Magnus Carlsen forced an effortless draw against Hikaru Nakamura in the final round to take home the £50,000 Chess.com Isle of Man International first prize. Only Vishy Anand managed to join Nakamura in second place after a sparkling win over Hou Yifan. No less than nine players tied for fourth, with Vladimir Kramnik winning his last four games and vowing to keep fighting for Candidates qualification. Elsewhere the hero remained 65-year-old James Tarjan, who beat another former World Champion, Alexandra Kosteniuk, to cap a remarkable 2671 performance.
Replay all the games (including those not broadcast live) from the Isle of Man using the selector below – click on a result to open a game with computer analysis, or hover over a player’s name to see all his or her results:
World Champion Magnus Carlsen went into the final round with a half-point lead and the white pieces, knowing all he had to do win the tournament outright was to draw the game. There was some hope in his natural killer instincts, the fact he had a 12:1 classical score against Hikaru Nakamura and that draw offers weren’t allowed before move 30, but any anticipation waned when 1.d4 Nf6 (were we headed for a King’s Indian?) was followed by 2.Nf3 e6 3.c4 d5 and the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Play then sped to the visually appealing position after 12…Nd4:
Julio Granda dropped by the board around this time and the commentators joked that the famously untheoretical Peruvian grandmaster might be thrilled to see this non-standard and highly tactical position. Alas, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since Viktor Korchnoi beat Anatoly Karpov from here in 1978, and after Magnus played 13.Qc1 (13.Qb1 and the game might have continued) a draw was inevitable, with the World Champion commenting:
I didn’t really know what to expect, whether he’d go for something like the King’s Indian or just play his normal stuff. The thing is, when he plays this line, I can just basically force a draw otherwise he’ll be considerably worse, so yeah, I considered playing something solid instead, but it was just too tempting to finish it off immediately. It sort of feels like since he’s behind it’s his task to beat me, not the other way around.
The puzzle here was that Hikaru Nakamura paused for almost 20 minutes before making his next move, though he must have been very familiar with the position. After all, in Bilbao in 2016 Sergey Karjakin played 13.Qa4 against Nakamura and the game soon ended in a repetition. It seemed Hikaru simply didn’t want to let his opponent off so quickly, or wanted to give the impression to chess fans that he was straining to find something, though he said afterwards that he was simply double-checking the lines to make sure he hadn’t missed something. Whatever the explanation for the delay, eventually he did force the known draw with 13…Bf5 14.Bxf6 Nc2+ 15.Ke2 Nd4+ 16.Ke1 and a repetition. We had a happy tournament winner!
It was reasonable to question whether such games are good for chess…
…but that wasn’t the World Champion’s problem. Magnus Carlsen
had won his first classical tournament in over 14 months, and with a 2900+
performance had boosted his lead at the top of the world rankings to over 36
points. Finally, you might say, Magnus was back! When asked if the lack of
tournament victories had weighed on him he responded:
I wasn’t particularly thinking about that, but what’s been bothering me is not the fact that I haven’t won tournaments but that I haven’t played very well. For me the last couple of tournaments have been quite encouraging and this was another step in the right direction.
He had his old swagger back, playing offbeat openings and outclassing many of his opponents. He put it down to his approach to the event:
I think I was just very relaxed, I think that’s the big thing. Not in the last couple of rounds, as I was very nervous, but before that I was very relaxed and it helped me make the kind of choices like against Eljanov – I’ll play 1...b6 today and we’ll see what happens! That certainly helped me a lot.
And had the presence of his girlfriend Synne Christin Larsen rather than his father or a dedicated second such as Peter Heine Nielsen been a factor?
Definitely I was sort of forced to relax because I wasn’t allowed to look at chess all the time! That’s a bit of an overstatement, but she definitely helped me have a very balanced approach. I’m very pleased with the support I got here and if she’s watching I’d like to say thank you and I’ll be back very soon.
Anish Giri had in the past offered to act as a matchmaker for Magnus and found a witty pun on Synne’s surname and that of Carlsen’s great Scandinavian predecessor Bent Larsen, who was known for his offbeat openings:
Magnus said he felt he was “finally getting into form” but now he won’t play again until the London Chess Classic starts on 1 December. It could have been worse, though, since he only chose to play on the Isle of Man after getting knocked out of the World Cup early on.
