Isle of Man: Caruana beats Kramnik

by Albert Silver
9/24/2017 – Right on the heels of the World Cup, which is now in the Finals, is the Isle of Man International bringing a very impressive lineup with several of the world’s best, including Magnus Carlsen, Vladimir Kramnik, Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and more. Innovating from the Swiss pairings, the organisers decided that the first round would be entirely random, and this led to some very surprising round one match-ups. Report with analysis by GM Tiger Hillarp-Persson. | Photo: John Saunders

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Some random grandmasters

To say the Isle of Man International started with a bang would be a massive understatement. The biggest news came from the last minute registration by none other than Magnus Carlsen. The registration for the Masters section had closed months ago, but who could possibly refuse the World Champion in the lineup? Aside from not being a regular Open player, in spite of his one-off (at the time) participation in the Qatar Masters a couple of years ago, there was the practical issue of overlap: should Carlsen make it to the final of the World Cup currently underway, he would be unable to play in Isle of Man (IoM).

Magnus Carlsen did not want to wait until December to play, so entered the Isle of Man Open at the very last minute, ten days before the start | Photo: John Saunders

We now know that things did not go as planned for the Norwegian, as he got knocked out unexpectedly in the third round of the World Cup, and it had to come as quite a shock to the organizers to learn that Carlsen wanted to play in it. As reported in Aftenposten, those close to him saw this as a good sign, since it suggested he still felt quite confident in his play and was jonesing to cross swords with the world’s best.

With names such as Vladimir Kramnik, Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Vishy Anand, all in that unique atmosphere of a large open, there would be no lack of good chess to be had, should he wish. This actually led to a rather unexpectedly jocular episode on the day of registration, one day before the first round. John Saunders who is on the spot, reported this exchange he was privy to:

A player (we'll call him Mr X) approached the arbiter's desk...
Arbiter (seeing Mr X): "Have you come to register?"
Mr X: "Yes."
Arbiter: "Where are you from?"
Mr X: "Norway."

No, this was not a joke. As Saunders explains, arbiters know the names of the players of course, but may not follow reports closely like fans, so that changes in appearance such as hair, glasses, or other, might easily throw them off.

All that said, this was hardly the end of the surprises the opening held for players and fans. Also innovating with the regular format, the first round of the event would hold completely random pairings, after which the normal pairing method would take over. For the players, as we will see, this was a veritable Pandora’s Box, since a top player might face an even weaker than usual first round, or a fellow elite. For fans and reporters this was a boon though. This idea stemmed from John Saunders, a highly respected veteran in chess reporting, who complained to the organizer that the first round or two of such Opens were usually completely devoid of interest, forcing reporters to try to find something, anything, to spice up what is usually a list of David vs Goliath matchups across the boards, with Goliath doing the usual beating up. Why not randomize the pairings for the first round, and after the results, the next rounds would follow traditional pairing methods? To his utter shock, the idea was not only developed, and finetuned, but was adopted as an experiment.

In an astonishing turn of events, the first round pairing was as dramatic as could be, with the Candidates and potentially World Championship match on the line | Photo: John Saunders

In a public drawing of lots, the top players went on stage to draw a random name from a tombola, just like a raffle. Magnus Carlsen went first and drew Bardur orn Birkisson, rated 2167. In a normal Swiss, Magnus would certainly expect an easy first round against a player probably rated some 400 Elo less, but here he was looking at a player rated 660 Elo less. Next went Vladimir Kramnik, the official second seed, and in went his hand into the tombola. Smiling he drew out a paper with his first round opponent’s name. He unfolded it with not a little surprise as he read it out wide-eyed: Caruana, Fabiano! Second seed meets third seed right off the bat. Wow.

Even Fabiano could not hold back his astonishment

However, this was not the only surprise in pairings as one might expect. While many names enjoyed more usual easy opponents, other tough-as-nail pairings included Baskaran Adhiban against Boris Gelfand, and more notably the top two female seeds drew themselves: Hou Yifan against Alexandra Kosteniuk! Of all the opponents she could draw, what were the odds she would not only choose a female colleague, but here nearest rival for the Women's Prize? 

