Isle of Man: Kramnik's Candidates crisis

by Macauley Peterson
9/26/2017 – James Tarjan is 65 years old and has an Elo rating of 2412, but he was clearly the story of the day at the Isle of Man International after beating Vladimir Kramnik in round 3. While the former World Champion stumbled, the current one, Magnus Carlsen, remained in charge. He won against World Junior Champion Jeffrey Xiong and is now tied on a perfect 3.0 / 3 together with three other players. Annotations by GM Tiger Hillarp-Persson | Lead Photo: / Maria Emelianova | Other photos: Alina l'Ami

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The return of Tarjan

James Tarjan scored a stunning upset in round three, defeating Vladimir Kramnik in a game that could have far-reaching consequences, due to the rating race for the two qualification spots in the Candidates 2018 tournament.

Tarjan is an experienced grandmaster, but one that readers born after 1980 may well not have heard of. Tarjan was born in 1952 and became a GM in 1976. In the 1970s and 1980s, he played five times for the USA in the Chess Olympiad. In 1979, he qualified for the Interzonal Tournament in Riga, where he finished 11th. He retired from professional chess in 1984 and became a librarian.

Tarjan's experience came in handy against Kramnik. The American defended well contenting himself with parrying Black's threats. A successful strategy: after the opening, Kramnik took the initiative and stood better until he lost patience on move 30 and forced tactical sequence that left White with an edge.


Here is Tarjan's take on the game for the official live webcast:

GM James Tarjan with Fiona Steil-Antoni

This loss deals a nearly fatal blow to Kramnik's chances to qualify for the Candidates tournament by rating. The gap has widened between Kramnik and Wesley So, to the extent that it's hard to see Kramnik being able to recover, despite potential action in the forthcoming European Club Cup and European Team Championships.

Carlsen in the driver's seat

Magnus Carlsen showed off his attacking skills against the young American grandmaster and World Junior champion Jeffery Xiong. Grandmaster Tiger Hillarp-Persson takes a look:


Master Class Vol.8: Magnus Carlsen

Scarcely any world champion has managed to captivate chess lovers to the extent Carlsen has. The enormously talented Norwegian hasn't been systematically trained within the structures of a major chess-playing nation such as Russia, the Ukraine or China.

Jeffery Xiong

World Junior Champion Jeffery Xiong got his first crack at Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Alina l'Ami

This leaves the World Champion with a perfect score tied with Pavel Eljanov, Rustam Kasimdzhanov and Aleksandr Lenderman.

A computer's defense

Eljanov ground out a win against German GM Falko Bindrich in one of the longest games of the round. Bindrich, who was previously disqualified from a tournament on suspicion of cheating and banned (later overturned) by the German Chess Federation, missed a curious opportunity to draw the game just after time control.


Here Bindrich played the human-looking 42...Re7 to exchange off White's active rook. However, the lunge 42...Nb6 is actually the way to go, enticing White to play 43.Rxg7+! Kxg7 44.Qa7+ Rf7 45.Qxb6. [You can play these moves on the diagram above!]

At first glance this looks crushing for White, whose queen and knight coordinate to massive effect, with the immediate threat of Qxh6. But black has a hidden resource in 45...Rxf2!! when after the forced 46.Kxf2 Rf8 47.Kg2 (or Ke2) there's an incredible draw by perpetual check: 47...Qf1+ Kh2 48.Rf2! Nxf2 49.Qxf2 followed by Qxe3 and one side or another will give the perpetual.

Instead Eljanov went on to slowly increase his advantage until Bindrich could no longer avoid resignation on move 64.

Pavel Eljanov

Eljanov will have black against Lenderman next | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Hou's curious predicament

Last January, Hou Yifan was the subject of a curious scandal at the Gibraltar Chess Festival, when she deliberately lost her final round game to protest what she felt were suspicious pairings that saw her face an unusuually high percentage of women for a large open tournament. Now she finds herself paired in round four with her fourth consecutive female player. A remarkable coincidence!

