Round 6 Report
John Saunders reports: six players now share the lead on 5 points after six rounds’ play: Jeffery Xiong (USA), Wang Hao (China), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) and Radoslaw Wojtaszek (Poland), plus Arkadij Naiditsch (Azerbaijan) who added a half-point bye to his score after round five. A further 11 players have 4½ and these include the two former world champions Vladimir Kramnik and Vishy Anand, plus Abhijeet Gupta, Mircea-Emilian Parligras, Sergey Karjakin, Richard Rapport, Michael Adams, Gawain Jones, Mikhail Antipov, Vladislav Artemiev and SP Sethuraman.
Jeffery Xiong (USA) and Wang Hao (China, left) line up for a super-power confrontation (photo: John Saunders)
With Naiditsch sitting out the round, two of the leaders, Jeffery Xiong and Wang Hao, were paired together and a third, Abhijeet Gupta, downfloated to play Hikaru Nakamura. Xiong secured a long-lasting edge in his game with the Chinese GM. He maintained it throughout the course of a long and tense game but there was never a moment when it might have blossomed into a more serious and tangible advantage, which I suppose was testament to Wang Hao’s resilience.
Superman versus Red Bull Can: Abhijeet Gupta's hat-trick didn't work against Hikaru Nakamura (photo: John Saunders)
The other leader Abhijeet Gupta was not so lucky and his much-discussed Superman hat failed to provide a psychological fillip to his cause. It was evident from Hikaru Nakamura’s ebullient mood at the post-game interview that the great American feels he has played himself into good form.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Rinat Jumbayev meet and greet before the game (photo: John Saunders)
Jumabayev-MVL started with a side-line of the King’s Indian, with the French player offering an early pawn to stir some imbalance in the position. Jumabayev must have been impressed by MVL’s compensation for the pawn as he was prepared to allow a repetition but it was MVL who declined the early truce. A few moves later another opportunity to play for a threefold repetition came along but this time it was Jumabayev who deviated from the drawing line. However, calamity struck just two moves later when the Kazakh player overlooked a tactic which cost him a pawn in the first instance and soon after the entire position. So MVL was into the multiple tie for first.
Parligras thought he had landed a mighty Russian sturgeon but Karjakin wriggled off the hook. Close, but no caviar (photo: John Saunders)
The game between Parligras and Karjakin was eventful. Soon Karjakin was under the cosh and he managed to lose two pawns for not very much. Two connected passed pawns at that. Any other player would have wilted and lost quickly, but Karjakin has this almost mystical reputation for saving utterly lost positions, and has become known as the ‘Russian Minister of Defence’. Parligras faffed about a bit but seemed to be gradually getting the job done. Then, for some reason best known to himself. he decided to go after another irrelevant pawn in exchange for one of his golden passers. He must have miscalculated the subsequent play as a liquidation tactic that he played failed to deliver, some more material was exchanged and he lost a pawn into the bargain. The Romanian still had one extra pawn but Karjakin wasn’t going to let that worry him. He really is a calm presence at the board, and the fact that he doesn’t slump in his chair or show the slightest sign of being in trouble on the board might be part of his magical defensive aura. Parligras still made a spirited attempt to make something of his material advantage but it wasn’t to be and Karjakin emerged with his precious half-point. Both players must have felt the strain a bit as their names appear amongst the round seven half-point skivers.
All's vain, Rasmus: you cheapo them one day, they cheapo you the next - Wojtaszek v Svane (photo: John Saunders)
Rasmus Svane’s loss to Radoslaw Wojtaszek was almost a morality story. The moral being that ‘he who lives by the cheapo shall die by the cheapo’. You will recall that the young German profited from Boris Gelfand’s tactical oversight in round five. Today a vengeful Caïssa decided to punish Rasmus for his act of disrespect towards one of the world’s best-loved grandmasters by striking him down with an identical moment of chess blindness. On move 21 he slid a knight back to d7 and, boom! (as commentators Danny King and Anna Rudolf like to say) – Radoslaw snaffled his f7-pawn with his queen. It was part of a combination involving a vicious fork winning material. Poor Rasmus struggled on for a while but to no avail. Caïssa giveth and Caïssa taketh away. Here endeth the lesson.
Anish Giri huffed and he puffed, but he couldn't blow Kovalev's house down (photo: John Saunders)
The game Adhiban-Aronian was a dud so we’ll draw a veil over it. Aronian is now a bit off the speed but perhaps he is girding himself for a big push in the last three rounds. Giri-Kovalev was a bit more like it and Giri won a pawn but never quite looked like realising his advantage. In the end it can be adjudged a good defensive effort from Kovalev.
