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FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss: Round 8 Report

Round 8 Report

John Saunders reports: round eight of the 2019 FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss, played at the Comis Hotel, Isle of Man, on 18 October, was a livelier affair than round seven, with rather more decisive results on the higher boards. Even so, a car crash of players is building up at the top as the tournament reaches the sharp end and three rounds remain. The two leaders, Fabiano Caruana (USA) and Levon Aronian (Armenia), drew their game, which allowed Spanish GM David Antón Guijarro to catch them on 6/8 by beating Alexander Grischuk (Russia). Other players on 5 drew, and now the second score group on 5½ has swelled to ten: Wang Hao (China), Kirill Alekseenko (Russia), Parham Maghsoodloo (Iran), Vladislav Kovalev (Belarus), Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Nikita Vitugov (Russia), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Vishy Anand (India) and Boris Gelfand (Israel).

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Fabiano Caruana vs Levon Aronian: the game had its moments but fizzled out to a draw (photo: John Saunders)

The top board game between Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian had its moments, with Aronian giving up a pawn for some active play, including driving the opposing light-squared bishop into a cell from which it could only be sprung with difficulty. When the time came, it was Aronian who did the springing, on his way to a level game and a draw.

Board two, between Wang Hao and Magnus Carlsen, was of minimal interest, with the Chinese GM not giving the world champion a sniff of activity as the queens came off early and the pawn structure was largely symmetrical. Not much more to say about it.

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El Niño - David Antón Guijarro - proved he was man enough to defeat leading Russian GM Alexander Grischuk (photo: John Saunders)

Board three, however, was decidedly lively and ended in a decisive result in 24 moves. All credit to David Antón Guijarro (the 24-year-old is nicknamed ‘El Niño’ – ‘The Boy’ – in his native country) for some splendid preparation and for carrying out the final attack against Alexander Grischuk in excellent style. It must also be said that Grischuk’s play was quite poor in this game for a player of his calibre. It was a thoroughly bad day at the office as he stumbled into some shrewd Spanish preparation and fell apart quickly. One can only assume that the stress and strain of this energy-sapping tournament has got to him. Now a full point off the speed, the odds of him qualifying from this event are much reduced, and he will probably be looking to the Grand Prix series to provide him with his ticket to Ekaterinburg.

Parham Maghsoodloo and Nikita Vitiugov didn’t overstrain themselves in a fairly anaemic 23-move draw. They too have have come through a hard series of games and probably decided to award themselves a half-day holiday. Wesley So versus Kirill Alekseenko lasted twice the length in terms of moves played but it too was a cagey affair in which few risks were taken.

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Vishy Anand shakes hands with Vladimir Fedoseev. The former world champion is running into form at the right moment (photo: John Saunders)

Five players on 4½/7 won their games to put themselves half a point behind the leading score group and maintain their hopes of a ticket to the Candidates. Vishy Anand defeated Vladimir Fedoseev in an interesting Sicilian. Interviewed after the game, the former world champion berated himself for attacking prematurely with 26.h5 which was effectively countered by his opponent, but Fedoseev went badly astray with 31...Re7 which gave White control of the back rank and led to a tactical finish.

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Boris Gelfand's win in round eight gives him a good chance of a Candidates' place with three rounds left (photo: John Saunders)

Boris Gelfand established a strong positional grip early on in his game with Zhang Zhong and the Chinese GM’s attempts to exchange off pieces to relieve the pressure never worked out. The end of the game was slightly mysterious as Zhang Zhong gave up the exchange unnecessarily and promptly resigned – maybe he saw a flaw in an intended follow-up tactic? – but his position was looking poor anyway.

Hikaru Nakamura won a crisp game against Armenian GM Hrant Melkumyan. The opening was a Ruy Lopez in a line which Ding Liren has played a few times with Black in 2019. Where the world no.3 chose 16...Nb4 in his games, Melkumyan opted to snatch the loose a-pawn with 16...Nxa5, though White has reasonable compensation for it. Black’s dubious 20...Nb3 gave back the pawn and ensured White a lasting initiative. The game is a good example of the phenomenon known as ‘Spanish torture’ as White’s edge gradually morphed into a vice-like grip as he exploited the open b-file, the a2-g8 diagonal and the fact that Black’s knight was stranded on the back rank with no forward moves available. This was a real confidence-booster for Nakamura who is famed for his great finishes at the Gibraltar Masters event and must now fancy his chances of doing the same to grab the Candidates’ qualification place.

