Hikaru Nakamura has won his second Gibraltar Masters title and the £20,000 first prize after draws in the last two rounds saw him finish on 8.5/10. David Howell took clear second half a point behind for £16,000, after drawing a thriller against Hou Yifan. The Women’s World Champion didn’t have too much cause for complaint, though, as the tie for third plus the women’s top prize earned her more than Nakamura. We take a look at some of the other winners and losers, and the growing rivalry between China and India.
Hikaru Nakamura can be very pleased with his fortnight’s work in Gibraltar. Unbeaten? Tick! Clear first? Tick! Back to American no. 1 above Wesley So on the live rating list? Tick! From the results alone you might assume he’d simply coasted home with two draws after racing to 7.5/8. In fact, he came under heavy pressure with Black against Paraguay’s Axel Bachmann in Round 9, and then played on for 68 moves trying to exploit an extra pawn against India’s Pentala Harikrishna in the final round.
A win there might have been necessary to avoid a play-off depending what happened on board two…
Hou Yifan rode her luck a little in Gibraltar, surviving by the skin of her teeth against Peter Svidler, then accepting the gift of a whole piece from Richard Rapport. She went into the last round on 7/9, knowing only losing while Padmini Rout won could prevent her winning the £15,000 women’s first prize. David Howell, meanwhile, had been rewarded handsomely for bold play in the tournament and was clear second on 7.5/9 – the only player who could catch Nakamura if the leader drew.
Big prizes are one of the main attractions of the Gibraltar Chess Festival, and in hindsight we can see exactly what was in stake in this game:
For Howell: win - £16,000 (2nd) or £20,000 (1st) after a play-off with Nakamura, draw - £16,000, loss - £5222.22 for shared 3rd (9 players)
For Hou Yifan: win - £16,000 (2nd) + £15,000 women’s prize = £31,000 (!!!), draw - £5222.22 + £15,000 = £20,222.22, loss - £15,000 + £100 = £15,100
As you can see the result of the game could make around a £15,000 difference for each player! In the circumstances you might imagine both players would be happy to settle for a safe draw, but it was nothing of the kind.
Howell had Black, but he won the Ruy Lopez opening battle and it was clear his raking bishops and the pin on the d-file gave him the better prospects:
Hou Yifan held things together, though, and after queens were exchanged she suddenly managed to seize the initiative with 33.d6+! (the problem is the weak f7-pawn).
It was another ending as tough as the one the Women’s World Champion had faced against Svidler, though, and she went astray with 45.g5?
Now after 45…Bc6 46.Re7 there was the saving move 46…Rg8!, which only works because the pawn had been pushed to an unprotected square. Other 45th moves would have given Hou Yifan good chances of converting the extra pawn, but as it was a draw was immediately agreed, leaving Howell over £10,000 better off than he would have been after a loss.
Hou Yifan didn’t look disappointed in the immediate aftermath, though, which was understandable given she’d out-earned the tournament winner, remained unbeaten and climbed to 2685.7 on the live rating list, over 10 points ahead of Judit Polgar.
Elsewhere the same brutal economics were at work. Since so many players finished on 7.5/10 the prize money difference between that score and 7/10 was over £5,000. It meant there was a big incentive for players who started the day on 6.5/9 to win rather than draw, but it didn’t always go so well.
Bulgaria’s Ivan Cheparinov was already in some difficulty against India’s Adhiban, but it wasn’t necessary to lose on the spot with 34.Bc3??
34…Bd1! won a piece, or would have done if immediate resignation hadn’t followed (replay the game here).
The only decisive game on the top 7 boards saw strong echoes of Game 2 of the World Championship match in Sochi, with Poland’s Mateusz Bartel adopting a similar plan against Veselin Topalov’s Berlin Defence as Carlsen had against Anand. Here’s the position after 18.g4!?, with the white rook ready to swing across to the kingside:
Given the tournament situation this was probably exactly what Bartel wanted, but it was high-risk chess. Precise defence from Topalov and then a single inaccuracy from the Pole was enough for the white position to crumble and for the top seed to join the big tie for third place.
Peter Svidler (who later lamented how the Hou Yifan miss ruined his tournament), Dmitry Jakovenko, Richard Rapport and Yu Yangyi were among the star players who finished essentially “outside the money”, but one up-and-coming star wasn’t going to miss out!
Wei Yi has been perhaps the story of the early part of 2015, starring in the Tata Steel B event and then breaking through the 2700 barrier a year younger than Magnus Carlsen managed that feat. It’s not quite official yet – the next FIDE rating list will be on March 1 – but Wei Yi is now live rated 2706 and number 40 in the world at the age of only 15 after winning his final game in Gibraltar.
Wei Yi took a bold decision after 28…Rc2 by Argentina's Ruben Felgaer:
29.Qxc2!? He went on to prove the old wisdom that two rooks are better than a queen by finally winning on move 86.
One hot chess topic is who the future of chess belongs to – the Indians or the Chinese? Magnus Carlsen tipped Wei Yi for the very top, but had this to say about the Chinese during Tata Steel :
I think they’re already very good, they have been for many years, but they’re still struggling to find that one guy who will be one of the very best. But also I think India have more players than China, especially at a youth level, so I think right now it’s probably more likely that India will dominate rather than China. The Chinese will be there for many years and it’s a nice addition.
In Gibraltar both of the biggest countries in the world made their mark:
Players: 17, 13 GMs, 2 IMs, 2 WGMs, highest rated 2723, lowest rated 2346
Players: 6, 5 GMs and 1 IM, highest rated 2724, lowest rated 2439
So as you can see, Carlsen may have a point. Although the Chinese players had two of the absolute stars of the tournament the weight of numbers (and talent) India managed to bring to the tip of Southern Europe was hugely impressive. As if to emphasise the point, the big announcement at the closing dinner was that former World Champion Viswanathan Anand has already confirmed he’ll be bolstering the Indian contingent in the 2016 Gibraltar Masters! The tournament seems to be going from strength to strength.
Here are the final standings at the top:
The penultimate episode of The Day's Play gave a nice summary of the tournament, including interviews with Tournament Organiser Brian Callaghan and Tournament Director Stuart Conquest:
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