21-year-old Russian Grandmaster David Paravyan is the surprise winner of the 2020 Gibraltar Masters after defeating Andrey Esipenko and Wang Hao in tiebreaks. Seven players had tied for first place on 7.5/10 but only four could battle it out for the £30,000 top prize, with Mustafa Yilmaz, David Navara and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave all missing out – in MVL’s case by a single performance rating point! China’s Tan Zhongyi took the women's top prize of £20,000 after beating French Champion Maxime Lagarde to reach 7/10.
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21 players went into the final round of the 2020 Gibraltar Masters with a chance of first place, but it could all have been so different. In the penultimate round former World Junior Champion Parham Maghsoodloo sacrificed his queen for a second day in a row, but this time all it earned him was a lost position against 17-year-old Russian Grandmaster Andrey Esipenko. If Andrey had converted his advantage he’d have gone into the final round with a half-point lead, and only Wang Hao, David Paravyan and Mustafa Yilmaz would still have been able to catch him. Everything was going according to that scenario until 50.Kh2:
Here Andrey spent 34 seconds on what must have seemed the winning move 50…Qxa4?. The b-pawn can’t move or the c6-rook falls, but here Parham unleashed the zwischenzug 51.Rc8!, threatening checkmate with Rh8#. Andrey then thought for 8 minutes over 51…g5, but it was too late. With the rook gone Parham could push the b-pawn after all and it turned out it was just in time, with Esipenko finally having nothing better than taking a draw by perpetual check. In the position above Black should instead have played 50…Qe5+, pushed his c-pawn, exchanged that pawn for White’s b-pawn and only then finally picked up the a4-pawn.
It was a very narrow miss for Esipenko, but chess at the top level is a brutal sport. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave commented a day later, after Esipenko had drawn his final-round game against Wang Hao and was heading for a playoff:
Had he won yesterday of course we wouldn’t be talking about play-offs probably, and he definitely should have won. It’s up to him now to show mental strength, because of course he’s very young, but if he wants to become a top player, and quality-wise he could become easily, he has to show this kind of strength. Maybe it would be nice to see him win… to make a statement.
The late drama in Maghsoodloo-Esipenko suddenly gave hope to an extra 17 players, but as they say, it’s the hope that kills you. The Gibraltar Masters looked like a chance for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to move on after yet again missing out on qualifying for the Candidates Tournament by the thinnest of margins. Instead he has another hard luck story to tell. Draws on the top two boards meant 7.5 points would be sufficient to tie for the lead, and he made it by winning his final two games, against Emre Can and then, in exactly 100 moves, Parham Maghsoodloo.
There was another cruel twist of fate, however, since the regulations in Gibraltar are that a maximum of four players can play tiebreaks for the top prize, and, perhaps inevitably, Maxime finished 5th – a mere 1 performance rating point short:
He had been undone by Daniil Yuffa showing he can do more than play the piano…
…and beating Adhiban, but also by a quirk of the regulations. It turns out that the performance rating tiebreaker rewards taking a half-point bye rather than playing all 10 rounds:
So Maxime had been unlucky again, but he confessed, “I didn’t really deserve it”. He also wasn’t alone. Mustafa Yilmaz missed out on the playoff, as did David Navara, who won his last two games, including a strong candidate for game of the tournament in the penultimate round. Alan Pichot was a piece up, but 27.Kf3? was a step too far:
27…f5! 28.gxf6 Qh5+! 29.Kxe4 and Navara had sacrificed another piece to tempt the king to its doom. The white monarch ended on e7 when Pichot resigned on move 37. Here’s David talking about the game (he later revealed he’d been inspired by buying some chocolate which said “smooth finish”!):
In the absence of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave the clear favourite in the tiebreaks was 30-year-old Wang Hao, and he justified that by smoothly beating Daniil Yuffa 2:0. The other semi-final, between David Paravyan and Andrey Esipenko, was anything but smooth, with David later describing, “a very long day, very crazy games and a very crazy match against Esipenko!”
The drama started in the first 10-minute game, where Esipenko was better at the end with White but allowed an unusual 3-fold repetition. It confused the arbiters for a while, but David correctly insisted and the first game had ended with a draw. In the second it was Paravyan who had some chances with White, but the match went to 3-minute blitz games.
In the first blitz game Andrey was winning with Black, first tactically and then technically, but it was never easy at the speed they were forced to play and the clash ended with bare kings. When interviewed afterwards David said he then felt he was “completely lost” at some point in the 2nd blitz game, but in fact he was the one who missed a win!
36…Re8!, hitting the pinned e4-rook, is crushing, with 37.Nxd2 Rad8! a nice line where Black establishes another pin in the centre of the board. Instead after 36…Rxa2? 37.Nd4! Esipenko was out of the woods before he later forced a draw that took the semi-final to Armageddon.
David had White and had to win, which he duly did, and it looks like he was right when he described it as “a very good game”. He did confess, however, that he was very close to making “an amazing blunder” in the opening!
He had planned 11.Ne4?? only to spot in time that after 11…Qh4!, hitting h2 and the knight, he could resign. After 11.Nxd5 he went on to knock out his 17-year-old compatriot, who was lost on the board and on the clock.
Wang Hao might have been considered an even bigger favourite for the
final since he’d had the time those extra three games took his opponent to
rest, but David revealed that exhaustion has its benefits:
I was just so tired and not nervous - I want to go home, I don’t want to play this match!
The first 10-minute game of the final would prove decisive. The Chinese player was doing well with White, but he got too ambitious when he sacrificed his a-pawn to prepare a tactical strike:
24.Nxh6!? Rxf3! 25.Qxf3 gxh6 26.Qf6+ Kh7 27.Rxd6! cxd6 28.Qxd6 Ra6 29.Qxe5 was extremely bold, but once the dust had settled it was White who was struggling to prove compensation for the sacrificed piece. At some points he came very close to a draw, but in the end David scored a crucial win with the black pieces.
In the next game Paravyan needed only a draw with White to win the title, but as he commented, “I don’t know how White can make a draw against the Najdorf!” He’s not alone there, but despite some shaky moments he did go on to hold off Wang Hao and win the £30,000 top prize. It was clearly the result of his career so far:
It wasn’t his only success, however. He started as 110th seed but finished 10th in the Grand Swiss on the Isle of Man last year, notching up wins over Grandelius, Ponomariov, Nabaty and McShane. And he’d previously come to prominence for one of the games, and moves, of 2018:
Here he played 24.Qc7!! as he beat Saveliy Golubov in the Korchnoi Memorial. In Gibraltar the game that stood out was perhaps the Round 5 victory over Argentina’s Leandro Krysa. Paravyan, playing White, had won an exchange, and was able to calmly give up a piece after 36…Nc5?
37.fxe5!! Nxa4 (nothing else helps either) 38.exf6! Qg8 39.Re2 d3 40.Qd4! and Black resigned.
So Russia clearly has another very talented grandmaster, with a curiosity being that 21-year-old Paravyan is just 3 days younger than last year’s Gibraltar Masters winner Vladislav Artemiev.
After losing the final Wang Hao joined Andrey Esipenko, Daniil Yuffa, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, David Navara and Mustafa Yilmaz in sharing the prizes for 2nd-7th place, which came to £10,500 each. That was by no means a bad pay day, but it was dwarfed by the £20,000 Tan Zhongyi took for finishing as the top woman, on 7/10, while Lei Tinjie picked up £10,000 for sole 2nd place with 6.5/10.
Former Women’s World Champion Tan Zhongyi finished with a win over French Champion Maxime Lagarde, who was very lucky Lei Tingjie had taken a draw in a won position in the penultimate round. This time there was no missing a brutal finish:
36.Rd4! wins a full rook, since wherever the queen goes Rd8+ and Qxe5 would follow. Instead Maxime simply resigned.
The interview with the winner afterwards is worth a watch, since Lei Tingjie acts as an interpreter for her compatriot, friend and Gibraltar roommate Tan Zhongyi. It turns out their “tournament strategy” included taking a bye not in Round 6, as they usually would, but in Round 7, since Round 6 this year was a Sunday and the shops were closed. When it comes to shopping Tan Zhongyi has more options than she expected, since it was only after the event was over that she discovered that the top women’s prize had risen from £15,000 (which she won in 2019!) to £20,000 this year.
That’s all for the 2020 Gibraltar Masters, but you may still want to check out some of the amazing content on the tournament’s YouTube channel. A couple of highlights include a long interview with Vassily Ivanchuk, who played some great games but also reveals how he used some advice he’d been given by Viktor Korchnoi to get over losing a winning position in Round 8:
And there’s also Tania Sachdev’s interview with another legend, 12th World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov:
He comments on the 1984 World Championship match against Garry Kasparov that was finally abandoned after 48 games with Karpov leading the first-to-six-wins match 5:3:
If I would win that match, especially 6:0, and I had chances, then Kasparov would never become World Champion. It’s quite clear he will be completely destroyed, psychologically destroyed, because he’s very emotional, so I don’t think he would become the strongest player in the world.
That’s all for now…
…with the next top-level chess action Magnus Carlsen taking on Rauf Mamedov in the Banter Blitz Cup at 15:00 CET this Saturday 1 February!
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