Belarussian GM Vladislav Kovalev has raised his profile in this tournament and he has now put behind him the disappointment of missing out on a win against Magnus Carlsen with a good win with Black – the only success with that colour on the top 18 boards – against the 2018 Chess.com Isle of Man Masters winner Radoslaw Wojtaszek. The Polish GM followed one of his own previous games, substituting a queen exchange for long castling on move 15 in answer to which Kovalev exited theory with 15...Ncxe7. Wojtaszek had ample compensation for a sacrificed pawn for quite some time but seemed to lose his way after Kovalev gave the pawn back and started a kingside counter in the lead up to the time control. A further error on move 50 by Wojtaszek enabled Kovalev to liquidate to an easily won rook and pawn endgame.

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Shirov-Yu Yangyi and Karjakin-Dreev were identical until one game was moved to the adjacent room (photo: John Saunders)

The round featured an incident similar to the famous one at the 1955 Gothenburg Interzonal when three Soviet GMs found themselves playing an identical line of play against three Argentinians at the same time. There were just two identical twins here in the Isle of Man, rather than triplets, but the effect was similar and the games drew much attention from spectating GMs in the room and the online audience. The games in question were immediately adjacent to each other on boards seven and eight – Alexei Shirov vs Yu Yangyi and Sergey Karjakin vs Aleksey Dreev respectively. Sergey Karjakin later attempted to explain what happened in what order in a playful tweet: “Funny accident today when we had the same position like Shirov against Yu. I actually confused the moves with g4, forgetting my own game against...Yu! So in the end Shirov followed me, I followed Shirov, Dreev followed Yu, and Yu believed in my preparation! That is how it works,” topped off with a laughter emoji.

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Sergey Karjakin explains the comedy of errors in the twin games Karjakin-Dreev & Shirov-Yu to an amused Fiona Steil-Antoni (photo: John Saunders)

Though the laws of the game are specific on the subject of advice, these situations where games follow the same course for a significant number of moves and over an equally significant period of time (in this case, more than an hour) represent a slight grey area, but it is one in which the arbiters can act in order to ensure players are not disturbed by their neighbours’ game and by the unwonted levels of attention that they can attract. To remedy the situation, chief arbiter Alex Holowczak took the decision to separate the games by moving one of them, Shirov vs Yu Yangyi, to the secondary playing area. Having done so, it was noticeable that the two games diverged immediately. Karjakin went on to win but Shirov could only draw. Looking closer at the moves, engines indicate that, rather than scoring 1½/2, the line chosen by mistake by Karjakin and then adopted by Shirov should have scored 0/2 with best play. A veritable comedy of errors, with Karjakin having the last laugh.

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Soumya Swaminathan had an excellent win against GM Zahar Efimenko (photo: John Saunders)

The competition for the top women’s prize is still close, with Dinara Saduakassova and Soumya Swaminathan both on 4/8. The Kazakh player came close to defeating Russian GM Alexander Motylev, while the Indian WGM had a splendid win against Ukrainian GM Zahar Efimenko. Five women players are on 3½/8: Harika Dronavalli (India), Batkhuyag Munguntuul (Mongolia), Anna Ushenina (Ukraine), Antoaneta Stefanova (Bulgaria) and Alina Kashlinskaya (Russia).

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Alexander Motylev visibly under pressure as he struggles to a draw against Dinara Saduakassova (photo: John Saunders)


Finally, round nine features the dream pairing - Magnus Carlsen versus Fabiano Caruana. They have met before in the Isle of Man in 2017, when Carlsen won in round eight with Black. Can Fabi get his revenge? Tune in at 3pm this afternoon, Twitch.tv/chess etc

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