Gibraltar 2017 (7 out of 10 female opponents)
Rd. Bo. SNo   Name Rtg FED Pts. Res. w-we
1 22 143 WGM Pourkashiyan Atousa 2303 IRI 5,0 s 1 0,11
2 19 85 GM Zhukova Natalia 2447 UKR 5,5 w 1 0,24
3 11 47 GM Muzychuk Anna 2558 UKR 6,5 s ½ -0,13
4 16 51 GM Muzychuk Mariya 2546 UKR 6,0 w 1 0,36
5 4 5 GM Adams Michael 2751 ENG 7,5 s 0 -0,36
6 19 81 GM Cramling Pia 2454 SWE 5,5 w ½ -0,25
7 20 78 IM Ider Borya 2463 FRA 5,5 s 1 0,26
8 15 38 GM Ju Wenjun 2583 CHN 7,0 w 0 -0,59
9 23 66 IM Batsiashvili Nino 2492 GEO 6,0 s 1 0,29
10 17 37 GM Lalith Babu M R 2587 IND 7,0 w 0 -0,59
Isle of Man 2017 (4 out of 4 female opponents)
Rd. Bo. SNo   Name Rtg FED Club/City Pts. Res.
1 20 52 GM Kosteniuk Alexandra 2552 RUS   2,0 s ½
2 37 75 IM Paehtz Elisabeth 2453 GER   1,5 w 1
3 22 68 IM Batsiashvili Nino 2472 GEO   2,5 s 0
4 34 80 WGM Shvayger Yuliya 2442 ISR   1,5 w

Yifan discussed the Gibraltar incident, among other topics, at some length with me on my podcast, The Full English Breakfast earlier this year:

In round three, Hou lost to Georgian IM Nino Batsiashvili who, it's worth noting, she also faced in Gibraltar! Batsiashvili developed an initiative out of the opening and capitalized on consecutive errors from the world's best woman, in a game that she will not soon forget. GM Tiger Hillarp-Persson breaks it down:


Nino Batsiashvili

Nino Batsiashvili | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Hou's first loss of the tournament leaves her on a 50% score, where there are a significantly higher proporation of female players, yet the coincidence of hitting a fourth consecutive women must nontheless be incredibly disheartening for her.

One hopes she will confirm to her satisfaction that the computer-generated pairings have been done correctly, shake off this bit of "bad luck" — evoking her prior experience in Gibraltar — and play the game.

Standings after Round 3 (Top 30)

Rg. Snr   Name Land Elo  Wtg1 
1 1 GM Carlsen Magnus NOR 2827 3,0
  8 GM Eljanov Pavel UKR 2734 3,0
  18 GM Kasimdzhanov Rustam UZB 2676 3,0
  46 GM Lenderman Aleksandr USA 2565 3,0
5 3 GM Caruana Fabiano USA 2799 2,5
  4 GM Anand Viswanathan IND 2794 2,5
  5 GM Nakamura Hikaru USA 2781 2,5
  6 GM Adams Michael ENG 2738 2,5
  12 GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi IND 2702 2,5
  14 GM Short Nigel D ENG 2698 2,5
  20 GM Movsesian Sergei ARM 2671 2,5
  26 GM Fressinet Laurent FRA 2657 2,5
  27 GM Granda Zuniga Julio E PER 2653 2,5
  28 GM Grandelius Nils SWE 2653 2,5
  31 GM Shirov Alexei LAT 2630 2,5
  32 GM Bok Benjamin NED 2620 2,5
  33 GM Sethuraman S.P. IND 2617 2,5
  41 GM Tari Aryan NOR 2588 2,5
  49 GM Deac Bogdan-Daniel ROU 2559 2,5
  55 GM Swapnil S. Dhopade IND 2532 2,5
  56 GM Harika Dronavalli IND 2528 2,5
  68 IM Batsiashvili Nino GEO 2472 2,5
  98 IM Houska Jovanka ENG 2393 2,5
24 7 GM Gelfand Boris ISR 2737 2,0
  9 GM Vallejo Pons Francisco ESP 2716 2,0
  10 GM Almasi Zoltan HUN 2707 2,0
  11 GM Naiditsch Arkadij AZE 2702 2,0
  13 GM Howell David W L ENG 2701 2,0
  15 GM Rodshtein Maxim ISR 2695 2,0
  16 GM Sutovsky Emil ISR 2683 2,0
  17 GM Leko Peter HUN 2679 2,0
  19 GM Rapport Richard HUN 2675 2,0
  21 GM Adhiban B. IND 2670 2,0
  23 GM Jones Gawain C B ENG 2668 2,0
  24 GM Riazantsev Alexander RUS 2666 2,0
  29 GM Sargissian Gabriel ARM 2652 2,0
  30 GM Xiong Jeffery USA 2633 2,0

All games rounds 1-3


Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly put the number of female opponents for Hou Yifan in Gibraltar 2017 at 8. In fact it was only 7 out of 10.


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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