Gibraltar: Loving life on the Rock

by Jan Werle
2/6/2019 – One more look back at the Gibraltar Chess Festival with one of the players, GM JAN WERLE, who takes a tour of the highlights from this year's tournament, including a selection of games from the winners — Vladislav Artemiev, Karthikeyan Murali and Tan Zhongyi — plus the best game prize-winner: Gawain Jones vs Alejandro Ramirez. You'll also find video from GM Simon Williams and IM Lawrence Trent and interviews with Vassily Ivanchuk, Levon Aronian and D. Gukesh — one of the young stars of the festival. | Photo: Niki Riga

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Sample the Gibraltar experience

“Radio Gibrallltaaaaahh…Live in the studio with us is Stuart Conquest, tournament director of one of the strongest chess events of the world (..)”; each day driving to the playing venue we could enjoy in the preternaturally flamboyant organiser Stuart Conquest answering the questions of the reporter concerning the tournament. The small British Overseas Territory is the proud host of one of the main sports event of the year. Many ministers of Gibraltar’s government were regularly paying a visit to the playing venue, seeing the top players in action.

Gibraltar consists of a rock (aka ‘the Rock’), on and around which approximately 35,000 inhabitants are living crowded together. Gibraltar is typically English in that sense that there are red double-decker buses, there are English red phone boxes on every corner of the street and the police officers were wearing the long English hats. The southern location of this English peninsula is ‘betrayed’ by the warm temperatures, which could rise up to 25 degrees, not to mention palm trees.

Phone and bus

Left: Phone booth at Botanic Gardens | Photo: Ralph CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Right: Gibraltar Calypso Citibus | Photo: megabus13601 CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

One of its main attractions is to climb the Rock in search for the famous monkeys, who are living there abundantly. The tourists are being warned to keep their belongings close, as after a quick grasp and a couple of agile leaps, the monkey disappears with a camera or cell phone onto the rocks. In order to reach the Rock and Gibraltar, one cannot avoid the airstrip. Plenty of chess players were staying throughout the tournament in Spain, and had first to cross through customs and the airstrip, to finally reach Gibraltar. As a consequence, the players had to keep a close eye on the timetable regarding the departing and arriving flights before the start of the rounds, lest the road be blocked.

Players on tour

Players on a tour of the Rock | Photo: Niki Riga

The Gibraltar International Chess Festival has been held for the 17th time and took place in the Caleta hotel. The ‘little brother’ event is the junior festival in Gibraltar which took place in August, including total prize money of 15,000 pounds. The tournament is vying with the open in Isle of Man for the strongest open in the world. As far as I am concerned, it’s a highly stimulating experience to play with elite players such as Nakamura, Aronian, MVL and Yu Yanghi in the same hall. In one open group, countless chess nations were represented: players from Nigeria to America and from Vietnam to Norway were battling for the prizes, the top three being GBP £25,000, £20,000 and £15,000.

Many side events took place during the event, including "masterclasses" from Hikaru Nakamura, Sarasadat Khademalsharieh and Adhiban Baskaran. A Question & Answer panel evening featured Nigel Short, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Fiona Steil-Antoni and Irene Sukandar (Alejandro Ramirez joins in minute 49):

The battle of sexes was opened by a splendid (air) guitar solo from the tournament director. Stuart is a fervent Beatle-fan and he clutched his moment of fame considering himself Paul McCartney. After ‘he struck the gong’, the ladies won the first game against the gentlemen. Nonetheless, the men proved to be resilient and brought back the tension in the game to 1-1. In the last and final round the men went unfortunately down by a ‘small’ tactical oversight.

Stuart Conquest

Stuart Conquest on the guitar | Photo: Niki Riga


The game ended 26.♘h2 ♛h4 27.♖xg6 ♜ad8 28.♖f1 ♛h5 29.♖g3 ♜d7 30.♘g4 ♚h7 31.♘xh6 ♜e6 32.♘f5 ♜g6 33.♖xg6 fxg6 34.♘xg7 ♜xg7 35.♕xc5 a5 36.♕xa5 1-0

The commentators of the tournament Simon Williams and Jovanka Houska awarded the beauty price for the game between Gawain Jones and Alejandro Ramirez, which ended in a sharp, albeit short draw. 


Ramirez and Jones

Alejandro Ramirez and Gawain Jones receive their joint Best Game prize from Hon. Steven Linares, MP, Minister for Culture, Media, Youth and Sport | Photo: Niki Riga 

The women in the open tournament were eligible for both special prizes and the main open prizes. The world's leading female players, among them Anna and Mariya Muzychuk and Ju Wenjun, were all competing for the fifteen prizes ranging from GBP £500 up to £15,000 pounds. In the playing hall is a large picture depicting the portraits of the previous women’s prize winners, under the title: “Gibraltar, home of women’s chess”. As far as I could assess, all the top women have paid a visit to Gibraltar at least once in the tournament's history. 

Tan Zhongyi from China was the best woman with a respectable score of 7 out of 10 and a tournament performance of 2585. In the following game against her Greek rival IM Tsolakidou Stavroula, her technical skills come vividly to light in the endgame as her king takes the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compestella, ending up on the winning square a2.

