David Paravyan wins Gibraltar Masters in thrilling playoff

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/31/2020 – A lively playoff ended this year's edition of the Gibraltar Masters. 21-year-old Russian grandmaster David Paravyan took home the £30,000 first prize after beating Wang Hao in the final. Paravyan and Wang eliminated Andrey Esipenko and Daniil Yuffa in the semis of the tiebreaks. Among the women, Tan Zhongyi got clear first place for a second year in a row. We recap the action of an emotional final day on the Rock. | Photo: John Saunders

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A single TRP point

Going into last round, a large group of players was in position to reach a very likely playoff. The organizers, in their effort to maximize the entertainment value for spectators, set up a system to decide the winner that proved to be successful throughout the years — this edition was no exception. In case of a massive tie on top, a four-player knockout consisting of rapid and blitz encounters decides who gets the first prize.

Five players got to the tenth round sharing the lead, and none of them managed to clinch a win on Thursday. Four of them were paired up against each other and drew, while the one facing a participant from the chasing pack ended up losing — Parham Maghsoodloo was defeated by second seed Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on board three. Besides 'MVL', David Navara and Daniil Yuffa also got full points, thus creating a seven-player leading group on 7½ out of 10.

To decide who enters the playoffs, the TRP (tournament rating performance) is used as the sole tiebreak criterion. When the results were official on all relevant boards it turned out Andrey Esipenko (with a 2809 TRP), Wang Hao (2792), Daniil Yuffa (2774) and David Paravyan (2760) were the ones qualified to fight for a generous £30,000 prize. Paravyan, curiously, got in by a single TRP point, as Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's performance of 2759 fell just short.

This is not the first time Vachier-Lagrave misses a qualification by the smallest of margins. In fact, he barely missed to reach the last two editions of the Candidates Tournament, a central goal for any top chess player. But the Frenchman is not one to take these situations badly — in the post-game interview with Tania Sachdev, he noted he had been very fortunate to get two Whites in a row in the last rounds, and said with a smile on his face: 

Well, I've been so lucky in this tournament that, you know...Of course, I would have liked to make it to the playoffs, but I didn't really deserve it.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Niki Riga

Before the thrilling rapid and blitz knockout took place, however, a winner had already been confirmed in the Caleta Hotel. Tan Zhongyi, who was the sole leader among the women before round ten, secured a second consecutive victory in Gibraltar by taking down current French champion Maxime Lagarde with the white pieces. Lagarde showed from the outset that he was looking to win at all costs, a strategy that seemed to be working out well for a while but which ended up backfiring on move 34:


Black was two pawns up but also had the weaker king, and his tactical awareness failed him when he played 34...e4. Tan Zhongyi immediately found 35.b2, pinning the knight and keeping an eye on the e5-rook. Lagarde resigned after 35...a5 36.d4, as the imminent discovered attack with 37.♖d8+ will lose too much material.

Tan later confessed she felt this was a lucky win, and only found out the women's top prize had gone up from £15,000 — the amount she got last year — to £20,000 during the interview with Sachdev. The English-Chinese interpreter during this interview was Tan's friend and roommate in Gibraltar Lei Tingjie, who also got a key final round win, as she secured sole second place among the women — and a £10,000 payday — with a victory over Vasif Durarbayli.

Five female players finished a half point behind Lei Tingjie — among them was Anna Muzychuk, who also got the 'Best Game' prize for her impressive win over Ori Kobo. Replay all three games mentioned in this section on the viewer below:


Lei Tingjie, Tan Zhongyi

Lei Tingjie, with her friend Tan Zhongyi in the background | Photo: John Saunders

The playoffs

In Gibraltar, the semi-final pairings of the playoffs are decided by a drawing of lots — Daniil Yuffa was paired up against Wang Hao and David Paravyan against Andrey Esipenko. Two games of 10 minutes with 5-second increments would decide who goes to the final; in case of a tie, two 3-minute games with 2-second increments would follow; and if the score remained balanced an Armageddon decider would declare a winner.  

Wang, who out-rates Yuffa by almost two-hundred points, proved his nominal superiority by winning both 10-minute encounters. In game one, the Chinese grabbed a pawn in the opening and — although White seems to have enough compensation — converted his material advantage after 52 moves. Yuffa needed to win on demand with Black, a circumstance which typically ends badly against players of Wang's calibre:


It was apparent during the live broadcast that Yuffa thought he had 33...♛b6+ here, but in that case 34.♕e3 (and not 34.♔xe2) resists Black's attack. The Russian opted for 33...e3+, but after 34.xe2 there is no way to mate the white king. Resignation came shortly after.


