Vishy Anand fell to a brilliant attack by Evgeniy Najer in the biggest shock of Round 1 of the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss on the Isle of Man. World Champion Magnus Carlsen also looked perilously close to losing his 90-game unbeaten streak before Yuriy Kuzubov lost on time after losing the thread of the game. Fabiano Caruana, Yu Yangyi, Vladislav Artemiev and Nikita Vitiugov were among the top players to win, but Sam Shankland dropped out of the 2700 club after a loss to Erwin l’Ami. The biggest rating upset was 13-year-old Raunak Sadhwani beating Sanan Sjugirov.
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The Grand Swiss is not your typical open tournament where Round 1 sees almost all the favourites beat their much lower-rated opponents. Instead the top players were facing not just grandmasters, but strong grandmasters, and Vishy Anand’s opponent, Russia’s Evgeniy Najer, was not a player he was likely to underestimate. Najer is a former European and Aeroflot Open Champion and recently took Anish Giri all the way to Armageddon in the World Cup. He’s known for revelling in highly-tactical positions, and he would get one in Round 1.
Najer’s path to that tactical position led through 5.Bd2, a move which Jan Gustafsson said in his Nimzo-Indian Defence video series had a reputation for being “timid”, though he noted it leads to a playable position with all the pieces on the board. Jan concluded it was, “sadly not a bad move, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it showed up a bit more in future”. Vishy already began to think, and though objectively his position looked good in the play that followed it was very sharp. Only 17…g6 was a new move, and 18.f5! already posed extremely concrete problems:
Evgeniy said he played this mainly on intuition. Vishy needed to respond with the 18…h5! move he suggested after the game, or 18…Qd5!, but instead he attacked the bishop on d2 with 18…Ne4? That may already be the losing move, and the Russian grandmaster showed why as he ignored the attack to launch an assault of his own with 19.Bxd3!! Nxd2 20.fxg6!
20…fxg6! was strictly an only move but it took Vishy 13 minutes, time he probably spent convincing himself that he had nothing better than the terrifying continuation in the game. Play continued 21.Bxg6! Kh8 22.Bxh7! At this stage, however, Vishy showed all his class to stay in the game with some brilliant resources, and it looked as though one slight slip from Najer (27.Qg6 instead of 27.Bg6) might be all Vishy needed to survive. 27…Bxg2+! 28.Kxg2 left salvation within touching distance:
Here Vishy needed to spot that after 28…Qf3+! 29.Kg1 the quiet 29…Qf4! actually holds everything together, and it seems White has no more than perpetual check. Instead after 28…Qd5+ the king fearlessly marched up the board with 29.Kh3! Qd3+ 30.Kh4! and rather than see the king triumphantly arrive on h5 Vishy simply resigned here, on move 30:
A great game by Najer, who admitted afterwards he wasn’t sure he was winning until Vishy offered his hand.
That dramatic result could still have been overshadowed by what happened in World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s game, since after a sharp and interesting opening we reached the following position after 31.Qb4?!
Defending d6 with the queen makes the threat of Bf5 real (previously it would be met by Rxd6!), but it turns out the correct move was 31.Qc5!. After the move in the game Yuriy Kuzubov was down to his last five minutes, but still found the powerful deflection 31…a5! 32.Qxa5 Qxd4 and after 33.Rxd2 he had a fleeting chance of glory:
Magnus Carlsen had gone 90 games unbeaten, but after 33…Qxe5! he would face a tough struggle to avoid a position where he was simply two clear pawns down. Given the time situation, however, it was no surprise that Kuzubov took immediately with 33…Bxd2. Magnus got the compensation of two minor pieces for a rook and decent hopes of a positive outcome. A couple of inaccuracies by Black in time trouble meant most of the danger had passed, and gradually it became clear the World Champion was the one quietly playing for a win. The end was abrupt:
If Kuzubov had exchanged off queens here we would all have been in for a long evening, but instead he blundered twice in one move. 52…Rd5? allowed Magnus to pick up the f7-pawn after 53.Qf6+, but things never got that far since Yuriy also lost on time while trying to make the move!
Elsewhere 2nd seed Fabiano Caruana convincingly beat Zhang Zhong with the black pieces in a very entertaining “poisoned pawn” game where between them the players had spent 1.5 hours by move 6! There were also convincing wins for favourites Yu Yangyi, Vladislav Artemiev, Nikita Vitiugov, Wang Hao, Bu Xiangzhi, Vidit and Jeffery Xiong, but there was plenty of frustration on view.
The likes of Wesley So, Levon Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura were held to draws, as were Russian stars Sergey Karjakin and Alexander Grischuk. Grischuk missed a win on move 40 in mutual time trouble, while Sergey spent 90 moves but was unable to make a 2-pawn advantage count.
