Start of the Gibraltar Masters

by Macauley Peterson
1/24/2019 – Most of the favourites were successful in Tuesday's opening round. Hikaru Nakamura, however, was nicked for a draw with black against his opponent's London system. Yu Yangyi was the only other player among the top twenty in the field not to score a full point and his draw came with the white pieces. After two rounds Wesley So (pictured) is the top player with a perfect score. | Photo: John Saunders

Opening package: 1.b3 and Black Secrets in the Modern Italian Opening package: 1.b3 and Black Secrets in the Modern Italian

Wesley So published two new opening DVDs: 1.b3, the so called Nimzo-Larsen-Attack, for White and his black secrets in the modern Italian. Get them in a package and save money!


Swiss gambits sometimes pay off

The first round of big open Swiss tournaments typically sees large rating differentials on all boards as the first half of the starting list plays against those in the second half. The games themselves are not necessarily one-sided, but the results mostly match up to Elo expectations. 

In 2018, Levon Aronian drew in the first round and then went on to win the tournament. This year it was former Gib-champ Hikaru Nakamura who struggled with black against 2390-rated Vaso Blesic's London system, barely squeezing any advantage from the solid white structure.

Hikaru Nakamura

Nakamura sporting a St. Louis Rapid and Blitz jacket | Photo: John Saunders

Nakamura had to settle for a draw in the rook ending:


As a result, Nakamura was paired way down on board 52 for the second round (a board that was not broadcast live) and there he drew again! So the American has a bit of a hole to dig himself out of.

Yu Yangyi also could not gain an advantage against Ariel Erenburg and the latter even missed a golden opportunity:


Erenburg played 25...Qe5 here and the game later ended up in a balanced rook ending. Instead, 25...Qb6 -+ would have left White with too many weaknesses to survive.

The roller coaster ride of the day was provided by Hrant Melkumyan and Dina Belenkaya. In the exchange variation of the Caro-Kann Defence, the Russian WGM she won an exchange for a pawn. The position was objectively balanced but maybe a bit easier for Melkumyan to play with the knight. Belenkaya defended well and had a moment to leverage the power of her rook with a difficult-to-spot clearance sacrifice:


After 60...Kb7 the game began to tip in the Armenian's favour. The chance to strike was 60...Re2! followed by d4 to open up lines on the long diagonal for the queen.

Dina Belenkaya

Dina Belenkaya | Photo: David Llada

Nevertheless, Belenkaya retained drawing chances until White spotted an easy conversion to a winning pawn ending:


Melkumyan calculated 109.Qg3+ out to a win as the g-pawn cannot be stopped.

This marathon of a game stood in stark contrast to the miniature between FM Peter Lombaers and GM Gawain Jones. The affable Englishman took control early on the black side of a symmetrical English opening, then dealt several massive blows in the ensuing middlegame.


18...Bb5+ 19.Kg1 Bd3 20.Qb2 Qh5! and the one-sided battle did not last long. 

Gawain Jones

Gawain Jones | Photo: David Llada

Results of Round 1 (top 25)

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Kiik Kalle 0 0 - 1 0 Vachier-Lagrave Maxime
Aronian Levon 0 1 - 0 0 Sukandar Irine Kharisma
Pigott John C 0 0 - 1 0 So Wesley
Yu Yangyi 0 ½ - ½ 0 Erenberg Ariel
Blesic Vaso 0 ½ - ½ 0 Nakamura Hikaru
Navara David 0 1 - 0 0 Shachar Ehud
Vega Gutierrez Sabrina 0 0 - 1 0 Naiditsch Arkadij
Vitiugov Nikita 0 1 - 0 0 Shvayger Yuliya
Seeman Tarvo 0 0 - 1 0 Le Quang Liem
Ivanchuk Vassily 0 1 - 0 0 Guichard Pauline
Hedman Erik 0 0 - 1 0 Artemiev Vladislav
Adams Michael 0 1 - 0 0 Zhukova Natalia
Anand Nadar 0 ½ - ½ 0 Matlakov Maxim
Cheparinov Ivan 0 1 - 0 0 Arakhamia-Grant Ketevan
Lombaers Peter 0 0 - 1 0 Jones Gawain C B
Saric Ivan 0 1 - 0 0 Krishna Teja N
Rahul Srivatshav P 0 0 - 1 0 Adhiban B.
Howell David W L 0 1 - 0 0 Galinsky Timofey
Quillan Gary 0 0 - 1 0 Grandelius Nils
Eljanov Pavel 0 1 - 0 0 Lane Gary W
Hoolt Sarah 0 0 - 1 0 Sethuraman S.P.
Melkumyan Hrant 0 1 - 0 0 Belenkaya Dina
Gavilan Diaz Mario 0 0 - 1 0 Short Nigel D
Akobian Varuzhan 0 1 - 0 0 Taboas Rodriguez Daniel
Taylor Adam C 0 0 - 1 0 Edouard Romain

