Fabiano Caruana beat David Antón to take the sole lead with one round of the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss to go, but it’s Wang Hao who heads the Candidates race after beating Vishy Anand. Magnus Carlsen is also in the 7-man group half a point back, since despite a rookie mistake he beat Maxim Matlakov and matched Ding Liren’s 100 games unbeaten in classical chess. He can beat the record in the last round if he doesn’t lose to Levon Aronian, but the real focus is on Aronian, Alekseenko, Vitiugov, Nakamura, Howell and Wang Hao battling for the Candidates spot.
Going into the penultimate round of the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss most of the players at the top felt that only two wins would give them a good chance of either winning the event or the coveted spot in the 2020 Candidates Tournament. That led to a bloodbath, with 7 of the top 8 boards ending decisively:
Fabiano Caruana and Magnus Carlsen aren’t in the race to qualify for the 2020 Candidates Tournament, but somewhat controversially they have the power to end the hopes of those who are. In Round 10 they did that to Spain’s David Antón and Russia’s Maxim Matlakov, while in the final round they can thwart the dreams of Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian.
Fabiano Caruana seized the sole lead after David Antón surprised him by going for an early queen exchange in the English that gave White “a very comfortable advantage”. The Spanish grandmaster clearly knew what he was doing, but with some hiccups along the way (Fabiano noted 38…b5! was close to a draw – and the computer agrees with him) it was the world no. 2 who went on to grind out a win in 58 moves.
World Champion Magnus Carlsen found himself in a somewhat awkward situation. On the one hand, it was his 100th classical game since losing to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in Biel in July 2018 and merely avoiding defeat would see him match Ding Liren’s 100-game unbeaten streak, but on the other hand – if he wanted to win the tournament, as of course he does, only a win would do. For that second purpose the opening couldn’t have gone better. Maxim Matlakov repeated the ultra-sharp Anti-Moscow Gambit line of the Semi-Slav he’d played against Aleksey Sarana in this year’s Russian Championship until Magnus varied with the 9.h4 (Sarana had played 9.Be2 first). The way the game went followed the spectacular Nakamura 1-0 Ding Liren from the last round of the 2016 Sinquefield Cup all the way until 14.b3:
At the time Jan Gustafsson analysed what was a truly spectacular victory for Nakamura:
Jan wasn’t convinced by Ding Liren’s 14…cxb3, and indeed Matlakov’s 14…Rg8 looks to be an improvement, but the last two moves alone had cost Maxim over 40 minutes, and after Magnus blitzed out 15.Qc2 it took the Russian another 16 minutes to decide on 15…b4. As in the Ding Liren game, Maxim was able to pick up the pawn on h4 for a 2-pawn advantage, and objectively he seemed to be doing well:
But the more than one-hour deficit on the clock was a huge disadvantage in such a position, and it told when Maxim met 26.f4! not with the only move 26…gxf3, but the losing 26…exf4. Tarjei Svensen tweeted:
Tarjei came in for a lot of criticism, and admitted “blunder” was an unfair description, but some responses claiming that it was crazy to blame anyone for missing 27.e5!, even a World Champion, also proved to be wide of the mark, since that was the move Magnus had planned! He told Fiona Steil-Antoni:
There were many reasons not to be satisfied with the game and mainly one reason to be satisfied, which was the result. The thing is I’d calculated this 26.f4, that after 26…exf4 I have 27.e5 and everything collapses, and at this point I come back from the bathroom, I see that he has played exf4 and I go 27.Bxf4? in one second, which was not my plan at all, and after this I couldn’t really calm down.
If Magnus had played 27.e5! he would have had total dominance, with the key point being that 27…fxg3 simply loses to 28.Rxf7!, trapping the queen (28…Qxf7 is mate-in-7 for White). Instead the computers were claiming 0.00 after 27.Bxf4 Bxf4 28.Rxf4, but only after the immediate 28…Rxd6. After 28…c2?! 29.Qxc2 Black was again losing, though due to tactical nuances it would be all but impossible to fathom with just a few minutes on your clock (Black has a Qg5-d2 defence that no longer works without a pawn on c3, while it also turns out to be useful that the queen on c2 can come to the f2-square).
