Grand Swiss: Nakamura co-leader

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/20/2019 – With two rounds to got at the FIDE Grand Swiss, four players are tied atop the standings on 6½ out of 9. The last one joining the group of co-leaders was Hikaru Nakamura, who defeated Vladislav Kovalev on Saturday. The ever-changing pack of chasers now consists of eleven players, still including world champion Magnus Carlsen. Meanwhile, Vincent Keymer, Jonas Buhl Bjerre and Raunak Sadhwani completed their third and final grandmaster norms. Daily highlights with IM LAWRENCE TRENT. | Photos: John Saunders

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The plot thickens

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. 

Three players that at different points in time were regarded as likely aspirants to take the world crown from Magnus Carlsen are currently part of the leading group in Douglas. While David Anton is the surprising member of the pack, the other three have been constant fixtures at elite tournaments for quite some time now.

Unlike Fabiano Caruana, however, Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian have not managed to secure a spot at the next Candidates Tournament, and given their uninspired performances at the Grand Prix so far this is most likely their last chance to make it. Furthermore, Nakamura will have White against Aronian in round ten — time to use an all-or-nothing strategy?

Levon Aronian

A crucial encounter awaits — Levon Aronian | Photo: John Saunders

Despite not needing to take part in the Grand Swiss for qualification purposes, the hefty prize fund and the excellent playing conditions lured Carlsen and Caruana to take the trip to the Isle of Man. The latest contenders for the world title were paired up in round nine, with Carlsen having the white pieces. 

With 5.xe5, the world champion went into a forcing line he had used this year to draw Ian Nepomniachtchi at the first stage of the Grand Chess Tour in Abidjan. Caruana deviated from that game with 9...a5, but after 11.0-0-0 confessed to "not have a clue about the position". Carlsen, on the other hand, was well within his home preparation, at least up to move 16:


After pretty much blitzing all his moves until this point, the Norwegian spent no less than 46 minutes on 17.he1, as he analysed in depth the consequences of the more forcing 17.♕xa7. Taking with the queen most likely would have been followed by 17...♝b6 18.♕a3 ♛xa3+ 19.♔xa3 ♝xg2. Caruana showed this line to Fiona Steil-Antoni and speculated on why his rival rejected this alternative: "Maybe he felt it would be too difficult to control".

Carlsen's move, on the other hand, allowed Black to create counterplay on the queenside with 17...c6 18.a4 a6, when Caruana did not take long to find a line that forced a draw by perpetual check.

Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana

It was short but not without intrigue — Carlsen v Caruana | Photo: John Saunders

The direct confrontation between the two strongest players in the world did not take place on top board though, as Aronian and Anton were the ones occupying the prime seats in the playing hall. Much like in round nine, the young Spaniard went for a sharp opening line, displaying great preparation once again. This time, however, his rival was more than ready to face such an approach — in fact, Aronian got a big edge on the clock after Anton started taking long thinks from move 21.

When the dust had settled after a queen trade, Aronian, with White, had two minor pieces against Anton's rook and two pawns:


Aronian had the upper hand and started putting pressure on his young opponent, but Anton was up to the task, as he eventually got the valuable half point after 61 moves.

David Anton Guijarro

Looking for a shortcut to the Candidates — David Anton | Photo: John Saunders

Anton and Caruana certainly left the playing hall satisfied with their draws, while the one player undoubtedly happy with his result was Hikaru Nakamura. The American has won three out of his last four encounters and now has a real shot of qualifying to the Candidates after having had a rather disappointing year.

Nakamura had the black pieces against Vladislav Kovalev, the player that came closest to end Carlsen's unbeaten streak back in round four. The current US champion was well aware of this fact and confessed he had his doubts before going for a sharp line of the Sicilian, as his rival very likely had prepared plenty of lines to face the world champion. But 'Naka' knew he needed a full point, and in fact got a huge edge on the clock, as his rival started taking his time as early as move 3.

