Grand Swiss: Esipenko sole leader, Naka and Firouzja in the hunt

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/29/2023 – A sole leader emerged for the first time in the open section of the Grand Swiss, as Andrey Esipenko beat Marc’Andria Maurizzi to become the only player to reach a 3½/4 score. A 17-player chasing pack stands a half point behind, with Hikaru Nakamura, Alireza Firouzja and Hans Niemann among those who joined this group by winning on Saturday. In the women’s section, Anna Muzychuk could not convert her advantage in the co-leaders’ clash with Tan Zhongyi. | Photo: Anna Shtourman

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One leader, seventeen chasers

An eventful fourth round on the Isle of Man saw one of the five games featuring confrontations between co-leaders ending decisively, as Andrey Esipenko (FIDE, 2683) beat Marc’Andria Maurizzi to become the first sole leader of the 11-round event.

The remaining four games on the top boards were not all ‘grandmaster draws’, however.

Most notably, Arjun Erigaisi saw Alexandr Predke giving up a piece for an attack, had to venture with his king to the centre of the board, and finally found a nice queen sacrifice that led to a perpetual check. According to the engines, Arjun could have gone for the win by continuing to defend, but the position surely looked dangerous from a human point of view.

32...Nd2 allows 33.Rxd6, but now Black forces the draw with 33...Rc1+ 34.Kh2 Nf1+, and the king cannot escape the checks.

Arjun Erigaisi

Arjun Erigaisi | Photo: Anna Shtourman

Meanwhile, 9 out of the 17 games featuring players who had 2/3 scores ended decisively. A number of well-known names can be found among these winners, including five players rated above 2700:

  • Hikaru Nakamura (United States, 2780) beat Amin Tabatabaei
  • Alireza Firouzja (France, 2777) beat Nijat Abasov
  • Hans Niemann (United States, 2667) beat Richard Rapport
  • Yu Yangyi (China, 2720) beat Narayanan S.L.
  • Vincent Keymer (Germany, 2717) beat Andrei Volokitin
  • Vidit Gujrathi (India, 2716) beat Alexei Shirov
  • Evegniy Najer (FIDE, 2648) beat Parham Maghsoodloo
  • Vladislav Artemiev (FIDE, 2697) beat Niclas Huschenbeth
  • Rinat Jumabayev (Kazakhstan, 2585) beat Haik Martirosyan

Vidit Gujrathi

Vidit Gujrathi recovered from a painful loss in the first round with three wins in a row! | Photo: Anna Shtourman

Niemann’s fine attacking win

After winning his first-round game against a 2568-rated player, Hans Niemann lost to top seed Fabiano Caruana on Thursday. Now, thanks to back-to-back wins, he has rejoined the fight for first place, and he has proved to be a dangerous opponent even for the favourites, as he defeated sixth seed Richard Rapport in round 4.

With both kings on the queenside, it seems difficult for either side to find a way to break through without compromising his monarch’s security. But Rapport is not known for keeping it safe — two moves before reaching the time control, the Romanian grandmaster made a big decision by playing 39...Bxa5, which turned out to be a losing mistake.

The most relevant consequence of grabbing the pawn is that now White can blow open the position and produce a winning attack, as was brilliantly demonstrated by Niemann.

There followed 40.Qa4 Qc7 41.b4 Bb6 42.Bxa6

If Black takes the light-squared bishop, the c6-pawn will no longer be defended and the white doubled rooks will join the fight decisively.

Rapport tried 42...Kb8 instead, and after 43.Ra2, he attempted to weather the storm with a counter-sacrifice via 43...Rxd4, when 43....bxa6 would have put up a bit more resistance.

But Niemann was fully focused and found the good-looking sequence 44.Bb5 (threatening mate on a8) Kc8 45.Bxb6 Qxb6 46.Bxc6

Again pushing to get the rooks involved! There was no escape for Rapport, who played five more moves before throwing in the towel.

Hans Niemann

A selfie with Hans Niemann after a brilliant win | Photo: Anna Shtourman

A couple of curious finishes

On board 12, a balanced game ended abruptly, as Andrei Volokitin captured a pawn that allowed Vincent Keymer to gain a rook with a simple fork.

35.dxc5 was followed by an immediate resignation due to 35...Qd1+ 36.Kh2 Qxb3. As it turned out, this was a case of the touch-move rule prompting a losing mistake, as Volokitin had touched the black c-pawn, and was thus forced to capture it.

On board 52, meanwhile, the final move was not a blunder but a magnificent check by Egyptian GM Adham Fawzy, who thus defeated 3-time Spanish champion Eduardo Iturrizaga.

Black resigned after 40.Rxf5, since 40...Qxf5 fails to 41.Qc4#. The king is totally exposed in the very centre of the board!

