Isle of Man: rain and sunshine (part 1/2)

by Alina l'Ami
10/16/2014 – The combination of poker and chess at the Isle of Man was a fun change of pace, but in spite of this, for most players, it was the open that was the biggest draw, attracting top British and foreign players. The star was eventual English legend Nigel Short who beat Howell in the last round to take first, but there was so much more to it as told by Alina L'Ami in her wonderful report.

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A few weeks ago a dear friend asked me: "So, what are you up to, Alina?" I am a fast speaker, and my tongue is usally stuck trying to keep up with my thoughts, especially when I am enthusiastic about something. Unsurprisingly, she “misunderstood” my answer "Isle of Man!", which came out a bit like 'I love men'
"OK," she said. "I love men, too, but where are you going next?"

The Isle of Man is a self-governing British Crown dependency
located in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland

I find this amusing confusion quite illustrative for the series of paradoxical contrasts I faced during my delightful ten days on this small island. Soon after landing, I wondered whether I had taken the right flight: I was prepared for northern landscapes, but the vegetation looked rather typical of the tropics! Had I managed to trick autumn again?

Douglas when it doesn't rain. For this shot I had to work quite a bit..almost did some trespassing
but the fences were too high...then I found a new spot, difficult to explain what that was but the
view was blocked by something similar to prison bars.

Not really, since the sunshine was anything but tropical and the weather was so fickle that around the middle of the tournament many players got sick because of its whims... On the other hand, perhaps the players' colds were contagious, spreading from one to another with the same speed as their good spirits did! And if the two things came as part of the same package, the share of coughing and sneezing was a small price to pay for the broad smiles accompanying them.

Merry Alan B (with his mother), the tournament sensation, happy to receive both IM and GM norms!

A sample game illustrating his original play:

[Event "PokerStars IoM Masters 2014"] [Site "Douglas ENG"] [Date "2014.10.11"] [Round "8.17"] [White "Merry, Alan B"] [Black "Jedynak, R."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E20"] [WhiteElo "2269"] [BlackElo "2453"] [Annotator "Alina"] [PlyCount "55"] [EventDate "2014.10.04"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "ENG"] {The rising talent from England, FM Merry Allan B, born in 1996, gave a more than a good account of himself in Isle of Man. In fact, his performance is absolutely stunning: he finished on 6/9 points, shared the sixth place with giants like Adams or MVL, grabbed both IM and GM norms, with a performance of 2624 and a plus on rating of 79.4!! We don't know yet the key to his success... for sure it was the hard work, combined with his mother's support and maybe the...dried sausages he was always eating during the game! I should re-think my diet during tournaments.... I thouroughly went through his games played in this tournament and I could draw a conclusion, if you allow me so: no matter which position appeared on the board, which line or which opponent he had, Alan played the same original, fresh and with no inhibitions chess!} 1. d4 e6 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. f3 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 Nc6 7. e4 d6 8. Ne2 {the good old lines, played by Spassky as well, with the idea of jumping to g3, sacrificing the c4 pawn if necessary, pushing f4 and trying to get a massive attack.} b6 {But here, as mentioned before, Alan went his own way, who's point will be revealed later on:} 9. Bg5 h6 10. Bh4 Na5 11. Nc1 {a new square for the knight has been found!} Ba6 12. Nb3 Bxc4 13. Nxa5 Bxf1 14. dxc5 {Quite some calculation is needed for these positions, to decide in which type of endgame one would like to end up, without missing any tricks in the process.} Ba6 {And from here on things started to get wrong...} ({Better was} 14... dxc5 15. Rxf1 bxa5 16. Qxd8+ Rxd8 17. Rb1 O-O {For the higher rated player though, to take such a decision, is not a dream came true, especially since you would like to bring a point at the end of the day. But practically this would have been better than what happened next.}) 15. Nc6 Qd7 16. Qxd6 bxc5 17. Rd1 Rc8 18. Qg3 Nh5 19. Rxd7 Nxg3 20. Re7+ Kf8 21. Bxg3 Rxc6 22. Rxa7 Kg8 23. Kf2 f6 24. Rd1 Kh7 25. Rdd7 Rg8 26. e5 f5 27. Rd6 Bb5 28. a4 {Somehow the moves played by Alan look as if chess is very easy and even if it didn't always go well for him, I admired his natural style. Sometimes the openings went wrong but just like a tumbler toy, he somehow managed to keep control and emerge victorious! I should also mention that when his opponents pushed for more, like in the last round, Alan took his chances and with his youthful tenacity managed to win a 90-move marathon!} 1-0

The Israeli table in the closing ceremony; you can recognize the extremely dynamic player
Alon Greenfeld as well; he defeated me twice and in the same line, but we had great fun
in playing interesting games.