No less surprising was Hou Yifan facing Alexandra Kosteniuk. They drew in the end. | Photo: John Saunders

Alexandra Kosteniuk vs Hou Yifan (annotated by Tiger Hillarp-Persson)

[Event "IOM Open-Masters 2017"] [Site "Douglas"] [Date "2017.09.22"] [Round "1"] [White "Kosteniuk, Alexandra"] [Black "Hou, Yifan"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B81"] [WhiteElo "2552"] [BlackElo "2670"] [Annotator "Tiger Hillarp-Persson"] [PlyCount "146"] [EventDate "2017.09.23"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventCountry "GBR"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 6. g4 h6 7. h3 {This move avoids the long forcing lines that arise after} (7. h4 Nc6 8. Rg1 d5 {The result is that White gets some kind of fianchetto variation, where instead of g2-g3/h2-h3/g3-g4, White has achieved the same set-up with only two moves.}) 7... Nc6 8. Be3 Bd7 9. f4 (9. Qd2 Nxd4 10. Bxd4 Be7 11. f4 Bc6 12. Bg2 e5 13. Be3 {Black has followed a very logical plan, but what to play next?} Nd7 14. O-O-O exf4 15. Bxf4 Ne5 16. Ne2 $6 (16. Kb1) 16... Qb6 $6 (16... Ng6 17. Be3) ( 16... O-O $5 17. Nd4 Bf6) 17. Nd4 Bf6 18. b3 Rd8 19. Be3 {was promising for White, in Harutjunyan,G (2410)-Fier,A (2610) 1st Paytakht Cup 2016.}) 9... Be7 {Now White has a choice between four candidate moves:} (9... Nxd4 10. Qxd4 $1 { and it becomes obvious why White waited with Qd2.}) 10. Nf3 $5 {...and you will point out that this is the "fifth candidate move". However, this is a move that didn't even make my "candidate move" list. It seems un-Sicilian-ish to retreat the knight in such a manner. Still, perhaps I'm just too conservative. Kosteniuk's move is not bad:} (10. Qe2 Nxd4 11. Bxd4 Qa5 12. O-O-O e5 13. Be3 Rc8 $36 {with the idea of Rxc3!}) (10. Nb3 {is the standard move if one wants to stop Black from playing Nxd4, followed by Bd7-c6.} Rc8 $1 {and it is rather hard to see White's next move as both} 11. Qd2 ({and} 11. Bg2 {is well met with} Na5)) (10. Qd2 {appears to be the most flexible move. One point is that - compared to Qe2 -} Nxd4 11. Bxd4 Qa5 12. O-O-O e5 13. Be3 Rc8 14. Bd3 $14 {is far more harmonious.}) (10. Bg2 O-O 11. O-O Nxd4 12. Qxd4 Bc6 { , followed by d6-d5, looks fine for Black.}) 10... d5 $1 {If Black can play it, then Black should play it.} 11. exd5 Nxd5 12. Nxd5 exd5 13. Bg2 d4 $5 (13... Bh4+ $6 14. Nxh4 Qxh4+ 15. Bf2 $14) (13... O-O 14. O-O Re8 15. Re1 Qc7 16. c3 Rad8 17. Qd2 Bd6 {is balanced.}) 14. Nxd4 Bh4+ 15. Bf2 Qe7+ (15... Bxf2+ 16. Kxf2 Qh4+ (16... Qb6 17. Bxc6 $1 Bxc6 18. Re1+) 17. Kf1 O-O 18. Nxc6 Bxc6 19. Bxc6 bxc6 20. Qf3 Rad8 21. Rh2 f5 22. Kg1 Qf6 23. Rf2 Qxb2 24. Qb3+ Qxb3 25. axb3 fxg4 $11) 16. Kf1 Bxf2 17. Kxf2 O-O-O 18. Qf3 $1 Qc5 (18... Qb4 19. c3 Qb6 (19... Qxb2+ 20. Kg3 $16 {is suicidal, as White will soon take the b-file.}) 20. Rad1 Rhe8 21. Kg3 Nxd4 22. cxd4 Kb8 {and White's position is a little too loose for her to claim any real advantage.}) 19. Rhd1 h5 $5 {A curved ball. Hou is setting White new problems move by move.} 20. gxh5 $1 (20. g5 Bg4 $1 21. hxg4 Rxd4 22. Rxd4 Qxd4+ 23. Kg3 Qxb2 24. Re1 {is still not bad for White, but it is easy to get lost when things turn out in a way that you did not imagine. However, Kosteniuk steers clear of any fancy stuff, and in the process she keeps some advantage.}) 20... Be6 21. Qc3 {This simiplifies the position should lead to a drawish ending.} ({It was more ambitious to play} 21. c3 Bd5 22. Qg4+ (22. Qe2 Bxg2 23. Kxg2 Nxd4 24. Rxd4 Rxd4 25. cxd4 Qxd4 26. Kg3 Qc5 $11) 22... Kb8 23. Bxd5 Rxd5 24. Qxg7 Rdxh5 25. Rd3 {, although it is hard to chose such a line for a human. Black's king looks rather forlorn.}) 21... Qxc3 22. bxc3 Rxh5 $6 (22... Nxd4 $1 23. cxd4 Rxh5 24. Kg3 Rdh8 25. Rh1 R8h6 { and White will have to give the pawn back.}) 23. Nxe6 $1 fxe6 24. Rxd8+ Kxd8 25. Rg1 Ne7 26. Bxb7 (26. Re1 $5 {keeps a minimal initiative, but should also lead to a draw. White's pawn structure is too bad to promise any real winning chances.}) 26... Rxh3 27. Bf3 Rh2+ 28. Rg2 Rxg2+ 29. Bxg2 Kc7 30. Ke3 Kd6 { planning ...e5} 31. Kd4 Nf5+ 32. Ke4 Ng3+ 33. Kf3 Nf5 34. Ke4 Ng3+ 35. Kd3 Nh5 36. Ke3 Nf6 37. c4 (37. Be4 e5) 37... Nd7 $1 {When the knight reaches c5, there is not much White can do.} 38. Kd4 Nc5 $11 39. Bf3 Nd7 40. Bh5 Nc5 41. Be8 Nb7 42. a4 Nc5 43. a5 Nb7 44. c5+ Nxc5 45. Kc4 Na6 46. Bh5 Nc7 47. Bf3 Na6 48. Bg2 Nc7 49. Bb7 Ne8 50. Kd4 Nf6 51. Bf3 Nd7 52. Bg2 e5+ 53. fxe5+ Nxe5 54. a6 Nd7 55. Bf1 Nc5 56. Bb5 Ne6+ 57. Ke4 Kc5 58. Ke5 Nc7 59. Bd3 Kb6 60. Kd6 g5 61. Be2 Nb5+ 62. Ke5 Kxa6 63. Kf5 Kb6 64. Kxg5 Kc5 65. Kf4 Nc3 (65... a5 66. Bxb5 Kxb5 67. Ke3 $11) 66. Ke3 a5 67. Kd2 Kb4 68. Bh5 a4 69. Kc1 a3 70. Bf7 Kc5 71. Bb3 Kd4 72. Bf7 Ke3 73. Bb3 Kd4 1/2-1/2


