Grand Swiss: Five-player leading pack

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/12/2019 – Fabiano Caruana, Wang Hao, Bu Xiangzhi, Alexei Shirov and Adhiban Baskaran are the only five players left with a perfect score after two rounds at the FIDE Grand Swiss. World champion Magnus Carlsen was held to a draw by Alexey Sarana and is now one of forty-five players on 1½ out of 2. Upsets kept turning up on Friday, as the plot begins to unfold in the Isle of Man. GM YANNICK PELLETIER looked at the highlights from round two. | Photo: Maria Emelianova /

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A blast from the past

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. 

Despite the extensive list of players registered, no more than five of them have managed to score two consecutive victories at the Grand Swiss. Furthermore, some of the top ten rating favourites are sitting on a 1 out of 2 score, either after drawing twice (So, Karjakin, Aronian, Harikrishna) or after losing game one and bouncing back with a win (Anand). No wonder this is the case — as has been mentioned time and again, 110 highly motivated players rated over 2600 are competing in Douglas.

FIDE Grand Swiss 2019

The players cannot complain about the view | Photo: John Saunders

Perhaps Alexei Shirov is the most unexpected member of the leading pack. Born in Riga, the living legend is now representing Spain after having played for Latvia between 2011 and 2018 (before that, he had a first period representing Spain beginning in 1996). Shirov was rated number two in the world in January 1994 and four years later defeated Vladimir Kramnik in a ten-game match to select a challenger for world champion Garry Kasparov.

The author of the acclaimed two-part book series Fire on Board kicked off the event with a win over Alina Kashlinskaya, last edition's top scorer among the women. Against Erwin l'Ami in round two, Shirov played the French Defence and neutralized all of White's active plans. Already on the back foot positionally, l'Ami lost a pawn tactically:


21...xe5 is a nice shot. White's f3-knight is both defending the queen and can be captured with check, giving Black an extra tempo — in case of 22.dxe5, the queen would fork king and knights with 22...♛xg4. In the game, the queens were traded and Black entered a very favourable endgame a pawn up. Soon enough, Shirov gobbled up another pawn, and in the pure bishop versus knight ending he got to use a famous trick of his:


Over twenty years ago, in Linares 1998, Shirov had played one of the most celebrated sacrifices in an endgame, giving up his bishop on h3 in order to advance his passers against Veselin Topalov's helpless king and bishop duo. This time, 36...a4 was more of an obvious choice, but nonetheless a fine aesthetic manoeuvre. White resigned after 37.f4 d2 38.e2 xb3 39.xd2 c4.

Alexei Shirov, Erwin l'Ami, Nils Grandelius, Baadur Jobava

Nils Grandelius walking on the background; Baadur Jobava on the next board; Erwin l'Ami discussing the French with Shirov | Photo: Maria Emelianova /

More from the co-leaders

The remaining four players on 2 out of 2 also showed a keen tactical eye to make use of the opportunities laid in front of them by their opponents. World number two Fabiano Caruana and Adhiban Baskaran (a.k.a. The Beast) ended their games with quiet yet lethal moves.


Caruana pushed his younger compatriot Samuel Sevian to resign with 53.f3. Notice that Black cannot even go for a stalemate, sacrificing his rook repeatedly while checking the white king, as his a-pawn is still alive — in those lines, White gives mate despite Black getting a new queen.


Meanwhile, Adhiban did not fall for the last trap set by Jeffery Xiong. Black cannot capture the rook with 34...hxg6, as the white queen can endlessly check the king from the light squares (h3, c6, e8). Instead, the Indian grandmaster opted for the correct 34...e4, both threatening the g6-rook and a killer entrance on e1.

Samuel Sevian, Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano Caruana beat American rising star Samuel Sevian | Photo: John Saunders

Also on a perfect score are two Chinese stars that have been around for quite a while. Wang Hao (b. 1989) and Bu Xiangzhi (b. 1985) are forces to be reckoned with: Wang won the 2012 Biel Tournament ahead of none other than Magnus Carlsen, while Bu actually knocked the world champion out of the 2017 World Cup in Batumi. 

