Magnus Carlsen needs only a draw in the final round to win the 2017 Chess.com Isle of Man International after beating Fabiano Caruana despite getting hit by an opening novelty. The World Champion’s last round opponent is Hikaru Nakamura, who brushed aside Emil Sutovsky’s pawn sacrifices and is now the only other player who can win the event. Hou Yifan has wrapped up the women’s prize with a round to spare and will have a chance to claim 2nd place when she takes on Vishy Anand in the final game.
You can replay all the action from the Isle of Man using the selector below – click on a result to open the game with computer analysis or hover over a player’s name to see all his or her results so far:
Caruana-Carlsen is one of the biggest match-ups in world chess, even if it wasn’t quite the chess event of the day!
The big game on the Isle of Man, meanwhile, was a continuation of the theoretical discussion begun with Fabiano Caruana’s game against Gawain Jones the day before. As we explained in our previous report, Gawain had played the Yurtaev Variation of the Ruy Lopez covered in the Svidler’s Archangels video series here on chess24. Gawain went for what Peter Svidler called the “much, much riskier” but “slightly more fun” option of 14…exd4, only to discover it had a flaw that Team Caruana was aware of. The big question, though, was what Fabiano had in store for Gawain if he’d opted for the safer option of 14…Re8.
Well, we didn’t have to wait long, since Magnus Carlsen took the somewhat reckless decision to find out!
And here, after 16 seconds, Fabiano played the novelty 15.g4!?, ending Magnus’ dream of an easy life and pre-empting any opening surprises he had ready of his own. It was a bolt from the blue, though it’s curious to note that Kosteniuk-Shirov reached the same position in the same round except with Black having played Bb7 instead of h6, and in that case 15.g4 is given as the second computer move after 15.Ng5, as played by Alexandra Kosteniuk (she went on to lose, but not because of the opening).
Magnus sank into a 21-minute think and, in hindsight, seems to have found the perfect practical response with 15…Qe7!?, not heading for the mainline madness of something like 15…exd4 16.cxd4 Nb4 17.Bxf7+ Kxf7 18.Qb3 Nbd5, but getting Fabiano out of his preparation while not losing on the spot. Magnus advanced on the queenside and then put a knight on h7 to stop g5, causing Fabiano to think 38 minutes before playing 20.b4!?. He then seemed to lose the thread of the game after 21…Be6:
Magnus expected 22.Bd5 here, with a battle ahead, while the computer suggests 22.Nf5, emphasising that the bishop is overloaded in its attempts to defend both the f5-square and the a2-e6 diagonal. Here, though, Fabiano played 22.Bc2?! and after 22…Rc8! it was White who suddenly had obvious weaknesses and no clear plan of attack.
Nakamura criticised Caruana for failing to appreciate the dynamics of the position – trying to play for a slow positional advantage when he needed to aim for the black king – while Magnus was soon playing fast and flawlessly:
Things fell apart at astonishing speed for White as the a5-pawn dropped, Black got to play d5 and the knight made a triumphant return to the action on g5. Caruana was down to almost no time and crumbled under the pressure with 35.Qe3?, allowing the beautiful finish 35…Bf4!
If the bishop is taken Nxh3+ forks the king and queen, but e.g. 36.Qd3 also loses on the spot to 36…Bxd2, and if 37.Qxd2 then the knight wins the day again, this time with the 37…Nf3+ fork.
A powerful game that strengthens Carlsen's claim to still be head and shoulders above his rivals, despite a lacklustre run of results:
Magnus is on 7/8 and can now only be caught by Hikaru Nakamura, who reached 6.5/8 after Emil Sutovsky lived and this time died by the sword, sacrificing a pawn with 9…c4!?
Another pawn was soon thrown on the fire, but although Emil survived longer than seemed likely, and at some stage even managed to harass the white king, Nakamura confidently brought the game to victory. You can watch his post-game analysis below:
Black against Carlsen is of course a tough place to be in the final round, but Nakamura has 3.5/4 with the black pieces so far on the Isle of Man.
Hou Yifan’s results and, to a greater extent, her pairings, provided one of the stories of the first half of the event, but since she took a bye in Round 5 she’s played, and beaten, only men:
Her strongest female opponents are 1.5 points back on 4.5/8, so she’s already won at least the £6,000 women’s prize, but she has a chance of taking 2nd place if she can beat the great Vishy Anand with Black in the final round. Vishy eased to an astonishingly easy win over Laurent Fressinet in Round 8.
One of the most enjoyable games of the day was Akobian-Lenderman, with Varuzhan Akobian coming up with a brilliancy against Aleksandr Lenderman that was, alas, only the second best move in the position:
20.Qxc4!? was a fine queen sacrifice, but after 20…Nxc4 21.Rxd7 it turned out White had enough to force perpetual check, but no more. Instead 20.Rd3!! wins, with the idea of playing Be3 to trap the queen (20…Bxd3 21.Qxd3 fxe4 22.Qb3 and Be3 is still the winning move).
With the long event drawing to a close there were some perhaps fatigue-related blunders, such as 41…Qe7?? from the legendary Jan Timman:
David Howell won on the spot with 42.Nxe6!, threatening mate on g7 and the capture of the c8-rook. Ivan Sokolov calculated that only a win could give him a chance of a big prize, but 31.Bf3? was game over against Richard Rapport:
31…Nxg2! demolished White’s position.
12-year-old Praggnandhaa’s wait for a GM norm will go on after he was held to a draw by Jan Woellermann, while Vladimir Kramnik’s Candidates hopes are still all but non-existent but at least he fought his way to a third win in a row and is recognisably himself again.
42.b4! was an ultimately successful attempt to create sufficient imbalances to beat Sethuraman:
42…axb4 would allow 43.a5, while 42…Bxb4, as played in the game, allowed White’s rook into the game with 43.Rc6+. Sethuraman had faced an incredibly tough field and was impressed by his opponent:
Kramnik has reached the dizzy heights of the 18-player tie for 9th place on 5.5/8 and could theoretically end tied for second if he beats Gawain Jones with Black in the final round. On the Isle of Man there are no mathematical tiebreaks and prize money is shared, so the weak opposition he’s faced would have no impact, though of course the players on 6/8 on boards 2-4 have a big advantage:
So what will we see in the final round? A quick draw between the top two is of course a strong possibility. That would guarantee Magnus £50,000 and, with Black against the world’s best player, Hikaru might be perfectly happy to take a £25,000-£12,000 prize (depending how many players share 2nd place). On the other hand, will Magnus resist the urge to try and score yet another career win against his favourite client? We’ll soon see, 1.5 hours earlier than usual.
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