Isle of Man: Wojtaszek takes down Naiditsch in Armageddon

by Antonio Pereira
10/29/2018 – An exciting play-off went down to the wire and saw Radek Wojtaszek defeat Arkadij Naiditsch in Armageddon to take first place at the Isle of Man International Tournament. They got to that stage after drawing their round nine game, while their chasers either drew or lost. In the meantime, three players won their games and joined the group that finished half a point behind the leaders — Alexander Grischuk, Vladimir Kramnik and Hikaru Nakamura. Wojtaszek's wife Alina Kashlinskaya won the top ladies' prize. | Photos: John Saunders / Official site

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No changes at the (very) top

Every sort of possible scenario was on the cards as the last round of the taxing Isle of Man Masters Tournament was about to begin. With the prize money set to be divided between players that share first place, Wojtaszek and Naiditsch knew that, depending on the result, they could finish the day from £15,000 to £50,000 richer — a not-insignificant difference. The four players that comprised the chasing pack were also aware of the big change a win or a loss would have on their "paychecks".

From this group, the first ones to wrap up their game were actually the co-leaders. From a Ruy Lopez, Naiditsch, playing White, created turmoil in the centre and ended up giving up a piece for two pawns:


Naiditsch quickly took on d4 with his knight and collected another pawn after 22...exd4 23.Bxd4 Bf6 24.Bxf6 gxf6:


Black challenged the open file with 25.Rfe8, but Naiditsch probably entered this variation knowing that he had a perpetual check at his disposal if he did not find anything better. Finally, he decided that his best choice was to force the draw checking the king from g5, f6 or h6 with his queen. The draw was signed on move 30, and the players understood that if none of the chasers won his games, they would face each other again in the play-off.  

A nervous start before a very long day | Photo: John Saunders

On board two, Jeffery Xiong drew Gawain Jones after having had a slight pull throughout the game. For both of them, a 6½/9 and shared third place was a good result against such a strong field. Soon after this result was in the books, it was pretty clear that Maxime Vachier-Lagrave at least was not going to win his game against Alexander Grischuk — and in the end, the Russian took the full point. Therefore, the only one who could have joined the 7/9 group was Wang Hao, who had a very slightly unbalanced position against Vishy Anand but could never create enough resources to claim a real advantage.  

Xiong and Jones clearly overperformed | Photo: John Saunders

The two players that had arrived in the round as favourites were about to play at least two more games to decide who would take the trophy — it was a fact by then that they would each take home £37.500.

The last game to finish before the play-offs — Kosteniuk beat Sundararajan | Photo: John Saunders

White wins

Radek Wojtaszek had the white pieces in the first blitz encounter of the play-offs. By move 14, Naiditsch had come out of a King's Indian Defence a pawn to the good and seemed to have things under control throughout the middlegame (as much as this is possible in a blitz game). The Azeri won yet another pawn, but Wojtaszek managed to cement a strong knight on d5, with Black's king slightly vulnerable. Then, suddenly, the evaluation turned upside down for Naiditsch:


The computer already gives this position as equal, given White's threats on the f-file. However, after 37...Rxe5? White is the one in the driving seat. The game continued 38.Nxf6 Qe6 39.Nd7 Rxe4 40.Qc3+ Kh6 41.Nxb8 and Wojtaszek had a rook for two pawns. Incredibly, Naiditsch did exactly the same that his opponent had just done some moves ago and, despite being material down, created strong threats against the king:


Black had already recovered the rook — with a knight fork — and had better-coordinated pieces, but with the kings in the open White could still create threats. At this point, Naiditsch answered to the check with 48...Kg4?, when 48...Qe7 was necessary — after 49.Rd5+ Kg4 50.Rd4+, the black king finds shelter in f3! After that mistake, Black was still in position to go for a draw with an impossible-to-find (in blitz) perpetual check. Instead, there followed 49.Rd4 Kf3?:


The queen fell — this was the huge problem with 48....Kg4 — and Wojtaszek went on to win what was a completely insane first play-off game.

