Reports Oct 13, 2019 | 11:01 AMby Colin McGourty

Grand Swiss 3: Only Caruana & Wang Hao on 100%

Fabiano Caruana will try to improve on a 5 losses, 0 wins record against Wang Hao when the only players on 3/3 in the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss meet in Sunday’s Round 4. Fabiano Caruana maintained his perfect score by out-tricking Alexei Shirov at the end of a thrilling Najdorf, while Wang Hao bamboozled compatriot Bu Xiangzhi. Alexander Grischuk is among 10 players trailing by half a point, while Magnus Carlsen is a point back after drawing against Rustam Kasimdzhanov. His Round 4 opponent Vladislav Kovalev’s Round 3 game lasted an epic 8 hours and 151 moves!

Fabiano Caruana finally got the better of Alexei Shirov, but it was a wild game | photo: John Saunders, official website

You can replay all the games from the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss on the Isle of Man using the selector below:

Caruana and Wang Hao on a collision course

Fabiano Caruana is getting a chance to correct old scores on the Isle of Man! First up was Alexei Shirov, who was a 2750-player facing a hungry young sub-2700 opponent when they first played in 2010. That was the year Fabi crossed 2700, but in the four all-decisive games they played in 2010-11 Shirov took a 3:1 lead. After that they met only in the 2014 Olympiad (a draw) before the clash on the Isle of Man. That was also one that might not have happened, since 47-year-old Shirov mentioned on Emil Sutovsky’s Facebook page (where there was a Russian discussion on why around 50 players in the 2620-2690 range rejected an all-expenses-paid invitation to the tournament) that he only finally decided to play an hour before the deadline.

Alexei Shirov remains a very dangerous opponent  | photo: John Saunders, official website

The game lived up to the high expectations surrounding a clash of two such dynamic players, though in hindsight Alexei probably regretted the 5 minutes he spent on move 3 before deciding to head for the Najdorf. What followed was a razor-sharp game with opposite-side castling, unusual material balances and original strategic plans. Shirov seemed to be doing well until he blundered in heavy time trouble, though the mistake wasn’t punished, and by the time control the human and computer best guess was that the position was “dynamically balanced”. It was still fantastically complicated, however, and it was only at the very end that Fabiano managed to get a clear upper-hand:


51…Rg2!! was a brilliant move played after a mere 3 minutes’ thought. The question of why g2 and not, for instance, f2, is answered after 52.Qd3 Qb8! The devastating threat is d1=Q followed by mate on b2, but while after 51…Rf2 you could defend with 53.Bb3, here that move runs into 53…Rg3!, with the queen on b8 defending the rook. Alexei resigned:

That’s not quite the full story, however, since Australian GM David Smerdon has blogged about the possibility of Shirov playing on not with 52.Qd3, but 52.Qd5! The point is that now after 52…Qb8 White plays 53.Qxg2! d1=Q 54.gxh7!


It looks hopeless for White, but if he gets to play Bg6, as he would in the top engine lines, can Black ever oust that bishop, free his king and win the game – or is it a fortress? David goes on to suggest that Black might therefore play 54…Kxh7, but after 55.h6! the threat of mate forces 55…g5 and after 56.Qxg5 Qd4 the question again arises of whether Black, with no pawns, will be able to break down the fortress.

Wang Hao vs. Bu Xiangzhi | photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com, official website

There was no such ambiguity in the game of our other leader, Wang Hao, who is one of the most curious figures in world chess. His huge talent was obvious when he skipped the IM title to become a grandmaster in 2005 at the age of 16. The Chinese star would go on to become a supertournament regular and hit a peak rating above 2750 as a 23-year-old in 2013. After that, however, some health issues and perhaps a lack of ambition saw him drop out of the elite circuit. At one point he fell to 2670, but although by the age of 30 he’s become almost exclusively an open tournament player, he’s been an extremely effective one – clambering back up the rating lists. The Grand Swiss is a chance for him to showcase his skills again, and perhaps even qualify for the Candidates Tournament. There’s no reason to doubt him when he said he hadn’t even thought about that after his Round 3 game, and you wonder if he’d relish the challenge, but he would certainly be a very interesting dark horse!

In any case, his clash with compatriot Bu Xiangzhi (who in some ways has a similar biography) turned decisively on one sweet tactical trick:


17.c4!!, exploiting the weak bishop on c5, was a winning move. 17…Nxc4 18.Bxc4 Qxc4 19.Rc1 simply wins a piece, so Bu went for 17…Qd6 instead (the c5-bishop must be defended). That ran into 18.Ng5!. If the move was played without c4 then after Bxe2 Qxe2 Black can move the rook and still have a playable position, but now that would run into Nge4, again winning the c5-bishop. Bu therefore opted for 18…Bf5 19.Nxf7 Kxf7 when he was not just an exchange down but also got hit by more beautiful tactics from Wang Hao. A truly crushing game.

