Grand Swiss: Caruana leads, six potential candidates

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/21/2019 – The FIDE Grand Swiss is coming to an end and the tension continues to rise as those fighting for the Candidates spot have assumed a do-or-die attitude in Douglas. Seven out of the eight top games finished decisively in round ten. After the mayhem, Fabiano Caruana emerged as sole leader, while wins by Magnus Carlsen, Wang Hao, Kirill Alekseenko, David Howell and Nikita Vitiugov left them still with chances to take first place. The other two contenders are Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian, who drew their direct encounter. Round-up show by GM SIMON WILLIAMS. | Photo: John Saunders

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All in

The FIDE Grand Swiss is an eleven-round event that serves as qualifier to the 2020 Candidates Tournament. It takes place from the 10th to the 21st of October, with a rest day on the 16th. You can find more info here. 

It is the home stretch of the Grand Swiss, and the contenders for the big prize — a spot in the Candidates — know this is their chance to shine at the main stage of the chess world. Round ten illustrated perfectly what happens when some of the strongest players in the world go all in, betting all their chips when the situation requires them to do so. Seven decisive results on the top eight boards left six players still with chances to get the coveted ticket.

Co-leaders after nine rounds Nakamura and Aronian signed a 31-move draw on board two and remain in the race. They will have stiff competition in the final round though, as Wang Hao, Kirill Alekseenko, David Howell and Nikita Vitiugov are also on 7 out of 10 thanks to their wins on Sunday.

In the meantime, the two highest-rated players on the planet showed what they are made of — despite having secured their spots in the World Championship cycle a long time ago. Caruana leads the competition after beating David Anton, while Carlsen tied Ding Liren's 100-game unbeaten streak with a victory over Maxim Matlakov. 

Magnus Carlsen

World champion Magnus Carlsen lost a classical game for the last time in July 2018 | Photo: John Saunders

These are the relevant pairings for Monday's deciding round, which will kick off one and a half hours earlier, at 12:30 UTC (14:30 CEST):

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Nakamura Hikaru 7   Caruana Fabiano
Aronian Levon 7   7 Carlsen Magnus
Alekseenko Kirill 7   7 Vitiugov Nikita
Wang Hao 7   7 Howell David W L

At this point, it is critical to mention the tiebreak criteria used in the Grand Swiss. The first decider is known as AROC (average rating of opponents). With the pairings for round eleven already published, we know who will have prevalence over the rest in case of a tie — the average ratings are in parentheses:

  1. Wang Hao (2725)
  2. Alekseenko (2701)
  3. Aronian (2700)
  4. Nakamura (2670)
  5. Vitiugov (2659)
  6. Howell (2641)

Of course, facing 2876-rated Carlsen is the main booster for this criterion. Unfortunately for Aronian though, having to play the world champion in the last round was not enough to surpass Alekseenko's some decimal points. Nevertheless, even Howell could get the spot in the Candidates if all the other contenders draw or lose and he manages to win. It all comes down to those last four games.

Levon Aronian, Hikaru Nakamura

Will either of these two long-time members of the elite reach the Candidates? — Levon Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura | Photo: John Saunders

Round ten highlights

The first one to join the group on seven points was Wang Hao, who took down Vishy Anand with Black in merely 27 moves. No one can deny that the Chinese has deservedly earned his spot as the favourite on tiebreaks, showing first-rate chess from start to finish on the Isle of Man. A painful loss in round seven against Aronian was the one major hiccup that prevented him from getting to the last round with an even better prospect.

Wang played the Petroff and later declared that this perhaps threw Anand off, given the tournament situation. The former world champion was facing a deeply prepared opponent in the kind of position you need to know specific lines. The "Tiger of Madras" overplayed his hand by going for the win and lost the thread on move 24:


White needs to be extremely careful here. Anand, instead, went forward with 24.e6, and after 24...xf5 25.a3 left his rook out of play on the queenside. There followed 25...c4 26.exf7+ xf7 27.c3 a5 28.xe4 cf6 and White resigned. The threats to enter on f1 and the out-of-play rook are more than enough justification to throw in the towel.

Wang Hao

Wang Hao prepared the Petroff using correspondence games | Photo: Maria Emelianova /

The second one joining the winners' circle was David Howell. The player from Eastbourne had an eventful tournament so far, losing against Baadur Jobava and Adhiban in rounds one and five, but compensating with three straight wins in rounds eight to ten. His latest victim was none other than Alexander Grischuk. Naturally, it was time trouble havoc, with perhaps the two players of the elite most addicted to being left with seconds on their clocks facing each other!

Howell confessed that he has not been checking the pairings the night before the rounds, as it prevents him from getting to the games fresh enough. But his round ten opponent came as a nice 'surprise', as he later admitted that Grischuk is both a hero of his and one of the few players from the top he had not ever played in the past. 

The Englishman decided which move to open the game with just five minutes before the round — a time trouble addict all the way — and spent close to an hour on moves 10 to 12. Of course, Grischuk responded in kind, using 35 and 20 minutes on his next two decisions. 

White had a more comfortable position, and the Russian faltered decisively on move 22. Despite having seconds on his clock, Howell converted his advantage with admirable precision.


