Gibraltar: when the lights go out on the island

by John Saunders
1/26/2017 – We mentioned it in our full Round Two report: 2752 rated Vassily Ivanchuk thought he had made the 40th move time control his white game against Israeli IM Ori Kobo, 2482, and let his clock run out – only to discover that he had left out a move on his scoresheet. A blackout on the part of the Ukrainian Super-GM that reflected the general power blackout that struck the island before play. John Saunders gives us his take of the fateful round two in Gibraltar.

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Bad Day at Black Rock

By John Saunder (@JohnChess)

I couldn't resist borrowing the title of the old Spencer Tracy for today's second round of the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters as it seems so apt, both on the board and off. The day started normally enough, as I enjoyed a delicious breakfast in the Caleta Hotel and then went for my daily constitutional in bright sunshine along the road to the south of the venue, which I have now dubbed 'Grandmaster Promenade'. Whilst walking down the road, idly peering at the flora and fauna of Gibraltar with my binoculars, Natalia Zhukova said 'hi' whilst jogging, Boris Gelfand stopped to chat, and Hou Yifan and her mother passed by. You meet a better class of chess player along Grandmaster Promenade.

Around 10 a.m. I returned to the hotel and noticed that it seemed less well lit than usual. Indeed, the stairwells were positively Stygian, and I had to feel my way with my foot to find the steps in the unaccustomed gloom. I toyed with the idea that this had something to do with the transition from bright sunlight outside and the failure of my photochromic spectacles to readjust but it was much more serious than that. In my room there was no power at all, no internet, no nothing.

It was only when I rejoined my press room colleagues later that I discovered this was not a local problem but that the whole of Gibraltar was without electricity. I am familiar with the concept of a computer being 'down' (as people like to say these days), or perhaps a house, a street, or even an area, but a whole country being bereft of electricity is a new and wholly unwelcome experience. To quote a local news channel, "a contractor in the area of Her Majesty’s Naval Base had cut through a main interconnecting cable. The damage was extensive as the cable connects the North to the South." Well, at least that was me off the hook – I was starting to worry that this national crisis had been caused by me fiddling with the table lamp in my room the night before.

Hopefully this little digression may go some way to explaining why the tournament has suffered a few technical gremlins today, as various pieces of delicate electronic equipment shut down by the power loss have stuttered back into life again.

One of the tournament's super-GMs also suffered some sort of power failure this afternoon, in the vicinity of his cranium. I offered visual evidence in the @GibraltarChess Twitter stream for those interested. Vasyl Ivanchuk was close to winning against Ori Kobo of Israel when he overstepped the time limit at move 40.

Ivanchuk thought he had made 40 moves but his opponent's scoresheet indicated that only 39 had been played. A check by the arbiters showed that Ivanchuk had accidentally left the entry for move 24 blank at the bottom of the left-hand column of his scoresheet and so had played one move fewer than he thought he had.

So it was certainly a black day for the hapless Chucky

We aged Brits with long memories were tickled by the pairing Short-Bellin on board 59. When I arrived at their board with camera at the ready, they were debating when they first crossed swords and thought it was in the mid-1970s, and also their most recent confrontation, which they thought was around 1987. I asked if their Gibraltar game was perhaps the long-awaited play-off to decide the 1979 British Championship, when Robert triumphed over Nigel via sum of opponents' scores or some such unsatisfactory method. Unfortunately they were playing unplugged so I can't yet quote any details of the play, other than to report that "youth triumphed" (at least that is how Nigel referred to his victory later).

Nigel Short and Robert Bellin today: the game to decide the 1979 British Champion was won by the youthful Nigel!

By and large, round two was an attritional struggle, as the 2700+ guys strove to overcome opposition in the 2450-2500 spectrum. Caruana, Vachier-Lagrave, Svidler and Topalov ended up conceding half points and it was only by dint of much effort and time – and of course considerable technical virtuosity – that Nakamura and Adams won long endgames. Caruana and MVL might have done worse and seemed to achieve draws by reputation rather than repetition. This strengthens the feeling that the gap in class between the elite and those rated 200 points below them is narrower than the bare numbers would indicate. It is only in extra-strong opens such as the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters that this notion can be truly put to the test.

Rather than deconstructing the intricacies of the Nakamura or Adams endgames, well played though they were, let us have a look at a couple more bad days (for the losers) on Black Rock. The first one is an example of a player trying to be ultra-cautious but only succeeding in making a disastrous blunder (much as in Lombaers-Short in round 1).

