Magnus Carlsen is still the sole leader of the Chess.com Isle of Man International after a quick draw against Vidit, but he now faces Fabiano Caruana with Black in the penultimate round. Fabi lived the modern chess player’s dream in Round 7 by getting a won position by move 23 against Gawain Jones before needing to start to think for himself. Pavel Eljanov and Emil Sutovsky ended the fantastic runs of Nino Batsiashvili and Anna Zatonskih to join Caruana and Vidit on 5.5/7, as did Hikaru Nakamura, who bamboozled Dennis Wagner in complications.
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22-year-old Vidit is the first player to have scored an easy draw against Magnus Carlsen on the Isle of Man this year, and in fact if anyone could have played for more it was the Indian grandmaster. Instead he was happy to draw in 31 moves and remain just half a point behind the leader. The leader also had little reason to complain!
That was a chance for the chasing pack, and the most dramatic way in which that was seized was in Fabiano Caruana’s win over Gawain Jones.
It seems for once Peter Svidler may have led the English Grandmaster astray! In the 6th part of his chess24 video series Svidler’s Archangels, dealing with the 6…Bc5 Ruy Lopez that’s also known as the Yurtaev Variation, he gives an extremely sharp alternative with 14...exd4!? instead of 14...Re8, commenting, “this solution clearly is much, much riskier”. Again, talking about the move 14…Re8 he explains:
It's not that much fun, but since I found something that is potentially slightly more fun than this I thought it would be more interesting to show something new rather than the somewhat passive and well-known.
Of course one risk of extremely sharp lines is overlooking tactical issues, and, by a transposition, Caruana-Jones reached this position on move 22:
Fabiano’s explanation of what Svidler missed here seems to be incorrect, or at least not documented, since in fact Peter recommended 23.g3 Qg8 and only then did he look at 24.Nfg5, concluding, correctly it seems, that 24…Re7! allows White nothing more than a draw.
In the comments section below the video, though, Czech GM Peter Michalik pointed out in March that 23.Nfg5!! instead “pretty much almost wins”, with Peter agreeing:
Yeah, that's a clear mistake on my part. Weird that I didn't check Nfg5 in that position, I've been checking it almost everywhere else, it's the main shot White has.
Sure enough, Fabiano played 23.Nfg5 after 39 seconds and this is where Gawain sank into a 19-minute think and the fun was definitely over. The best response was still 23…Re7, but, as Fabiano explained, that runs into 24.Qg4! and you can lose beautifully with 24…Qd7 25.Qxd7 Rxd7 26.Nxd6!!...
…but also after the correct 24…Qe8 25.Kh2! Qf8 26.Ne6 White is well on top. Fabiano commented, “I figured that I might just win the game without having to really make a move on my own”, but he had to spend a lot longer in the office after Gawain came up with 23…Rf5 instead. Fabi was on his own, but with the comforting knowledge that he was definitely winning, and he went on to score a flawless win in 32 moves.
Watch Caruana talk about the game:
That put Caruana level with Vidit after the quick draw on Board 1, and gradually players joined them half a point behind the leader.
Hikaru Nakamura welcomed a messy position against 20-year-old Dennis Wagner:
22…Nd5! here was very aesthetically pleasing from Nakamura, as well as the best move in the position. It was still balanced, but it was no surprise when Hikaru outplayed his opponent in the complications that followed.
Things were looking up for some players on the Isle of Man, with Hou Yifan, for instance, having put her pairing issues behind her. She’s now beaten two male Indian grandmasters in a row, won her last three games and for Round 8 been paired against a man (Sebastian Bogner) for the third time in a row. That’s not all, though, since she now leads the chase to win the £6,000 women’s prize by half a point, after high-flying Nino Batsiashvili and Anna Zatonskih were beaten in Round 7.
Nino had played only grandmasters and performed above 2800, but Pavel Eljanov managed to grind her down in a rook ending a pawn up to win in 68 moves. Anna Zatonskih, meanwhile, was put to the sword by a swashbuckling attack from Emil Sutovsky. Emil sacrificed a piece to blow open the white kingside and his bishops did the rest:
28…Bh2+ brought resignation, since it’s mate next move.
While things are looking bright for Hou Yifan again, the same can’t really be said for Vladimir Kramnik, but he did finally have something to cheer about with the black pieces!
Facing Harika Dronavalli he
played the Benko Gambit for the first time in his career, with Caruana
commenting that it was an understandable choice from Kramnik after “playing his
repertoire” had allowed Lawrence Trent to draw in a previous round, though Fabi
was surprised to see Kramnik choosing to part ways with a pawn!
It was an experiment that paid off, though, with Kramnik having infiltrated with his queen by move 20:
Eventually the a6-bishop would manage to capture both central white pawns on e4 and d5, Black also won the exchange and the only intrigue remained whether White could somehow trap the black knight that got stranded on a1. Harika couldn’t, and Kramnik moved to +2. The problem he still faces, though, is that his three wins with White and that win with Black have only amounted to a 4.1 rating point gain, cancelling out the draw with Trent. The 13.2 points lost in the defeats to Caruana and Tarjan remain to be regained before Vlad can even think about boosting his rating from his current 2779.6 to the 2802 required to pip Wesley So in the race for a Candidates place.
Another player with statistics against him is 12-year-old Praggnanandhaa, who succumbed to the dangerous US player Varuzhan Akobian in what seemed to be a very drawish position. He’ll now require 2/2 to complete his first GM norm, though 2384-rated Jan Woellermann is a beatable opponent for the penultimate round.
The big clash of Round 8, however, is of course Carlsen-Caruana, which has been one of the classic match-ups in world chess, although one that has also failed to produce a decisive classical game since 2015.
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