Speaking of the world champion, it was another tough day at the office for the Norwegian. He played a system that has served him well this year — the Sicilian Sveshnikov — but ended up on the worse side of a 52-move draw against Alexey Sarana. Credit must be given to the Russian, who did not shy away from going into a theoretical line of a well-known weapon of Carlsen's. In the post-game interview with Fiona Steil-Antoni, Sarana declared that he did not understand why other players do not use this approach against the world champion.

Magnus Carlsen, Alexey Sarana

Magnus Carlsen and Alexey Sarana | Photo: Maria Emelianova /

A good day for women, and other news

Some of the top guns that only drew on day one got to 'plus one' on Friday. Notably, on boards 21-24, four 2700+ players won with the white pieces. Defending champion Radoslaw Wojtaszek beat Aryan Tari, Hikaru Nakamura defeated Axel Bachmann, Peter Svidler got the better of Mircea-Emilian Parligras and Maxim Matlakov scored a full point against Varuzhan Akobian.

Nakamura showed his win to Steil-Antoni, who asked him whether he felt the pressure of this being his last chance to reach the Candidates. The five-time US champion was as straightforward as ever with his response: 

There's no pressure, I've played terrible chess. [...] That's not even in consideration right now. I just want to play good chess and then see what happens. 

Hikaru Nakamura

Focused on improving his play — Hikaru Nakamura | Photo: Maria Emelianova /

Leaving aside all the considerations regarding the Candidates, this is still a large Swiss tournament, which means some upsets are still in store, especially early in the event. In round two, no less than four women players defeated higher-rated opposition. Notably, IM Batkhuyag Munguntuul from Mongolia beat Sergei Movsesian after having drawn another strong grandmaster — Vadim Zvjaginsev — in round one. Antoaneta Stefanova, Marie Sebag and Elina Danielan also beat 2600+ players on Friday. 


Click or tap any game in the list to switch 

Gawain Jones, Antoaneta Stefanova

Two-time British champion Gawain Jones lost against former women's world champion Antoaneta Stefanova | Photo: John Saunders

The upsets were not exclusively achieved by female players though. Andriy Vovk (2618) beat Ernesto Inarkiev (2693), Eltaj Safarli (2593) got an astounding miniature win over Maxim Rodshtein (2684), while Brandon Clarke (2445) defeated Ernesto Iturrizaga (2629) from the black side of a King's Indian Defence — Clarke got his invitation due to the fact that his father is from the Isle of Man.

Here we must include young Raunak Sadhwani, who was paired up against Sergey Karjakin after his first round win over Sanan Sjugirov. Sadhwani had no trouble holding the former World Championship challenger to what was the shortest draw of the day. 


Click or tap any game in the list to switch

Round-up show

GM Yannick Pelletier looked at the highlights from round two

Commentary webcast (two parts)

Commentary by GM Daniel King and IM Anna Rudolf

Pairings for Round 3 (top 20 boards)

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Shirov Alexei 2   2 Caruana Fabiano
Wang Hao 2   2 Bu Xiangzhi
Adhiban B. 2   Wojtaszek Radoslaw
Carlsen Magnus   Kasimdzhanov Rustam
Yu Yangyi   Sarana Alexey
Grischuk Alexander   Oparin Grigoriy
Artemiev Vladislav   Melkumyan Hrant
Demchenko Anton   Nakamura Hikaru
Vitiugov Nikita   Motylev Alexander
Papaioannou Ioannis   Svidler Peter
Vidit Santosh Gujrathi   Chigaev Maksim
Bluebaum Matthias   Matlakov Maxim
Lupulescu Constantin   Amin Bassem
Piorun Kacper   Sargissian Gabriel
Akopian Vladimir   Gelfand Boris
Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son   Mcshane Luke J
Korobov Anton   Adly Ahmed
Moiseenko Alexander   Alekseenko Kirill
Anton Guijarro David   Najer Evgeniy
Cheparinov Ivan   Jobava Baadur

...77 boards

All games of Round 2


All games



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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