This year’s Grand Swiss has a very Russian feel, now that it’s a FIDE event with rating counting for qualification. In 2018, when it was open to all, there were double-digit numbers of players from:
This year there are just 8 English players and 5 Germans, while we have:
The Grand Swiss is particularly important for Karjakin, since it looks like his last chance to qualify for next year’s Candidates Tournament. He may have a better chance than other players, however, since if he finished just below the qualifying place that would make him eligible for a wild card. In that case you wouldn’t bet against him being chosen. Not only is he currently the highest profile chess player in Russia, but earlier this year he played an exhibition match against Harikrishna as part of the Eurasia Open… in Yekaterinburg, the Russian city where the Candidates will take place.
Still, there’s nothing too much wrong with starting a tournament this strong with a draw, and not everyone managed. Sam Shankland was the only 2700+ player other than Vishy to lose, and it was a painful defeat that saw him fall out of the 2700 club after a bad year. It all went wrong on the infamous move 40:
Play 40.Nxf5+ and Sam would have an extra 50 minutes (and even another 15 minutes at move 60) to navigate what should be a dead drawn position. Instead he went for 40.Nd5? and after 40…Qe4! by Erwin l’Ami White was lost. The threat of Qh1+ forced 41.Kg1 and after 41…Nd4! White needs to enter a lost ending to prolong the game. There were still a few twists, but ultimately Black won in 62 moves.
Shankland could have been joined by last year’s tournament victor, Radek Wojtaszek, whose grim determination finally saw him survive against Paraguay’s Axel Bachmann, though there were numerous tricky ways for Axel to win the ending. That was some relief for the Wojtaszek household, since his wife Alina Kashlinskaya, who won the women’s top prize in 2018, suffered an unfortunate incident against Alexei Shirov:
It was already a tough task for Black, but 23…Rxe1? 24.Rc8+! shortened proceedings dramatically. Alina resigned rather than continue 24…Re8 25.Rxe8#
With so few weak players on the Isle of Man things don’t get a lot easier when you lose, with Alina now facing England’s David Howell in Round 2. David had seemingly been cruising to victory against Baadur Jobava, who gave up a piece for nebulous compensation:
At this point there was nothing wrong with 32…gxh6! for David, though calculating 33.Rxe7 Kxe7 34.Qc7+ to the end isn’t so trivial… especially if you’re making your move with 3 seconds left on your clock! Howell instead picked 32…Nh5? and became a reluctant guest on Planet Jobava after 33.Bxg7+! Ke8? (33…Nxg7 34.Rxe7 should end in a draw) 34.Rxe7+! Kxe7 35.Qg5+! and the knight on h5 dropped. Baadur, who has been climbing on the ratings ladder again after a huge drop from 2700+ to sub-2600, made no mistake in the remainder of the game, though he did note afterwards that such encounters have cost him years of his life!
There’s no way of covering all 77 games in Round 1, but we have to briefly mention the kids. 15-year-old GM Nodirbek Abusattorov from Uzbekistan may need to work a little on his banter, but his recent 9:3 Banter Blitz Cup victory over Diego Flores was hugely impressive on the board. He showed again what a fearsome player he is by technically outplaying Gawain Jones in an ending on the Isle of Man.
13-year-old Indian IM Raunak Sadhwani (2479) went one better by crushing Russian Grandmaster Sanan Sjugirov (2662) with a mating attack.
The women on the lower boards also came very close to beating some top players. For instance, Elisabeth Paehtz was strategically winning for most of the 75 moves of her draw against World Junior Champion Parham Maghsoodloo, while India’s Soumya Swaminathan’s opening against Poland’s Kacper Piorun wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked!
It turns out this blatant disregard for pieces while pushing pawns is Caro-Kann theory, and Soumya would have won the game if she hadn’t fallen for a bluff on move 40!
Soumya could simply have taken the knight on e8 (she’d attacked it the previous move, so it was definitely in her field of vision!). With seconds on her clock, however, and perhaps fearing a perpetual after Qc2, she played 40.Rc1?! instead, when after 40…Qd8 the knight was defended. That was very far from the end of the story, since 41.d5! may still have been winning, while 41.Bxe8 only failed to win because of some brilliant defence from Kacper, who showed why he’s a 5-time World Chess Solving Champion.
The round also featured a number of 100+ move games lasting well over 6 hours, but the tournament is relentless, with just one rest day to come over the next 11 days. In Round 2, 19-year-old Russian GM Alexey Sarana faces his second World Champion in a row. In Round 1 it was 76-year-old Vlastimil Jansa, who qualified as the World Senior 65+ Champion, while now it’s none other than Magnus Carlsen. Almost all the other match-ups are interesting, including Caruana-Sevian, Karjakin-Sadhwani and Gelfand-Sarin. Vishy Anand finds himself down on board 62, where he plays Israeli GM Tal Baron.
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