4-time winner and defending champion Hikaru Nakamura won his first five games in this year’s Tradewise Gibraltar Masters to keep the sole lead for three rounds, but after Round 7 he’d been caught by David Howell, while after Round 8 he's level on 6.5/8 with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Richard Rapport (who beat Howell) and Daniil Dubov, whose first-round loss to a 2340-rated player has turned into a Swiss Gambit. Nino Batsiashvili leads the women’s race on 5.5/8, but nine women are just half a point behind.
Replay all the games from this year’s Tradewise Gibraltar Masters using the selector below – click on a game to open it with computer analysis or hover over a player’s name to see all his or her results:
When we last looked at the Gibraltar Masters after three rounds Hikaru Nakamura was in a 7-man leading group on 3/3, but one round later he was the sole leader after springing a surprise on Nils Grandelius (14.Bf2) in a Najdorf. His Swedish opponent immediately went astray and was unable to put up much resistance in the play that followed. The final position is picturesque, as the “counterattack” by the black rooks didn’t work out as well as planned!
Hikaru kept that momentum and excellent preparation going into the next round, where he took on 19-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the Dragon, employing the same line as Gawain Jones had used against Magnus Carlsen in the Tata Steel Masters.
Hikaru played 14…Rb8 instead of 14…Re8, claiming he did “a better job of preparing than Gawain did,” and adding, “I think theoretically it’s a very important game”. Duda didn’t blunder a piece like the World Champion, and although Hikaru was still in preparation up to move 22 he expected the game to end in a draw until Duda overlooked 28…c5! and reacted badly to that shock. There was a beautiful finish:
36…f2! Deflection 1. 37.Bxf2 Re7! Deflection 2, and good enough to persuade the young Polish GM to allow mate on the board: 38.Qxe7 Qxc3+ 39.Ka3 Qa5#
The best part of Hikaru’s interview afterwards was when he revealed he chose his opponent by literally tossing a coin!
Things slowed down after that, though, as Nakamura was held to draws by David Howell, Mikhail Antipov and Wang Hao, allowing the chasing pack to catch him.
David Howell finished second to Nakamura in the 2015 Gibraltar Masters and has been in fine form in 2018 as well, despite saying he entered the tournament tired and with no expectations. In Round 5 he played the Exchange French for the first time in his life, explaining his tactics against young German GM Rasmus Svane as follows:
He’s very, very well-prepared, he likes his unbalanced positions, so I thought, make it as dull as possible and hopefully outplay him later!
That worked to perfection and set up a showdown with Nakamura in Round 6, when Howell was kicking himself for not having prepared the Scotch that occurred in the game, though he managed to make it a game for which neither player was prepared by springing a surprise with 4…Qf6. Madness ensued, and if not for the clock David might even have won:
15…Nxc2! is the silicon choice, and after a sequence of seemingly random moves it seems Black should emerge with an extra pawn. In the game 15…Bxc5 was played quickly and the game fizzled out into a draw.
Howell was asked afterwards about a heated exchange between Nakamura and himself after an earlier game in Gibraltar, to which he replied:
Not so much an exchange as him telling me I had terrible chess understanding!
Howell managed to outwit Ivan Saric in the next round to join Nakamura in the lead, but his time management had seen him reach the time control with a position that was close to lost, if his opponent had looked hard enough. David commented:
My New Year’s resolution for 2018 was to be better with this, in life as well, never to be late, to be more practical. But I’m late for every game, and my clock handling is worse than ever, so I just have to deal with it, get used to it. Hopefully my fans don’t have a heart attack watching it!
Round 8 was a bridge too far, though, as 21-year-old Richard
Rapport found a beautiful plan in Howell’s inevitable time trouble:
That took Rapport into the lead alongside heavyweights
Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The French GM has won all five games with
White and drawn three with Black, so it was understandable when he commented, “I
would have hoped to be a bit more lethal with Black - with White I cannot
In the same interview he also noted, “I went outside to do some shopping and I felt like I almost died, not being dramatic or anything!”
To be fair to Maxime, gale force winds blowing through the Pillars of Hercules, as the Rock and the African mountains on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar were called in Antiquity, had an impact on the tournament. Scaffolding was torn down overnight (no-one was hurt)...
…leading to diversions and long traffic queues stretching
across the border into Spain, even before rock-fall closed the road to the
Caleta Hotel where the tournament is played. The organisers allowed the Round 7
games of those players affected to be started one hour later, though, so no
great disruption followed.
The other player in the tie for first is Maxime’s next opponent with Black, Daniil Dubov.
