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FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss: Round 4 Report

Round 4 Report

John Saunders reports: after four rounds of the 2019 FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss at the Comis Hotel, Isle of Man, the leadership has swelled to four players: Fabiano Caruana (USA), Wang Hao (China), Luke McShane (England) and Parham Maghsoodloo (Iran) all have 3½ from a possible 4 points. Caruana drew with Wang Hao, while McShane defeated Baskaran Adhiban (India) and Parham Maghsoodloo beat Vidit Gujrathi. Meanwhile, Magnus Carlsen’s struggles continued as he narrowly escaped defeat at the hands of Vladislav Kovalev of Belarus. He remains a point behind the leaders.

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Wang Hao and Fabiano Caruana drew their game. They share the lead with Maghsoodloo and McShane on 3½/4 (photo: John Saunders)

There is not too much to say about the top board game between Fabiano Caruana and Wang Hao. It started with a Petroff (Russian) Defence, which used to be the standard go-to defence for top players who wanted to hold with Black before Kramnik popularised the so-called Berlin Wall. The Petroff still does the same job today. Caruana diverged from the stem game Svidler-Ivanchuk, Linares 2007, with 20 Be5. Caruana probed and prodded for a while but Wang Hao’s defence was solid.

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A 30-move draw but a genuinely tough struggle between Russians Alexander Grischuk and Kirill Aleksenko (photo: John Saunders)

The all-Russian clash between Kirill Alekseenko and Alexander Grischuk ended in a draw on move 30 but an examination of the moves shows that it was a long way from being a token effort designed to end when agreed draws become permissible. This was a genuinely tough battle of ideas and well worth studying. Alekseenko sacrificed a pawn but Grischuk countered with an imaginative exchange sacrifice, with both sides threatening the enemy king. In the end Grischuk was obliged to bale out with a perpetual check.

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Ivan Cheparinov and Nikita Nikita Vitiugov get ready for what was to prove a fascinating contest (photo: John Saunders)

The game between Ivan Cheparinov (now playing under a Georgian flag) and Nikita Vitiugov (Russia) was a tremendous battle between two of the most exciting players around, and both former winners of the prestigious Gibraltar Masters tournament. Cheparinov came out of the opening with an initiative but his attempts to expose his opponent’s king backfired and Vitiugov launched a ferocious counter-offensive. At one point the Russian seemed almost certain to win but he missed a clear winning chance. Cheparinov found a way to escape to an ending in which he was two pawns down but with opposite-coloured bishops on the board. Vitiugov tried to win for many moves but the defence finally held.

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Parham Maghsoodloo overcame Vidit Gujrathi in a highly instructive opposite-coloured bishop endgame (photo: John Saunders)

The game between Parham Maghsoodloo (Iran) and Vidit Gujrathi (India) was, in some ways, the twin of Cheparinov-Vitiugov and it is fascinating to compare and contrast the two. Both saw a battle of ideas in the opening and middlegame phases, though Maghsoodloo-Vidit was more of a positional struggle, and both transformed into opposite-coloured bishop endgames. But here was the paradox: while Vitiugov’s position proved unwinnable with his two extra pawns (engines confirm it as drawn), the Iranian’s position proved winnable despite having zero extra pawns (also confirmed by silicon).

What swung it for Maghsoodloo was his superior king position, with his monarch ideally placed to shepherd his two connected passed pawns. The black player also had two connected passed pawns, but his king was powerless to help them on their way, whereas the white king was the perfect escort for the pawns to take the stairway to heaven. Chess coaches might create a useful lesson on opposed-coloured bishop endgames from these two games whilst telling their students the improbable but true story that they were played at the same time on adjacent boards.

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This win was a splendid result for Parham Maghsoodloo, who served notice of his wonderful talent in winning the 2018 World Junior Championship with a round to spare and is clearly fulfilling his potential though still only 19. He’s also a very cheerful and popular character, joking about not being able to wear his lucky jacket because of the dress code in operation here.

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Baskaran Adhiban vs Luke McShane: two popular GMs produced a fascinating game (photo: John Saunders)

Also reaching the leading score was England’s Luke McShane, who defeated Baskaran Adhiban of India. These two players, both of whom are hugely popular in their respective countries for their affable personalities and creativity at the board, laid on another treat for the spectators. Things hotted up from the moment when McShane played 19.e5!? with a view to opening up lines in the general direction of Black’s king. Adhiban replied 19...d5 but may have been shocked by McShane’s combative reply 20.g4! The game turned on these three pawn moves and soon it was one-way traffic as White piled up his heavy pieces against the enemy king. Even Adhiban’s tactical mastery was unable to save him. Old-fashioned chess again from McShane, who seems to be channelling Alekhine at the moment.

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Vladislav Kovalev and Magnus Carlsen start a momentous game (photo: John Saunders)

All this great chess and I haven’t even arrived at the major spectacle of the day that had social media running riot. Once again Magnus Carlsen was on the ropes, this time against the little-known but highly rated Belarus player Vladislav Kovalev. The opening was a Moscow Sicilian, with the champ varying from 10...cxb4 which he played against Bacrot in a blitz game a couple of years ago with 10...0-0. Things started to go awry for Carlsen when he allowed his opponent to get a passed d-pawn to d6 and then support it with a queen on d5. His situation went from bad to worse with some more inaccurate moves as the pawn came to d7 and Kovalev managed to arrange the rest of his forces to support it and create massive threats.

Basically, Carlsen was busted sky high, with his long unbeaten run hanging by a thread. But two factors were on his side: his Houdini-like ability to escape when all is lost and, more importantly, his opponent’s dire clock handling. Eventually they reached a position where Kovalev needed a reasonable amount of time to figure out how to exploit the advantage conferred by his monstrous passer but he only had seconds available. Carlsen tried to lure him into two different threefold repetition scenarios. Kovalev avoided both but at too great a positional cost and at the time control it was clear that the great white shark was off the hook and heading for open water, bloodied but unbeaten. The Belarus player was left shaking his head and practically beating his head against the table in his frustration.

They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words. I like to think the following triptych encapsulates the awful pain of chess disappointment...

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Face of a man who knows he's missed the biggest win of his life. Vladislav Kovalev v Magnus Carlsen (photo: John Saunders)

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"OMG! How did I not win that?" Vladislav Kovalev's disappointment is palpable (photo: John Saunders)

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"If only I had had more time!" Vladislav Kovalev knows the moment has passed. A draw was soon agreed (photo: John Saunders)

Batkhuyag Munguntuul (Mongolia) is still on the leading score of 2/4 in the race for the women’s first prize though she lost her game with Alexei Shirov. Dinara Saduakassova (Kazakhstan) joined her on 2 after defeating GM Eduardo Iturrizaga of Venezuela.

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Batkhuyag Munguntuul lost to Alexei Shirov but is still going well on 2/4 (photo: John Saunders)

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Dinara Saduakassova moved to 2/4 after defeating Eduardo Iturrizaga (photo: John Saunders)

There was another upset lower down the lists when wildcard IM Fy Antenaina Rakotomaharo of Madagascar defeated GM Sergei Movsesian of Armenia, who seems to be having a nightmare of a tournament (½ out of 4 and he’s not played anyone in excess of a rating of 2571 yet).

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Madagascan IM Fy Antenaina Rakotomaharo scored a great win against Sergei Movsesian (photo: John Saunders)

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