Round 5 Report
John Saunders reports: after another pulsating round of play at the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss, the leadership has expanded to seven players, including all four of the overnight leaders who drew their games. Only another Houdini-like escape act, this time by Fabiano Caruana (USA), prevented us from having a sole leader. England’s Luke McShane came within an ace of beating him. The traffic jam on 4/5 consists of Fabiano Caruana (USA), Wang Hao (China), Luke McShane (England), Vladimir Fedoseev (Russia), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Alexei Shirov (Spain) and Parham Maghsoodloo (Iran). Magnus Carlsen won against Surya Ganguly so is now breathing down their neck amongst the chasing pack on 3½.
So near, and yet so far... Luke McShane had Fabiano Caruana on the brink of defeat in round five (photo: John Saunders)
The game between Luke McShane and Fabiano Caruana was the showpiece of the round with a narrative almost replicating that of Kovalev-Carlsen in round four. The game started with the solid Four Knights’ Defence, but a certain degree of imbalance ensued, with White having two knights against Black’s two bishops but with a bit more room to manoeuvre. As with Carlsen on the previous day, Caruana didn’t seem to be on his game and he drifted into a difficult position, a pawn down and without much scope for activity. Before long, analysis engines were flagging up alarming +3 and +4 advantages to White, and although McShane wasn’t taking full advantage of the optimum silicon suggestions, his moves were more than strong enough to reach a won game.
But mark those words: “a won game”. Is there really any such thing? I’ve written various homilies about this chess cliché in my magazine column. One thing’s for sure, there are not many positions that constitute a won position when you’re facing one of these 2800+ rated leviathans. You have to beat them about six times over before getting a point on the scoreboard, and it’s never over until the fat arbiter collects the score sheets.
Luke McShane's clock handling was a major factor in not being able to secure victory against Fabian Caruana (photo: John Saunders)
Once again, time pressure was a huge factor. Like Vladislav Kovalev before him, McShane ran his clock dangerously low. In the run-up to the move 40 time control McShane allowed his opponent a very difficult chance to break out and grab perpetual check but Caruana missed it (39...Qxg5!! 40.exd7 Re4!!). However, such were the complications involved in sub-variations that we should probably chalk that one off as impossible for a human player to find. Some other opportunities to finish the game looked more humanly achievable, e.g. 53.Nc1! driving Caruana’s queen away from the defence of the key h5 square and allowing a mating finish which Luke would normally find in a nanosecond. But the pressure of the clock and the situation played their part. Instead Luke liquidated down to what looked a won endgame, which it probably would have been but for a sub-optimal 61st move with his king after which the engines were screaming ‘draw’. That said, you’d still bet on Luke winning it against anyone rated under 2800. But Fabi, like Magnus, is a phenomenal defender. We must remind ourselves that these guys played a world championship match during which neither could beat the other. Caruana steered his way through the next 20+ moves without missing a beat.
Wang Hao and Parham Maghsoodloo provided wonderful entertainment in the tournament hall... and the commentary room (photo: John Saunders)
Wang Hao played a most enterprising game against Parham Maghsoodloo, first sacrificing a pawn and the exchange to give full rein to his pieces and corral the opponent’s queen. What follows was... I hate to use clichés but, what can only be described as a tactical mêlée. It was a fascinating struggle, with Wang Hao’s blithe disregard for material considerations and Parham Maghsoodloo’s active counterplay being a joy to behold. Looking at it with your computer, you may find a couple of zingers missed along the way but let’s not hold that against the players, who brought further pleasure to online viewers when came to the commentary room and performed a comedy double act at the post-game interview. I’m not sure it was intentional, but a career on the stage is a possibility if ever they get tired of chess.
Alexander Grischuk and Ivan Cheparinov face off in one of the 'window seats' (photo: John Saunders)
Alexander Grischuk joined the leaders with a win against Ivan Cheparinov. This was quite an instructive game, as so many games at this event have been. (Hopefully some enterprising GM out there could consider producing a instructional textbook based purely on games from this tournament.) At the point where the queens were exchanged, I’d guess that many club players would share my bemusement as to why White’s game was so much better than Black’s. It seems to be purely down to pawn structure, with Black’s set-up being vulnerable to White’s bishop. It took to dawn on me what a nice move 27.a6 was. No time to study this in more detail here, so do look it up and study how Grischuk got the job done. I did find myself wondering whether Magnus or Fabiano might have found a defence for Black, but maybe they would have struggled too.
Vladimir Fedoseev joined the leaders after defeating Radoslaw Wojtaszek in round five (photo: John Saunders)
Vladimir Vasilyevich Fedoseev is clearly a considerable talent. Aged 24, from St PeterSvidlersburg, he’s already had a rating in excess of 2700 but is below that threshold currently. He had a annus mirabilis in 2017, winning the Aeroflot Open and beating Vladimir Kramnik at the subsequent Dortmund Sparkassen tournament, entry into which had been his prize for winning the Aeroflot. In round five he overcame the winner of the 2018 Chess.com Isle of Man Masters, Radoslaw Wojtaszek. White gradually got on top in an unusual line of the Nimzo and Black was already under some pressure when he tried 25...c4 which was simply captured by Fedoseev. Black found he couldn’t get away with taking White’s loose h-pawn because it left his queenside pieces vulnerable to attack so he was a pawn down for nothing, and soon two pawns adrift. Black’s attempt to find dark square compensation rapidly evaporated and it was game over.
Alexei Shirov's win against Gabriel Sargissian means he'll play his second 2800+ rated opponent of the tournament in round six (photo: John Saunders)
Alexei Shirov joined the leaders with a win against Gabriel Sargissian. The Armenian GM seemed in reasonable shape until he played the wrong recapture on move 27, allowing an awkward pin with 28.b4 leading to the win of a pawn. Shirov finished the game off efficiently, with no need for any flamboyant moves. He is the luckiest of the seven leaders as he gets a downfloat in round five... to Magnus Carlsen. With Black. Well, OK, maybe not so lucky.
In the 'cheap seats': Magnus Carlsen defeated Surya Ganguly to move to within half a point of the leaders (photo: John Saunders)
That brings us neatly to the subject of Carlsen, temporarily languishing in what a viewer of the Chess.com show nicknamed ‘the cheap seats’. He had White against Surya Ganguly. Clearly the Norwegian needed to assert himself sooner or later, and the Indian GM wore the serene expression of a man who knew the fates were against him. Carlsen adopted a low-calorie line against Ganguly’s Sicilian Najdorf (i.e. with most of the theoretical fat taken out) and had steered clear of what little theory there was by about move 12. The position became very open but Carlsen’s pieces seem to have more scope than his opponent’s and Black’s king remained stuck in the centre. Carlsen never found a clear way to give mate but he gained enough positional plums to win comfortably anyway.
Dinara Saduakassova drew with Sandro Mareco to move to 2½ points and lead the race for the top women's prize (photo: John Saunders)
Further down the lists there were wins for Vishy Anand, Wesley So and Jeffery Xiong, who all reached 3/5, while 15-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov of Uzbekistan defeated the strong Croatian GM Ivan Saric to reach 3½. The women competitors generally had a tough round but Dinara Saduakassova of Kazakhstan moved into the lead for the women’s first prize by drawing with GM Sandro Mareco. She has 2½ and is followed by four other women players on 2/5: Batkhuyag Munguntuul (Mongolia), Dronavalli Harika (India), Antoaneta Stefanova (Bulgaria) and Lei Tingjie (China).
Nihal Sarin joined interviewer Fiona Steil-Antoni in the commentary room to discuss his win against IM Anna Zatonskih (photo: John Saunders)