capture allowed Black to pin a rook and, though Carlsen had a viable way to resolve the position without losing the exchange, he chose instead to give up the exchange and retain his dark-squared bishop which he could see would be nuclear-powered if and when it came to the long diagonal and pointed at Black’s king. The star move of the game for me was 33.Qc3! which doesn’t threaten anything in itself but is a sort of meta-zugzwang, but ties up the loose ends of White’s game and squeezes Black into spoiling his position. Without this move, Carlsen’s planned transition into a queen ending would likely not have worked so he must have envisaged it when he played 28.c3. It allowed him to secure a pawn advantage and that made all the difference. The more I look at this game, the more I think it is a little gem. I was tempted to compare it with Capablanca and Fischer but Carlsen needs no comparison with others as he is already firmly established as one of the great stylists.

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    Sergey Karjakin not quite at his best but his defences held against Yuriy Kryvoruchko (photo: John Saunders)

    Sergey Karjakin hasn’t really sparked yet in the tournament, but he had a good scrap with Yuriy Kryvoruchko in round six. Karjakin snatched a warm-ish pawn and should perhaps have done better in fending off Black’s compensation for it and might have emerged with an edge. Instead he messed up and found himself with two knights for a rook and two pawns in a position which favoured his opponent. However, the damage didn’t prove too serious and the so-called ‘Minister of Defence’ wasn’t called upon to deploy the full extent of his legendary powers in order to secure a draw.

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    Engine ticking over but not quite full throttle yet? Levon Aronian defeated Aleksey Dreev in a wild and woolly game (photo: John Saunders)

    Pundits and commentators have been talking about how the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss represents Levon Aronian’s last chance to become world champion. I confess I find this hard to swallow – do they mean ‘in this cycle’ or ‘ever’? Can’t be the latter, surely. OK, he’s just turned 37, which makes him a little older than most contenders for the crown, but as someone who is a full three decades older, it seems to me that Levon looks, sounds and behaves like (as my good friend Super-GM Emeritus Jon Speelman would put it) a ‘young sprog’. There’s plenty of petrol still in Aronian’s tank, and he is beginning to shift smoothly through the gears in the Isle of Man, beating redoubtable Russian GM Aleksey Dreev in only 26 moves in round six. But, to be honest, ‘smooth’ is not quite the right word. His gearbox is still a bit suspect. Aronian played an innocuous (my first choice of adjective was ‘crazy’ but that might be a bit harsh) opening designed to confuse his opponent rather than secure any sort of advantage. True, Dreev had come up against it previous in a game against Sandro Mareco earlier, in the year, so it might have been prep, but White can hardly expect to gain an edge with this sort of anodyne play. Dreev diverged from the Mareco game with the retreat 7...Qd8 rather than 7...Bg4 (also played here was 7...Nf6 in Vasiukov-Larsen, Moscow 1962, which White won). I’m not sure I understood this game at all. It all looked a bit chaotic to me. And just when Black was poised to secure an edge with 15...Qd7, he instead played 15...0-0 allowing 16.f5 which set the cat among the pigeons – or, less metaphorically, trapped Black’s bishop. This wasn’t a blunder on Dreev’s part; he clearly expected to get compensation and did to some degree after opening the f-file against White’s vulnerable king, but not nearly enough compared with the less dramatic option. Worse, it played to Aronian’s tactical strength and within a few moves the Armenian had bamboozled the Russian with a typical bit of wizardry, uncorking a champagne fizzer of a move, 23.Be3!! after which all of Black’s men couldn’t put Dreev together again. Good win for Levon, but the engine still needs a bit of tuning.

