Reports Jan 27, 2020 | 12:58 PMby Colin McGourty

Gib Masters 1-6: Praggnanandhaa topples Topalov

17-year-old Russian Grandmaster Andrey Esipenko beat Ivan Cheparinov in Round 6 of the Gibraltar Masters to take the sole lead, but he’s closely followed by a wave of young grandmasters including former World Junior Champions Mikhail Antipov and Parham Maghsoodloo. 14-year-old Praggnanandhaa suffered a shock loss in Round 1, but stormed back with 5 wins in a row, including against former World Champion Veselin Topalov. Top seeds Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Shakhriyar Mameydarov are yet to get into top gear.

14-year-old Praggnanandhaa won a great game against ex-World Champion Topalov | photo: John Saunders, official website

You can replay all the games from the 2020 Gibraltar Masters using the selector below:

This year’s Gibraltar Masters is somewhat paradoxical, since the already generous top prizes have been boosted from £25,000 to £30,000 overall, and £15,000 to £20,000 for the top woman, but the field is somewhat weaker. In 2018 there were 12 2700 players, including Levon Aronian, Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, in 2019 there were 14, including Aronian, Nakamura, MVL and So, while this year there are 7 2700 players, with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov the two absolutely top level stars. It’s notable that Aronian and Nakamura have this year skipped both Wijk aan Zee and Gibraltar.

The great Vassily Ivanchuk is back on the rock | photo: Niki Riga, official website

It’s still a wonderful field, however, and includes two Candidates, Wang Hao and Kirill Alekseenko, former World Champion Veselin Topalov, everyone’s favourite Vassily Ivanchuk and a host of top juniors and female players.

The Lawrence Trent show

Lawrence Trent practising his stare | photo: Niki Riga, official website

The Gibraltar Masters is a traditional open with a wide range of players, so that the early rounds tend to be light on really top-level clashes and other players can grab the limelight. One of those is English International Master Lawrence Trent, who asked in the chess24 Tata Steel Chess chat what he should do in the first round, where he could expect to meet a monster. Jan Gustafsson’s advice was to take a bye (all players can take one half-point bye in Rounds 1-7 and still be able to win prizes) and face an easier opponent in the second round. Lawrence recklessly rejected that advice, and although he put up stiff resistance he eventually fell to the sweet 41.a4!! final move in this position by Vietnamese no. 1 Le Quang Liem:

The curiosity was that the first game Magnus Carlsen showed in his new Attacking without Sacrificing series, published a day earlier, featured the World Champion showing the same “very typical counterattacking motif”, this time from the black side:

Our hero wasn’t too disheartened, though, and won the next two games before winning a stunning attacking game against French GM Thal Abergel in Round 4. It tempted Peter Svidler away from the Tata Steel Chess action, and you don’t want to miss this analysis:

Here’s Lawrence’s own take on the game:

It’s hard to play like a genius every day and Lawrence went on to lose his next two games, but even when he’s not playing he’s inspiring others such as Baskaran “the Beast” Adhiban! In Round 6 Adhiban crushed French GM Gabriel Flom, who had earlier had Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on the ropes, in 26 moves. After the game Adhiban gave an unexpected answer when interviewed by Tania Sachdev:

Adhiban: I really wanted to win today and I was feeling quite motivated.

Tania: What was your motivation today for winning?

Adhiban: I saw some videos of Lawrence Trent in chess24!

On the opening days we once again got a Gibraltar speciality – rapid-fire questions directed at many of the top players…

…some curious incidents such as a one-hour power cut in Round 3 that may have had something to do with 9 draws on the top 10 boards…

Suddenly the lighting was a lot more intimate! | photo: John Saunders, official website

…and the famous Battle of the Sexes, where the men could have won a Darwin Award for the way they played the first game…

If you can't celebrate that... | photo: John Saunders, official website

…but overall it was relatively quiet. Then mayhem was unleashed in Round 6, which had enough dramatic moments for a whole tournament.

Round 6: Blunders and brilliancies

Praggnanandhaa is perhaps the best known of the new wave of Indian talent | photo: John Saunders, official website

The star of Round 6 was 14-year-old Indian Grandmaster Praggnandhaa, who had suffered a shock loss in Round 1 to his 2312 rated compatriot WIM Nandhidhaa. He shrugged that off by winning his next four games, and then in Round 6 he faced former World Champion Veselin Topalov. The Bulgarian played the French Defence and seemed to underestimate the strength of his opponent’s plan with 15.f5! until 22…Qd8? was the point of no return (22…Kh8 had to be tried, though it’s still a very tough position for Black):

Here Praggnandhaa unleashed 23.Nf6+!! gxf6 24.Rad1! and Black is helpless against the various mating threats. Topalov gave up his queen with 24…Nxe5 25.Rxd8 Rfxd8 26.Qxf6 Ng6 but although the material count is roughly equal the young Indian went on to score an easy win by pushing his kingside pawns.

The players analysed together afterwards:

Here’s the post-game interview with Praggnandhaa:

Joint top-seed Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is now half a point behind Praggnandhaa, but it could have been worse. He was winning a crushing game against Argentinian GM Fernando Peralta, but admitted it had a “shocking end” when he played 33.Rc7?

33.Be5! would instead have wrapped up victory, but a minute after Maxime made his rook move he realised that he’d blundered. He’d “hallucinated” a mating net, while after 33…Kxd4! he couldn’t see anything more than a draw. Luckily for Maxime, however, his opponent had the same hallucination and resigned anyway!

The prize for the trap of the day goes to Georgian GM Bela Khotenashvili, who was kicking herself for getting down to under 2 minutes on the clock after 20 moves against French GM Jules Moussard. In the end it worked out perfectly, however, when she played 36.Kf1! with 18 seconds to spare and Jules, with 47 minutes on his clock, took just 22 seconds to play 36…Rd2??

What had he missed? 37.Rxg5! hxg5 38.Bd3! and suddenly the rook has no way of getting back to stop the white h-pawn – if 38…Rd1+ White simply replies 39.Kg2. In the game Jules resigned after 38…c5 39.Ke1.

Only two players have been sole leaders in this year’s Gibraltar Masters – Ivan Cheparinov after Round 4, and now 17-year-old Russian Andrey Esipenko, who beat him in Round 6. It was a long grind of a game, but the final position after Andrey’s 51…c4! is one of the most beautiful zugzwangs you’re likely to see!

Just try to make a move for White! Understandably, Cheparinov resigned.

Andrey Esipenko took down Ivan Cheparinov | photo: John Saunders, official website

There are still four rounds to go, and Esipenko decided to take a bye for Round 7, which leaves the 7 players just half a point behind his 5.5/6 with a chance to catch him. Wang Hao-Praggnanandhaa stands out on top board, and you can follow all the action live here on chess24 from 15:00 CET with commentary by David Howell and Fiona Steil-Antoni!

See also:

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