Isle of Man: The show must go on

by Alex Yermolinsky
9/28/2017 – Through rain and snow.. or in this case controversy or duress, the competition proceeded, with few big surprises. Magnus Carlsen overcame Granda Zuniga as expected, and Fabiano Caruana also scored well. Meeting Carlsen next will be Pavel Eljanov, who defeated Rustam Kasimdzhanov and is the only other player with 4½/5. | Photo: Maria Emelianova /

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Carlsen making it look easy

As the tournament passed its mid-point today things seem to have settled down, as favorites continued their march largely unopposed by their yielding opposition. Some of the proceedings might have been slightly overshadowed by the pairings controversy, but the show must go on and it did. I'll start with a Carlsen win du jour. Sometimes it just looks so easy.

Just your typical day in a weekend swiss...Don't we all wish! | Photo: Maria Emelianova /

Magnus Carlsen vs Julio Granda Zuniga (annotated by Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "IOM Open-Masters 2017"] [Site "Douglas"] [Date "2017.09.27"] [Round "5"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Granda Zuniga, Julio E"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C42"] [WhiteElo "2827"] [BlackElo "2653"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "55"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bd3 Be7 7. O-O O-O ({ Obviously,} 7... Nc6 8. c4 ({Perhaps Carlsen planned} 8. Nbd2) 8... Nb4 { is main line theory, but Granda always seeks his own ways.}) 8. c4 ({Perhaps he had a point, as now the modern treatment} 8. Nbd2 {isn't effective without the black knight misplaced on c6.}) 8... Nf6 9. Nc3 {Carlsen is happy to play a standard IQP position, which may also come out of teh the exchange French with 3.c4, albeit here White is a tempo ahead.} Nc6 ({Against Adams back in 2008 Julio went} 9... dxc4 10. Bxc4 Nbd7 {leading essentually to the same thing after} 11. Re1 Nb6 12. Bb3 c6 {etc. That game ended in a draw, but today Granda faced a tougher test.}) 10. cxd5 Nb4 11. Re1 Nbxd5 12. h3 c6 13. a3 { [#] Somehow this type of position is harder to defend than its sister type with the black pawn on e6. Bc8 has no squares to go to, and White faces no pressure on the c-file.} Re8 {That rook is better off staying put to keep the f7-pawn cozy and warm.} ({The strength of White's position is well illustrated by a typical sac} 13... h6 14. Qc2 Be6 15. Rxe6 $5 {not forced} fxe6 16. Qe2 $14 {which has been seen in GM practice.}) ({I'd recommend avoiding the h7-h6 move altogether.} 13... Qc7 14. Qc2 (14. Bc2 Bd6 15. Qd3 g6 16. Bh6 Rd8 17. Bg5 Rf8 {aiming at ...Bf5 or ...Bf4}) 14... Bd6 $1 (14... h6 15. Ne5 Be6 16. Bd2 Rad8 17. Qc1 {with a hard to meet threat of Bxh6.}) (14... g6 15. Bh6 Rd8 16. Bg5 Be6 {and again White can consider} 17. Rxe6 fxe6 {this time with} 18. Bxg6 {to follow.}) 15. Ne5 (15. Nxd5 cxd5 16. Qxc7 Bxc7 17. Bg5 Ne4 $1 {A typical pawn sac to alleviate the pressure. Black has good chances to hold, even against Magnus Carlsen.}) 15... Be6 {Now, as the e-file is blocked it is safe to play this move.} 16. f4 Rad8 {etc.}) 14. Qc2 h6 15. Nxd5 Nxd5 16. Ne5 Bd6 { [#]} (16... Nf6 17. Bc4 Nd5 18. Qb3 Qb6 19. Qg3 $1 {and once again Black comes to regret the h7-h6 move.} ({Of course,} 19. Bxd5 $2 cxd5 20. Qxd5 Be6 21. Qe4 Rad8 {is a dream position for Black.})) 17. Bh7+ $1 {It's one thing when a rank beginner gives a check like this, but a whole different ballgame when it's done by the World Champion.} Kf8 18. Bd2 {The thing is, Black can hardly consider trading on e5 because the a3-f8 diagonal must be guarded.} Be6 19. Re2 {[#]} Nf6 $2 {Played after a long think, and as it often happens, it turned out to be wrong.} ({Black's main priority is to get his pieces out. Granted, after} 19... Qf6 20. f4 Rad8 (20... Nxf4 $2 21. Bxf4 Qxf4 22. Ng6+ fxg6 23. Rf1 ) 21. Rf1 {he remains under pressure, but there are no threats yet, so he continues with} Bc7 {and hopes for the best.}) 20. Rae1 Qc7 {[#]} (20... Bd5 21. Bf4 a5 22. Qd3 a4 23. Qg3 {and it's about to crack open.}) {Now the game is going to be decided by simple means.} 21. Ng6+ $1 fxg6 22. Rxe6 Nxh7 (22... Rxe6 23. Rxe6 Nxh7 24. Rxd6 {will win the g6-pawn anyway.}) 23. Rxe8+ Rxe8 24. Rxe8+ Kxe8 25. Qxg6+ Kd8 ({After the objectively best} 25... Kf8 26. Qxh7 Qf7 27. Qe4 Kg8 28. g3 {Magnus would have faced a technical task. Anyone to bet against him?}) 26. Qxh7 Qe7 27. g3 Kc7 28. Qg6 {Julio didn't bother trying to delay the inevitable.} 1-0

