Reports Oct 25, 2018 | 12:20 PMby Colin McGourty

Isle of Man 4-5: Superman & co. lead

Indian Grandmaster Abhijeet Gupta wore a Superman cap as he beat 2700 players Le Quang Liem and Vidit in consecutive rounds to join Arkadij Naiditsch, Wang Hao and Jeffery Xiong in the lead on 4.5/5 with four rounds of the Isle of Man International to go. MVL, Hikaru Nakamura and Sergey Karjakin are the biggest names just half a point off the lead, with Karjakin catching the attention in Round 5 as he managed to force the rare mate with two knights against a pawn.

Vidit will remember not to invite Abhijeet Gupta to his birthday in future... | photo: John Saunders, official website

You can see the pairings and replay all the games from the Isle of Man using the selector below:

Four leaders

By the end of Round 4 only Wang Hao and Arkadij Naiditsch still had a perfect score, after both crashed through with the white pieces in games that had seemed roughly level until around the time control. Arkadij was suddenly no longer playing for pawns when he swung his queen to g4 against Pavel Tregubov and targeted the c8-square. Pavel tried to mount a defence in mutual time trouble, but there was no escape:

40…Rh6 would again run into 41.Rc8+ and mate-in-3.

Wang Hao used to be a supertournament regular, and never looks out of place against the world's top players | photo: John Saunders, official website

In Wang Hao’s game the action occurred in slow motion, but the Chinese player managed to trade a space advantage into a decisive infiltration into Erwin l’Ami’s position. 50.g5! was the final touch.

Both perfect records disappeared in Round 5, however, as the leaders drew a tense 36-move encounter. That was an opportunity for the chasing pack to catch them, and two players seized their chance. One was Abhijeet Gupta, who now has one third of the six wins over 2700 players on the Isle of Man.

Vidit temporarily halted Praggnanandhaa's rise by beating the kid in Round 4 | photo: John Saunders, official website

In Round 4 Gupta beat Le Quang Liem with an attack on the black side of the Sicilian, while in Round 5 he managed to spoil the 24th birthday of his compatriot Vidit. To be fair, it was largely Vidit’s own fault for gifting a win to his opponent with 25…Qd7?

At a glance that looks like an invitation to wrap up the game with a quiet draw. Perhaps it was, but with the minor flaw that White is simply winning a pawn after the queen exchange: 26.Qxd7 Rxd7 27.b4! Nc4 (27…Nc6 28.Bxa6!) 28.Nxd5! and almost 40 moves later Black resigned.

That was a birthday mistake Arkadij Naiditsch wasn’t going to make, since he took a bye in Round 6 for his own 33rd birthday!

Jeffery Xiong first held MVL to a draw before beating Richard Rapport | photo: John Saunders, official website

The other leader is 17-year-old US star Jeffery Xiong. He’s failed to climb quite as fast as we imagined he would when he won the World Junior Championship a couple of years ago, but he looks ready for another assault on the summit.

In Round 4 he ended the 100% run of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, before in Round 5 he picked up the scalp of 2725-rated Richard Rapport. It was a weird and wonderful game, where Jeffery, playing Black, had earlier given up a piece for two pawns. The real drama occurred just before the time control:

The position is in the style of a creative player such as Richard Rapport, but here he seems to have gone astray. There was no need to move the knight just yet, since Qxd3 would run into Qxe6, but he decided to spoil Black’s attractive pawn structure with 35.Nxf4!? It’s easy to see the knight can’t be taken, but after 35…Rf6! White was on the back foot. It seems the knight can’t go back to its blockade on d3 (though actually the computer says 36.Nd3!? Qxd3 37.Qxe5 is playable), and Richard played 36.Ne2, only to run into 36…d3! 37.Nc3? (37.Ng3) 37…Rg6! 38.Re7? b4! and White was getting overrun. 

It wasn’t a flawless game, as you can see, but it was still an extremely impressive demonstration of calculation and imagination from the young US player.

Where are the big guns?

The big appeal of the Isle of Man tournament is to see some of the world’s best players in action in an Open, but it’s not always easy to find them! In Round 4, for instance, you had to look down to boards 14-17 to find Anish Giri, Vladimir Kramnik, Vishy Anand and Hikaru Nakamura all lined up with the white pieces.

Two former World Champions, one World Championship challenger and a future World Champion? | photo: John Saunders, official website

They all won that day, but that didn’t automatically mean we got to see them on a higher board, since Kramnik and Anand then took their one permitted half-point bye. It was understandable in a tournament with no rest days, though some questions were still raised:

Giri himself did appear for Round 5, but only to play a quick draw against his regular second Erwin l’Ami.

Which might have answered the questions!

The struggles of the star names have made for some tough pairings for players a little lower down the rating list, including Nigel Short:

The reward for draws against Sergey Karjakin and Alexander Grischuk – Wesley So next for the English GM!

Short once almost took the "get them while they're young" approach too far when he had a car crash in Greece with a 15-year-old Karjakin in the car | photo: John Saunders, official website

There are, however, four 2700 players in the pack of players just half a point off the lead. Hikaru Nakamura missed a win in Round 3, was in danger with White in Round 4 and had to face an Alexei Shirov exchange sac in Round 5, but he went on to win and put himself in contention for overall victory. 

There was briefly fire on board, but it was soon extinguished as Nakamura picked up the full point | photo: John Saunders, official website

He’s joined by Radek Wojtaszek, who took a bye after three wins, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who after a whirlwind start has now been held to two draws in a row. The French no. 1 couldn’t win an unusual technical ending with pawns for a knight in Round 5 against Mircea-Emilian Parligras:

One player whose technique in a knight ending couldn't be faulted, however, was Sergey Karjakin, who gave 17-year-old Sam Sevian a free lesson. 

Sergey Karjakin got the better of Sam Sevian | photo: John Saunders, official website

It’s well-known that two knights can’t give mate, but if your opponent has a pawn it gives you a chance, since you can trap the king in the corner with one of your knights while manoeuvring the other to deliver the final blow. You only have as many tempi to do that as the pawn has squares to go until it queens, though, and in this position it turns out those three squares aren’t enough!

With perfect play Black can still hold, but perfect play is hard to produce after five hours of chess (or in any circumstances, for that matter!). Here 81…Ke8! holds, while after 81…Kf6 the point of no return had been passed. Sergey was ruthless as he demonstrated the winning technique, with Sam resigning on move 92:

Black will queen, but only for mate to follow next move after e.g. Nd6-f7#

With just four rounds to go it’s time for the stars to make their move. For instance, Hikaru Nakamura will have White against Gupta in Round 6, and is likely to be out for blood. Follow all the action live here on chess24 from 15:30 CEST!

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