If I didn't know Elisabeth personally, I would say she is "cheating" by
wearing some coloured lenses to get such incredible eyes, but they are
as real and amazing as her personality.

Well-played by David Howell too and, although he lost the last round,
it was still a great tournament

[Event "PokerStars IoM Masters 2014"] [Site "Douglas ENG"] [Date "2014.10.12"] [Round "9.1"] [White "Short, N."] [Black "Howell, D."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E47"] [WhiteElo "2646"] [BlackElo "2657"] [Annotator "Alina"] [PlyCount "82"] [EventDate "2014.10.04"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "ENG"] {It is a common occurance in Open tournaments to see quick draws on the top boards, assuring the players a decent prize money and a good feeling for finishing on a positive note; the risk that playing all-in brings, is too much to bear for most players: the stakes are high, the round is usually played earlier so less time to prepare, everybody is tired, all in all it is a pretty difficult psychological affair on which dozens of articles have been written already, whether to allow such draws or not. That's why the 30 moves rule appeared and also the Sofia rules...but in the end, this is the chess players' job, to bring home the bread, so risking it is not for the faint hearted. This game, both Nigel and David proved they are lion-hearted, as they sat down and played each move to destroy the opposite side! And soon a similar Benoni structure appeared on the board, the only difference being that David's bishop was out for a walk on b4 and not placed as usually, on g7. We know what happens in such slippery on board!} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. d4 Bb4 4. e3 O-O $1 5. Bd3 c5 6. d5 exd5 7. cxd5 d6 8. Nge2 Nbd7 9. O-O $1 a6 10. a4 Rb8 11. h3 Re8 12. Kh1 Ne5 13. Bc2 b5 14. axb5 axb5 15. e4 Bd7 16. f4 Ng6 17. Ng3 Ba5 18. f5 Ne5 19. Bg5 b4 20. Nce2 Bb5 21. Bxf6 gxf6 {Black has a gorgeous knight on e5 but the king might get in trouble...this is exactly the weakness Nigel was trying to exploit, in his concrete and dynamic style that we have already seen glimpses from the previous game against Sargissian. And yet, there was a tactical and positional, at the same time, trick that he missed after:} 22. Nh5 b3 $1 {Well timed, preventing White to exchange it via a4 and thus the white bishop is downgraded to a pawn's life...} 23. Bb1 ({ Nigel said he missed this little move, so he decided to retreat the bishop; and I also wanted to write down that taking on b3 is out of the question, until the moment I switched on the engine...and it is not that clear!} 23. Bxb3 Bxe2 24. Qxe2 Rxb3 25. Qc2 c4 26. Qc1 Kf8 27. Qh6+ Ke7 28. Nxf6 {Quite a messy position and I will definitely return to it but somehow my feeling says that Black should be all right and yet, it might be one of those games where the positional sacrifice will prove to be too strong to handle on the long run.} Rxb2 29. Nxe8 Kxe8 30. f6 Kd7 31. Qxh7 Bb6 32. Rf5 {Doesn't it look like a computer game? It does...first lines of my engine. I didn't let it run for a long time so certainly these are not forced moves but just to get an idea of what's happening. And I am not sure what's going on, such a pawn on c4 is rather scary, so there is no surprise a human would chose to safely store his bishop on b1, to start with...}) 23... Kh8 24. Rf4 Rg8 25. Rh4 Rg5 26. Ng1 { Black seems to have stabilized the attack, the knight is still enjoying his forever lookout point and it should go his way from now on had he prevented the last deadly sleight of hand.} c4 {Oups! It didn't...the second push of a pawn was only a flash in the pan, as it fails to what brought Nigel the tournament's victory! Can you find it?} 27. Rxa5 $1 {distracting the queen from protecting the king of the house...} Qxa5 28. Nxf6 Kg7 29. Nxh7 Rh8 30. Qc1 f6 31. Nxf6 $1 {The surgical precision Nigel applies in this concrete position is truly impressive, no chances are handed Black to come back in the game.} Kxf6 32. Rxh8 Nf7 33. Nf3 Rg3 34. e5+ dxe5 35. Rh6+ Ke7 36. Rg6 Rxf3 37. gxf3 Qa7 38. Qe1 Qc5 39. Qh4+ Kd7 40. Qf6 Nd8 41. Rg8 Qg1+ {Very brave and wonderful for the spectators to have seen a tooth and nail fight for the first place and the 6000 pounds...not sure it was the same for David, who still had a great tournament after all, but losing in the last round is somewhat leaving a bitter taste behind. In any case, money, rating, it will all come back eventually and we are left with a beautiful fight for which we thank both! And we congratulate Nigel once again for his performance!} 1-0

Michael Adams was the top seed but had to content himself with sixth

Fiona Steil Antoni always working hard to promote the tournament

The air was so fresh and the sun's smile so unique, that I just couldn't resist and I had to enter my restless mode again, trying to immortalize the fascinating colours of the nature. Had I been a painter, Douglas would have been the perfect place to complete my artistic studies!