Not be outdone was Caruana. Fabiano faced Jeffery Xiong, who appears to be fighting his own demons, since his rating and more importantly, the quality of his chess are but a pale shadow of what they were a year ago.

The games between the two players have been fascinating, but Fabiano Caruana took the day in round five | Photo: John Saunders

Fabiano Caruana vs Jeffery Xiong (annotated by Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "IOM Open-Masters 2017"] [Site "Douglas"] [Date "2017.09.27"] [Round "5"] [White "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Black "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D41"] [WhiteElo "2799"] [BlackElo "2633"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "63"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 d5 4. d4 c5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 Nxc3 7. bxc3 cxd4 8. cxd4 Bb4+ 9. Bd2 Bxd2+ 10. Qxd2 O-O 11. Bc4 {[#] In my opinion, Jeffery made a bad choice of opening against a stronger opponent.} b6 ({The old method is} 11... Nc6 12. O-O b6 13. Rad1 Na5 14. Bd3 Bb7 15. Rfe1 Rc8 (15... Qe7 {was played by Jussupow on a couple of occasions. Objectively speaking, Black is just worse, but he's still in the game.}) 16. d5 exd5 17. e5 {was the famous game Polugaevsky-Tal, 1969.}) (11... Nd7 12. O-O b6 {is what Kramnik has been playing with some degree of success, but even the mighty Vlad had a hard time defending against Carlsen (twice in 2016) and Aronian (earlier this year).}) 12. d5 $1 {Even stronger than the usual} (12. O-O Bb7 {which gives Black a chance to transpose.}) 12... Ba6 13. Bxa6 Nxa6 14. d6 Nc5 15. e5 {[#] Who wants to play this position with Black?} Qd7 ({I don't know if Mecking got this far by design or accident, but he survived against Korchnoi in Hastings 1971 by playing} 15... f6 16. O-O Rf7 17. Rad1 Rc8 18. Qe3 Rd7 {mainly because Victor went for a kill with} 19. exf6 gxf6 20. Nd4 {perhaps a bit too soon.}) 16. O-O Rad8 17. Rad1 Qa4 18. Rfe1 f6 {Without this attempt to break out Black is simply devoid of any prospects. His Q-side pawns must stay put in order to support his only good piece, Nc5.} 19. Qe2 fxe5 20. Nxe5 Rf4 (20... Nd7 { seemed more logical, although Black is getting nowhere after} 21. Rd2 Nxe5 ( 21... Rf5 22. Nf3 Re8 23. h4) 22. Qxe5 Qd7 23. h4 Rf6 24. Re3 {White will continue with his build-up with no worry in the world.}) 21. d7 $1 h6 22. g3 Rf5 23. Rd6 Rxe5 {On top of everything else, Xiong was running out of time.} ( 23... Kh7 24. Red1 Ne4 25. R6d4 Nc3 26. Qg4 {wouldn't be much of an improvement.}) 24. Qxe5 Rxd7 25. Rxd7 Qxd7 26. Qe2 Qd4 27. Rd1 Qf6 28. h4 Kh8 29. h5 Qg5 30. Qf3 Kh7 31. Rd4 Qe5 32. Rd8 {Another horrendously passive game from the young American star, on par with his effort against Carlsen a couple of days ago.} 1-0

I think Xiong's struggles are just what they are: growing pains. Although some revamping of his opening repertoire might help Jeffery to break out of it.

