Reports Sep 29, 2017 | 9:10 AMby Colin McGourty

Isle of Man 4-6: Vintage Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen goes into the final weekend of the Isle of Man International as the sole leader after beating Pavel Eljanov in 29 moves with the black pieces to reach 5.5/6. His next opponent, Vidit, is the only player within half a point, though an 18-player group one point back features the likes of Caruana, Nakamura and Anand. In other stories 12-year-old Praggnanandhaa almost followed up beating David Howell with the scalp of Nils Grandelius, Vladimir Kramnik’s struggles have continued and it's finally raining men for Hou Yifan.    

Julio Granda threw in the towel a mere pawn down, on move 28 | photo: John Saunders, official website

You can play through all the games from the Isle of Man using the selector below: click a result to open a game with computer analysis or hover over a player’s name to see all his or her results:

Since we last reported on events on the Isle of Man the World Cup has come to an end and three more rounds have been played, so let’s look at some of the main stories:

1. Vintage Carlsen

If it didn’t refer to Wednesday this tweet by English Grandmaster Nigel Short could probably apply to every day on the Isle of Man:

Magnus Carlsen hasn’t won a regular classical tournament in 14 months, but he’s been leading since Round 1 and seems to have his mojo back. He’s been willing to gamble against very strong opposition, putting his faith in the not unreasonable proposition that he’s likely to be able to navigate non-standard chess positions better than anyone else on the planet.

His one “failure” so far was perhaps the best illustration of that point, since against former FIDE World Champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov he not only arrived almost six minutes late to the game after a hike with his girlfriend got out of hand…

…but then sat down and replied to 1.e4 with 1…Nc6. Rustam handled that local surprise with admirable composure, but still spent around half an hour on the first 10 moves. Later on a well-timed break from White (25.e5!?) might have turned the tables, but instead it was Black who gradually took over, with Magnus pressing in a rook and pawn ending before finally conceding a draw on move 72.

They could both see the funny side! | photo: John Saunders, official website

In the next round Magnus might have had White against his second Laurent Fressinet, but the Frenchman ducked that challenge by taking a bye. Instead Magnus was paired against 50-year-old Peruvian legend Julio Granda, who disappointed the watching Peter Svidler with his opening choice:

I feel horribly betrayed by the sight of Granda playing the Petroff. I have no words for it - it's not what Julio does.

The Petroff is often considered a signal that Black is aiming to draw, and indeed Julio had drawn on the two occasions he previously played the move, against Nils Grandelius and Mickey Adams, while in over 90 other games he’d played 2…Nc6 instead of 2…Nf6 (and in general he prefers to respond to 1.e4 with 1…c5 rather than 1…e5). There was to be no draw this time, though, and the game rapidly went downhill for Black after 20…Qc7? (20…Bc7!):

21.Ng6+! fxg6 22.Rxe6 Nxh7 23.Rxe8+ Rxe8 24.Rxe8+ Kxe8 25.Qxg6+ Kd8 26.Qxh7 simply won a pawn, but it was still a shock when after just a couple more moves – 26…Qe7 27.g3 Kc7 28.Qg6 – Granda resigned. There are benefits to being a World Champion with a reputation for flawless technique!

Earlier in the tournament Pavel Eljanov had only just managed to avoid losing a third game in a row to Aleksandr Lenderman, who knocked him out of the World Cup in Tbilisi, and he went in to Round 5 as the only player to match Magnus on 4.5/5. His record against Carlsen was a sobering five classical games played, five defeats, with the World Champion explaining when asked if it was a psychological issue:

Maybe, but I still feel he’s quite ambitious with the white pieces. He doesn’t play for a draw, and probably that’s one of the reasons why I’ve won a lot of games against him. It has to be said that in some of these games at least I had shaky positions.

Magnus repeated his party trick by meeting 1.Nf3 with 1…b6, later explaining his algorithm for choosing the move:

Whatever I feel like playing on this particular day. Basically today I was mainly preparing for d4 and e4 and then he went Nf3 and then I thought, this is the best place to play b6 anyway, so let’s try it, and obviously it worked out quite ok!

Pavel sank into an immediate six and a half minute think and soon slipped into a worse position:

He resigned as early as move 29, though as Magnus noted this resignation probably wasn’t premature:

It’s just a very, very sad position so he decided to call it a day.

You can watch Carlsen go through the game in detail below:

Next up for Magnus is White against Vidit. The 22-year-old Indian star drew a tough pairing against Rasmus Svane in the random first round and afterwards faced somewhat weaker opposition, though a fine win over his friend Benjamin Bok has been the highlight of his event so far. He may well be turning to another Dutchman, his sometime employer Anish Giri, for some tips on how to handle the World Champion!

Vidit's only comfort is that Magnus has been playing more standard openings with the white pieces | photo: John Saunders, official website

2. Kramnik’s woes continue

Magnus commented, “You cannot win the tournament in six rounds, but you can lose it!”, something achieved by Vladimir Kramnik in only three. What mattered more, of course, was that he’d also all but blown his chances of qualifying for the 2018 Candidates Tournament by rating. The subsequent rounds have done nothing to improve matters:

As you can see he’s now won all three games with the white pieces, and in fact won them in style, but that’s garnered him only 0.8 rating points a time since he’d failed with Black the day before and been paired against much weaker opposition.

