Round 2 Report
John Saunders reports: another gruelling round of chess at the world’s strongest open and the rating favourites are still finding it very difficult imposing themselves on their supposedly less accomplished opponents. Of the leading players, Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave proceeded to 2/2 but former world champions Vishy Anand and Vladimir Kramnik both dropped half points (though it might be more accurate to say that Vishy saved a half point).
Levon Aronian always seems the most relaxed of players, even when he is under pressure, but he had at least one slice of luck on his way to beating German GM Dennis Wagner. Aronian played the Black side of a Gurgenidze System (Modern Defence). Wagner had a goodish game for a while but Aronian gradually outplayed him and gave up the exchange to expose White’s king.
Levon Aronian starts with a Gurgenidze System against Dennis Wagner of Germany (photo: John Saunders)
The main beneficial effect of this was to lead the German into desperate time trouble. Black finished off pleasantly with a knight sacrifice to complete the process of opening up the white king to a winning attack. Or so it seemed: in fact, engines flagged the 50...Nxb3 move as a blunder as it allowed a defence along the rank with 51.Rg4 which would have turned the tables. Not too difficult for a human to find, either, but maybe not one with only a few seconds to find the right move. So, something of a let-off for the Armenian.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave celebrated his 28th birthday with a win against Abhimanyu Puranik (photo: John Saunders)
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was celebrating his 28th birthday on the day of round two and the birthday boy got just what he wanted ̵̵̵ a full point. It was gained very smoothly against Abhimanyu Puranik, a teenage GM from India, as MVL played his favourite Najdorf, reached equality, then cooperated in a liquidation of material down to a rook and pawns endgame in which his king was vastly superior and able to invade the white camp at will.
Now to report a few draws. One of them, Semen Lomasov versus Alexander Grischuk, was bloodless in the extreme as the game ended in only 14 moves with a well-known repetition in a line of the Ruy Lopez. In a post-game interview Grischuk appeared to lump the blame for this travesty of a game onto his 16-year-old IM opponent for not diverging from the repetition but also cited his own tiredness as a result of his visa difficulties which delayed his arrival. I’ve never entirely understood why tournaments bother with the 30-move no-draw-offer rule as it is so easily circumvented. However, it was gratifying that no other games ended in the same way and the rest of the games couldn’t have been harder fought.
Vishy Anand had another long, tough game and managed to hold the draw against GM Robert Hess (USA) (photo: John Saunders)
After his tough first round battle to beat a prodigy, Vishy Anand had another encounter which was equally gruelling and in which he had to pull out all the stops just to get a draw. His opponent, US GM Robert Hess fooled his opponent, and everybody else, by adopting the French Defence, which he professes to dislike. The first part of the game was not Anand’s finest hour as he proceeded to get one of those horrid French positions where Black swaps off all the minor pieces and gets an easy heavy piece endgame advantage on the queenside, with chances to get a rook into the white camp with Rc4 and Re4. Hess did a good job to secure an extra pawn in a rook endgame, but with the pawns all grouped on the one side it proved a bit too hard to win. Vishy seems to be playing the second half of his games better than the first half but it is good enough to get him out of jail when danger threatens.
Vishy Anand battled his way to a draw in this rook and pawn endgame (photo: John Saunders)
Vladimir Kramnik is now on 1/2 after a second draw. He faced another Russian, IM Alina Kashlinskaya, and she went toe to toe with him for many a long hour. The game was played on a non-DGT board so the score is not yet available, but it looked like the Russian wife of Radoslaw Wojtaszek - she turns 25 in a week’s time - kept her mighty opponent at bay with some ease, much as she did Anish Giri in the first round. I find myself idly wondering whether anyone has ever before been paired with players rated higher than 2780 and 2779 in their first two games of an open tournament. It seems very unlikely unless it happened here last year. And what would have been the odds against a 2447-rated player emerging from those games with two draws?