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    Nikita Vitiugov played as sharply as his barber's scissors against Matthias Bluebaum (photo: John Saunders)

    Nikita Vitiugov has garnered a good deal of sympathy and admiration recently following his unfortunate elimination by Armageddon from the FIDE World Cup at the semi-final stage, followed by a gracious and positive tweet thanking fans for their support, so it’s good to see him back in contention for a Candidates’ tournament place here in the Isle of Man. Not sure about the severe haircut, though. Is this in tribute to his esteemed compatriot Alexander Grischuk, who sports a similar look? Or maybe he just wants to look mean and menacing to his opponents? One of my colleagues, who’d better remain nameless, referred to it as ‘the psychopath look’. I’m hoping Fiona Steil-Antoni will ask him these important questions about his tonsorial style in a future interview as we Nikita fans want to know more about our hero. (I’m unofficial president of the Nikita Vitiugov fan club after admiring his ice-cool chess up close in Gibraltar.)

    Enough of the fanboy nonsense, let’s look at Nikita’s game with Matthias Bluebaum of Germany. This was known territory until Bluebaum went in for 15...Qa6. Previously, players have opted for 15...c6 to prevent White’s bishop from going to d5, and Matthias was to learn the hard way why ...c6 needs to be played immediately. Nikita played an immediate 16.Bd5 c6 (too late) 17.Bxf7+!! – to which the commentators exclaimed ‘boom!’ in synchronicity. Stockfish wasn’t so convinced of this as a boom-move, but Nikita was adamant and said as much in the post-game interview. To stay in the game, Black would have had to find the line 19...Qa3 20.c5 Qxc3 21.Rae1 Bd7 22.Rxf8+ Kxf8 but, even then, in real life the defence would have been hard work and the safe money would have been on the Russian player. As it was, Bluebaum played a different line after which he was without hope though the game continued a while longer.

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    Kirill Alekseenko pulled off an excellent squeeze against Vladimir Akopian (photo: John Saunders)

    The first turning point in the game between Kirill Alekseenko and Vladimir Akopian was when Black exchanged queen after which White had a safe edge, with a good bishop against a poor knight. The move 28...g5 then created a weakness which Alekseenko was quick to exploit with 29.f4, eventually targeting the weak f7-pawn. Akopian needed to find an active defence but went passive with 33...Rf8 after which he was squeezed to death by some accurate play by White.


    The top nine boards had resulted in six wins for White and three draws and this white domination was only alleviated on board ten where Spanish GM David Anton Guijarro, playing Black, steadily overcame Alex Lenderman of the USA. The game started with a QGA and was level or level-ish until move 26 when White, running short of an active plan, dared to play g3-g4. This allowed Black to lock the kingside with h5-h4 and then manoeuvre his knights so as to exploit the dark squares e5 and f4. This took a while to achieve but Black had all the time in the world because White couldn’t find any active plan of his own in the meantime. White was already reduced to shuffling his rook from d1 to d2 and back when Black finally put him out of his misery with 41...b4! which created indefensible threats down the b-file and also set up the exchange of light-squared bishops which was to leave White’s h3-pawn without a defender. These twin threats on either side of the board spelt the end for White, and Anton Guijarro closed the game out effectively, with White generously allowing him to end with mate.

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    Vishy Anand showed some champion touches in his win against Nodirbek Abdusattorov (photo: John Saunders)

    Former world champion Vishy Anand kept up his challenge with a win against teenager Nodirbek Abdusattorov of Uzbekistan. Vishy showed some nice touches in this game, with some exchanges around moves 22-24 to open up the a2-g8 diagonal against Black’s king and blithely swapping off into an opposite-bishop ending which he knew was won, though it wasn’t that obvious to us spectators.

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    Anna Zatonskih beat Ekaterina Atalik to reach 2½ in the race for the women's top prize (photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com)

    Dinara Saduakassova continues to lead the challenge for the top women’s prize. She escaped with a draw from a bad position against Gawain Jones to reach 3/6. Six women players are on 2½: Dronavalli Harika (India), Antoaneta Stefanova (Bulgaria), Batkhuyag Munguntuul (Mongolia), Lei Tingjie (China), Anna Ushenina (Ukraine) and Anna Zatonskih (USA).

  • FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss: Round 5 Report

    Published: 15 Oct 2019

    Round 5 Report

    John Saunders reports: after another pulsating round of play at the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss, the leadership has expanded to seven players, including all four of the overnight leaders who drew their games. Only another Houdini-like escape act, this time by Fabiano Caruana (USA), prevented us from having a sole leader. England’s Luke McShane came within an ace of beating him. The traffic jam on 4/5 consists of Fabiano Caruana (USA), Wang Hao (China), Luke McShane (England), Vladimir Fedoseev (Russia), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Alexei Shirov (Spain) and Parham Maghsoodloo (Iran). Magnus Carlsen won against Surya Ganguly so is now breathing down their neck amongst the chasing pack on 3½.

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    So near, and yet so far... Luke McShane had Fabiano Caruana on the brink of defeat in round five (photo: John Saunders)

    The game between Luke McShane and Fabiano Caruana was the showpiece of the round with a narrative almost replicating that of Kovalev-Carlsen in round four. The game started with the solid Four Knights’ Defence, but a certain degree of imbalance ensued, with White having two knights against Black’s two bishops but with a bit more room to manoeuvre. As with Carlsen on the previous day, Caruana didn’t seem to be on his game and he drifted into a difficult position, a pawn down and without much scope for activity. Before long, analysis engines were flagging up alarming +3 and +4 advantages to White, and although McShane wasn’t taking full advantage of the optimum silicon suggestions, his moves were more than strong enough to reach a won game.

    But mark those words: “a won game”. Is there really any such thing? I’ve written various homilies about this chess cliché in my magazine column. One thing’s for sure, there are not many positions that constitute a won position when you’re facing one of these 2800+ rated leviathans. You have to beat them about six times over before getting a point on the scoreboard, and it’s never over until the fat arbiter collects the score sheets.

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    Luke McShane's clock handling was a major factor in not being able to secure victory against Fabian Caruana (photo: John Saunders)

    Once again, time pressure was a huge factor. Like Vladislav Kovalev before him, McShane ran his clock dangerously low. In the run-up to the move 40 time control McShane allowed his opponent a very difficult chance to break out and grab perpetual check but Caruana missed it (39...Qxg5!! 40.exd7 Re4!!). However, such were the complications involved in sub-variations that we should probably chalk that one off as impossible for a human player to find. Some other opportunities to finish the game looked more humanly achievable, e.g. 53.Nc1! driving Caruana’s queen away from the defence of the key h5 square and allowing a mating finish which Luke would normally find in a nanosecond. But the pressure of the clock and the situation played their part. Instead Luke liquidated down to what looked a won endgame, which it probably would have been but for a sub-optimal 61st move with his king after which the engines were screaming ‘draw’. That said, you’d still bet on Luke winning it against anyone rated under 2800. But Fabi, like Magnus, is a phenomenal defender. We must remind ourselves that these guys played a world championship match during which neither could beat the other. Caruana steered his way through the next 20+ moves without missing a beat.

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    Wang Hao and Parham Maghsoodloo provided wonderful entertainment in the tournament hall... and the commentary room (photo: John Saunders)

    Wang Hao played a most enterprising game against Parham Maghsoodloo, first sacrificing a pawn and the exchange to give full rein to his pieces and corral the opponent’s queen. What follows was... I hate to use clichés but, what can only be described as a tactical mêlée. It was a fascinating struggle, with Wang Hao’s blithe disregard for material considerations and Parham Maghsoodloo’s active counterplay being a joy to behold. Looking at it with your computer, you may find a couple of zingers missed along the way but let’s not hold that against the players, who brought further pleasure to online viewers when came to the commentary room and performed a comedy double act at the post-game interview. I’m not sure it was intentional, but a career on the stage is a possibility if ever they get tired of chess.