Some famous spectators waiting for the first blitz encounter | Photo: Official site

In game two, Naiditsch needed a win with White and he chose the Rossolimo Variation after his rival went for the Sicilian. Just like in the previous encounter, Arkadij left the opening on top and even managed to use a typical Sicilian manoeuvre:


Naiditsch played 11.Nd5. Radek took the knight and defended as tenaciously as possible against White's onslaught against his uncastled king. However, despite avoiding a quick mate, the Polish grandmaster found himself in a clearly inferior position. After some simplifications, White had a chance to finish his opponent off:


To simply queen with 27.d8Q was enough, but Naiditsch went for the more sophisticated — and inaccurate — 27.Rb1 and now only had a slightly better endgame with a rook and two pawns against two pieces. Wojtaszek did not defend accurately, but the game went on until move 77, when Naiditsch showed he knew how to win with rook against bishop on an empty board:


Black resigned and the play-off was tied. An Armageddon game would decide the winner!

A nice shot from the classical game | Photo: Official Facebook page

Wojtaszek got the white pieces and the obligation to win in order to take home the trophy. The last two games had been won by White, so that might have been a good omen for Radek. Unlike the first play-off battle, Wojtaszek got the upper hand against his opponent's King's Indian Defence. By move 21, he had gained all the positional trumps:


In a classical game, we could pretty much call this a two-result game with White a big favourite to win, but this was Armageddon and there was a lot at stake. Naiditsch, aware of this fact, continued with 21...g5, trying to create some confusion in order to avoid getting positionally crushed. Bravery had been a friend of Naiditsch's throughout the event, but this time it backfired. Wojtaszek played energetically and completely steamrolled Black's position:


White has mate-in-four and Wojtaszek found it immediately: 35.Qe5+ Kg8 36.Qxe6+ Kh7 37.Be4+ and Black resigned without allowing 37...Kg7 38.Qf7#.

Naiditsch resigns making Wojtaszek the new champion | Photo: John Saunders

Wojtaszek earned the trophy after having an undefeated run during the classical nine rounds and showing great tenacity during the play-offs — he had a worse position out of the opening in the first two games. Naiditsch would have definitely been a deserving winner as well, after showing his usual enterprising style during the tournament. The showdown between these two heavy-weight fighters was a nice final touch to a great event!

Marital bliss and other (Russian) stories

Wojtaszek's joy did not end there, as his wife Alina Kashlinskaya finished clear first place amongst the ladies, took home £7,000 and got a GM norm — all during her 25th birthday! It was definitely a good Sunday for one of the best-known — and strongest — chess couples in the world.

Alina's performance was outstanding. She finished on 6/9 after facing higher-rated players in seven out of nine rounds. It was clear that she was in good form when she drew Anish Giri and Vladimir Kramnik in the first two rounds, while her final two wins against 2600-players — Rinat Jumabayev and Samuel Sevian — secured her clear first place amongst the women, in a tournament that makes an effort and manages to attract a lot of strong female players.


Alina got an impressive last-round win over Sevian | Photo: John Saunders

Kashlinskaya can also be happy for her compatriots Vladimir Kramnik and Alexander Grischuk, who won their final games to end the tournament on 6½/9, in the seven-player group that shared 3rd-9th place. Their victories came against strong opposition as well, as Grischuk defeated MVL and Kramnik beat his old-time rival Alexei Shirov.

Despite not being Russian, Hikaru Nakamura also finished on a high after his loss in round eight. The American also reached 6½ points after taking down Pavel Eljanov.

Grischuk vs MVL with Shirov vs Kramnik in the background | Photo: John Saunders

Round 9 results (top 20 boards)