One curiosity is that the prize ceremony saw a rare public appearance for tournament sponsor Isai Scheinberg. He co-founded the world's largest poker room, PokerStars, with his son Mark, who Forbes give a net worth of $4.5 billion. Isai is a hero for many for being instrumental in the poker boom, though he also has an unwanted claim to fame as the only remaining one of 11 defendants indicted in the Black Friday criminal case not to have faced a US court over violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and other charges. There's been some speculation that he might "turn himself in" to finally bring an end to a saga that hit poker sites around the world hard, and to enable him once again to travel freely.
Watch Fiona Steil-Antoni’s interview with Magnus below:
The draw on the top board meant that Hikaru Nakamura was guaranteed a prize ranging from £25,000 to around £12,000 depending on how many of the six players on 6/9 would win and join him on 7/9. They were playing each other, and the battle of the young stars Richard Rapport and Vidit ended in a 30-move draw. Pavel Eljanov had pressure against Swapnil Dhopade, but he couldn’t prevent a draw, with the 26-year-old Indian grandmaster perhaps playing the tournament of his life:
That left Anand-Hou Yifan where, for the second day in a row, it suddenly turned out Vishy was all but winning by force in a seemingly quiet position.
A powerful sequence of moves culminated in the following position:
25.Nxf7! simply won a pawn due to the position of the knight on f4: 25…Rxe3 26.Rxe3 Kxf7 27.Rf3 Kg8 28.Rxf4. Anand smoothly converted his advantage to share second place and £18,750 each with Hikaru. It’s notable that both players will miss the 2018 Candidates Tournament unless they receive a wild card, with Vishy’s unbeaten +5 in particular a reminder of the kind of form he showed to win the 2014 Candidates.
For Hou Yifan, meanwhile, there was no reason to be too disappointed. As the top female player she won £6,000, more than double what each of the nine players who finished above her on 6.5/9 would earn for joint 4th place. In fact even the 2nd placed woman, Deimante Cornette (previously Daulyte), who scored 5.5/9, would earn more with £3,000.
The players who started the day on 5.5/8 knew that only a win would give them a chance of any kind of significant prize, which may explain why the first fives boards (5-9) featuring those players all ended decisively. Adams and Shirov more or less smoothly outplayed Xiong and Howell with the white pieces, Caruana beat Akobian with Black, although Varuzhan was only one time control move away from safety, and Emil Sutovsky finished off Nils Grandelius in style:
26.Nxh7! Kxh7 27.Rd4! Kg8 28.Rh4 may objectively have been a draw, but Nils lost his way in the fight against the white rooks (the second would later enter the fray and also swing across to the kingside).
The final winner in that group was Vladimir Kramnik, whose motivation to beat Gawain Jones with the black pieces was not so much the tournament situation but rating points and potential Candidates qualification. He commented, “fortunately Gawain played a very sharp line”, and was able to spring a surprise in the Scotch with 11…Ne7:
In the commentary booth Peter Leko noted he’d analysed the move back in 2010, and Vladimir explained:
I think 11…Ne7 is almost a novelty and I think it’s a strong one. I don’t like White’s position with the king in the centre.
Black was soon on top, and on move 23 Kramnik was able to formulate what essentially proved to be the winning plan:
23…Rfd8! 24.Re3 Bc8! 25.Kc3 Bf5 26.Bxf5 Rxd2 27.Be4 R8d4!
Black’s last move solves the only problem of his position - the threat of b4 with the knight having nowhere to go - since now c4 is attacked twice. White’s position collapsed very quickly with 28.b3 Rxf2 29.Rf3 Re2 30.Bd5 c6! 31.Bxf7 Nb7 32.b4 Nd6 White resigns
Kramnik commented, “It was a smooth game, somehow - I got better out of the opening and probably played pretty well, but a little late, I would say!” By late he was referring, of course, to how his tournament had started, with a loss to Caruana, a loss to James Tarjan and a draw against Lawrence:
He went on:
Four wins in a row is very nice, but still I lost some rating and of course I’m not satisfied with the tournament in general. Basically I didn’t play badly - it was just this terrible blunder in the third round, which cost me 10 Elo points. Of course after this it was difficult to come back. I managed 5.5/6 after that, so finally I managed at least to have a decent result, but still this blunder was really bad, completely in the wrong moment.
Assuming Wesley So plays no more games before the London Chess Classic, then Kramnik’s task at the 7-round European Club Cup from 8-14 October in Antalya, Turkey is clear:
If I want to play the Candidates I need to gain rating. I don’t have too many options, frankly, so I play this Club Cup and I see how I do there. If I do well then I will try to find some tournaments. If I don’t do well, which is more likely, then I just try to take a rest, because lately I had quite a bad period and I think that I need a little bit to recover and take some break. I think I was not playing too badly but just some kind of bad luck, blunders, and it simply was not going my way lately. Usually in such situations it’s helpful just to have a one or two month break.
The obvious place Kramnik could play if he needed to in November is the European Team Championship, and when Fiona Steil-Antoni pointed out that he’s not in the current Russian line-up (Grischuk, Nepomniachtchi, Fedoseev, Matlakov, Vitiugov) Kramnik confirmed what Peter Svidler had already suggested during a chess24 show:
I might be playing, I don’t know yet. It’s not completely clear. I think it’s possible to make changes. I have an agreement that…
He never completed that sentence, but it seems if he needs and wants to play to try and gain points to qualify for the Candidates Tournament he will, though points gained in November will only affect one of 12 rating lists, so unless he’s very close to Wesley So’s average it’s likely to be a mission impossible. He summed up:
I still want to qualify for the Candidates. I have some chances – they reduced seriously after this tournament, but there are still some chances.
One option includes...
Watch the full interview with Vladimir Kramnik below:
The standings at the top were as follows (note the order of the players in any score group is arbitrary as the prize money and glory is shared):
One of the stories of any big open is of course the hunt for FIDE title norms, and there were some fine success stories. Nino Batsiashvili had a stunning start to the event against six grandmasters and could afford to lose her last three games and still claim a final GM norm to earn the overall grandmaster title:
There were also GM norms for India’s Harsha Bharathakoti, who beat Varuzhan Akobian and Adhiban, and US IM Michael Brown, who won a thrilling 74-move game against Zoltan Almasi in the final round after the Hungarian grandmaster missed a chance to force a draw.
Germany’s Jan Woellerman and India’s Kalyan Arjun won IM norms.
Others missed out, of course, including two young Indian stars – 13-year-old Nihal Sarin and 12-year-old Praggnanandhaa.
The latter's bid to become the youngest grandmaster in history is looking far less of a foregone conclusion than previously (he’s yet to score his first GM norm) though he gained rating points on the Isle of Man and is clearly already playing at a GM level:
Another to miss out was Chessbrah Aman Hambleton, who also gained rating but lost to some top players – Arkadij Naiditsch, Gabriel Sargissian and Julio Granda. The beard saga goes on.
While it has nothing to do with norms this is perhaps as good a place as any to give a mention to Ivan Sokolov, who gained a wide audience as a commentator during the World Cup in Tbilisi. It seems a night on the town with Laurent Fressinet may have impacted his final round game as Black versus Dennis Wagner. First he was 17 minutes late at the beginning, then 14.f5! was the start of a tale of woe:
Black’s light-squared bishop was locked up for all eternity, though at least it soon got some company in misery:
To cut a long story short, though Wagner seemed to enjoy torturing his opponent for as long as possible, the bishop was never allowed to escape and Ivan finally just sacrificed it along the way to reaching the famous ending where his opponent had to give mate with bishop and knight. The young German player showed he knew what he was doing and Ivan finally resigned on move 93.
To end, though, let’s finish with a heart-warming story:
65-year-old US Grandmaster James Tarjan shot to prominence when he beat Vladimir Kramnik in Round 3. Despite that game featuring tenacious defence and then fine technique from the US player, it had to be said that Kramnik was well on top and would probably have won if he hadn’t blundered horribly as the time control approached. When Tarjan then lost the next game to Niclas Huschenbeth it seemed he might just fade away, but instead he didn’t lose another game and went on to beat Russian GM Pavel Tregubov and ultimately Pavel's wife and former Women’s World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk. In nine games he’d played only GMs, scoring a 2671 rating performance:
In the final round Kosteniuk also had a lot to play for with women’s prizes up for grabs and took the risky decision to castle long behind a ruined pawn structure. Tarjan gave up a pawn to open lines to the king, but the game was anyone’s to win until 32…Kb8? (a blunder with Black two moves later than Kramnik’s)
33.Ncd6! won an exchange, since after 33...Bxd6 34.Nxd6 Black can’t take the knight due to an instant mate on c8. Once again Tarjan didn’t put a foot wrong in the remainder of the game.
So the 2017 Chess.com Isle of Man International is over. The next big event with top players will be the European Club Cup that starts on Sunday, but before then there are Russian Rapid and Blitz Championships featuring the likes of Morozevich, Andreikin, Dubov and Artemiev, as well as Vassily Ivanchuk playing in the Croatian League, the Spanish Championship, the Oslo Chess Festival and more. Check out all the action on our Live Tournaments page.
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