Wang Hao now has Black against Caruana in Round 4 and will be expecting a tougher time than he had in his previous encounters with the world no. 2!

The chasing pack

If you look carefully you can find Magnus | photo: John Saunders, official website

But where is Magnus Carlsen? Well, the World Champion sinks a little further to board 7 in Round 4 after being held to a frustrating draw by Caruana’s coach Rustam Kasimdzhanov in Round 3. Although computers gave Magnus up to a +2 advantage in a complicated ending arising out of the English Opening there was no obvious path to victory. The players were also unsure what had transpired:

In Round 4 Magnus has Black, but he won’t be too disappointed that his opponent is Belarusian Grandmaster Vladislav Kovalev. That’s not because the 2661-rated Kovalev is going to be any pushover – after all, he won the incredibly tough Aeroflot Open last year – but because Kovalev’s Round 3 game lasted 8 hours and 151 moves!

Vladislav Kovalev with Vladimir Fedoseev before the tournament began | photo: John Saunders, official website

The time control on the Isle of Man is the longest seen anywhere nowadays, 100 minutes for 40 moves, then 50 minutes for the next 20 moves, then another 15 minutes to the end of the game, all with a 30-second increment from move 1. It makes 7+ hour games each day almost inevitable, with only the most diehard commentary teams likely to stick around for the end of the action:

In the case of Kovalev it seemed as though the effort might all be in vain. When he first reached a queen ending with an extra pawn against 16-year-old Romanian IM David Gavrilescu, on move 59, it was a tablebase draw. It was still a draw on move 136, though putting the king on a4 instead of a2 or b2 there meant it was “mate-in-46”. That didn’t matter a whole deal, however, since all David had to do was survive to move 154 (the last pawn push was on move 104) and he could claim a draw by the 50-move rule. Alas, just four moves short he cracked with 150…Kc1?


Vladislav’s persistence had paid off, since 151.Qh1+! brought resignation. The protected passed pawn would queen next move and there would be no more need to do any counting.

Alexander Grischuk is the biggest name in the chasing pack | photo: John Saunders, official website

While Kovalev and Carlsen are a point off the lead there’s a group of 10 players on 2.5/3. The highest rated of them, Alexander Grischuk, was also eventually rewarded for a very long grind in a rook ending against Grigoriy Oparin. He’s joined by Adhiban, Vitiugov, Vidit, Sargissian, Cheparinov, Fedoseev, Alekseenko, Maghsoodloo and England’s Luke McShane, who demolished Vietnam’s Ngoc Truong Son Nguyen with a kingside pawn storm on the black side of the Anti-Berlin. 

McShane half-answered the question of whether he was an amateur by saying he's playing a lot of chess right now - the World Cup, Isle of Man, European Team Championship and then the London Chess Classic  | photo: John Saunders, official website

Appropriately Luke said he asked himself, “What would Kramnik play?” when he went for 20…Qg5! and when he found the follow-up 21…f5!, letting the black rooks enter the fray, he was sure he was winning (he thought taking on f3 would allow White some counterplay):

The Vietnamese player did well to reach an ending, but Luke elegantly finished off for a 33-move victory.

Elsewhere there were first wins for Levon Aronian, who defeated 17-year-old Russian GM Andrey Esipenko (“beat them while they’re young!” Levon said afterwards) and Sergey Karjakin, who could be very grateful for his opponent Rinat Jumabayev deciding (correctly, in chess terms…) to reject a repetition and play on in serious time trouble. Rinat blundered and resigned on move 40.

Sergey Karjakin spotted a tactic Rinat Jumabayev didn't in time trouble | photo: John Saunders, official website

Fans of rook endgames may want to check out Ivan Cheparinov’s win against Baadur Jobava, and Harikrishna’s against Erwin l’Ami:

Let’s end with one candidate for move of the day. Luke McShane had fun, but so did another English Grandmaster, David Howell, who was playing Italy’s Daniele Vocaturo:


David unleashed 26…Rxe3+!! and the reason why Vocaturo capturing on h4 with his rook on the previous move was such a blunder is that after 27.fxe3 Qxg2+ 28.Kd1 Qxc2 29.Kxc2 Black has 29…Bg3!, winning a full rook.


In the game Daniele tried 27.Kxe3 Qxe1+ 28.Kf3, but after 28…Bd6! David was able to allow White to win the a8-rook with Qh7+, Qh8+, Qxa8 since the black queen and bishop were too powerful against the exposed white king.

Will we get a sole leader after Round 4 of the Grand Swiss? Tune into all the live action here on chess24 from 16:00 CEST!

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