Reports Oct 22, 2018 | 1:41 PMby Colin McGourty

Isle of Man 1-2: Big guns fight for survival

Vishy Anand and Vladimir Kramnik are among the star names to have struggled in the first two rounds of the Isle of Man International. Among nine players from the world Top 15 only MVL and Levon Aronian are on a perfect 2/2, and that included Levon making a “losing” blunder in one of his wins! Many more stars have been in real trouble, but somehow so far they’ve all found a way to at least draw. Others to post 100% scores include Boris Gelfand, Arkadij Naiditsch, Wang Hao and Vidit, with the young Indian managing to sacrifice his queen in both games!

12-year-old Raunak Sadhwani not only got to play but almost beat his idol! | photo: John Saunders, official website

This year’s field on the Isle of Man is missing defending champion Magnus Carlsen, his challenger Fabiano Caruana, and world numbers 3 and 4 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Ding Liren, but since it includes the rest of the Top 10, 20 players 2700 or over and a total of 75 grandmasters there’s not much to complain about!

Even in Round 1 we had all-GM clashes below the top 32 games that were broadcast live, while in Round 2 the non-live boards featured the likes of Vladimir Kramnik, Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura – something that perhaps hasn’t happened since last year’s event on the Isle of Man (it’s one area this fantastic open could obviously improve). Fortunately, though, all the games are being added later in the day, and you can replay them using the selector below:

The perfect few

Traditionally the star players sail through the start of an open tournament, but there are few weaklings in the Masters section on the Isle of Man, and in Round 1 the top seeds were already mainly playing strong international masters. It’s not such a surprise, therefore, that only 19 players have come through the first two rounds with 2/2. The only Top 10 players to manage it are Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Levon Aronian. 

Nikolas Lubbe-MVL - and how many star names can you spot around them? | photo: John Saunders, official website

Maxime got to emphasise his positional domination over Nikolas Lubbe in the first round by defending his f5-pawn with a beautiful move:

22.Nd4! Black’s position would be untenable after 22…exd4 23.Re6! Qc7 24.Rc1!, so Nikolas went for 22…Rg8. He may have missed a chance later to put up more resistance, but Maxime went on to score a smooth and logical victory. He repeated that a day later against GM Puranik from India to gift himself a 28th birthday present as the first player to reach 2/2.

Levon Aronian beat Dennis Wagner, but it wasn't entirely convincing... | photo: John Saunders, official website

Levon’s first round victory was just as smooth as Maxime’s, but he needed all his trickery and self-confidence to gain a full point from the second game against German GM Dennis Wagner. A well-timed exchange sac had turned a difficult game into one where he was pressing, but apart from a big lead on the clock he never had a clear advantage until a dramatic late twist. 50.Nxb3? is one of those blunders that sometimes wins games (50…Nxf5! was an only move according to the computer):

It was actually winning now for White to put either rook on g4, defending the a4-pawn and hitting the queen. Instead Dennis used 3 of his remaining 4 minutes (Levon had 45) to choose 51.Ka3? and after 51…d4! 52.Qc4 Na5 he resigned.

While Kramnik has made 144 moves with no wins so far, Vidit is showing the way - the trick is to sac your queen! | photo: John Saunders, official website

The most memorable way to reach 2/2 has been the path chosen by Indian star Vidit. In round 1 English IM David Eggleston had sacrificed a piece on g5, but he got to taste some of his own medicine after playing 16.Nc4:

16…Nxd5! was a queen sac, and after 17.Bxe7 Ndxe7 Black had 3 pieces and 2 pawns for the queen. What followed was a lot of fun, though not for David, as his king eventually met its end on the other side of the board!

In Round 2 there was no long agony for Indian GM Debashis Das, since Vidit’s queen sacrifice 25.Qh5! ended the game on the spot:

25…Nxh5 26.Bxf7+ Kh8 27.Rg8# would have been the end if the queen was taken, but nothing else was any better.

China's former no. 1 Wang Hao has maintained a 2700+ rating playing only in opens, and moved to 2/2 with a win over 14-year-old Nihal Sarin | photo: John Saunders, official website

The stars struggle, but escape

Given what happened elsewhere, drawing a relatively uneventful game where your lower-rated opponent played well was nothing to complain about. So people like Anish Giri, who was held to a draw by Alina Kashlinskaya, didn’t 

Of course draws mean rating damage for much higher-rated opponents:

Achieving draws isn’t always trivial, though. Just ask Vishy Anand! In Round 1 he came up against a 12-year-old compatriot, Raunak Sadhwani, and could have been forgiven for regretting single-handedly creating an Indian chess boom. It was a tough day at the office...