This opening round pairing for Vladimir Kramnik and Fabiano Caruana was problematic for more than one reason. From a pure tournament point of view, it means they are less likely to get off to the flying start they could expect as they built up momentum and speed. A top player expects a couple of easy opening rounds in a Swiss. Now, some will have easy starts, and some will be forced to concede a draw or loss, playing catchup for the rest of the event.

There is a second and more serious consideration though: the Candidates tournament. Although the Isle of Man Open does not seed a player into the Candidates like the World Cup, three players are in a neck-and-neck struggle for the two spots reserved for the top average Elos of 2017: Wesley So, Caruana, and Kramnik. So and Caruana are in a dead heat for that rating, while Kramnik trails behind by an average 3.5 Elo. However, there are few if any events scheduled after the Isle of Man before December [Kramnik is on the roster for Siberia in the European Club Cup in November -Ed.], thus the ratings after it will likely be the ratings that are repeated for the next three ratings lists. So lost points and is therefore quite vulnerable to a surge by Kramnik, and the Russian needs to earn 8 Elo by the end of the event to snatch that coveted spot. Of course, if Kramnik surged and Caruana faltered, Caruana could be the one left outside. As you can see, a lot more is riding on this event for them than prize money or standings on the podium.

It was more than just a game between giants, but one that could have deep repercussions | Photo: John Saunders

So how did that game between the two giants go? A quick draw? No indeed! Here is the dramatic game with detailed notes by GM Tiger Hillarp-Persson.

Fabiano Caruana vs Vladimir Kramnik (annotated by Tiger Hillarp-Persson)