The second best was no one less than the former Women's World Chess Champion (from April 2015 to March 2016) from Ukraine GM Mariya Muzychuk, who scored 6½ out of 10 with a performance rating of 2718.


Click or tap the second game in the list to switch

Tan Zhongyi

Tan Zhongyi at the closing ceremony | Photo: John Saunders

Ivanchuk was present again this year and, as one of the greatest chess geniuses of all time, he still draws a lot of attention from the audience. His mind-boggling thoughts, ideas as plans, created on ‘Planet Ivanchuk’, are spectacular to watch. A spectator observed him in deep concentration, staring at the ceiling, with just a minute left on the clock. Their eyes met and after a few seconds, Ivanchuk, as if in shock, returned to mother earth and, realising the precariousness of his clock, he rapidly made his last three moves to reach the safe haven of move 40.


38.♘xh6+ ♝xh6 39.gxh6 ♜b3 40.♖xd2 ♞cxd5 41.♗g5 1-0

After the tournament, he noted that he played "too many women — five from ten it's too much...I have no complaint, but OK, it's a little bit unusual, some kind of record".

"I'm not first, but I'm here and as's a big pleasure to be here."

Looking at the calibre of player one would assume that one of the established world elite would win the tournament, but one couldn’t be more wrong. It was the quickly-rising stars Vladislav Artemiev (2709) and Karthikeyan Murali (2570) who finished first and second place, respectively. Artemiev reached the outlandish score of 8½ out of 10 with a performance rating of 2941!

Here are a few of Artemiev's highlights:


Click or tap a game in the game list to switch

Yu Artemiev

Artemiev defeated Yu Yangyi in the last round with Black | Photo: John Saunders

The Indian GM Karthikeyan Murali was the biggest revelation. Only 19-years old and rated 2570, he scored a phenomenal 8 out of 10. His tournament performance rating was no less than 2749. In the final round, he beat Vachier-Lagrave. Below is a small selection of his games from throughout the tournament:


Click or tap a game in the game list to switch


A happy Karthikeyan after Round 10 | Photo: David Llada

Unfortunately, you can’t have winners without losers during a tournament. The last year’s winner Aronian lost the last round against the English GM David Howell by blundering a piece. During the closing ceremony, I caught Aronian off-guard. Aronian, always a gentleman and notwithstanding the terrible loss, he openly admitted that he blundered rather than made a speculative sacrifice. Apparently, fate strikes at all levels, which is kind of a relieve for us mortals.


Aronian's feature interview is not to be missed:

"You have to try to be prepare more open to new ideas in the openings."

Chess can be a cruel game, though every chess-lover would do well to sample the Gibraltar experience!

Text: Jan Werle

More Gibraltar highlights

GM Simon Williams was one of the live commentators in Gibraltar, and shared his favourite moments in this week's Simon Says:

IM Lawrence Trent also dropped by Gib for the tail end of the tournament and made that the focus of his Weekly Show:

Stars of tomorrow

Karthikeyan Murali beat two 2700+ rated opponents in rounds 8 and 9. Let's have a look at his favourite game from the event against Rauf Mamedov. Showing great self-confidence, Karthikeyan played a new idea in the Caro-Kann Defence and scored his first upset win with the black pieces.


Do you think this new idea ...f6 in the Caro-Kann will find support after this game?


Kathikeyan reveals his 'secret' 2019 goals to ChessBase India at the Rilton Cup 2018-19

Nigel Short had to deal with another of the dreaded young Indian players. Abhimanyu Puranik is already 19 years old with an Elo 2536, but probably underrated. In round two he had already taken a half point off of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Short was warned and was better after the opening. Then he entered the black position with his rook.


Here, Black puts the question to the e7-rook with 29...♚f8. Unfortunately for Short, there is not much choice in the matter. After 30.♗a7 ♛b8 the end came quickly for this wayward rook. The Englishman fought for a long time with his remaining troops, but in vain.

Finally, the world's current youngest grandmaster, D. Gukesh, finished in a respectable 27th place with 6½/10. In Round 7, he scored a nice upset of Venezuela's Eduardo Iturrizaga Bonelli:


Black was much better after 29...♜xd1 30.♕xd1 ♝g7 31.♕d4 c5! and went on to win on move 40.

It is now well-known that Gukesh loves to play chess. That explains why he didn't opt to take a break after becoming a GM and instead left for Gibraltar Masters just a couple of days after the Delhi GM International earlier in January. One would have imagined the youngster to have been burnt out or feel some bit of tiredness. Nope! 

"The most important quality is to enjoy chess, be confident and never give up."

Sagar Shah of ChessBase India contributed to this story


Jan is a professional chess Grandmaster, trainer, coach and author. In 2008 he became EU-champion in Liverpool and reached his peak rating of 2607. Hereafter finished his law studies obtaining two master law degrees (civil and commercial law) before he commenced with his job as a lawyer. But now he's back in chess.


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