[Event "Gibraltar Masters"] [Site "Caleta Hotel"] [Date "2017.01.25"] [Round "2.36"] [White "Deac, Bogdan-Daniel"] [Black "Herman, Matthew J"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A29"] [WhiteElo "2572"] [BlackElo "2383"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [PlyCount "61"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:43:52"] [BlackClock "0:09:51"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. d4 exd4 7. Nxd4 O-O 8. O-O Re8 9. Nc2 d6 10. Bg5 h6 11. Bd2 Ne5 12. b3 c6 13. Rc1 Be6 14. Nd4 Bc8 15. h3 Ned7 16. Qc2 Nc5 17. Rcd1 Nfd7 18. Bc1 a5 19. e4 Qb6 20. Be3 {[#]In a King's Indian Defence type of position, Black opts to move his queen away from any possible danger on the same diagonal as the bishop on e3.} Qb4 $4 (20... a4 {is a perfectly reasonable alternative, when} 21. Rb1 Qb4 {is only slightly worse for Black.}) 21. Ncb5 $1 {Now the queen is trapped behind enemy lines.} cxb5 22. Bd2 bxc4 (22... Qa3 23. Nxb5 {is terminal.}) 23. Bxb4 {and Black staggered on for a further eight pointless moves.} axb4 24. Nb5 Ne5 25. Nxd6 Be6 26. Nxe8 Rxe8 27. f4 Ned3 28. bxc4 Nb2 29. Rd5 Bxd5 30. cxd5 Ncd3 31. e5 1-0

The following game was a notable scalp for the Mongolian IM Tuvshintugs Batchimeg but her opponent, Indian GM Babu Lalith stood considerably better when his bad day materialised. 

[Event "Gibraltar Masters"] [Site "Caleta Hotel"] [Date "2017.01.25"] [Round "2.31"] [White "Batchimeg, Tuvshintugs"] [Black "Lalith, Babu M R"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B15"] [WhiteElo "2390"] [BlackElo "2587"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [PlyCount "71"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. d4 g6 2. e4 Bg7 3. Nc3 c6 4. f4 d5 5. e5 Nh6 6. Nf3 Qb6 7. Na4 Qc7 8. Be3 f6 9. Be2 Ng4 10. Bd2 Nd7 11. O-O b5 12. Nc3 Nb6 13. b3 O-O 14. h3 Nh6 15. Bd3 b4 16. Ne2 c5 17. dxc5 Qxc5+ 18. Kh1 Nf5 19. Qe1 a5 20. Ng3 fxe5 21. Nxe5 Qd6 22. Rd1 Nxg3+ 23. Qxg3 Bf5 24. Rfe1 Nd7 25. Bxf5 Rxf5 26. Nxd7 Qxd7 27. c3 Qd6 28. cxb4 axb4 29. Qe3 Rxa2 30. Qxe7 Qxe7 31. Rxe7 Bc3 32. Be3 d4 33. Bxd4 Rd5 34. Re4 Rb2 {[#]} 35. Kh2 {An innocuous looking move but actually a sneaky trick.} Kf7 $4 36. Bxc3 $1 (36. Bxc3 {White snares a free piece. Black previously had a defence to this move by virtue of ...Rxd1 being check, but 35.Kh2 had negated this option.} Rxd1 37. Bxb2) 1-0

John Saunders, 63, graduated in Law and Classics from Cambridge University in the mid-1970s. With a Welsh father and Scottish mother, he should be referred to as 'British' rather than 'English'. He claims that his most outstanding achievement was making the lowest score on bottom board for Wales, the country which finished last in the 1997 European Team Championship. In the late 1990s he changed career from IT professional to chess editor and photo-journalist and only regrets it once at annual intervals when he has to file a tax return. He became the BBC Ceefax teletext service's chess columnist in 1998. He went on to become editor of British Chess Magazine in 1999, moving to the same role at Chess in 2010 before retiring from full-time chess magazine editing in 2012 to spend more time with his wife and cats. He is now a freelance writer and editor, and acts as press officer for the London Classic and Tradewise Gibraltar tournaments. In the past he has been the webmaster for the 4NCL and the English Chess Federation (for whom he also once edited the in-house magazine ChessMoves). In 2007 he wrote and had published a richly-illustrated hardback book for beginners, How to Play Winning Chess, which is now available in a number of languages.

The games will be broadcast live on the official web site and on the server If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

In 1999 John Saunders gave up his job as an IT professional to become full-time editor/webmaster of 'British Chess Magazine'. During the 2000s he was also webmaster and magazine editor for the English Chess Federation, and regular webmaster and photo-reporter at Isle of Man and Gibraltar tournaments. In 2010 he became editor of the leading UK monthly 'CHESS' Magazine, retiring in 2012 but remaining its associate editor and regular contributor.


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