Daniil Yuffa

Daniil Yuffa | Photo: John Saunders

The Esipenko v Paravyan semi-final was much more dramatic. The first two games were drawn after both players got good chances with the white pieces but refrained from taking unwarranted risks. And when the blitz kicked off, first it was Esipenko, with Black, who failed to make the most of a huge advantage:


White had blundered a pawn in the opening, leaving Black with a strong passer on the b-file, but Paravyan, instead of passively defending a miserable position, never stopped creating problems for his opponent. At this point, nonetheless, Black's position is so overwhelming that going for tactical shots like 33...♞xe5 or 33...f5 already works. We cannot blame Esipenko for not finding these moves in a blitz game, though.

In the end, Paravyan's active defence worked out well, and when the draw was signed Esipenko was visibly frustrated with the missed chance.

David Paravyan

David Paravyan | Photo: John Saunders

Much like in the first pair of games, however, the symmetry remained among the compatriots, as Paravyan also failed to convert a winning position in the rematch. Only Armageddon would decide who would go to the final. Paravyan got 6 minutes and the white pieces against Esipenko's five minutes and draw odds with Black. The younger of the Russians (Esipenko is 17) started to lose the thread around move 15 and eventually lost a piece:


Black continued to look for ways to muddy the waters with 29...c3 30.f1 c5, but Paravyan reacted well under the pressing circumstances, choosing to keep things under control with 31.a2 xe5 32.dxe5. The game continued until move 58, but White never blundered away his advantage.

Esipenko's final two days in Gibraltar must have been rather disappointing. The young talent could have all but secured tournament victory in round nine when he failed to convert a clear edge against Maghsoodloo, and getting eliminated in such an emotional semi-final is surely painful. Nevertheless, the 17-year-old took gained £10,500, 17.5 rating points (note he had the best TRP of the event) and a valuable lesson for the future.


Andrey Esipenko

Andrey Esipenko during round ten | Photo: Niki Riga

Almost eight hours since the beginning of the round had passed and there was still a final to be played. Wang got the white pieces, and a complex strategical battle ensued after the opening. On move 23, Paravyan valiantly decided to leave the defence of his king and take a pawn on a2, to which Wang responded correctly, immediately going on the attack:


The Chinese spent a little over a minute before deciding on 24.xh6, when after 24...xf3 (the first suggestion of the engines) 25.xf3 gxh6 26.f6+ h7 White had 27.xd6 cxd6 28.xd6.

Given the rapid time control and the fact that both contenders came from ten days of fierce competition, having the initiative seemed to be the more confortable situation at this point. After his brave knight sacrifice, however, Wang did not follow through with the same level of aggression, and Paravyan ended up taking advantage of his material advantage. Black won after 47 moves.

Game two was a quieter affair, in which Wang got a slight pull. Paravyan never lost his cool, however, and the draw was signed on move 50, when an opposite-coloured bishops ending meant Wang had no chance to continue looking for a win.


During the final interview with the newly crowned champion, Paravyan remarked how tired he felt after the lengthy struggles, mentioning that being successful in these large opens has less to do with the quality of one's moves than with character and stamina. The 2629-rated Muscovite noted this is the first big success of his career.

Wang Hao

Wang Hao will play the Candidates in less than two months | Photo: John Saunders

Ivanchuk's lesson

When the day was over, Vassily Ivanchuk — who scored 6 points in the event — was interviewed by Tania Sachdev. The Ukrainian genius stated that this is "probably the best open tournament in the world" and shared an advice he had received from 'Viktor the Terrible'!

I didn't play very well, but I remembered that Viktor Korchnoi suggested that if something [goes] wrong with results, please go to the city, to visit some shops, you can buy something pleasant for yourself, and your mood will be improved very soon.

Game analysis by Vassily Ivanchuk

All available games from Round 10


Games from all rounds available at Live.ChessBase.com

Final standings (top 25)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Esipenko Andrey 7,5 2809
2 Wang Hao 7,5 2792
3 Yuffa Daniil 7,5 2774
4 Paravyan David 7,5 2760
5 Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 7,5 2759
6 Navara David 7,5 2711
7 Yilmaz Mustafa 7,5 2701
8 Maghsoodloo Parham 7,0 2743
  Werle Jan 7,0 2743
10 Topalov Veselin 7,0 2710
11 Aryan Chopra 7,0 2709
12 Kobalia Mikhail 7,0 2684
13 Karthikeyan Murali 7,0 2671
14 Adams Michael 7,0 2668
15 Le Quang Liem 7,0 2667
16 Jones Gawain C B 7,0 2654
17 Saric Ivan 7,0 2649
  Sasikiran Krishnan 7,0 2649
19 Moussard Jules 7,0 2647
20 Praggnanandhaa R 7,0 2632
21 Deac Bogdan-Daniel 7,0 2627
22 Tan Zhongyi 7,0 2600
23 Vocaturo Daniele 7,0 2567
24 Peralta Fernando 6,5 2681
25 Cheparinov Ivan 6,5 2679

...250 players


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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