Throwback Thursday: Harikrishna wins on the Isle of Man

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/3/2021 – By now, the GM tournament played on the Isle of Man is already a fixture in the yearly chess calendar, with the British Crown Dependency set to organize the FIDE Grand Swiss for a second time this year. Before that, a strong open had taken place from 2014 until 2018. The second edition was won by Pentala Harikrishna. | Photos: Alina l’Ami

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Fighting chess all around

The Isle of Man tournament, which by now has become a fixture in the chess calendar, celebrated its first edition back in 2014. With its venue at the Villa Marina on Douglas’ seafront, the first two editions were sponsored by PokerStars, with a number of activities involving original combinations of chess and poker taking place as side events.

Nigel Short was the clear winner that year, as he prevailed in a field that included three 2700+ rated players. Given the success of the inaugural tournament, the second edition attracted a stronger lineup, with Michael Adams, Penatala Harikrishna and David Howell arriving at the island as the top seeds.

The strength of the event only increased the next years, with chess.com taking over as the main sponsor. Pavel Eljanov, Magnus Carlsen and Radoslaw Wojtaszek won the next three editions, as the event attracted the very best in the world, including the likes of Vladimir Kramnik, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So.

In 2019, the Grand Swiss, a qualifier to the Candidates Tournament, was played on the island located in the Irish Sea, while this year both the Grand Swiss and the Women’s Grand Swiss will take place at the Royal Hall of the Villa Marina.

Isle of Man

The majestic playing hall | Photo: Alina l’Ami

A fortunate decision

Harikrishna won the 2015 tournament after scoring five wins and four draws, much like Laurent Fressinet and Gabriel Sargissian. The Indian star decided to participate in the event instead of making his way to the Berlin to play at the World Rapid Championship. Talking to Sagar Shah, Hari explained:

I received invitation to play in the Isle of Man couple of months ago. At that time the World Rapid and Blitz dates were not known. It is pity that the dates clashed. It would have been better if they hadn’t. In any case, as I confirmed my participation in the Isle of Man tournament before, I did not want to change anything.

Harikrishna nonetheless managed to make it in time to play at the World Blitz Championship, which that year was won by Alexander Grischuk.

In Douglas, the man from Andhra Pradesh kicked off with two victories, over Ori Kobo and Vishnu Prasanna. His win over the latter turned out to be his favourite from the event. Hari told Sagar Shah:

I calculated the line starting with 23.Nc4 until 27.Qxa8 with the conclusion that White having the bishop pair plus pawn up is clearly better.

 

Pentala Harikrishna

Pentala Harikrishna | Photo: Alina l’Ami

A key game on his way to overall victory came in round 7, when he got the better of Arkadij Naiditsch with the black pieces. The Azerbaijani had a winning position, but failed to find the right continuation on move 34.

 

34.Kb3 wins for White in every line, while after 34.Rb7 Ra8 35.Nb6 Ra6 36.Rd3 Bd6! Black was back in the game.

As it often happens in these cases, the side that missed the win ended up faltering later on to lose the game. Replay the key encounter with annotations by Sagar Shah.

 

Arkadij Naiditsch, Pentala Harikrishna

Arkadij Naiditsch v Pentala Harikrishna | Photo: Alina l’Ami

This victory left Hari in the sole lead with two rounds to go. A draw against Sargissian was enough to keep his place at the top of the standings. In the last round, the Indian was paired up against defending champion Nigel Short. Short tried hard to take him down, but did not manage, while chasers Fressinet and Sargissian won their games on boards 2 and 3.

Tiebreak criteria gave Harikrishna tournament victory. The top three prizes were distributed evenly, with each player taking home £6,000. What did this mean to the champion of the event? Hari responded:

For me the title is more important!

Gabriel Sargissian, Laurent Fressinet, Pentala Harikrishna

Gabriel Sargissian, Laurent Fressinet, Pentala Harikrisha, sponsor Mr. Scheinberg and tournament organizer Alan Ormsby | Photo: Alina l’Ami

Highlights from the tournament by Alina l’Ami

In her final report, besides her usual fantastic photos from the venue and the surrounding areas, Alina l’Ami, who also played in the tournament, reflected:

Once in a while, in interviews, the question comes up as to why on earth we do not give up the spiny chess career? I usually give vague answers, such as that chess is addictive, that it allows me to travel a lot, while I also like to quote Aronian who once said that all chess players are masochists, except those at the top, who are sadists... But now I believe that chess is a bit like poker: you cannot retire when you are losing, but even less so when you are winning!

The star reporter annotated a number of interesting positions and full games from the 9-round open event, including a fine 26-move victory by none other than composer extraordinaire Yochanan Afek.

 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

James Tarjan, Jan Timman

Clash of titans: James Tarjan (white) facing Jan Timman

Douglas, Isle of Man

Isle of Man

Isle of Man

Photos by Alina l’Ami

Links


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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