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Naiditsch Arkadij ½ - ½ Wojtaszek Radoslaw
Xiong Jeffery 6 ½ - ½ 6 Jones Gawain C B
Grischuk Alexander 1 - 0 6 Vachier-Lagrave Maxime
Wang Hao 6 ½ - ½ Anand Viswanathan
Sethuraman S.P. ½ - ½ Giri Anish
Shirov Alexei 0 - 1 Kramnik Vladimir
Nakamura Hikaru 1 - 0 Eljanov Pavel
Fridman Daniel ½ - ½ Karjakin Sergey
Rapport Richard ½ - ½ Leko Peter
Adams Michael 0 - 1 Adhiban B.
Vidit Santosh Gujrathi ½ - ½ Melkumyan Hrant
Artemiev Vladislav ½ - ½ Parligras Mircea-Emilian
Aronian Levon 5 ½ - ½ 5 Deac Bogdan-Daniel
Nihal Sarin 5 ½ - ½ 5 So Wesley
Praggnanandhaa R 5 0 - 1 5 Le Quang Liem
Gukesh D 5 0 - 1 5 Almasi Zoltan
Nabaty Tamir 5 ½ - ½ 5 Huschenbeth Niclas
Howell David W L 5 1 - 0 5 Tregubov Pavel V.
Kovalev Vladislav 5 1 - 0 5 Gupta Abhijeet
Kashlinskaya Alina 5 1 - 0 5 Sevian Samuel

Final standings (top 20)

Rk. Name  TB1 
1 Wojtaszek Radoslaw 7,0
  Naiditsch Arkadij 7,0
3 Kramnik Vladimir 6,5
  Grischuk Alexander 6,5
  Nakamura Hikaru 6,5
  Wang Hao 6,5
  Jones Gawain C B 6,5
  Adhiban B. 6,5
  Xiong Jeffery 6,5
10 Giri Anish 6,0
  Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 6,0
  Anand Viswanathan 6,0
  Karjakin Sergey 6,0
  Rapport Richard 6,0
  Le Quang Liem 6,0
  Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 6,0
  Artemiev Vladislav 6,0
  Almasi Zoltan 6,0
  Leko Peter 6,0
  Howell David W L 6,0

Games from Round 9


Play-off games



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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Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 10/31/2018 02:02
@ lajosarpad:

As I thought, in fact, we agree!...
lajosarpad lajosarpad 10/31/2018 12:04

I was not aware of the additional £500, even though a search for it in the comment section clearly shows you have already mentioned it. I've read the comments in a rush, due to my other obligations, so sorry for missing your point and thanks for the correction.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 10/30/2018 04:04
@ lajosarpad:

"You are right about the split of prize money (...)"

£500 (the additional prize for winning the tiebreak) seems very little money, compared to the £37.500 given to the two play-off participants, but, in fact, per hour of play, it represents more than the prize received for the play-off participants' results in the "classical games part" of the event: for a 60 moves average length (the length used for equivalences between main thinking time and increments in the official FIDE rules), for the classical games, they received a little less than £700 per hour of play, while, for the play-off, Wojtaszek must have received approximately a little more than £1.000 per hour of play (I say "approximately" because I couldn't find the time control for the tiebreaks; I calculated this using the 2017 World Blitz Championship's time controls).

So I don't think it is really exact to say that the prize money is split, because, globally, what this amounts to is that you receive more money if you win the event that if you finish second: if you are a tiebreak winner, you receive £38.000; if you are number two on tiebreaks, you receive £37.500.
jsaldea12 jsaldea12 10/30/2018 03:06
Contiuity: How to apply swiss system in chess tournament with, say, 184 teams (like in Chess Olympiad 2018): Divide 182 by 2, keeps dividing the result by 2 until you arrive at negative . Count the divided 2s' and you arrive at 7. That means that 7 rounds is right swiss system. Consider this 7 rounds preliminary. Players who accumulated 4 points in preliminary qualified for quater final. After a format of, say,, play for 6 rounds, the top six teams qualified for the final. The top teams, say 6 teams, play in the FINAL , round robin, using format rapid, blitz, bullets chess..
dumkof dumkof 10/30/2018 11:11
I fully agree with Petrarlsen. Armageddon is pure nonsense and a pure circus act.

After playing a couple serious classical games, world elite players are forced to play this Armageddon nonsense, with arbitrary time odds and colour odds. What a disgrace... Why do top players let themselves and classical chess humiliate that way? It's in their hands to change this. If I were Carlsen, I would never attend any tournament with Armageddon. Top players are human, not only chess machines playing for price money and fame. They carry the responsibility to elevate chess in every sense.