Wesley So tops early leaderboard

Wesley So, playing the white side of a Sveshnikov Sicilian in Round 2, mirrored his teammate Fabiano Caruana from Game 8 of the World Championship match. So's opponent, Polish GM Daniel Sadzikowski deviated from Magnus Carlsen (and others) on move 13 and So got a nice advantage in the resulting middlegame by giving up his queen for rook and bishop:


Retreating the queen and allowing the exchange of light-square bishops would be equal but, of course, So had planned 18.Qxf5! Rxf5 19.Bxf5 and now 19...Nf6 20.Be3 Qb8 21.c4 leaves white with a pleasant edge. Sadzikowski's 19...a6 let So grab an even bigger advantage with 20.Nxd6 Qxd6 21.Bxg4 Qxd5 22.Bc3. From there on it only increased.


So and Navara

So looks surprised by the opening choice of David Navara | Photo: John Saunders

Navara was content to play a Pirc Defence, weathering some opening pressure to emerge with an equal and dynamic middlegame — so far so good for a strategy with Black against a lower-rated player, GM Thai Dai Van Nguyen. Navara won a pawn, but White was keeping himself in the game until this moment:


34.Qa7 was a bit careless, overlooking that after 34...d4! The d-pawn simply cannot be stopped. 

Le Quang Liem and Vladislav Artemiev are two other 2700-players among the 33 in total who remain perfect with 2/2.

There's a lot of chess still to be played in Gibraltar, however!

Results of Round 2 (top 25)

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 1 ½ - ½ 1 Puranik Abhimanyu
Muzychuk Mariya 1 ½ - ½ 1 Aronian Levon
So Wesley 1 1 - 0 1 Sadzikowski Daniel
Nguyen Thai Dai Van 1 0 - 1 1 Navara David
Naiditsch Arkadij 1 ½ - ½ 1 Zanan Evgeny
Hjartarson Johann 1 ½ - ½ 1 Vitiugov Nikita
Le Quang Liem 1 1 - 0 1 Demuth Adrien
Goryachkina Aleksandra 1 ½ - ½ 1 Ivanchuk Vassily
Artemiev Vladislav 1 1 - 0 1 Gallego Alcaraz Andres Felipe
Cuenca Jimenez Jose Fernando 1 ½ - ½ 1 Adams Michael
Gunina Valentina 1 0 - 1 1 Cheparinov Ivan
Jones Gawain C B 1 1 - 0 1 Sprenger Jan Michael Dr.
Krysa Leandro 1 0 - 1 1 Saric Ivan
Adhiban B. 1 ½ - ½ 1 Ubilava Elizbar
Sosa Tomas 1 ½ - ½ 1 Howell David W L
Grandelius Nils 1 1 - 0 1 Chandra Akshat
Gukesh D 1 ½ - ½ 1 Eljanov Pavel
Sethuraman S.P. 1 1 - 0 1 Henderson De La Fuente Lance
Repka Christopher 1 0 - 1 1 Melkumyan Hrant
Short Nigel D 1 ½ - ½ 1 Libiszewski Fabien
Stefanova Antoaneta 1   1 Akobian Varuzhan
Edouard Romain 1 1 - 0 1 Gavrilescu David
Harsha Bharathakoti 1 1 - 0 1 Anton Guijarro David
Alekseenko Kirill 1 ½ - ½ 1 Harika Dronavalli
Krishna C R G 1 0 - 1 1 Iturrizaga Bonelli Eduardo

All games


Correction Jan 24 — The colours in the game Yu vs Erenburg were incorrectly stated. Yu was white and Erenberg was black.

Andre Schulz contributed reporting


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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