How did it come to this? Vladimir Kramnik on his way to drawing against the man in the hoodie, Lawrence Trent | photo: John Saunders, official website

The latest rating blow came in perhaps the most eagerly anticipated clash of Round 5, where Kramnik had Black against chess commentator and author Lawrence Trent. Amazingly, though, the game wasn’t broadcast live. The availability of DGT boards for only about 40% of the games is one reason the Isle of Man event can’t yet truly claim to be the world’s best open tournament despite its super-strong field (the Qatar Masters, for instance, broadcasts all games live), but it still beggared belief that an exception couldn’t have been made for Trent-Kramnik on board 32 when the first 31 boards were live.

In any case, Lawrence had put in intense preparation:

And in fact, with a clever opening choice, he did an excellent job of frustrating the World Champion. He played and then talked a great game:

That draw cost Kramnik 4.1 more rating points, all but confirming a Candidates place for Trent's former boss Fabiano Caruana as well as for Wesley So. That likelihood increased when the team line-ups for the European Team Championship on Crete were published without Kramnik on the Russian team:

1GMGrischuk Alexander2788
2GMNepomniachtchi Ian2741
3GMFedoseev Vladimir2731
4GMMatlakov Maxim2728
5GMVitiugov Nikita2728

That means he only has three more rounds on the Isle of Man and a maximum of seven rounds in the European Club Cup to try and turn things around, with no guarantees even if he could score a hugely unlikely 10/10.   

Ivan Sokolov swapped World Cup commentary for playing on the Isle of Man, and here beat Lawrence | photo: John Saunders, official website

The frustration for Kramnik was perhaps increased by the fact that in Round 4 Lawrence succumbed to Ivan Sokolov after starting 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5, causing Jan Gustafsson to comment, “If Lawrence doesn't lose after playing the Albin Countergambit he'll be a legend in Essex forever”. Lawrence’s Essex legend status will have to wait, though to be fair the loss to Sokolov can’t really be blamed on the opening. Then in Round 6, after the clash with Kramnik:

3. Another legend suffers

Everything was going fine for Kramnik’s friend and fellow legend Boris Gelfand until Sethuraman played 27.Rc1 in Round 5:

If Boris had simply defended the f7-pawn now the only question would be whether he’d win or draw, but after 27…c4? 28.Bxf7 he actually managed to go on and lose! Things would only get worse in the next round, when there were serious issues with converting an extra pawn against Anna Zatonskih, but no need to blunder with 35.Rf2? (35.Rd3! may only draw after 35…Qe7!, planning a check on e4):

It was a fantastic spot for the 4-time US Women’s Champion now to play 35…Rc5!! 36.Qe2 Qc6+! and the b5-knight was lost.

4.Hou Yifan dodges a pairings bullet

Anna Zatonskih is joined on 4.5/6 by Nino Batsiashvili in the race for the £6,000 ladies first prize, while Hou Yifan remains in the hunt on 4/6. 

Hou Yifan playing her fourth woman in a row, Yuliya Shvayger | photo: John Saunders, official website

Her fortunes turned in Round 4 when she not only won a convincing game against Yuliya Shvayger but then thwarted the pairing algorithms by not putting her name forward for Round 5! There was speculation that she’d dropped out of the tournament, but it turned out she’d just taken the one half-point bye any player is allowed from Rounds 1-8 – giving players a chance to have a rest day in an event that otherwise has none.

It did the trick, as after four rounds Hou Yifan was finally paired against men!

5.The Praggmonster

How long will it take this kid to get to the very top? | photo: John Saunders, official website

12-year-old Praggnanandhaa doesn’t yet have a single one of the three grandmaster norms he needs by March 2018 to become the youngest grandmaster of all time, but he’s clearly already a truly formidable player. He’s surpassed the 2500 rating he needs and on the Isle of Man he claimed the scalp of his first 2700 player!

English GM David Howell’s plan before the game to take his young opponent into an endgame is one you can file under, “careful what you wish for”, since he eventually lost in a rook and pawn endgame:

53…Rb6, 53…Rb7 or 53…Rb8 all draw, according to our friendly tablebases, but Howell was, as usual, short of time, and decided to try and clarify matters with 53…f4. Clarity did follow, but it was that White was clearly winning after 54.g4!, when Praggnanandhaa soon managed to win the f-pawn.

Nils Grandelius was next up (this nickname may stick!)…

The Swedish grandmaster had White but found himself in serious trouble by move 17, and soon had to allow some unpleasant tactics. For instance:

20…Nf3+! 21.gxf3 Qg5+ 22.Kh1 Qxf4 23.Qe3 Qf6 24.e5 (trying to avoid disaster on the a-file) 24…dxe5 25.Bb3 Rxa1 26.Rxa1 e4!

A last sting in the tail that ensured Praggnanandhaa an extra pawn, which very nearly proved enough to win. In the end, though, Nils managed to hang on in a heavy-piece ending until he was able to force a draw by perpetual check on move 88.

So the kid was very close to taking a giant step towards a grandmaster norm, but he still has one well within his reach. He probably needs to score 50% from his remaining three games, though Varuzhan Akobian next will be no walk in the park.

Magnus Carlsen commented on the youngster:

He’s playing very well for a 12-year-old. I saw him against Adams and I wasn’t particularly impressed then, but obviously he’s done great since. But I’ll sort of deal with him in a few years, I guess!

For now Carlsen’s immediate issue in Round 7 will be Vidit, while Caruana, Anand and Nakamura are all on an unbeaten +3 and poised to pounce on any mistake. 

Fabiano Caruana's calculating skills would make us suspicious as well, though he did miss a win in his Round 6 game with Emil Sutovsky! | photo: John Saunders, official website

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