Alina Kashlinskaya has now drawn with two players in the high 2700s on consecutive days - Anish Giri and Vlad Kramnik (pictured) (photo: John Saunders)
Sergey Karjakin was another big name who was held to a draw. Perhaps his choice of defence, the Caro-Kann, wasn’t the most combative choice of weapon as Elisabeth Paehtz seemed to have little difficulty in neutralising the position and exchanging down to a drawn rook and pawns endgame. Although Aronian and MVL both managed to win with Black, some of the other super-GMs, used to the gentler pace of elite all-play-alls, seem to find it hard generating winning chances.
Elisabeth Paehtz had every reason to be happy, drawing with Sergey Karjakin (photo: John Saunders)
But enough of draws, let’s enjoy some chessboard entertainment. If chess were music hall ̵̵̵ we have to remember that our venue and the theatre close by used to host all the great stage acts of the past in the Isle of Man’s tourist heyday ̵̵̵ you’d have to say that Santosh Gujrathi Vidit has been the best act this year so far at the Villa Marina. Perhaps they should put his photo up with all the others showbiz stars whose faces appear on the walls of the corridors outside the playing hall. (Which reminds me, it is high time I pointed my camera at him.) In round one Vidit gave us a tour de force based on the sacrifice of his queen for three minor pieces and then chased David Eggleston’s king right across the board from g1 to mate it on b5 (or would have done had his opponent not resigned a move earlier). Today was pretty much an encore, with another queen sacrifice its crowning glory. His victim in round two was Das Debashis ̵̵̵ and you should see the way Vidit bashes him. Geddit? I could have been a music hall comedian myself in another age. What’s that? You don’t think so? Fair enough, I’ll get my coat. No more desperate attempts at humour, just enjoy the game...
Beware Sopiko Guramishvili: not the same lady at the board as she is in the commentary box (photo: John Saunders)
Now we’ve got the taste for royal blood, let’s have some more regicide. Jack Rudd, our game inputter in Douglas, steered me in the direction of this game, won by Sopiko Guramishvili against Swiss player Martin Leutwyler. Sopiko is such a delightful, sweet-natured chess commentator when on camera (recently seen in tandem with the equally excellent Ivan Sokolov during the Olympiad) that it is hard to believe the same lady becomes such a cold-blooded killer when in charge of her own chess pieces. On his Facebook page Jack Rudd presented this game with the following imaginary sentence put into the winner’s mouth: “I am going to sacrifice the exchange and then calmly bring my queen and remaining rook in to mate you. There is nothing you can do about this, no matter how long I take, because your rooks are useless against this plan.” That seems an apt interpretation of White’s cold-blooded strategy in this game though I still cannot imagine Sopiko saying it.
Vishnu Prasanna (right) pulled off an excellent win against Tamir Nabaty (photo: John Saunders)
A few players managed to beat higher rated opposition in round two. One was GM Vishnu Prasanna of India, who beat Israeli GM Tamir Nabaty who is rated nearly 200 points higher than him. A second was another Indian player, Harsha Bharathakoti, aged only 18 and who recently qualified as India’s latest GM (I think there are now close to 50 of them). He obviously likes the isle of Man as he scored one of his GM norms here last year. In round two he beat SP Sethuraman, rated 2673. Further down the pairings there was a win for WIM Laura Unuk of Slovenia against GM Natalia Zhukova of Ukraine ̵̵̵ a splendid result for the Slovenian player.
Blonde on Blonde: WIM Laura Unuk (Slovenia, left) had a famous win against GM Natalia Zhukova (Ukraine) (photo: John Saunders)
Going into Monday’s round three, 18 players are still on 2/2. All of them are GMs, or very nearly: the aforementioned Harsha Bharathakoti is currently waiting to have his title ratified. Amongst the most interesting pairings are Aronian-Sevian and MVL-Tari. I wonder how those two teenagers will get on against the top seeds. Further down the pairings there is one match-up between two stars of the future, Vladislav Artemiev and Vincent Keymer, who are both on 1½/2. On the next board Praggnanandhaa gets to play Pavel Eljanov. That will do for starters. Check in with us at 2.30pm UK time.
Anna Rudolf and Fiona Steil-Antoni at the commentary desk - join us again tomorrow