Another good win was notched today by Hikaru Nakamura, who easily thwarted his opponent's attempts to attack. Gabriel Sargissian was a star of the great Armenian Olympic teams of 2006-2012, but unlike his teammate Levon Aronian, lately he's been struggling to elevate his game.

There was a smooth win by Pavel Eljanov over Rustam Kasimdzhanov, and a less smooth draw adding to Vladimir Kramnik's struggles. Today Kramnik had another rating-shedding result by drawing IM Lawrence Trent. Formerly Caruana's manager, these days Lawrence is known as a chess web streaming star, but seemingly he hasn't quite forgotten where to move his pieces. It's not as big an upset as James Tarjan produced the day before yesterday, but still. I can't wait for the guy in work overalls who moves boxes backstage to show up to play Kramnik tomorrow.

Rustam Kasimdzhanov lost to Pavel Eljanov in a good game by the Ukrainian. Eljanov will now meet Carlsen in round six | Photo: Maria Emelianova /

Returning to his roots, IM Lawrence Trent was quick to take advantage of Vladimir Kramnik's out-of-sorts to score a draw | Photo: John Saunders

A couple more snippets featuring old guys beating up on today's overachievers.

Emil Sutovsky vs Nicolas Huschenbeth (annotated by Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "IOM Open-Masters 2017"] [Site "Douglas"] [Date "2017.09.27"] [Round "5"] [White "Sutovsky, Emil"] [Black "Huschenbeth, Niclas"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B99"] [WhiteElo "2683"] [BlackElo "2596"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "47"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Be7 8. Qf3 Qc7 9. O-O-O Nbd7 10. g4 b5 11. Bxf6 Nxf6 12. g5 Nd7 13. f5 {[#] The good old Sicilian killer line dating back to the 1960's} O-O ({Most efforts to uphold Black's defenses have been focused on} 13... Bxg5+ 14. Kb1 Ne5 (14... O-O 15. fxe6 Nb6 16. Nd5 Nxd5 17. exd5 fxe6 18. Qg4 e5 19. Qxg5 exd4 20. Bd3 g6 21. h4 {is just depressing. Black deals with a permamnent weakness of his king without a trace of counterplay.}) 15. Qh5 Qd8 {and here White chooses between} 16. Nxe6 (16. h4) ({and} 16. Rg1)) 14. h4 b4 15. Nce2 Bb7 ({The relatively better choice is to accept a slightly worse position after} 15... e5 16. f6 exd4 17. fxe7 Re8 18. Nxd4 Ne5 19. Qf2 Qxe7 $14) 16. Kb1 Rac8 17. Bh3 e5 ({ or here he could have gone for} 17... Nc5 18. fxe6 (18. Ng3 $5) 18... Bxe4 19. exf7+ Rxf7 20. Qe3 Bxh1 21. Bxc8 Qxc8 22. Rxh1 Qg4) 18. f6 exd4 ({One last chance was to shed material in order to stop White's attack.} 18... Nxf6 $5 19. gxf6 Bxf6 20. Bxc8 Rxc8 {[#]} 21. Nb3 Qxc2+ 22. Ka1 Bxe4 23. Qf1 Bxh1 24. Rc1 Qxc1+ 25. Nexc1 Bb7 26. Qd1 {no doubt White is better here, but there's a possibility he might get confused.}) 19. fxe7 Rfe8 20. Nxd4 Rxe7 {[#]} 21. Nf5 $1 {The fearless leader of the ACP sets an example for all of us to follow. He fears no ghost of losing the c2-pawn with check.} Rxe4 (21... Re6 22. Nh6+ gxh6 23. Bxe6 fxe6 24. gxh6 {is bad for Black:} Qxc2+ 25. Ka1 Bxe4 26. Rhg1+ Bg6 27. h5 {etc.}) 22. Nxd6 Rd4 ({In case of} 22... Qxc2+ 23. Ka1 Re2 24. Qxf7+ Kh8 25. Qb3 {beats off the desperate counterattack and simply wins material,} Qxb3 26. axb3 Bxh1 27. Nxc8) 23. Qxf7+ Kh8 24. Nxc8 1-0

Security is done diligently to make sure no smartphones or electronic devices are found. | Photo: Maria Emelianova /