The game once again swung decisively in Carlsen’s favour, with strong silicon giving huge numbers for his advantage, but it still proved a treacherous position to navigate. Magnus thought he’d found a clear path to victory, but he’d missed his opponent’s trick:
Magnus was expecting Maxim to resign here, but had overlooked the check 39…Qh5+!, when after 40.Kg1 Ra1+ 41.Bf1 Qxf7 42.Qxf7 Ba6! it was suddenly very much game on, with the World Champion assuming Black should be able to draw. Objectively that was perhaps never the case, but Maxim could have made the World Champion’s life much more difficult:
Here Magnus suggested 46…g3+! 47.Kxg3 Rh1, holding on to the h-pawn. After 46…Rb1 47.Qxh5 Kb6 48.Qxg4 Rxb3 Maxim was able to give up the bishop for the white g-pawn and what he hoped would be a fortress of rook and pawn vs. queen, but he’d picked the wrong man to try it against:
He tried to go for this fortress, but it’s not a fortress! This one I knew from school, basically. I knew that it was not a fortress and I knew how to break it.
It’s some school they have in Norway!
Eventually Maxim resigned on move 80, since after 80…Ke4 81.Qd5+ the pawn would fall and Magnus definitely wasn’t going to fail to win the pure queen vs. rook ending.
That fascinating game meant Magnus had indeed matched Ding Liren’s 100-game unbeaten streak and can surpass it in the final round, but it’s not going to be easy. Levon Aronian has the white pieces against him and needs a win. For Magnus he needs a win to have a chance of first place, but if Fabiano can draw he’ll finish ahead of Magnus due to better tiebreaks. It’s not going to be easy for Caruana either, however, since he’s Black against Nakamura, who’s also in a must-win situation!
The reason Nakamura and Aronian are in a must-win situation is that they drew their penultimate round game after what Hikaru Hikaru compared to home run roulette in baseball. That was the idea that most baseball playoffs turn on one or two home runs, while in chess the equivalent of the home run is successful opening preparation that catches your opponent off-guard. In this case, however, Hikaru’s improvement on a Caruana-Aronian Anti-Berlin rapid game in London’s Grand Chess Tour playoff last year, 16.Bb3, was quickly neutralised with a temporary pawn sacrifice by Levon Aronian.
That left the field wide open to the players who started the day on 6 points, and four of them seized that chance. Wang Hao is disarmingly modest about his ambitions, and seemed to have handled his missed win against Vitiugov the day before well since he hadn’t really been aiming to win the game. He commented:
I was not even thinking about winning this game. Including the game from yesterday, I was just playing for a solid position - draw was a good result to me… Today I feel extremely tired and I thought let’s play the Petroff, and probably a draw would be good enough, and tomorrow will be a good fight for prizes. I was not happy, but I thought anyway it’s acceptable.
The opponent was none other than the great Vishy Anand, who also needed to win, but the former World Champion unfortunately stumbled into some home run preparation. It turned out that although Wang Hao had played the Sicilian against Nikita Vitiugov the day before, for that game he’d also prepared the Petroff line with 6.Nc3 that Nikita had used to knock Wesley So out of the World Cup. That was given a World Champion's stamp of approval when Magnus then used it on the Isle of Man to beat Alexei Shirov, and when Vishy also played it Wang Hao was able to demonstrate the early deviation 7…Bb4. He had the position all the way up to 17.f4 at home, though he said he only checked that move for a few seconds with a computer, since it seemed “harmless”.
It should simply have been equal, but Vishy wanted to play for a win and was over-ambitious in pushing his central and kingside pawns. It was already what Wang Hao called a “depressing position” only Black could win before the final blunder, 28.Rxe4?, was met by the cold shower 28…Rcf6!
Suddenly there’s no defence to Rf1+, giving mate or winning a piece, since 29.Re1 runs into 29…Bc4!, and White has no way of bolstering the defences further.
That brutal finish ended Vishy Anand’s chances of qualifying for a 3rd match against Magnus Carlsen in 2020, but Wang Hao has a wonderful chance of surprising everyone and reaching the Candidates. If the other top games are drawn in the final round (or Carlsen and Caruana don’t lose and Alekseenko-Vitiugov is a draw) Wang Hao will qualify for the Candidates with a draw on the tiebreaker of having played the strongest opposition in the Grand Swiss. And if he defeats David Howell with the white pieces he qualifies whatever happens elsewhere!
David Howell has the worst tiebreaks of any of the players on 7 points after he got weaker opponents after beginning the Grand Swiss with a loss to Baadur Jobava. He told Fiona:
I was feeling very rusty in the first round. I had a winning position and then my brain just wasn’t working. I’m used to having 30 seconds on the clock, but normally things come quite fast to me, whereas in Round 1 I could barely figure out how to move a piece let alone calculate a variation… but now my brain’s warming up!