My camera didn't really like this, especially when I got over-ambitious in trying to immortalize
what it was in my head, a good photo opportunity... (Ed: A true photographer)

However, my continuous hunt for the sun's smile was quite often rewarded with a broad grin. In weather translation: cold showers would start out of the blue or huge waves would leap at you with a wet embrace, in case you dared to venture along the promenade. My shoes once got so wet during my artistic attempts in the photographic field that I found no remedy other than to dry them on the electric heater in my room. The problem was that I overdid it a bit and I'll have to buy some replacements soon...

The Isle of Man flag and the name of the island in the old language

Even though the sun and the vegetation proved a bit misleading, I found some other form of genuine warmth - that of the local people's soul. All my questions to passers-by were answered not only promptly and hyper-informatively, but also with an enthusiasm I didn't expect to meet at such high latitudes.

In the electric train where I met...

...the man who told me all kinds of interesting things about Isle of Man
and as a coincidence, he was staying in the same guest house I was

I had traveled to the Isle of Man prepared for dedicating myself to what we call in Romania "tearing the cat by its tail", meaning to spend the days in laziness. I planned to switch off my mobile phone, all the social media channels and surround myself by the supposed peace of the place in order to focus exclusively on the tournament. I found out that there was an organic defect of this plan, as the island is famous for its six-horned sheep and, more importantly... tail-less Manx cats! True, I never saw a single one though I carefully checked the dozens of cats crossing my way, but they all had quite impressive tails.

I told you that the Manx people are a happy bunch

The pub culture is of course vibrant, just as in England and Ireland,
where I have been so far. As you can see, my fascination with doors
and windows is very much alive.

Tradition with a modern twist - what are the spring onion and cucumber doing there?!

Even if we leave the area of symbols and step into the real territory, there is more excitement on the island than one might expect. The Isle of Man hosts the most dangerous motorcycle race in the world, starting from the Snaefell mountain and forcing the participants to risk their lives at breathtaking speed on the tight curves downhill. Since the first edition of the circuit, back in 1907, the race has claimed more than 200 victims... yet in spite of this the craziness on two wheels continues extremely popular.

The steam locomotive

Chess is less lethal (at least in a direct way), but being sponsored by the PokerStars, the 2014 tournament featured as much excitement as a poker contest. Speaking of the Casino, many players visited it regularly in the evenings and during the chess rounds, you could almost read on the faces of those who were painfully defrauded in their attempts to hit the big pot.

To be continued in part two...

Final standings

Rk SNo Ti. Name Fed Rtg  Pts 
1 9 GM Short Nigel D ENG 2646 7.5
2 3 GM Fressinet Laurent FRA 2713 6.5
  6 GM Tiviakov Sergei NED 2668 6.5
  8 GM Howell David W L ENG 2657 6.5
  21 GM Popilski Gil ISR 2493 6.5
6 1 GM Adams Michael ENG 2758 6.0
  2 GM Vachier-Lagrave Maxime FRA 2757 6.0
  4 GM Sargissian Gabriel ARM 2690 6.0
  7 GM Jones Gawain C B ENG 2664 6.0
  16 IM Hawkins Jonathan ENG 2533 6.0
  57 FM Merry Alan B ENG 2269 6.0
12 10 GM Gupta Abhijeet IND 2640 5.5
  11 GM Fridman Daniel GER 2635 5.5
  12 GM Marin Mihail ROU 2583 5.5
  13 GM Hillarp Persson Tiger SWE 2555 5.5
  14 GM Greenfeld Alon ISR 2542 5.5
  18 GM Harika Dronavalli IND 2528 5.5
  19 GM Tarjan James E USA 2525 5.5
  23 GM Gormally Daniel W ENG 2488 5.5
  24 GM Smith Bryan G USA 2482 5.5
  28 IM Van Foreest Jorden NED 2455 5.5
  58   Mindlin Alon ISR 2259 5.5
23 5 GM Granda Zuniga Julio E PER 2674 5.0

Click for complete standings

Pictures by Alina L'Ami


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Alina is an International Master and a very enthusiastic person in everything she does. She loves travelling to the world's most remote places in order to play chess tournaments and report about them here on ChessBase! As chance would have it Alina is also an excellent photographer.
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eltollo eltollo 10/17/2014 10:01
The tournament was really nice (and very strong, a little too strong for me maybe), but had a big flaw in the pairings. A friend of mine was twice paired up, while that could easily have been avoided. If they're not using a computer for pairing next year, I fear I have to refrain from playing again.
billybudd billybudd 10/17/2014 03:00
Great report - thanks!
gaber gaber 10/17/2014 11:59
What a wondeful match that Short-Howell!!!