21-year-old Russian GM Daniil Dubov’s loss to 2340-rated IM Gary Quillan was the sensation of the first round, but he hasn’t looked back since:
After winning the next three games he explained:
Actually I didn’t have the feeling like I’ve played badly in the first round. It happens. Normally it happens not against a guy who’s 23- something, but it happens. He played a brilliant game, so what can I do? … I believe he was quite happy. I actually saw his press conference, so he was quite happy, I guess, so making people happy is always nice! My only issue was it’s 9 Elo points. That was my only issue. All the rest was fine. If I would lose like this to Topalov or somebody else it would be ok. This time it was a bit unexpected, but still a nice game, I guess.
Dubov got to sacrifice a queen in Round 4, but perhaps his best move so far was in Round 7 with Black against Spanish/US youngster Lance Henderson de la Fuente:
29…Rxf2!! “It’s too nice to be correct!” was Dubov’s first thought when he saw this, but he checked it and it worked. 30.Rxf2 Re1+ 31.Rf1 Qxa4!! and if White takes the queen then 32…Be3+ is mate-in-2. In the game after 32.Qd3 Rxf1+ Black ended up “only” a pawn up, but it was a pawn up in a winning pawn endgame.
There have been plenty of brilliant games in Gibraltar, but two of them have stood out – both for the play of the Indian grandmasters with the white pieces and for the weird time management of the mercurial Vassily Ivanchuk.
Exhibit 1: in Round 6 Chanda Sandipan played a risky over-the-board novelty after a 35-minute think, giving him an initiative on the queenside in exchange for a generally unfavourable material imbalance. It soon became critical, until on move 21 the only way to try and hold the position together was 21…Rf8!, leaving the king in the centre of the board to continue the fight against the pawns.
After 21…0-0 22.b5 Na5 23.Rc7 Ivanchuk resigned, with the pawns set to inflict heavy material losses. The shocker, though, is that in an absolutely critical situation Ivanchuk was blitzing out his moves – despite having over an hour remaining on his clock.
Such things can easily happen once – you’ve calculated a line deeply, see no hope, and just try to get it over with fast, but then two rounds later...
Exhibit 2: in Round 8 Ivanchuk was playing Black against Abhijeet Gupta and was blitzing almost from the start, briefly pausing for a 10-minute think on move 15, but otherwise taking pauses that could be accounted for by wandering a little around the playing hall. Probably the losing move (22…Qf7? instead of 22…Qe7) was played after 2 seconds, while 30…Rxe6? (30…Qc6! and the game goes on) was the fruit of 18 seconds of reflection:
31.Rg8+! is a beautiful move, and one much praised…
…but 31…Kxg8 32.Qxd5 is a 2-move tactic hardly beyond the capacity of Ivanchuk to find. Something seems awry on Planet Chucky.
Top seed Levon Aronian is only half a point off the pace after a nice win over Nigel Short in Round 7, but he hasn’t exactly been cruising. He almost lost to Anita Gara in Round 1 and was lucky Alexander Huzman took a repetition in a far better position in Round 5. After winning the next game he talked about how much stronger sub-2600 players are nowadays:
I’m losing lots of rating, and I understand the reason for it. The reason I’m losing so little is that I get lucky – I still get some respect!
The main reason for including that interview, though, is Levon’s account of the Battle of the Sexes, where he got some help from team captain Nigel Short: “He’s an expert on the ladies, so he told us all the secrets”. After the men won Levon had a plan to even out the contest:
I realised that it’s harder for the girls because they’re wearing high heels – maybe we should wear kilts to compensate!
Levon didn’t get to play all three games there, though: “I got substituted, and this was a wake-up call!”
The race for the women’s £15,000 first prize is being led by Nino Batsiashvili, who is on 5.5/8 and, it seems, about to score her final grandmaster norm (there was a false alarm on the Isle of Man due to a problem with an earlier norm).
She was trailing last year’s winner Ju Wenjun, but the Chinese player got crushed by Boris Gelfand in a spectacular Round 8 game:
Wenjun had thought for 46 minutes on her previous move, indicating she knew she was in trouble, and here Boris set fire to the board with 15…Rxf3!! He already suspected this was a mating attack, and commented:
I had at one moment a temptation to give up everything, to try and play like Tal, like Ding Liren in the last year, like Morphy and Anderssen , but then ok, I found it’s not so clear, so I simply won a game, which is also a good achievement.
Gelfand’s interview is also worth watching for the end, where he reveals a bus stop encounter with a monkey provided some extra motivation!
Ju Wenjun is joined by many more female players on 5/8, including Anna Muzychuk, though Anna had a chance for more!
Anna played the natural and good 25.Qf6, but there was something much better: 25.Qxe6!!, when it turns out White is simply winning after 25…fxe6 26.Bb3!
The standings at the top look as follows with two rounds to go:
Will Nakamura manage to win a 4th Tradewise Gibraltar Masters in a row and a 5th in total? Will we get another playoff for first place? We’ll soon find out! Tune into the live games from 15:00 on Wednesday and 11:00 on Thursday. You can also follow the games in our free apps: