Overnight leader Magnus Carlsen conceded a draw to second-placed Santosh Gujrathi Vidit of India in the seventh round of the 2017 Chess.com Isle of Man Masters, played at the Villa Marina on 29 September, thus allowing three of the chasing pack to gain ground. The world champion stills leads by half a point. With two rounds to play the leading scores are now: Carlsen (NOR) 6/7, Fabiano Caruana (USA), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Pavel Eljanov (UKR), Santosh Gujrathi Vidit (IND), Emil Sutovsky (ISR) 5½.
Magnus Carlsen gets ready to play Santosh Gujrathi Vidit
After playing like the 2850+ mega-star of a few years back in round six, Magnus Carlsen was back to playing like the ordinary, run of the mill 2800-ish player that we've seen him reduced to in 2017 against Vidit. Did I really write that? Yes, I know, 2800 and the adjective "ordinary" don't belong in the same sentence but these things are relative. We've come to expect so much of Magnus that when he plays a not so stellar game, we scribblers get grouchy. Maybe it is better to give credit to the guy on the opposite side of the board. In round six Magnus fooled around with an offbeat system and Eljanov allowed himself to be sucked into his teasing masquerade, but in round seven the canny Vidit didn't take the bait. I'm not going to analyse the game but I sensed he didn't try to call Carlsen's bluff but instead steered into something balanced and readily calculable rather than getting tempted to mix it. Great result for the rapidly improving Vidit, and also for the tournament since another Carlsen win might have deprived us of an exciting competitive finish and replaced it with a routine Norwegian victory parade.
Laboratoire Caruana proved the decisive factor in Fabiano's game against Gawain Jones. Because he's worth it... (photo by Chess.com / Maria Emelianova)
On the next board, it was party time for Fabiano Caruana as Gawain Jones walked into some prepared analysis and was pretty much lost from move 23. Thereafter it was just a matter of Fabiano mentally checking through his analysis. Incidentally, at this level it's not like scholastic chess where the player who knows he's caught the opponent in a prepared trap instantly slams down the killer move. Fabiano took plenty of time to make sure of each step in his planned demolition of Black's game. By the end, Fabiano was just showboating, blowing holes in Gawain's position for fun. As with Magnus's game the previous day, it looked like Fabiano was demonstrating that knights could be worth more than rooks. Was this Fabby trying to keep up with the Joneses? No, he did better than that, catching up with and completely outstripping a Jones. As a loyal Brit I felt very sorry for Gawain, who's one of the nicest guys in chess, and hope he bounces back from this severe setback.
Fabi contemplates playing Ng5-e6
Caruana's reward for being a good boy and doing his homework will be a game with the white pieces against Carlsen in round eight, when, who knows, this time it might be American doing the schooling and the Norwegian being put to the test.
Alex Lenderman v Vishy Anand: not much to see here except Vishy's stylish shirt
Alex Lenderman against Vishy Anand produced a fair number of moves, 46, but not much real action as they were played pretty quickly with the balance of the position mostly remaining undisturbed. What else to say... Vishy wore a very nice shirt and effortlessly carried off the best dressed man of the round award as always. That's all I've got.
Dennis Wagner and Hikaru Nakamura go head to head. Hikaru's knights weaved a web round the German GM
The second intrepid American mountaineer preparing for the coming assault on Mount Magnus is Hikaru Nakamura. The game's number one Rock star (I'm referring to his Gibraltar tournament triumphs rather than his musical accomplishments or indeed his climbing abilities) has been champing at the bit with three draws against sub-2700 players and here he showed his typical fighting spirit and creativity to win against the talented German GM Dennis Wagner who tried to dig in and keep him out. Like Caruana and Carlsen before him, Nakamura demonstrated his virtuosity with the knights, first giving up the exchange for a pawn and then using his two knights to weave a web round his opponent. Even if you don't play through the whole game, do spare a moment to have a look at Nakamura's final tactic which has a very original flavour to it and doesn't conform to any known pattern that I can think of.
It was a pretty good afternoon for the black pieces as Pavel Eljanov and Emil Sutovsky both won with that colour, in both cases against female opposition. Nino Batsiashvili has had a great tournament so far and barely needs any more points to wrap up her third and final GM norm. But I guess she wouldn't want to do it by losing her last three games. She seemed to be moving towards a draw against Eljanov but went adrift at the end and lost. Either that, or I'm putting too much trust in my analysis engines and she was struggling anyway. Anna Zatonskih had been a tad fortunate against Boris Gelfand the previous day but she had no luck against Sutovsky, who played a Modern Defence but soon went on the counteroffensive when Anna played a little passively.
Nino Batsiashvili's wonderful unbeaten run was brought to an end by Pavel Eljanov
Anna Zatonskih played White but was soon forced back on the defensive by Emil Sutovsky
The losses of the two leaders in the hunt for the top women's prize opened the door to Hou Yifan to overtake them, which she did by beating GM Aravindh of India, whose attempt to complicate a level endgame backfired on him. So Yifan is now the leader in the hunt for the £6,000 women's prize, with Nino Batsiashvili, Anna Zatonskih and Alexandra Kosteniuk half a point behind her.
"Love to stop and chat, but I'm off to play football! 'Bye!" Magnus seems to be saying to Vidit after their game
Later in the evening some of the players and organisers could let off steam in a game of indoor football at a local school. Of course, football-mad Magnus had to take part. Check out the photos taken by Maria Emelianova which she has posted on our gallery here.