Isle of Man: Top players struggle

by Antonio Pereira
10/22/2018 – The second round of the Chess.com Isle of Man International Tournament left only eighteen players with a perfect score in a field of 167. It has been difficult for the favourites to beat their nominally weaker opponents in the first days of play, although none of them have actually given up full points. On Day 2, Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave won their games on the top boards, while Anand had another tough game that finished on a good note, as he saved an inferior rook endgame against Robert Hess. | Photos: John Saunders / Official site

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A tough field

The common thread of the two first days at Isle of Man has been the fact that top players have not been able to get easy full points despite the pairings facing them against weaker opposition. Computer-based preparation has created new dynamics in open tournaments, as even half-time chess professionals can assemble effective strategies against their more prestigious opponents. This factor, added to the fact that sponsors have seen a good market for this type of events, has made open tournaments that much more attractive for spectators.

Curiously, the three strongest players in the event arrived in the island with the exact same 2780 rating. And all three won their second round games. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave beat Abhimanyu Puranik without much difficulty on his 28th birthday, while Levon Aronian had it a little harder against Dennis Wagner:

 

Aronian, with Black, had given up an exchange for the initiative and seemed to have what he wished for by move 50. Here, he chose a follow-up considered to be a mistake by the computer: 50...Nxb3?. Wagner could have defended — and actually get a winning position — with 51.R7g4, adding a defensive piece along the fourth rank. However, the German grandmaster went for the losing 51.Ka3? and had to resign after 51...d4 52.Qc4 Na5.

 

Black controls the b-file and has two strong passers in the centre. Levon Aronian thus kept a perfect score and will keep his seat on top board in the next round.

Levon plays creatively both in open and closed tournaments | Photo: John Saunders

The other 2780-player won his first game on the second day. Anish Giri had the white pieces against English FM Glenn House. It was a case of White preventing his opponent from castling and opening the centre with devastating effect. 

 

White's bishop on c5 is making life difficult for the black king, and here Giri uncorked the effective 18.c4, as Black cannot take the pawn and allow the d-file to be opened. House offered an exchange sacrifice with 18...Ra7, but instead of taking the material Anish kept upping the pressure. When the dust had settled, the Dutchman was a piece up and had everything he could wish for on the kingside:

 

Anish Giri's active play gave him his first win of the event | Photo: John Saunders

A player that can be grateful with his results after the first two days of play is Vishy Anand. The Indian superstar turned a losing position into a full point on day one and saved half a point against American GM Robert Hess on day two. Hess demonstrated accurate positional play and went into a favourable rook endgame against the former World Champion — he won a pawn on move 34:

 

With 34...d4, Black opened the rank for his rook to gobble White's g and h-pawns after 35.cxd4 Rxg3+ 36.Kf2 Rxh3. At this point, as he did on Saturday, Anand showed why he has stayed at the top of the game for so long, defending precisely for no less than 42 moves. It was a strong case for the maxim "all rook endgames are drawn".

Vishy is on 1½/2 and well in contention for the top places | Photo: John Saunders

Anand is heading a group of 35 players that arrived from India (the biggest number for any country, including England). His teammate from the national team Vidit Santosh Gujrathi won a nice game in round two, against yet another compatriot of theirs, Debashis Das. Vidit was White and had everything going his way on the kingside:

 

With most of black pieces away from their king's defence, White can start sacrificing pieces to open lines against the rival's monarch: 23.Nxh7. Black took the bait with 23...Nxh7 — although any other alternative would have only extended the suffering — and Vidit kept on throwing his pieces against the feeble defence with 24.Bxg6. After 24...Ndf6 25.Qh5, Debashis resigned with mate-in-three on the board.

Ori Kobo versus Vladislav Artemiev with Vidit on next board | Photo: John Saunders

While India has 35 representatives on the island, Russia has ten. In round two, two of Russia's strongest players drew their games against strong female opponents. Sergey Karjakin only managed to get a half point against German IM Elisabeth Paehtz, while Vladimir Kramnik was held to a draw by Alina Kashlinskaya, who faced — and drew — a second top-10 player in the event (she played Anish Giri in round one).

Germany's strongest female player, Elisabeth Paehtz | Photo: John Saunders

Although many lower-rated players achieved draws, only a few actually got full points against their stronger rivals — in fact, only five players managed to do so in round two, a rather small number if we consider the size of the field.

The pairings of the top boards in round three include strong young players facing the favourites: Samuel Sevian will have Black against Levon Aronian, former Junior World Champion Aryan Tari will face Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and 20-year-old Alexander Donchenko will play on board three against Wang Hao.

Round 3 pairings (top 20 boards)

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Aronian Levon 2   2 Sevian Samuel
Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 2   2 Tari Aryan
Donchenko Alexander 2   2 Wang Hao
Naiditsch Arkadij 2   2 Jumabayev Rinat
Vaibhav Suri 2   2 Vidit Santosh Gujrathi
Gupta Abhijeet 2   2 Gelfand Boris
Tregubov Pavel V. 2   2 Melkumyan Hrant
Xiong Jeffery 2   2 Vishnu Prasanna. V
L'ami Erwin 2   2 Harsha Bharathakoti
Fridman Daniel   Giri Anish
So Wesley   Huschenbeth Niclas
Svane Rasmus   Anand Viswanathan
Grischuk Alexander   Kaidanov Gregory
Antipov Mikhail Al.   Nakamura Hikaru
Karjakin Sergey   Lomasov Semen
Hess Robert   Wojtaszek Radoslaw
Rapport Richard   Paehtz Elisabeth
Mekhitarian Krikor Sevag   Le Quang Liem
Artemiev Vladislav   Keymer Vincent
Praggnanandhaa R   Eljanov Pavel

Games from Round 2

 

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Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.
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