Round 10 Report
John Saunders reports: the penultimate round of the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss had everything. The eight boards with players still having an interest in qualifying for the Candidates’ tournament featured seven decisive results, with the only draw being a well-contested game between Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian. A sole leader emerged in the form of world number two Fabiano Caruana, who defeated David Antón Guijarro to reach 7½ points, while the world champion Magnus Carlsen beat Maxim Matlakov via an overwhelming position which became a much more problematic one before he found a way to win and equal Ding Liren’s record of 100 top-level classical games without a loss. Carlsen thus progressed to 7 points along with Nakamura and Aronian, and they were joined by Wang Hao, Kirill Alekseenko, David Howell and Nikita Vitugov who won their games to reach the same score. Thus there are eight players left to contest first prize and/or the Candidates’ qualifying place in the eleventh and last round.
Fabiano moved into the sole lead by defeating Spain's David Anton Guijarro (photo: John Saunders)
Fabiano Caruana is just half a point ahead of seven rivals, yet so assured has been his performance, his narrow escape against McShane excepted, that it feels as if he ought to be further ahead. He was back in his most serene mode against David Antón Guijarro, very gradually outplaying his talented Spanish opponent and winning an endgame where he had one fewer pawn but his pieces were much better posted and his pawns nearer promotion.
Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian drew their game but retain hopes of first place and the Candidiates' qualifying place (photo: John Saunders)
Board two between Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian followed the game Caruana-Aronian, London Classic 2018, a Berlin Defence, until Nakamura diverged with 16.Bb3 instead of 16.Bd5. After further exchanges, a double rook endgame was reached but, rather than trying to build on his slight edge, White chose to take a repetition. Nakamura will face his compatriot Fabiano Caruana in the final round with the white pieces, while Levon Aronian will take on Carlsen with the same colour.
Magnus Carlsen made heavy weather of his game with Maxim Matlakov but he eventually got the point (photo: John Saunders)
Magnus Carlsen and Maxim Matlakov started with a Semi-Slav, following an obscure correspondence game for 18 moves. This was a real Queen’s Gambit, i.e. with Black retain the gambit c-pawn, and Carlsen was to go two pawns down in the middlegame. However, he had considerable compensation since his opponent’s remaining pieces were poorly developed and he had used up an inordinate amount of time in navigating his way through the problems set him by the world champion. A horrid move by Matlakov in severe time pressure, 32...Qe3, allowed Carlsen to mount a tremendous attack on his king and it seemed certain that mate would be delivered. But, not for the first time in this tournament, momentary hesitation caused Carlsen to lose his way and his opponent not only reached the time control but set up something close to a fortress position with RBPPP for QPP. Eventually this morphed into RP v Q, but again it looked unwinnable to the ordinary mortal. However, the Nalimov tablebase said otherwise as did the organic Norwegian tablebase: “I learnt it in school.” It took 80 moves, but the job got done. By avoiding defeat in this game, Carlsen equalled Ding Liren’s record streak of 100 top-level games without a loss and he can break the record by not losing to Aronian in the final round on Monday, though he might have hoped for an easier pairing in order to do so.
Wang Hao enhanced his Candidates' qualification chances with a win against former world champion Vishy Anand (photo: John Saunders)
Vishy Anand’s dream of regaining his world title in this cycle was brought to an end in this round. Wang Hao answered his e4 with a Petroff and they chose a line in which the queens and most minor pieces are exchanged. Anand’s pawn advance on move 24 looked suspect and he was a pawn down and in trouble when he snatched a hot pawn and allowed a back-rank tactic winning a piece. This surprisingly quick win for Wang Hao allowed him to save energy for the final round. The Chinese player’s tie-break looks favourable, and he has white against time trouble addict David Howell, so he may even be slight favourite to qualify for the Candidates’ tournament as things stand.
"Well, at least I tried!" was Sergey Karjakin's good-natured tweet after losing to Kirill Alekseenko (photo: John Saunders)
The all-Russian clash between Sergey Karjakin and Kirill Alekseenko started with a home-brew QP opening, following an old game, Barcza-Prins, Leipzig Olympiad 1960, for only a few moves before Karjakin played 6.Ne5. His follow-up, 7.c4 may have been a mistake, as it obliged him to surrender a piece for pawns, though Stockfish thought he should have good ‘comp’. But, as all we chessboard duffers know, in real life ‘good comp’ often transforms into a simple material deficit with sub-optimal play and Karjakin didn’t help his cause by getting a rook to the seventh which had to scoot back from whence it came when Alekseenko found a neat tactic to unseat it. Thereafter Karjakin was always struggling and Alekseenko eventually annexed his advanced passed pawn. It took a long time but on move 89 the Minister of Defence had to resign his portfolio. Kirill Alekseenko has been one of the revelations of the tournament and the reward for his labours is White against another compatriot, Nikita Vitiugov, in the final round, for a shot at a place in the Candidates’ tournament and even a share of first place. He's the lowest rated player still in the hunt for major honours in this event but no one should underrate his chances.
