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FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss: Round 3 Report

Round 3 Report

John Saunders reports: The five leaders were whittled down to two by the end of round three in the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss. One of them is world number two Fabiano Caruana, who defeated Alexei Shirov, while the all-Chinese clash between Wang Hao and Bu Xiangzhi ended in a victory for the former. Meanwhile, world champion Magnus Carlsen is now languishing a full point off the lead after conceding another draw to former FIDE world champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov.

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The sun shines on the venue - and the outline of a famous chess player can be seen through the window (photo: John Saunders)

The sun shone on the Isle of Man today as weekend golfers enjoyed their sport on the greens and tees of the Comis Golf Club that flank the venue. Indoors, it was world number two Fabiano Caruana who continued to drive his shots unerringly down the fairway while Magnus Carlsen struggled to get out of the rough.

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When two planets collide: Alexei Shirov vs Fabiano Caruana (photo: John Saunders)

Fabiano faced Alexei Shirov, fresh from his attractive win against Erwin L’Ami. In real time, watching without benefit/disadvantage of an engine, one might have thought that Caruana, Black, was calling the shots, but looking at it afterwards, Stockfish found chances for White to take control. In truth it was one of those imbalanced Sicilian positions where no one, not even the players, could see too far ahead. But the penultimate move by Black, 51...Rg2!!, is one which will stick in the mind for its almost surreal quality.

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At first sight it doesn’t seem to threaten anything but try finding a reasonable reply and you’re some way towards grasping the iron logic behind it. It is also selected as the only sure-fire winner by the engines. And, while we at it, Caruana’s next move was pretty special, too. After Shirov’s 52.Qd3, he came up with 52...Qb8!! – total eclipse of Planet Shirov by Planet Caruana. A unique bit of chess one-upmanship: Caruana responding to Shirov’s move of the century candidate on Friday with two zingers of his own on Saturday. I recommend studying this position at home, but don’t seek computer assistance until you’ve given the organic analysis engine in your cranium a good work-out first.

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Bu Xiangzhi faces his compatriot Wang Hao (photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com)

On the adjacent board the two Chinese 100-percenters were slugging it out. Wang Hao started with a Giuoco Piano which became more of a Giuoco Forte as Bu Xiangzhi opened up the centre with ...d5 and strove to imbalance the position. Unfortunately, it was a case of he who dares, loses. Bu Xiangzhi rather overdid the counterattacking zeal with 14...Ne5 which allowed White to develop strong pressure on Black’s d4-pawn. The casual 16...Rd8 made things a lot worse and Wang Hao wrapped things up very quickly after that.

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Baskaran Adhiban vs Radoslaw Wojtaszek (photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com)

The fifth member of the 2/2 quintet, Baskaran Adhiban, drew with Radoslaw Wojtaszek in a Caro-Kann, Short variation. A long, forced line led to a queenless position where White hopes to get compensation for a sacrificed pawn. It’s like a Najdorf, Poisoned Pawn, variation, but without the fireworks. Last year’s Chess.com Isle of Man tournament winner nursed his material advantage throughout, but it came down to a rook endgame which Adhiban was able to steer towards a draw.

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Two world champions meet: Rustam Kasimdzhanov vs Magnus Carlsen (photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com)

That brings us to Carlsen-Kasimdzhanov and the question in most people’s minds was whether Carlsen would finally bring his A-game to the board, which so mysteriously disappeared in the summer after a dazzling run of tournament successes. Has his stockpile of opening novelties stored up for his 2018 match with Caruana run out? On today’s showing it rather looks as if the cupboard is empty, though I shall probably regret writing that in due course. Carlsen has the alchemist’s knack of turning base metal into gold. But not yet. This game had its moments, but wasn’t a classic. It started with a sequence that resembled play in the popular variant of the game known as Losing Chess, with a knight on each side capturing a series of enemy pieces, including the queens. The resultant position was equal on material but Carlsen had a reasonable initiative with a rook established on the seventh. He proceeded to build on his positional advantage but, just as you would have bet money on him continuing the offensive and then converting his sizeable advantage, the world champion hesitated and switched to defending a weak pawn. Kasimdzhanov used the breathing space to strengthen his defences and before long he had wrested the initiative. The game meandered on for a while, but it never looked anything other than a draw. At the end Kasimdzhanov would have been pleased with his solid defensive play but one imagines the world champion would have regretted his apparent loss of confidence in mid-game.

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Luke McShane demonstrating how he beat Ngoc Truong Son Nguyen with interviewer Fiona Steil-Antoni (photo: John Saunders)

If Fabiano Caruana’s win had a post-modern surrealist feel to it, Luke McShane’s win against Ngoc Truong Son Nguyen was a masterpiece of 1930s Alekhine-esque retro, with almost a touch of art nouveau about it. (I’m hoping to get my first entry in Private Eye’s Pseud’s Corner with that sentence – someone please send it in as they’ll probably not publish if I do so myself.) Luke at his best makes chess look simple. His new plan in this line of the Berlin started with launching Harry the h-pawn down the board to bully White’s bishop. It did potentially expose his king to danger but the Vietnamese GM’s sacrificial attempt to exploit this was brushed aside as Black timed his counterattack to a nicety. Alekhine would have been proud. Luke leads the English challenge with 2½/3.

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Heroic performance: IM Batkhuyag Munguntuul of Mongolia (photo: John Saunders)

Mongolian IM Batkhuyag Munguntuul deserves a shout-out for her splendid start to the tournament. She drew with Vadim Zvjaginsev in round one in 62 moves. She then defeated Sergei Movsesian in round two in 83 moves. She drew with Aleksey Dreev in round three in 100 moves. She is rated 2421 and her three opponents have been 2644, 2654 and 2662. That’s a heroic performance. In round four she’s paired with Alexei Shirov (2664) and, given the progression in length of her games, she can probably expect her voyage to Planet Shirov to last around 120 moves. Just thinking about that makes me want to go and have a lie-down.

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Vladislav Kovalev: eight hours, 152 moves - and tomorrow he faces Magnus Carlsen. That's life... (photo: John Saunders)

Batkhuyag Munguntuul’s marathon wasn’t the longest game of round three. The battle between Vladislav Kovalev (Belarus) and David Gavrilescu (Roumania) lasted 152 moves over the course of eight hours. The reward for the winner? A round four pairing with Magnus Carlsen. Now I’m definitely going to have a lie-down...

Round three leaders: Wang Hao (China), Fabiano Caruana (USA) 3/3. Ten players are on 2½/3. World champion Magnus Carlsen is amongst those on 2.

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