[Event "IOM Open-Masters 2017"] [Site "Douglas"] [Date "2017.09.22"] [Round "1"] [White "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Black "Kramnik, Vladimir"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D36"] [WhiteElo "2799"] [BlackElo "2803"] [Annotator "Tiger"] [PlyCount "133"] [EventDate "2017.09.23"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventCountry "GBR"] 1. c4 e6 2. Nc3 d5 3. d4 Nf6 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Bg5 c6 6. Qc2 (6. e3 Bf5 $1 (6... Be7 7. Bd3 {is a clear improvement on the main game (for White) as} h6 8. Bh4 Nbd7 9. Nge2 Nh5 10. Bxe7 Qxe7 11. Qd2 {is more dangerous for Black than it would be had White already committed the queen to c2.} Nb6 12. f3 $14 { Mamedyarov,S (2765)-Adams,M (2750) Sharjah Grand Prix 2017, can be found on the Chessbase homepage with my comments.}) 7. Qf3 Bg6 8. Bxf6 Qxf6 9. Qxf6 gxf6 10. Nf3 Nd7 11. Nh4 Be7 12. Ne2 Nb6 13. Ng3 Bb4+ 14. Kd1 Na4 $2 15. Ngf5 { lead to a nice win for White in Carlsen,M (2851)-Kramnik,V (2801) Stavanger 2016, a game that has been extensively commented on by Mihail Marin in CBM. Is if fair to believe that Kramnik had an improvement prepared here? I believe so. }) 6... h6 7. Bh4 Be7 8. e3 O-O ({I always thought the point of this line is to continue} 8... Nbd7 9. Bd3 Nh5 10. Bxe7 Qxe7 {aiming to meet 0-0-0 with 0-0-0, and after having played h6 it seems a bit dangerous to invite opposite side castling.}) 9. Bd3 Re8 10. Nge2 Nh5 (10... Ne4 $6 11. Bxe7 Qxe7 12. Bxe4 dxe4 13. Ng3 f5 {Horrible but necessary...} 14. O-O {and in Kuzubov,Y - Hayrapetyan,H Al Ain 2015, faced with the threat of f3, Black self-destructed with} Qg5 $6 (14... Na6 {is the better move here, when White has too keep up the pressure in order to gain some advantage:} 15. f3 $1 (15. a3 Nc7 16. f3 exf3 17. Rxf3 Rf8 18. Qf2 Be6 19. Re1 Rad8 20. Nxf5 Bxf5 21. Rxf5 Rxf5 22. Qxf5 Rxd4) 15... Nb4 16. Qd2 exf3 17. Rxf3 Be6 18. Re1 Rf8 19. a3 Nd5 20. Nxd5 cxd5 21. Ne2 g5 22. Nc1 $1 {and with the knight arriving at e5, White can look forward to the somewhat easier game.}) 15. Rae1 h5 {, allowing} 16. Qb3+ Be6 17. Qxb7 {with a winning advantage for White.}) 11. Bxe7 Qxe7 12. h3 (12. O-O Nd7 13. Rae1 Nf8 14. Nc1 Nf6 15. Nb3 Ne6 16. f3 a5 17. Na4 Qd8 18. Nbc5 Nf8 $1 {Both White's knights strive to occupy c5, so there is no need to exchange one of them.} 19. Qb3 $1 b5 $5 20. Nc3 Ne6 21. Nxe6 Bxe6 22. Qc2 (22. Rc1) 22... Qb6 23. Qf2 a4 24. Rc1 b4 25. Ne2 Ra5 26. h3 c5 $1 {was a high level instruction in how to play this line with Black, although White eventually won, in Nepomniachtchi,I (2750)-Kramnik,V (2810) Zurich Korchnoi CC Blitz 2017.}) 12... a5 {This move and the next is the start of a cat and mouse game, where Black is trying to give away as little information as possible, while discouraging White from castling long, whereas White is trying to set the stage for a good moment to do just that.} 13. a3 (13. g4 Nf6 14. Ng3 c5 $1 { as in Novotny,M (2219)-Konopka,M (2424) Zdar nad Sazavou 2007, showed the downside of evacuating the knight from e2.}) (13. O-O-O $6 b5 14. Kb1 Nf6 { leaves White quite discoordinated and vulnerable to Nb8-a6-b4.}) 13... Nd7 14. Na4 Qh4 15. g3 Qd8 16. g4 Nhf6 17. Ng3 {Black cannot play c5, so the knight can move.} Nf8 18. O-O-O {Ambitious.} b6 {Kramnik is looking for a way to get counterplay without leaving a weak square on c5. I completely symphatize with this.