Ivan Sokolov vs Maxim Rodshtein (annotated by Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "IOM Open-Masters 2017"] [Site "Douglas"] [Date "2017.09.27"] [Round "5"] [White "Sokolov, Ivan"] [Black "Rodshtein, Maxim"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E15"] [WhiteElo "2603"] [BlackElo "2695"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "111"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Ba6 5. b3 Bb4+ 6. Bd2 Be7 7. Bg2 ({Current fashion is all about} 7. Nc3 {which may transpose to the game should Black choose to answer it with} d5 (7... O-O 8. Bg2 c6 9. e4 d5 10. exd5 cxd5 11. Ne5 {proved to be troublesome for Black. Great battles between Aronian and Karjakin in 2013-14 shed some light on this complex setup.})) 7... O-O (7... c6 8. Bc3 d5 {is a more solid line, championed by Karpov, Kramnik and Anand in the past, and Karjakin (but only until 2016!).}) 8. O-O d5 9. cxd5 exd5 10. Nc3 Re8 {This is a new twist on the decades old pawn structure prepared by Sergey Karjakin for the 2016 Candidates.} 11. Rc1 {Old hand Sokolov wisely waits for Black to commit his Nb8.} ({The point of Re8 is to prepare a knight transfer to e6,} 11. Ne5 Bb7 12. Qc2 Nbd7 13. Bf4 Nf8 14. Nb5 Ne6 {as in Nakamura-Karjakin, 2017.}) 11... Bb7 12. Bf4 Na6 (12... c6 13. Ne5 Nbd7 { is more in the line with Karjakin's approach. Black defends successfully in case of} 14. e4 Nf8 {as in recent games of Zhigalko.}) 13. Ne5 c6 14. h4 Ba3 ({ Problem is, now} 14... Nc7 {[#] gets a rude welcome in} 15. Nxc6 $3 Bxc6 16. Bxc7 Qxc7 17. Nxd5 Nxd5 18. Bxd5 {and even} Bc5 $5 {won't save Black:} 19. dxc5 Bxd5 20. Qxd5 Rad8 21. Qf3 bxc5 22. Rfd1 $18) (14... Nh5 $5 {One way to play this position is to attack Bf4.}) 15. Rc2 Bd6 16. e3 $1 {No more h5-sqaure for your knight, friend.} Rc8 17. Rd2 Nc7 18. g4 $6 {[#] True to his ambitious style, Ivan unfolds a grandiose concept of advancing his K-side pawns.} ({ A meek} 18. Nd3 {was rejected on sight.}) 18... Bb4 ({There was a refutation to it, but Maxim had to act energetically.} 18... c5 $1 19. g5 cxd4 20. exd4 Ne6 $1 {suddenly hitting Nc3.}) 19. Rc2 Ne6 $6 {Stopping half-way on his path.} ({I thought the idea was} 19... Bxc3 20. Rxc3 Ne4) 20. Bg3 Nd7 ({Last call for } 20... c5 $1) 21. Nd3 Bf8 22. f4 $3 {Sokolov leaves his pawn back on e3 to facilitate his plans.} Ba6 $2 ({Still, no} 22... c5 {How come?}) 23. Re1 Bd6 24. Nf2 Qe7 25. Rc1 Ba3 $2 {Black's meandering leaves an impression Rodshtein simply didn't know what to do.} 26. f5 $1 {An important step forward.} Nef8 27. Rc2 Bd6 28. Qf3 h6 {[#]} 29. e4 $1 {This thematic break and the rest of the game emphasize the power of centralization. White's pieces are simply better placed for action as a unit than Black's scattered army of confused individuals.} Bxg3 30. Qxg3 Qb4 31. Rd1 dxe4 (31... Bb7 32. e5 c5 33. g5 hxg5 34. Nxd5 Bxd5 35. Bxd5 cxd4 36. Rxc8 Rxc8 37. f6 {with powerful attack.}) 32. Ncxe4 c5 33. Rcd2 $1 ({It was unnecessary to allow} 33. Nd6 Re1+) 33... c4 34. g5 $1 hxg5 35. hxg5 Nh7 36. Nd6 c3 37. g6 $1 Ng5 38. gxf7+ Nxf7 39. Bd5 cxd2 40. Bxf7+ Kf8 41. Bxe8 Rc1 42. Bxd7 {Time control has been made and it's game over.} Qxd4 43. Kh2 Rxd1 44. Nxd1 Be2 45. Ne3 d1=Q 46. Nxd1 Bxd1 47. Bc6 Bc2 48. Bg2 a6 49. Ne4 Bxe4 50. Qb8+ Kf7 51. Qf4 Qb2 52. Qxe4 Qxa2 53. Qe6+ Kf8 54. Qxb6 Qe2 55. Qd6+ Kf7 56. Qe6+ 1-0

On the young prodigy side, 12 year-old IM Praggnanandhaa scored an important win against David Howell when the double rook endgame ended in a comedy of errors in the Indian's favor.