Vishy said afterwards that when going for the “suicidal” 18…Qg4?! he’d underestimated the power of 20.Ra7!

The computer recommends the sad 20…Qc4, though the position after the exchange of queens looks miserable for Black. Instead Vishy went for the desperate 20…Kd7!?, when after 21.Rd1 White was already threatening to capture on d6. Objectively the position is simply lost, but Vishy kept on fighting and eventually was even able to gain the upper-hand after he found a way to bring his king to safety:

Anand won on move 74, and must have hoped that was the end of his troubles for a few rounds at least... but no! In Round 2 US GM Robert Hess sprung a surprise by playing the French Defence, won a pawn by the time control and later had two extra pawns in a rook ending. It seems Vishy still had a draw all the way, though it only became crystal clear at the very end (move 78)!

Anand was far from alone in suffering. Indian GM Krishna had a more than -3 advantage with Black against Wesley So in Round 1, though the position remained complicated enough that Wesley could still outcalculate his opponent for a draw.

Vladimir Kramnik had a traumatic start on the Isle of Man a year ago when he was randomly drawn to play Fabiano Caruana and lost. This year nothing quite so dramatic happened, but in Round 1 he was seriously worse and then unsuccessfully pressed for an advantage at the end in a 77-move draw against Indian GM Sundararajan. Then on board 33 in the next round he was struggling to hold on against Alina Kashlinskaya:

49…Rc5! would have kept up the pressure, since 50.Nxb3? loses to 50…cxb3! 51.Rxc5 b2 and the pawn queens. Instead after 49…Bxa4 50.Ra1! c3 51.Rxa4 c2 52.Ne2 White was able to handle the new queen and the rook ending was drawn in 67 moves.

Alina Kashlinskaya's husband, Radek Wojtaszek, would also be proud if he'd held Anish Giri and Vladimir Kramnik to draws! | photo: John Saunders, official website 

Even when it looked as though star names were definitely going to fall they found a way out. For instance, Alexander Donchenko, the German grandmaster who recently held Magnus Carlsen to a draw, had this adventure:

62…Rf4 63.Rd7+ Kc8 64.Rxd4 Kb8 followed, but instead of 65.Rd8+ or various other winning moves Deimante Cornette went for 65.Bd7? and after 65…e3 66.Rxd3 e2 67.Re3 there was a saving resource:

67…Rf3! ensured Black got a new queen and, although the game should then have been a draw, Donchenko managed to get his g-pawn all the way to g2, win the game and move to 2/2.


That all meant that the number of real upsets, where lower-rated players won, was tiny. In Round 1 the only example was on board 68, where 55-year-old English FM Glenn House (2180) punished some strange play by Indian GM Swapnil (2493). Glenn’s reward was a Round 2 clash with Anish Giri, which didn’t go so well.

Giri wasn't so solid in Round 2 | photo: John Saunders, official website

In Round 2 there were a few more, including WIM Laura Unuk (2272) beating Natalia Zhukova (2403) and FM Michal Paterek (2311) beating GM Pia Cramling (2465), but there were just two on the live boards.

GM Vishnu Prasanna (2504) defeated GM Tami Nabaty (2692) and GM Sethuraman (2673) was beaten by his Indian compatriot IM Harsha Bharathakoti (2492). A day earlier Sethuraman had got to have some fun:

20…exd5 21.Qh3+! was the problem there, and after 20…Qb8 21.Qxf7 Sethuraman went on to win. In Round 2, though, it was his opponent who had all the fun. It ended 29.Nxf5!

Had Harsha missed 29…Ne4 ? No! After 30.Ke2 Nxd2 31.g7! Black gave up deciding how to die and simply resigned instead.

Round 3 is full of interesting pairings, including Armenian no. 1 Levon Aronian on top board taking on Sam Sevian, a 17-year-old born in the US to Armenian parents. Other games with juniors include MVL-Tari, Artemiev-Keymer and Praggnanandhaa-Eljanov. Follow all the action live here on chess24 from 15:30 CEST!

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