} (18... b5 $5 19. Nc5 N6d7 20. Kb1 Nxc5 21. Qxc5 {looks like a nightmare for Black, as the queenside will be blockaded. But looking at the whole board situation it is far from clear:} Qf6 $1 (21... b4 22. a4) 22. Rh2 b4 23. a4 Ba6 {and Black's counterplay is no slower than than White's.}) 19. Kb1 Bd7 20. Nf5 c5 $6 {This natural move is the right one, but the timing is wrong:} ({The engine suggests} 20... Rb8 {with "a small advantage" and it seems correct. The point is that it is hard to find a good move for White:} 21. Rhg1 (21. Ka1 { is again the engine, but if we accept that this move is the best, then indeed Rb8 must be an improvement.}) (21. Nc3 b5 22. Ne2 b4 23. a4 b3 $1 {With the idea of ...Rb4}) 21... c5 $1 22. dxc5 Bxa4 23. Qxa4 bxc5 {is a crucial attacking-tempo better for Black, compared to the game.}) 21. dxc5 Bxa4 22. Qxa4 bxc5 23. Bb5 (23. h4 c4 $1 24. Bxc4 Re4 25. g5 $1 N8d7 $1 {is messy. After } 26. gxf6 Rxc4 27. Ne7+ Kf8 28. Qb3 Rb8 29. Qd3 Nxf6 30. Nxd5 Rc5 31. Nf4 { the game is still unclear.}) 23... Re6 24. Qc2 Rb6 $5 {This allows Caruana to set the bishop on b5 in a cement foundation, but Black can deal with it.} ({ The only way to avoid this scenario is to play} 24... a4 $1 {and the only reason not to play this move is that one is afraid of} 25. Qxc5 {Perhaps Kramnik calculated that} Rc8 26. Qa7 (26. Qb4 Rb8 $36) 26... Ra8 27. Qc5 { is a draw!?}) 25. a4 $1 Ne6 26. h4 {White's attack hits first.} Nc7 27. Qxc5 $1 {This wins a pawn, but more important; the d4-square for the knight.} Nxb5 28. axb5 Qb8 $6 {This is the first mistake in the game. With the queen behind the rook the threat against b2 is not strong enough to distract White's forces from attacking:} (28... Rab8 $1 29. Ne7+ $1 (29. Nd4 Ne4 30. Qc2 Nd6 31. Ka1 Nxb5 32. Nc6 Qc7 33. Rc1 Re8 34. Rhd1 Re4 $132) 29... Kh8 30. Nc6 Qc8 $1 (30... Qc7 31. Qd4 R8b7 32. Nxa5 Rb8 33. Rc1 Qd7 34. Nc6 R8b7 35. g5 $40) 31. Qd4 R8b7 32. Nxa5 Rb8 33. Rc1 Qxg4 34. Qxg4 Nxg4 35. Nc6 R8b7 (35... Re8 36. f3 Nxe3 37. Rc5) 36. Nd4 Nxf2 37. Rc8+ Kh7 38. Rhc1 $14 {I'm not sure how to evaluate this position with precision. The doubled b-pawn is very dangerous, but Black will have counterplay.}) 29. g5 Rxb5 30. Qc2 Ne4 31. Ne7+ Kh8 32. Rxd5 $1 Rxd5 33. Nxd5 Qe5 34. Rd1 Rd8 35. Rd4 Rxd5 36. Rxe4 Rd1+ $1 37. Ka2 Qd5+ 38. Qc4 hxg5 ( 38... Kh7 {immediately, might have been strong, in order to leave the (weak-er) h4-pawn on the board.}) 39. hxg5 Kh7 40. Qxd5 Rxd5 $16 {I'm not sure about the details in the rest of the endgame, but it seems that Black had a tough job to defend it.} 41. f4 Kg6 42. Rd4 Rb5 43. Ka3 Kf5 44. b3 f6 45. Ka4 Rb7 46. Rc4 Ra7 (46... fxg5 47. Rc5+) 47. Rc5+ Ke4 48. Rxa5 {This looks like the losing move.} Re7 $2 ({Instead} 48... Rf7 49. g6 (49. gxf6 gxf6 50. b4 Kxe3 51. f5 Kd4 52. Rc5 Ra7+ 53. Kb3 Ra1 $11) 49... Rb7 50. f5 Kxe3 51. Rc5 Kd4 52. b4 Rb8 { leads to a position from where I see no way forward for White.} 53. Kb3 (53. Rc7 Ke5 54. Rxg7 Kxf5 55. b5 Kg5 56. Ka5 f5 57. b6 Kf6) 53... Rb7 54. Rc1 Ke5 55. Rf1 Rb8 56. Ka4 Ra8+ 57. Kb5 Rb8+ 58. Kc5 Rc8+) 49. gxf6 gxf6 50. Ra6 Kf5 ( 50... Rf7 51. Re6+ Kf5 52. Re8 Ra7+ 53. Kb4 Rb7+ 54. Kc3 Rc7+ 55. Kb2 Rb7 56. Rc8 Ke4 57. Rc3 {and it seems to me that Black is in a kind of zugzwang (although those with more time at their hands will have to find the truth about that).}) 51. Rd6 $18 Ra7+ 52. Kb5 Rb7+ 53. Kc4 Rc7+ 54. Kd4 Rb7 55. e4+ Kxf4 56. Rxf6+ Kg5 57. Rf5+ Kg4 58. Kc4 Re7 59. Rd5 Kf4 60. e5 $1 Kf5 61. b4 Ke6 62. b5 Ra7 63. b6 Rb7 64. Rb5 Kd7 65. Kd5 Kc8 66. e6 Kd8 67. Kc6 1-0

A huge win for the American, not only making a big statement on his ambitions, but also securing his Elo that much more against any ninja moves his Russian rival might try to make.

Other top players did not suffer such dramatic opening games, in spite of the numerous big pairings. Hikaru Nakamura had a fairly balanced game against the Indian GM Das Neeloptal, 350 Elo his junior, for some 60 moves, but finally the Indian cracked, and let Black in with a powerful maneuver that won the day.

Das Neeloptal vs Hikaru Nakamura

Magnus Carlsen, lest one forget, played a game against a player who gave up more than 650 Elo to him, and just outclassed his opponent. He did not crush him as quickly as fans might have wished, but one expects it was hard for him to be motivated enough to put his all into it.

Magnus Carlsen was a bit distracted by some of the other games, understandably | Photo: John Saunders

Magnus Carlsen vs Bardur orn Birkisson (annotated by Tiger Hillarp-Persson)

[Event "IOM Open-Masters 2017"] [Site "Douglas"] [Date "2017.09.22"] [Round "1"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Birkisson, Bardur Orn"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E52"] [WhiteElo "2827"] [BlackElo "2164"] [Annotator "Tiger"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "2017.09.23"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventCountry "GBR"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. d4 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. Nf3 ({This slightly unusual move order looks slighty less flexible than} 5. Bd3 {, but that's all. There is no real downside to it otherwise.}) 5... b6 6. Bd3 Bb7 ({One of the most critical lines against the Rubinstein system is seen after} 6... d5 $1 7. cxd5 exd5 8. O-O Ba6 {This position has been played a lot in the last years. The most ambitious try was seen in Wojtaszek,R -Harikrishna,P Huaian 2016:} 9. Bxa6 Nxa6 10. Bd2 Re8 11. Rc1 Bf8 12. Ne5 $1 c5 13. Be1 Nc7 {with a balanced position.}) 7. O-O d5 8. cxd5 exd5 9. Ne5 $5 Nbd7 {This natural move seems slightly inexact to me.} ({I prefer} 9... Bd6 {, when} 10. f4 c5 11. Ne2 Nc6 $1 { is a clear improvement on the game (for Black) since the d4-pawn comes under direct attack, thus making it harder for White to continue with Ne2-g3.}) (9... c5 {is similar, when} 10. f4 Nc6 11. Ne2 {, but here Black needs to find a way to deal with the bishops awkward position on b4. In a recent game Black did not deal with it in the best manner:} c4 {(I don't like playing such a move unless Black is able to get a clear grip on e4 in such a way that it is possible to jump in with the knight and take back with a piece.)} 12. Bc2 Ne7 13. Ng3 Nc8 {This is logical and strives to set in motion the kind of idea that I mentioned in the parenthesis above, but it also seems too slow.} 14. Nh5 Be7 15. b3 cxb3 16. axb3 Nd6 17. Nxf6+ Bxf6 18. Ba3 Bc8 $6 19. Qf3 {was cruching, in Caruana,F (2805)-Karjakin,S (2770) Saint Louis Rapid 2017. After Bb7 there is no defence against Qh3/Rf1-f3-g3.}) 10. f4 Ne4 $6 11. Nxe4 dxe4 12. Bc4 {White's set-up is ideal and it is almost impossible for Black to expel the knight from e5.} Qe7 13. a3 Bd6 14. b4 Nf6 15. Bb2 c6 {Built on the assumption that the d5-square can be used for the knight, but this is easier said than done. Still, it's hard for Black to come up with a decent remedy against Qb3, Rc1, etc.} 16. Qc2 b5 $1 {Black is rightly seeking counterplay and this is what is to be got.} (16... a5 17. bxa5 Rxa5 18. a4 $16) 17. Bb3 a5 $1 18. h3 $6 {Perhaps I'm missing something, but this seems rather too cool.} ( {The direct} 18. bxa5 $1 Rxa5 19. Rfc1 {looks much better. Black has problems with c6, f7 and e4. The best continuation} Nd5 20. Qxe4 Bxa3 21. Rxa3 Rxa3 22. Bxa3 Qxa3 23. Rb1 {,leaves White clearly better, although Black can still fight on with} Bc8 {hoping for} 24. Nxc6 $4 Nc3 $19) 18... axb4 19. axb4 Bxb4 ( {After} 19... Rac8 $1 {the c-pawn is safely defended and it is very unclear how White can build up more pressure.} 20. Ra7 (20. g4 {is quite messy after} Nd5 21. Qxe4 f6 (21... Nxb4 22. Ra7 Rc7 $13) 22. Qf3 Kh8 $1 23. Bxd5 cxd5 24. Nd3 {when} Rfe8 {is terribly ugly for both sides and still balanced.}) 20... Bb8 {is a dead end}) 20. Rxa8 Bxa8 21. Ra1 {White is threatening to take on f7. } Nd5 $2 (21... Bb7 22. Ra7 c5 23. Nc6 Qd7 24. Nxb4 cxb4 25. d5 $16 Nxd5 $2 26. Qxe4 $18) 22. Rxa8 $1 Rxa8 23. Qxc6 Nc7 24. Bxf7+ Kh8 25. Qxe4 Rf8 26. d5 (26. Bb3 {, followed by rolling the pawns, also wins easily.}) 26... Rxf7 27. Nxf7+ Qxf7 28. Qxb4 Nxd5 29. Qxb5 Nxe3 30. Qb8+ Qg8 31. Bxg7+ {A nice final touch.} Kxg7 32. Qe5+ Kf7 33. Qxe3 Qg6 34. Kh2 h5 35. Qb3+ Kf8 36. Qb8+ Kg7 37. Qe5+ 1-0

