Isle of Man: Naiditsch and Wang Hao surge ahead

by Antonio Pereira
10/24/2018 – They both won with the white pieces and are now the co-leaders of the Isle of Man International Tournament — Arkadij Naiditsch took down Pavel Tregubov's French Defence, while Wang Hao converted a superior endgame into a win against Erwin l'Ami. On top board, Jeffery Xiong held Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to a draw, and now both of them are part of the six-player chasing pack. Meanwhile, Vishy Anand and Vladimir Kramnik won their games and took a bye for next round. | Photos: John Saunders / Official site

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Better not to lose

Elite chess players have opened themselves up to participate in open tournaments in the last few years, when organisers began to offer better conditions — enough to match or compete with the ones in closed invitational events. And they seem to have gotten the hang of it. Sometimes it is just better to keep a low profile in the first rounds — giving up some rating points — instead of going crazy looking for wins in unclear positions, a self-evident fact if we look at the standings of this event, as eight of the top-10 rated players are lagging behind a point away from the leaders.

This means that it will be very difficult for Arkadij Naiditsch and Wang Hao to remain in the lead until the end — but no one can complain after starting such a strong event with 4/4! The Chinese player will play a second White in a row against Naiditsch on Wednesday, right after Arkadij himself had two consecutive Whites in rounds three and four.

In order to reach the top, a well-prepared Naiditsch faced a sharp variation of the French Defence proposed by Pavel Tregubov. They quickly followed recent theory until move 13, when the Russian decided to keep the queens on the board (this had been played before, but not very frequently):


Most players had chosen to exchange queens with 13...Nxf4 14.Nxd8 Bxd8, but Tregubov quickly took the knight with 13...bxc6. Arkadij followed with 14.Qg3, a move only seen once before (14.Qd2 was the main choice) and Pavel took a whopping 21 minutes to answer with the novelty 14...a5. It was a good decision, but to spend so much time in such a sharp position against someone as unafraid of complications as Naiditsch is never a good idea.

White had the initiative and gave up a pawn to stay in the driving seat, while Black had lost the right to castle and had less coordinated pieces. Things came to a head for Tregubov on move 40, when he resigned, with White owning the c-file and having the clear upper hand on the kingside:


The queen check on h7 is unavoidable, as 40...Rh6 would run into 41.Rc8+ Nxc8 41.Rxc8 and mate next move.

Meanwhile, Jeffery Xiong obtained a draw against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: John Saunders

Wang Hao's win was of a very different nature. In a Ruy Lopez, Erwin l'Ami in fact kept the balance until the time control. The Dutch grandmaster only faltered on move 42, when he found it unbearable to keep his bishop in a passive defensive position:


White is clearly the one pushing, but the computer judges that if Black keeps this setup he will be able to hold on to a draw. To do so as a human is quite difficult, however, and Erwin l'Ami opened a pathway for his bishop with 42...c6. After 43.Ra7+ Bc7 44.Bd2 (threatening to gain the pinned bishop) Kc8, White gobbled Black's g-pawn and went on to show precise technique to get the full point.

Wang Hao slowly accumulated small advantages against Erwin l'Ami | Photo: John Saunders

Meanwhile, the twenty players that arrived in the round half a point behind the leaders battled to climb in the standings. Boris Gelfand drew his friend Levon Aronian, while big names like Wesley So, Alexander Grischuk and Sergey Karjakin got half-points against weaker opposition. Others like Radoslaw Wojtaszek, Richard Rapport and Vidit Gujrathi did enforce their "favourites" status. The two most surprising results, however, were the wins obtained by Abhijeet Gupta and Mircea-Emilian Parligras.

Mircea-Emilian Parligras beat his higher-rated colleague Zoltan Almasi | Photo: John Saunders

Gupta's victim was the fourteenth seeded Le Quang Liem. They played a highly-theoretical and exciting Sicilian — Gupta was Black. It was not difficult to realise that an exhilarating battle was about to come when White played 12.f5 in the following position:


The players showed their deep preparation and only left theory on move 17. It was soon clear that White's king was more vulnerable on the queenside, as Black lined up his rooks on the c-file and started manoeuvring with his active knight. The computer evaluation went up and down at several points in the game — it was definitely a three-result game. The situation was slightly clarified on move 36:


Gupta invited simplifications with 36...axb3+, and the queens and a pair of rooks were exchanged with 37.Rxb3 Qxc4 38.Qxc4 Rxc4 39.Rxb7 Kxb7. When the dust had settled Black was a pawn up in a rook-and-bishop versus rook-and-knight endgame:


The Indian player needed sixteen more moves to force his opponent's resignation — he will face his compatriot Vidit with White in round five.

Gupta showed he felt confident by wearing a Superman hat | Photo: John Saunders

If we go down the list of pairings from round four we find that Giri, Kramnik, Anand and Nakamura all won with White in contiguous boards. Curiously, both Kramnik and Anand will make use of their half-point byes in the next round (the players are allowed to do so until round eight) — Giri has some suspicions:

Two World Champions, a World Championship challenger, plus Levon Aronian and Anish Giri playing an open event | Photo: John Saunders

Round 5 pairings (top 20 boards)

1 12
GM Wang Hao 2722 4   4 GM Naiditsch Arkadij 2721
2 3
GM Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 2780   GM Parligras Mircea-Emilian 2623
3 11
GM Rapport Richard 2725   GM Xiong Jeffery 2656
4 47
GM Gupta Abhijeet 2588   GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 2711
5 1
GM Aronian Levon 2780 3   3 GM Kovalev Vladislav 2664
6 31
GM L'ami Erwin 2639 3   3 GM Giri Anish 2780
7 5
GM So Wesley 2776 3   3 GM Melkumyan Hrant 2660
8 7
GM Grischuk Alexander 2769 3   3 GM Short Nigel D 2652
9 33
GM Shirov Alexei 2636 3   3 GM Nakamura Hikaru 2763
10 9
GM Karjakin Sergey 2760 3   3 GM Sevian Samuel 2634
11 17
GM Artemiev Vladislav 2706 3   3 GM Donchenko Alexander 2610
12 43
GM Svane Rasmus 2595 3   3 GM Gelfand Boris 2701
13 23
GM Howell David W L 2689 3   3 GM Jumabayev Rinat 2605
14 45
GM Antipov Mikhail Al. 2593 3   3 GM Jones Gawain C B 2677
15 25
GM Sethuraman S.P. 2673 3   3 GM Wagner Dennis 2572
16 50
GM Nihal Sarin 2572 3   3 GM Adhiban B. 2668
17 58
IM Lomasov Semen 2540   GM Le Quang Liem 2715
18 15
GM Adams Michael 2712   GM Olafsson Helgi 2510
19 19
GM Almasi Zoltan 2702   GM Vishnu Prasanna. V 2504
20 59
GM Praggnanandhaa R 2519   GM Meier Georg 2639

Games from Round 4



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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