Refreshed by his day of rest, Vladimir Kramnik gave Erwin L'Ami the full treatment (photo: John Saunders)
Vladimir Kramnik returned refreshed after his rest day and set about Erwin L’Ami with a vengeance. The Dutch GM ceded the centre ground a little easily and his queenside counter didn’t amount to much. Near the end Kramnik gave up his queen for a rook but by then his position was so overwhelming and replete with winning plans that a club player could have found the sacrificial idea without difficulty.
Super-GMs are like London buses: you wait ages for one to come and then three come along at the same time:
Nigel Short has another close encounter of the elite kind, this time with Wesley So (photo: John Saunders)
I mentioned in yesterday’s report about Nigel Short’s twitter comment about the strength of the opposition that the pairings computer has been spitting out for his delectation. In round six he faced another stratospherically rated monster but took it on the nose, playing a decent game and pocketing another half point, this time against Wesley So. It’s a bit unlucky on the old boy. I remember he wrote a newspaper article years ago about how he was fed up playing elite tournaments, and how he was retiring to the gentler pastures of open tournaments where the supercharged theoreticians don’t batter you to a pulp with a computer-generated nuance on move 35 of the Najdorf. It was a good plan on Nigel’s part and he’s had a happy and successful time playing in such events in the last decade and a half, but it’s probably a bit irksome for him, now that he has stopped coming to elite tournaments, that the elite tournaments have started coming to him. And who is he paired with in round seven? Yes, of course, Levon Aronian. Is the pairings software taking the Swiss? (Only kidding – I’m not questioning the pairings, I just wanted an opportunity to use that gag.)
Vishy Anand had to work hard but he got the job done against Daniel Fridman (photo: John Saunders)
Vishy Anand also benefited from his day off, beating Daniel Fridman. He had to work harder than Kramnik, however, with the game going to 72 moves. Fridman squandered a pawn in the middlegame but it took quite a time to realise the advantage.
Mickey Adams was in better form against Bogdan-Daniel Deac (photo: John Saunders)
Mickey Adams said later that he had not been happy with his play until now, but he looked his confident best in beating Bogdan-Daniel Deac. The Romanian GM had White but rather went into his shell and allowed his opponent to take over. It’s worth playing through just to see Mickey’s last move. Level material on the board, he retreats his queen one square. And White has nothing because of a combination based on promoting a pawn to deflect White’s forces and follow up with a mating combination. Like a master demolition man lightly tapping a single brick in an edifice with a hammer to make the whole building collapse. Absolute poetry.
Vidit Gujrathi looks forlorn, while Mikhail Antipov can hardly wait to make his move (photo: John Saunders)
Vidit Gujrathi didn’t have a happy birthday yesterday and today was no better. This time he lost to Mikhail ‘Hair Twizzler’ Antipov. The picture tells the story – Antipov eagerly grasps a piece on the board while Vidit sits back dejected. All the more galling for Vidit as he had the makings of a very nice position on move 30 when he hesitated and suddenly was on the back foot and under pressure from his opponent’s heavy pieces.
Gawain Jones is too amiable for this to be true but it looks like he is giving Nihal Sarin a stern look here, doesn't it? (photo: John Saunders)
I imagine that grandmasters must dread games with prodigies, especially since they tend to be rated lower than they should be as the Elo system struggles to keep up with their rate of improvement. Gawain Jones has now met two of the notable Indian prodigies in this tournament and, gratifyingly for him, beaten them both. He told me earlier that he had lost to Praggnanandhaa at Reykjavik last year, so hopefully beating both Gukesh and Sarin in the Isle of Man will provide some form of consolation for that. The game was entertaining but a bit complex for me to get my head round for the purposes of this report. Worth playing through, certainly.
Williams-Vaibhav: God's in his heaven, Harry the h-pawn's on h6, stand well back from the platform, folks,
the GingerGM express is coming through... (photo: John Saunders)
If you’re a fan of Ginger_GM (or maybe his loyal feline friend Charlie the Chess Cat – apologies to non-Twitter users who probably think I’ve gone off my head at this point) you’ll be delighted to see Simon Williams is on the march through the tournament and now has a princely 4/6. His victim in round six was Indian GM Suri Vaibhav, who weighs in 140 points heavier than Simon in rating terms. His last move in this game is a boom moment to end all boom moments...
Don't go breaking my heart: Nigel Short is getting fitted up with a heart rate monitor by Maria Emelianova (photo: John Saunders)
The round seven pairings are out and the top boards, with the players on 5/6 are MVL - Naiditsch, Nakamura - Xiong, Wang Hao - Wojtaszek. Kramnik and Anand both have Black, against Artemiev and Sethuraman respectively, while Adams is White against Gupta. Gawain Jones is Black against Richard Rapport. Antipov is downfloated to Anish Giri. More fun tomorrow.