Praggnanandhaa 1-0 Howell | Photo: John Saunders

Tournament standings after five rounds (top 30)

Rk. Name  TB1 
1 Carlsen Magnus 4,5
  Eljanov Pavel 4,5
3 Caruana Fabiano 4,0
  Nakamura Hikaru 4,0
  Adams Michael 4,0
  Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 4,0
  Sutovsky Emil 4,0
  Rapport Richard 4,0
  Fressinet Laurent 4,0
  Sethuraman S.P. 4,0
  Sokolov Ivan 4,0
  Lenderman Aleksandr 4,0
  Harsha Bharathakoti 4,0
14 Anand Viswanathan 3,5
  Vallejo Pons Francisco 3,5
  Short Nigel D 3,5
  Leko Peter 3,5
  Kasimdzhanov Rustam 3,5
  Movsesian Sergei 3,5
  Jones Gawain C B 3,5
  Riazantsev Alexander 3,5
  Granda Zuniga Julio E 3,5
  Grandelius Nils 3,5
  L'ami Erwin 3,5
  Svane Rasmus 3,5
  Tari Aryan 3,5
  Aravindh Chithambaram Vr. 3,5
  Timman Jan H 3,5
  Wagner Dennis 3,5

Top pairings for round six

Name Pts. Name
Eljanov Pavel Carlsen Magnus
Sutovsky Emil 4 Caruana Fabiano
Nakamura Hikaru 4 Lenderman Aleksandr
Fressinet Laurent 4 Adams Michael
Harsha Bharathakoti 4 Vidit Santosh Gujrathi
Anand Viswanathan Sethuraman S.P.
Vallejo Pons Francisco Timman Jan H
Donchenko Alexander Short Nigel D
Leko Peter Aravindh Chithambaram Vr.
Vishnu Prasanna. V Kasimdzhanov Rustam
Rathnakaran K. Movsesian Sergei
Rudolf Anna Jones Gawain C B
Riazantsev Alexander Deac Bogdan-Daniel
Granda Zuniga Julio E Wagner Dennis
Grandelius Nils Praggnanandhaa R
L'ami Erwin Brown Michael William
Svane Rasmus Batsiashvili Nino
Swapnil S. Dhopade Tari Aryan
Gelfand Boris 3 Zatonskih Anna
Huschenbeth Niclas 3 Almasi Zoltan
Naiditsch Arkadij 3 Ju Wenjun
Rodshtein Maxim 3 Pichot Alan
Sunilduth Lyna Narayanan 3 Adhiban B.
Hou Yifan 3 Panchanathan Magesh Chandran
Akobian Varuzhan 3 Khmelniker Ilya


Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.
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Álvaro Pereira Álvaro Pereira 9/30/2017 12:55
As usual, top class comments on the games by Yermo.
Cyric Renner Cyric Renner 9/29/2017 04:17
I am calling B.S. on Carlsen's opponent's resigning with plenty of play still in the position. Is this fix in here ? Nothing is inevitable in chess. No way would I ever resign with Black in the position Granda tossed in the sponge. I don't care who I am playing. It happened in the next round too. This time it was Eljanov's time to pull a Sonny Liston. This is disgraceful conduct.
Aighearach Aighearach 9/28/2017 09:40
Jeffery Xiong's peak rating was 2667 in January this year, and it is now 2633; well within the normal ratings swing that players see. The comments in the article remind me of when Topalov claimed to be a whole rating category stronger than Kramnik, right before their match!
pompeaux pompeaux 9/28/2017 07:20
I wonder how many of these Isle of Man players are into Cosmetic Neurology, or cognition-enhancing drugs? The trend for taking such drugs hasn't peaked yet!

"A placebo-controlled study suggesting that cognition-enhancing drugs (CEs) can improve a chess player’s performance and a related survey indicating that nearly 10% of ranked..." - Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA Sept 5, 2017.
Magic_Knight Magic_Knight 9/28/2017 02:51
LOL....can't believe Yermo made that comment about "guy in work overalls who moves boxes backstage to show up to play Kramnik" next! Bahahahhaha.

Okay, admittedly this is a little below the belt.