Does this mean there were no surprises at all? Hardly. The Israeli GM Maxim Rodshtein, rated 2695, faced the English amateur Zaki Harari, rated only 2027. Although he did draw in the end, Rodshtein was dead in the water after 64 moves, facing heavy material loss, a mating attack, or an enemy pawn promotion. All the while, the engines were singing songs of +12 (really). So how did he escape? A fancy tactic, or a brilliant shot? No, they shook hands on move 74, in a winning position for White, the weaker player. We don’t know who offered the draw, but presume it was White, oblivious to his win, and just happy to draw.

Usually the chess cliché "I was winning" is a case of sour grapes when all went wrong, but in this case, White was indeed completely winning when he agreed to a draw. Let us not be hard on him, in spite of the missed chance at even greater glory. Nerves when facing such moments can strike even the best blind.

Maxim Rodshtein survives a scare against an opponent rated nearly 700 Elo less | Photo: John Saunders

Indian prodigy IM Praggnanandhaa is still hoping to break Sergey Karjakin's record as the youngest GM in history. In round one he beat a German IM, and in round two will face top Brit Michael Adams

IM Praggnanandhaa is one to watch in IoM | Photo: John Saunders

Results for round one (top 30)

Bo. Title Name Rtg Result Title Name Rtg
1 GM Carlsen Magnus 2827 1-0   Birkisson Bardur Orn 2164
2 GM Anand Viswanathan 2794 1-0 IM Esserman Marc 2453
3 GM Neelotpal Das 2448 0-1 GM Nakamura Hikaru 2781
4 GM Adams Michael 2738 1-0   Bianco Valerio 2086
5 GM Adhiban B. 2670 ½-½ GM Gelfand Boris 2737
6 GM Eljanov Pavel 2734 1-0 GM Arkell Keith C 2415
7 GM Aravindh Chithambaram 2573 0-1 GM Vallejo Pons Francisco 2716
8 GM Almasi Zoltan 2707 ½-½ GM L'ami Erwin 2611
9 GM Brunello Sabino 2555 ½-½ GM Naiditsch Arkadij 2702
10 GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 2702 ½-½ GM Svane Rasmus 2595
11 IM Hemant Sharma 2342 0-1 GM Howell David W L 2701
12 GM Short Nigel D 2698 1-0 WIM Osmanodja Filiz 2245
13   Harari Zaki 2027 ½-½ GM Rodshtein Maxim 2695
14 GM Sutovsky Emil 2683 1-0 FM Yoo Christopher Woojin 2254
15 IM Cornette Deimante 2404 0-1 GM Leko Peter 2679
16 GM Kasimdzhanov Rustam 2676 1-0 IM Rudolf Anna 2286
17 GM Timman Jan H 2573 ½-½ GM Rapport Richard 2675
18 GM Movsesian Sergei 2671 ½-½ IM Harsha Bharathakoti 2394
19 GM Kosteniuk Alexandra 2552 ½-½ GM Hou Yifan 2670
20 GM Jones Gawain 2668 ½-½ IM Brown Michael William 2499
21 GM Wagner Dennis 2564 ½-½ GM Riazantsev Alexander 2666
22 GM Akobian Varuzhan 2662 ½-½ IM Nihal Sarin 2483
23 FM Lorscheid Gerhard 2192 0-1 GM Fressinet Laurent 2657
24 GM Granda Zuniga Julio 2653 1-0   Hopson Kevin Mike 1929
25   Coathup Roger H 2125 0-1 GM Grandelius Nils 2653
26 GM Sargissian Gabriel 2652 1-0 GM Huschenbeth Niclas 2596
27   Acosta Mariano 1988 0-1 GM Xiong Jeffery 2633
28 GM Shirov Alexei 2630 1-0   Birkisson Bjorn Holm 2023
29 GM Caruana Fabiano 2799 1-0 GM Kramnik Vladimir 2803
30   Kavinda Akila 2099 0-1 GM Bok Benjamin 2620