David also lost to Adhiban, but he made it four wins in five games as he took down Alexander Grischuk in Round 10. He said afterwards he’d followed his usual plan of not checking his opponent the night before and only found out he was playing one of his heroes for the first time 90 minutes before the game. He picked his opening move 5 minutes before the start and was then kicking himself that he had “no clue about the theory”, although a friend of his had once told him the lines after Grischuk’s 9…Qc8 were interesting. In the end a battle between two famous time-trouble addicts had developed as everyone expected and secretly hoped!
Just before the position above, however, 22.Qb3! had surprised Alexander and his last move 22…R1d6? was a serious mistake – it was probably time to play strictly for a draw with 22…Rxc1 (though 22…R8d6 was also possible). David used up his last 4 minutes on the clock to play the powerful 23.Ne5! with 8 seconds remaining, and then made the remaining moves on increment without a single mistake – even if he admitted that just before the end, “oh my gosh, what am I doing, I’m going to win!” went through his mind!
Afterwards Fiona asked if the now 2705.6 live-rated English no. 1 was still planning on taking a break from chess:
Moments like this I do start to believe that I could maybe make it as a chess player, but I don’t know. I’ve struggled a bit in my career for those big breaks, and motivation sometimes disappears with that.
Of course making the Candidates might change all that, and it’s not impossible. Given his poor tiebreaks David needs to beat Wang Hao while Nakamura, Aronian, Alekseenko and Vitiugov all fail to win.
Evidence that anything can happen was provided by another player who entered the 2700 club during the event, 22-year-old Russian Grandmaster Kirill Alekseenko, who said it was a pleasure merely to play against Sergey Karjakin never mind to beat him with the black pieces!
It was also an extraordinary game, since Kirill used some leftover World Cup preparation that had the likes of Grandmasters Anish Giri and Romain Edouard scratching their heads over Black’s 2…Nd7 and 3…Nb6!?
Nakamura also commented that the early knight move was some kind of winning attempt, but “I think he’ll just get crushed by Sergey.” That became a possibility after 7…f6!?
Here Karjakin bit the bullet and sacrificed a piece with 8.cxd5!? fxe5 9.dxc6, though it tells you something about Kirill’s talent that he’d assessed this whole f6-line as ok for him since he’d seen as far a queen exchange on move 16! As the game progressed Black gradually took over, with Kirill holding on in a mutual time scramble and correctly rejecting a repetition of moves. The extra piece was finally enough for victory in 89 moves, and it seems 2016 World Championship Challenger Sergey Karjakin’s Candidates hopes are over – although the event is being held in Russia he’s not eligible for a wild card since you need to be in the Top 10 by average rating for the last year or a runner-up for Candidates qualification in the World Cup, Grand Prix or Grand Swiss.
Alekseenko has the second best tiebreaker after Wang Hao, and in the final round he has White against his compatriot Nikita Vitiugov. Nikita has also starred at the World Cup and now on the Isle of Man, and he beat fellow Russian Aleksandr Rakhmanov in some style. Black’s position was already difficult before 28…Ra7? allowed a thunderbolt:
29.Rxe6! fxe6 30.Qxe6+ Kh7 31.Qe4+! g6 and a reign of terror by the white knights began with 32.Nxg6! Rakhmanov played on until move 42, but it was just a mopping up operation for Nikita.
All that remains to mention is that World Junior Champion Parham Maghsoodloo, the remaining player who started the day on 6 points, was defeated by Le Quang Liem, who started on 5.5. That means Parham is out of the running for the Candidates, while the full standings at the top are as follows:
And here are the pairings that matter for 1st place or the Candidates in the final round:
Fabiano Caruana can seal victory on the Isle of Man with a win, while a draw will give him excellent chances of first place – it’s worth noting here that although, for instance, Carlsen can’t win the trophy if Caruana draws, the prize money, beginning $70,000 for 1st and $50,000 for 2nd, is shared between players on the same number of points.
When it comes to the Candidates a win for Wang Hao will guarantee him a place, while a draw could also easily be enough. Any of the players on 7 points (except Magnus!) can reach the Candidates if they win their game and other events go their way. In short, it’s going to be a thrilling last round that you don’t want to miss.
The games start 90 minutes earlier than usual at 13:30 local time, or 14:30 CEST. You can follow all the action here on chess24, with Jon Ludvig Hammer planning to provide additional English commentary from about one hour into the broadcast. Follow all the games live!
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