Fiona Steil-Antoni, David Howell

Interviewer Fiona Steil-Antoni is good friends with David Howell | Photo: Maria Emelianova /

The next '1-0' was scored by Nikita Vitiugov, who took down his compatriot Aleksandr Rakhmanov in a game that kicked off with 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.f3 a6 and the unpopular 4.c5. Vitiugov was in for an over-the-board fight and the strategy served him well as he handled the pressure better than his lesser-known opponent. The decisive mistake came on move 27, when both Russians were already slightly hurried by the clock:


Rakhmanov's 27...d7 was a rather timid attempt, when precisely the opposite was called for — Vitiugov showed that 27...f5 was the right way to go here, when White would have needed a lot of precision to increase his advantage. The game continued 28.h4, and 28...a7 was already the decisive mistake, as it gave way to the good-looking 29.xe6, winning. Rakhmanov resigned two moves after the time control.

Nikita Vitiugov

Nikita Vitiugov | Photo: Maria Emelianova /

Not long after Howell's victory, Caruana grabbed the lead by converting a superior endgame against David Anton, who surprisingly went for a line in which Black has to suffer in defence from an early stage. By this time of day, the commentators already knew what would be the likely pairings for the last round. Fiona Steil-Antoni pointed out to Caruana that he would be facing his long-time rival Hikaru Nakamura. This is what Caruana had to say about it:

Well it's sort of a must-win for him I guess. [...] I'm not playing for qualification, so I guess there's less pressure on me, but still I want to finish well.


David Anton, Fabiano Caruana

David Anton lost his chances by losing against an in-form Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Maria Emelianova /

Perhaps the most exciting game of the round was Carlsen's victory over Maxim Matlakov. This was also the world champion's hundredth unbeaten classical game...but that did not prevent him from leaving the playing hall rather disappointed with his performance. This is why:


The black pieces are out of play, and all Matlakov has in his favour is some initiative on the kingside. At this point, Carlsen could leave his g3-bishop hanging and continue playing in the centre with 27.e5. But the world champion went for 27.xf4 and had to fight to recover his advantage. The curiosity of it all is that the Norwegian had seen 27.e5 in advance and was very much planning to play it — Carlsen recounted how he went to the bathroom, came back and instantly recaptured on f4, only to quickly realize what had just happened.

A visibly disquieted Carlsen later confessed that he "could not really calm down", but he nonetheless got the full point after converting an ending with a queen against a rook and a bishop. Matlakov tried to create a fortress, but the world champion "knew it was not a fortress" and, with fine technique, went on to show why.

Maxim Matlakov, Magnus Carlsen

Maxim Matlakov tried to set up a fortress but could not succeed in doing so | Photo: Maria Emelianova /

Also a long day at the office had Kirill Alekseenko, who said it was a great honour to have beaten Russia's number one Sergey Karjakin with the black pieces, a player he had never faced before. Much like in the other encounter between Russians, the players stepped away from mainstream theory early in the game. Alekseenko spent no less than 41 minutes on move 6:


The 22-year-old from Saint Petersburg took his time considering 6...c6 because he knew that Karjakin could continue with 7.c4, when Black is given a chance to go for a sharp struggle at an early stage:


Alekseenko now used 22 minutes before deciding on 7...f6, and White's best alternative is to give up the knight with 8.cxd5. Of course, Karjakin is not one to shy away from complications and opted for this variation. 

When asked about this sequence, Alekseenko explained that he spent a lot of time calculating all the way down to 16...c4, when Black can consolidate his material edge. The game followed his calculations, and slowly but surely Black got the upper hand. Karjakin tried to defend an ending with rook and bishop versus rook and an extra pawn, but to no avail. Resignation came on move 89.

Kirill Alekseenko

Kirill Alekseenko will face his teammate Nikita Vitiugov in the last round | Photo: Maria Emelianova /

Round 10 round-up

GM Simon Williams reviews the highlights of the day

Commentary webcast 

Commentary by GM Daniel King and IM Anna Rudolf

Pairings for Round 11 (top 20 boards)

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Nakamura Hikaru 7   Caruana Fabiano
Aronian Levon 7   7 Carlsen Magnus
Alekseenko Kirill 7   7 Vitiugov Nikita
Wang Hao 7   7 Howell David W L
Paravyan David   Le Quang Liem
Anton Guijarro David   Hovhannisyan Robert
Kryvoruchko Yuriy 6   6 So Wesley
Robson Ray 6   6 Anand Viswanathan
Sevian Samuel 6   6 Yu Yangyi
Kovalev Vladislav 6   6 Karjakin Sergey
Grischuk Alexander 6   6 Gelfand Boris
Harikrishna Pentala 6   6 Leko Peter
Maghsoodloo Parham 6   6 Wojtaszek Radoslaw
Melkumyan Hrant 6   6 Svidler Peter
Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 6   6 Deac Bogdan-Daniel
Matlakov Maxim 6   6 Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son
Abasov Nijat 6   6 Xiong Jeffery
Grandelius Nils 6   6 Sethuraman S.P.
Rakhmanov Aleksandr 6   Inarkiev Ernesto
Oparin Grigoriy   Amin Bassem

...77 boards

All games of Round 10


All games available at


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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