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 Chess.com 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

 

Links



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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