As many surveys show, most chess players and fans are against Armageddon. Recently, the Norway Armageddon system has been heavily criticised. So why does Armageddon still exist? What are these surveys for?
lajosarpad lajosarpad 10/30/2018 10:39
I almost forgot: congratulations, Radek!

Polak wenger dwa bratanki, i do sabli, i do skankli.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 10/30/2018 10:39
@Petrarlsen and @malfa

I agree with you that these tiebreaks are more like circus events.

"this is as sensible as deciding the first place in a marathon by forcing the fastest athletes to run a 100 meters race just after cutting the finish line."

Malfa, I think you mean rapid and blitz tiebreaks are like making marathon runners run 100 meters. In the case of armageddon, though, White has 5 minutes, Black has 4 and draw odds, so it is like making some of the athletes run 80 meters and some others 100 with tie odds.


You are right about the split of prize money, but as Petrarlsen pointed out, the ordering of the places was decided this way. As about your argument about the organizers paying for the hole thing: Kirsan Iljumshinov paid for a lot of things. Should we avoid criticising his presidency due to this reason and be grateful for his sponsor money?
jsaldea12 jsaldea12 10/30/2018 01:43
Why not adopt the standard platform in the Olympics: Preliminary, quarterfinal, FINAL. Actually ths was the format adopted in chess tournament some thirty years and below: preliminary rounds, quarterfinal and FINAL.
sedarpl sedarpl 10/29/2018 06:43
Bravo Radek..!! :))
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 10/29/2018 06:18
@ FramiS: If it suits you to have a top-tournament finishing in a circus-act, then, there is nothing much to add...

As for the organizers, if they succeed in the end in killing chess by creating each time something more absurd (cf. the last Norway Chess nonsense -, I don't think that we will have to thank them for that.

And, by the way, when you say that the play-off is only an exhibition match, this isn't true at all; this is how the official site presented the tournament's results (

"John Saunders reports: the 2018 Isle of Man International was won by Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland after a play-off match with Arkadij Naiditsch of Azerbaijan. (...) They each take home a cheque for £37,500 with Wojtaszek also receiving a further £500 for winning the blitz play-off."

So, following this report: 1) They aren't two co-winners but one SOLE winner, Wojtaszek ("the 2018 Isle of Man International was won by Radoslaw Wojtaszek"), and: 2) There was also a monetary prize for winning the play-off (£500 for less than one hour of play isn't negligible), so you cannot even say that money prizes are exactly the same for the two play-off participants.
FramiS FramiS 10/29/2018 04:49
@Petralsen and malfa
The play-off is actually only a exhibition match beacause the prize money is divided equally between the shared places. Therefore there is no reason to make a question of faith out of it and go on a rant against the organizers who pay the whole thing.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 10/29/2018 04:35
@ malfa:

- "I am used to say, this is as sensible as deciding the first place in a marathon by forcing the fastest athletes to run a 100 meters race just after cutting the finish line."

I would even go one step further: as Armageddon is, per se, pure nonsense in my opinion, it is even as if the fastest athletes had to run a 100 meters race on one foot after a marathon!

- "As a consolation, things could become even worse: just think that FIDE, after the long-standing critics on the so-called Olympic tiebreak, one day decide that in case of ex aequo two teams play short time tiebreaks!"

True! And as the imagination of some organizers seems to be bottomless for devising absurd systems, perhaps someone will even create something worse still at one point!
Denix Denix 10/29/2018 02:28
Great article Antonio Pereira! You made me read the entire story, and looking for more.
malfa malfa 10/29/2018 02:08
as I am used to say, this is as sensible as deciding the first place in a marathon by forcing the fastest athletes to run a 100 meters race just after cutting the finish line. As a consolation, things could become even worse: just think that FIDE, after the long-standing critics on the so-called Olympic tiebreak, one day decide that in case of ex aequo two teams play short time tiebreaks!
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 10/29/2018 01:32
I regret to see nine days of beautiful classical chess end up in the general confusion of an Armageddon game.

It is in a way spectacular, but, in my opinion, much more in the line of a circus act than that of "serious chess"... I don't understand tournament organizers to choose such a way to ultimately break the ties...