Top pairings for round two

Bo. No.   Name Rtg Pts. Result Pts.   Name Rtg No.
1 57 GM Perelshteyn Eugene 2524 1   1 GM Carlsen Magnus 2827 1
2 58 IM Lubbe Nikolas 2515 1   1 GM Caruana Fabiano 2799 3
3 59 IM Lampert Jonas 2514 1   1 GM Anand Viswanathan 2794 4
4 5 GM Nakamura Hikaru 2781 1   1 GM Olafsson Helgi 2512 60
5 61 IM Praggnanandhaa R 2500 1   1 GM Adams Michael 2738 6
6 71 IM Visakh N R 2458 1   1 GM Eljanov Pavel 2734 8
7 9 GM Vallejo Pons Francisco 2716 1   1 GM Panchanathan Magesh Chandran 2481 64
8 13 GM Howell David W L 2701 1   1 IM Batsiashvili Nino 2472 68
9 81 IM Gaponenko Inna 2437 1   1 GM Short Nigel D 2698 14
10 89 IM Wallace John Paul 2413 1   1 GM Sutovsky Emil 2683 16
11 17 GM Leko Peter 2679 1   1 IM Christiansen Johan-Sebastian 2457 72
12 91 IM Degtiarev Evgeny 2412 1   1 GM Kasimdzhanov Rustam 2676 18
13 26 GM Fressinet Laurent 2657 1   1 IM Yankelevich Lev 2443 79
14 95 IM Roberson Peter T 2403 1   1 GM Granda Zuniga Julio E 2653 27
15 28 GM Grandelius Nils 2653 1   1 IM Zatonskih Anna 2424 85
16 98 IM Houska Jovanka 2393 1   1 GM Sargissian Gabriel 2652 29
17 30 GM Xiong Jeffery 2633 1   1 IM Kojima Shinya 2403 94
18 102   Woellermann Jan 2384 1   1 GM Shirov Alexei 2630 31
19 32 GM Bok Benjamin 2620 1   1 IM Eggleston David J 2400 96
20 105 IM Krishna C R G 2367 1   1 GM Sethuraman S.P. 2617 33


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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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Balthus Balthus 9/26/2017 12:56
Fourth game for Yifan against another woman out of four… Very unlucky, or is it bad short-term karma? Also, no article about the event since Rd. 1? What are you doing, Chessbase?!
Sutek002 Sutek002 9/25/2017 11:57
@Mark S, Baku acceleration was designed for 9 round norm tournaments and consists of giving players in the top half a virtual point for the rounds 1-3, which is reduced to half a point for rounds 4-5 before being removed for rounds 6-9. In round 1 this means that the top quarter of players are paired with players in the second quarter rather than the third, thereby significantly reducing the rating differences in large Open tournaments.

Otto Milvang analysed 11 different acceleration pairing approaches and concluded that the above scheme (which he suggested be named Baku acceleration) worked very well and was so simple that it is his recommended approach for large 9 round Swiss Open tournaments (refer to for his paper). Subsequently this scheme was approved by FIDE (see, so it's surprising that the organisers of the Isle of Man International tournament didn't adopt it if they were trying to have a more exciting first round.
chessdrummer chessdrummer 9/25/2017 11:40
oldsalt7... you should also primarily play players 100 ELO less than you so they can get good practice. Sound exciting?
oldsalt7 oldsalt7 9/25/2017 10:48
Hou should play the ladies also and not grumble. Give the ladies a chance to take on 'The Lady'.
ngnn ngnn 9/25/2017 04:05
Funny anecdote by Saunders. But I'd be curious to hear how exactly the conversation continued - I suppose the arbiter realised at some point that it's not just any random Norwegian chess tourist who's registrating...
Balthus Balthus 9/25/2017 03:04
The third female opponent for Yihan in as many games. In an open tournament. It cannot be an unbiased Swiss now, can it?…
Mark S Mark S 9/25/2017 09:20
Sutek002 would be nice if you can expound on what Baku acceleration is.
Sutek002 Sutek002 9/24/2017 01:00
While I generally welcome innovations, in my view having such random round 1 pairings is going too far because it meant that the top seeds had totally different pairings in round 1 which is unfair.

I think that a better solution to avoid the likelihood of having a dull first round in a big Open tournament is to use Baku acceleration since that significantly reduces the rating differences in round 1.