David Howell and Alexander Grischuk go head to head in a bruising encounter (photo: John Saunders)
David Howell against Alexander Grischuk was billed as the battle of the time trouble kings and did not disappoint. Howell opened patriotically with a Symmetrical English and followed a Wesley So against Fressinet rapid game for 12 moves. Grischuk equalised but then hesitated, losing time with a rook manoeuvre which allowed Howell to regain the initiative and take a firm grip of the queenside. He soon won the loose b-pawn and thereafter much of the battle was with his clock as his myriad English fans underwent the usual torture of wondering whether he could make the time control. A second pawn fell and the board position was now overwhelmingly in his favour. But the clock time... could the wily Grischuk find something devious to spring on him and run his seconds down? Once Howell’s marauding queen was back on d1 and safe from potential tricks, Howell's fans could breathe again. Grischuk, with no cheapos available, sportingly resigned without even requiring his opponent to complete 40 moves. A tremendous success for the English player, equalling or even surpassing his 8/10 for second place at a super-strong Gibraltar Masters in 2015, and he too will have a shot at Candidates’ glory in the last round, though having Black against the redoubtable Wang Hao and an unfavourable tie-break will make it a very tough ask. As for Grischuk, he’ll be hoping to clinch a place via the Grand Prix route, where he’s currently well placed.
Nikita Vitiugov and Aleksandr Rakhmanov followed Bogoljubow-Alekhine for a while but Vitiugov crashed through to win (photo: John Saunders)
There was another all-Russian clash between Nikita Vitiugov and Aleksandr Rakhmanov on the seventh board. The latter started very much the underdog but his performance in the Isle of Man has been of excellent quality. Play briefly mirrored that of two legendary Russians of yesteryear, though Alekhine preferred 5...c5 against Bogoljubow in their 1934 world championship match. The game soon exited theory and White emerged with only the tiniest of edges from the opening. Later, around 25, things started to go wrong for Rakhmanov and his 28...Ra7 was a blunder, allowing a devastating exchange for pawn sacrifice which left his king at the mercy of White’s queen and two knights. Vitiugov made no mistake in finishing his opponent off. In the final round he will be White against Kirill Alekseenko. Whatever the result of that game, Nikita Vitiugov has established himself as one of the most impressive tournament fighters of the current era, with fine showings in Gibraltar tournaments and, we must remember, a heroic performance in the recent FIDE World Cup. He’s won a lot of fans recently and I’m sure a lot of fans who enjoy fighting chess would be happy to see him play in the Candidates’ tournament.
Le Quang Liem ended Parham Maghsoodloo's chances of Candidates' glory with a mighty kingside attack (photo: John Saunders)
On board eight just one of the players had a remaining interest in fighting for major honours as Le Quang Liem was upfloated to play Parham Maghsoodloo. The game started with a slightly offbeat Rubinstein Nimzo-Indian which the 19-year-old Iranian has played himself from the white side. Things seemed to progress normally for a while but when Black pushed Harry the h-pawn and then opted to snatch a b-pawn in exchange for his e5-pawn, problems started to show themselves. Suddenly Black had difficulties countering White’s strong bishop on the a2-g8 diagonal and he had a weak square on d6. Black needed to challenge White’s dominant queen on e4 but he did so one move too late, having wasted time with 23...Ra3 on the previous move. When White retreated his queen with 25.Qb1! it gradually dawned that it was all over. White was poised to play Rd6 followed by Qg6 and nothing could be done. Black attacked the c4 bishop with ...b5 but there followed a bishop sacrifice on f7 and the rest of the attack proceeded as planned, with the Vietnamese player completing a beautiful mating attack. Well done to him but it spelled the end of Maghsoodloo’s Candidates’ dream. But it has been a wonderful ride and seems very likely that Parham will have many more chances in the future. He’s been one of the bright spots of the tournament, not just for his chess but also his sunny disposition.
Harika Dronavalli maintained her challenge for the top women's prize with a draw to reach 5/10 (photo: John Saunders)
With her GM norm sewn up in round nine, Alina Kashlinskaya went on to draw with Evgeny Alekseev in round ten (photo: John Saunders)
The battle for the top women’s prize settled down in round ten, with Harika Dronavalli (India) and Alina Kashlinskaya (Russia) maintaining their joint lead by drawing games with Alexander Riazantsev (Russia) and Evgeny Alekseev (Russia). They have 5 points from 10 and are followed by Dinara Saduakassova (Kazakhstan) and Batkhuyag Munguntuul (Mongolia) on 4½. I should have mentioned yesterday that Dinara Saduakassova completed a GM norm when she sat down to play her round nine game, so many congratulations to her for a fine performance, currently rated at 2613. It is noticeable that a significant number of the women competitors, far from being intimidated by the strong line-up of the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss, are gaining rating points. They have risen to the challenge posed by the phenomenal opposition and done well. This is further vindication of the tournament’s philosophy in retaining some of the character of the regular annual Isle of Man tournament and, like the annual Gibraltar Masters, shows that it is the best way to raise the standard and profile of the women’s game generally. Harika Dronavalli has jumped four places to number nine in the live women’s list as of round ten, Dinara Saduakassova is up to no.13, Alina Kashlinskaya up to no.15, while Batkhuyag Munguntuul of Mongolia has climbed 14 places into the top 30. Only a handful of women competitors have dropped rating points and then only marginally.
Note that the final round starts at 13.30 local time rather than the usual 15.00. Whatever time zone you are in, make a note to start following play 90 minutes earlier than in previous rounds.