FIDE Grand Swiss 2023

Out of the 106 decisive games in the open section so far, 62 favoured the player with the white pieces (a bit over 58%) | Photo: Anna Shtourman

A (very) successful underdog in Douglas: IM Ramazan Zhalmakhanov

Standings after round 4

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Esipenko, Andrey 3,5 2615
2 L'ami, Erwin 3 2733
3 Zhalmakhanov, Ramazan 3 2713
4 Predke, Alexandr 3 2707
5 Niemann, Hans Moke 3 2705
6 Najer, Evgeniy 3 2700
7 Sindarov, Javokhir 3 2694
8 Jumabayev, Rinat 3 2685
9 Erigaisi, Arjun 3 2664
10 Caruana, Fabiano 3 2657
11 Nakamura, Hikaru 3 2657
12 Yu, Yangyi 3 2655
13 Firouzja, Alireza 3 2653
14 Keymer, Vincent 3 2644
15 Vidit, Santosh Gujrathi 3 2638
16 Sevian, Samuel 3 2632
17 Artemiev, Vladislav 3 2622
18 Sarana, Alexey 3 2584
19 Bacrot, Etienne 2,5 2746
20 Cheparinov, Ivan 2,5 2726

...114 players

All games - Round 4

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Tan escapes, Vaishali and Assaubayeva now co-leaders

Unlike the open, which had ten players sharing the lead with 2½ points after 3 rounds, the women’s section had two co-leaders with perfect scores going into round 4.

In the clash of leaders, Anna Muzychuk had the white pieces and got a clear advantage against Tan Zhongyi. But a miscalculation by the Ukrainian in an endgame with rooks and minor pieces allowed Tan to escape with a draw.

48.f5 opens up the dark-squared diagonal for Black to capture a pawn with 48...Bxh2, and White cannot gain a piece with the 49.Ng4 fork due to 49...Bf4, attacking the rook on c1.

Given this tactical recourse, Muzychuk would have kept her advantage by playing 48.Rd1+ in the first diagrammed position, and the rook is no longer on a dark square.

In the game, Tan showed great technique to save a half point and remain atop the standings.

Tan Zhongyi, Anna Muzychuk

Tan Zhongyi defended fiercely with black against Anna Muzychuk | Photo: Anna Shtourman

The draw on the first board allowed two young players to join the leading pack on 3½/4: Bibisara Assaubayeva (Kazakhstan, 2469), who beat Elisabeth Paehtz with white, and Vaishali Rameshbabu (India 2448), who defeated Mariya Muzychuk with the black pieces.

For a second day in a row, Vaishali obtained a quick victory out of a sharp opening battle.

Muzychuk’s 16.e6, played after a 15-minute think, was a mistake, since after 16...f5 Black is already in the driver’s seat. The threat is ...Bxf3, and ideas connected to ...Rd4, as the white queen has very limited mobility and the white king will be vulnerable to attacks.

There followed 17.Bg5 Bxf3 18.gxf3 Qb7 and there is no good way to defend the f3-pawn.

19.Kg2 fails to 19...Rd4, while 19.f4 fails to 19...h6. Muyzychuk tried 19.Ne2, but soon saw her defences collapse.

White resigned in the following position, only four moves later.

Black threatens ...Qh1#, and 24.fxg3 allows 24...Qg2#. Vaishali needed a total of 48 moves to collect 2/2 points on Friday and Saturday!

Vaishali Rameshbabu

Praggnanandhaa having a look at his sister’s exciting game! | Photo: Anna Shtourman

Interview with co-leader Bibisara Assaubayeva conducted by Sagar Shah

Standings after round 4

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Tan, Zhongyi 3,5 2447
2 Muzychuk, Anna 3,5 2444
3 Vaishali, Rameshbabu 3,5 2437
4 Assaubayeva, Bibisara 3,5 2436
5 Kamalidenova, Meruert 3 2476
6 Munguntuul, Batkhuyag 3 2459
7 Stefanova, Antoaneta 3 2417
8 Goryachkina, Aleksandra 3 2400
9 Injac, Teodora 3 2350
10 Milliet, Sophie 2,5 2496
11 Garifullina, Leya 2,5 2485
12 Tsolakidou, Stavroula 2,5 2482
13 Beydullayeva, Govhar 2,5 2479
14 Paehtz, Elisabeth 2,5 2420
15 Bulmaga, Irina 2,5 2418
16 Efroimski, Marsel 2,5 2396
17 Gunina, Valentina 2,5 2365
18 Javakhishvili, Lela 2,5 2362
19 Fataliyeva, Ulviyya 2 2507
20 Guichard, Pauline 2 2505

...50 players

All games - Round 4

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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.