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    Alexander Grischuk and Ivan Cheparinov face off in one of the 'window seats' (photo: John Saunders)

    Alexander Grischuk joined the leaders with a win against Ivan Cheparinov. This was quite an instructive game, as so many games at this event have been. (Hopefully some enterprising GM out there could consider producing a instructional textbook based purely on games from this tournament.) At the point where the queens were exchanged, I’d guess that many club players would share my bemusement as to why White’s game was so much better than Black’s. It seems to be purely down to pawn structure, with Black’s set-up being vulnerable to White’s bishop. It took to dawn on me what a nice move 27.a6 was. No time to study this in more detail here, so do look it up and study how Grischuk got the job done. I did find myself wondering whether Magnus or Fabiano might have found a defence for Black, but maybe they would have struggled too.

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    Vladimir Fedoseev joined the leaders after defeating Radoslaw Wojtaszek in round five (photo: John Saunders)

    Vladimir Vasilyevich Fedoseev is clearly a considerable talent. Aged 24, from St PeterSvidlersburg, he’s already had a rating in excess of 2700 but is below that threshold currently. He had a annus mirabilis in 2017, winning the Aeroflot Open and beating Vladimir Kramnik at the subsequent Dortmund Sparkassen tournament, entry into which had been his prize for winning the Aeroflot. In round five he overcame the winner of the 2018 Chess.com Isle of Man Masters, Radoslaw Wojtaszek. White gradually got on top in an unusual line of the Nimzo and Black was already under some pressure when he tried 25...c4 which was simply captured by Fedoseev. Black found he couldn’t get away with taking White’s loose h-pawn because it left his queenside pieces vulnerable to attack so he was a pawn down for nothing, and soon two pawns adrift. Black’s attempt to find dark square compensation rapidly evaporated and it was game over.

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    Alexei Shirov's win against Gabriel Sargissian means he'll play his second 2800+ rated opponent of the tournament in round six (photo: John Saunders)

    Alexei Shirov joined the leaders with a win against Gabriel Sargissian. The Armenian GM seemed in reasonable shape until he played the wrong recapture on move 27, allowing an awkward pin with 28.b4 leading to the win of a pawn. Shirov finished the game off efficiently, with no need for any flamboyant moves. He is the luckiest of the seven leaders as he gets a downfloat in round five... to Magnus Carlsen. With Black. Well, OK, maybe not so lucky.

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    In the 'cheap seats': Magnus Carlsen defeated Surya Ganguly to move to within half a point of the leaders (photo: John Saunders)

    That brings us neatly to the subject of Carlsen, temporarily languishing in what a viewer of the Chess.com show nicknamed ‘the cheap seats’. He had White against Surya Ganguly. Clearly the Norwegian needed to assert himself sooner or later, and the Indian GM wore the serene expression of a man who knew the fates were against him. Carlsen adopted a low-calorie line against Ganguly’s Sicilian Najdorf (i.e. with most of the theoretical fat taken out) and had steered clear of what little theory there was by about move 12. The position became very open but Carlsen’s pieces seem to have more scope than his opponent’s and Black’s king remained stuck in the centre. Carlsen never found a clear way to give mate but he gained enough positional plums to win comfortably anyway.

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    Dinara Saduakassova drew with Sandro Mareco to move to 2½ points and lead the race for the top women's prize (photo: John Saunders)

    Further down the lists there were wins for Vishy Anand, Wesley So and Jeffery Xiong, who all reached 3/5, while 15-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov of Uzbekistan defeated the strong Croatian GM Ivan Saric to reach 3½. The women competitors generally had a tough round but Dinara Saduakassova of Kazakhstan moved into the lead for the women’s first prize by drawing with GM Sandro Mareco. She has 2½ and is followed by four other women players on 2/5: Batkhuyag Munguntuul (Mongolia), Dronavalli Harika (India), Antoaneta Stefanova (Bulgaria) and Lei Tingjie (China).

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    Nihal Sarin joined interviewer Fiona Steil-Antoni in the commentary room to discuss his win against IM Anna Zatonskih (photo: John Saunders)


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