Already under pressure, Kovalev made a strange decision on move 15:


Nakamura later mentioned that he was still in his prep at this point, and that he was expecting 15.♗d4, the most logical continuation. Instead, Kovalev inexplicably gave up the e5-pawn with 15.h2. According to Nakamura, Anand passed by and after a quick glance seemed surprised by the Belarusian's decision.

Things came to a head rather quickly, with White's inability to develop his dark-squared bishop the key factor in the end:


White's best chance here is 27.♔f1, while 27.a4 simply gives away the game. Black infiltrates the first rank and makes the most of the bishop's cloistered position — 27...d1 28.e2 xe1+ 29.xe1 d1 30.f1 (too late) ♛c2 31.xf4 gxf4 and resigns.

Nakamura said he is not thinking about the spot in the Candidates, as it will likely be decided on tiebreak criteria, which do not favour him at all. Level-headed, the American declared:

I've had two good tournaments and a lot of bad tournaments — that pretty much sums up the year. But if I can keep playing well in the last two rounds, I should have a shot to play for first place, so that's all you can really ask for.

Vladislav Kovalev

The man who almost stopped Carlsen's streak — Vladislav Kovalev | Photo: John Saunders

Chasers, newly-minted GMs

Three players we have not mentioned before have now joined the chasing pack after winning their round nine games. Maxim Matlakov defeated Boris Gelfand in a sharp game with kings castled on opposite flanks; David Howell got the better of Rustam Kasimdzhanov in a tense-packed 50-move game; and Aleksandr Rakhmanov beat Markus Ragger after getting a favourable position right out of the opening — the game lasted 69 moves notwithstanding.

Boris Gelfand, Maxim Matlakov

Maxim Matlakov defeated living legend Boris Gelfand | Photo: John Saunders

Meanwhile, three young stars got their third grandmaster norms, as they met the requirements stated at the FIDE Handbook to get 'nine-round norms'. Jonas Buhl Bjerre (b. 2004) from Denmark, Vincent Keymer (b. 2004) from Germany and Raunak Sadhwani (b. 2005) from India will remember the Isle of Man as the place in which they became GMs.

Keymer and Sadhwani talked afterwards with Fiona Steil-Antoni. The German is a pupil of Peter Leko and confessed that this is more of a relief, as he missed chances to get the title more than once in the past. Sadhwani, on the other hand, had a dream event in Douglas, even getting a win over Alexander Motylev when just showing up to play was enough to obtain the norm. During the interview, the Indian emphatically thanked his trainers, Swapnil Dhopade and Zaven Andraisian, for all the help provided.

You can replay all the games mentioned in this section in the viewer below:


Click or tap any game in the list to switch 

Vincent Keymer

14-year-old Vincent Keymer from Germany | Photo: John Saunders

Round 9 round-up

IM Lawrence Trent reviews the highlights of the day

Commentary webcast 

Commentary by GM Daniel King and IM Anna Rudolf

Pairings for Round 10 (top 20 boards)

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Caruana Fabiano   Anton Guijarro David
Nakamura Hikaru   Aronian Levon
Carlsen Magnus 6   6 Matlakov Maxim
Anand Viswanathan 6   6 Wang Hao
Karjakin Sergey 6   6 Alekseenko Kirill
Howell David W L 6   6 Grischuk Alexander
Vitiugov Nikita 6   6 Rakhmanov Aleksandr
Le Quang Liem   6 Maghsoodloo Parham
So Wesley   Robson Ray
Yu Yangyi   Kryvoruchko Yuriy
Svidler Peter   Kovalev Vladislav
Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son   Vidit Santosh Gujrathi
Xiong Jeffery   Sevian Samuel
Hovhannisyan Robert   Vallejo Pons Francisco
Gelfand Boris   Abasov Nijat
Paravyan David   McShane Luke J
Adhiban B.   5 Harikrishna Pentala
Wojtaszek Radoslaw 5   5 Mamedov Rauf
Inarkiev Ernesto 5   5 Lupulescu Constantin
Chigaev Maksim 5   5 Grandelius Nils

...77 boards

All games of Round 9


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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