Tradewise Gibraltar: Nikita Nudges Out Nigel

2/3/2013 – The final round of this very strong event – seven 2700+ players, 14 players rated between 2600 and 2699 – was full of drama: four players tied for first on 8.0/10, necessitating a knock-out play-off to decide the winner of the £20,000 first prize. It boiled down to serial Gibraltar winner Nigel Short vs the young Russian GM Nikita Vitiugov. What a tiebreak final that was – and it was all caught on video!

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Nikita Nudges Out Nigel

By John Saunders

Nikita Vitiugov, from St Petersburg in Russia, won the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters title at the Caleta Hotel on Thursday after a pulsating play-off final against three times winner and reigning Masters champion Nigel Short of England. Four players – the above two, plus Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France and Chanda Sandipan of India – tied for first place on 8.0/10, necessitating a knock-out play-off to decide the winner of the £20,000 first prize.


Equal first, then knocked out by Short: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

The play-off consisted of two rapidplay semi-finals, played at the rate of 15 minutes plus ten seconds a move, with Short beating Vachier-Lagrave and Vitiugov beating Sandipan over two games. The semi-finals were one-way traffic for the most part but the final match between Vitiugov and Short was a thriller.

The Russian, who was to turn 26 four days after the tournament, showed amazing coolness under pressure as he played out most of a 104-move game with only seconds available for each move, before finding a clever tactical trick to finish the game. In the second game Vitugov kept his opponent at bay for a draw which clinched the match 1½-½.

Rapidplay is best enjoyed in real time. Of course, the games were recorded via electronic boards and filmed on video cameras and can be played through later like a classical game, but nothing beats watching them at the time. In fact, the online spectator gets the best deal. I was lucky to be at the ringside but unlucky to be short of stature so struggled to see over the taller people in the room. No matter: my laptop was only a few metres away in the press room so, after taking a few pictures, I nipped back to my desk and watched the games there whilst listening to Simon Williams and Irina Krush commentating as the moves came thick and fast.

“It's a game of football out there”

Game one of the rapidplay final was truly amazing. If you didn’t see it as it happened, bad luck... but all is not lost: you can still sample some of the excitement by watching the video commentary which is still available at the official website. You can gauge the tension from Simon Williams’s reactions. Simon doesn’t pretend to be unbiased: he’s an Englishman so he was unashamedly rooting for his fellow countryman, but in a comical and self-deprecating way. The words “Come on, Nigel!” are never far from his lips. I particularly loved it when Simon told us “it’s like a football match here” – a refreshing change from football commentators who make foolish analogies between their petulant ball-kicking, injury-simulating nonsense of a sport and our vastly superior game.

Game one started by veering slightly in favour of Short (above), playing the black side of a Nimzo-Indian Defence, and Vitiugov started using up significantly more time. The English GMs in the commentary room felt Vitiugov was drifting, and cheered when Short played ...g5 but a few moves later Vitiugov’s queen drifted across to a3 and the audience groaned as they realised Short was losing a pawn to a trick. “This has gone White’s way,” admitted Simon, but he soon recovered himself and was intoning his perennial “come on, Nigel” mantra.

Vitiugov went out on a limb with his clock and his queen. It was remarkable brinkmanship, going three minutes down on the clock and putting his queen out of play but somehow he held it together, won a pawn and established a stable advantage.

Frantic finish

It wasn’t over yet as Short managed to mix things up as his opponent’s time ran down to just the ten-second increment with a queen and minor piece endgame on the board. Vitiugov was reduced to boosting his time allowance with queen checks and twofold repetitions.

Was there a threefold repetition in there? The answer later transpired to be ‘yes’. It occurred after White’s (and indeed Black’s) 69th, 71st and 73rd moves. I was following intently but I confess I didn’t spot these during the game. But Nigel did – watch the video and you can see him looking round meaningfully at the arbiter and quietly uttering the word ‘draw’ as Vitiugov played Qh5+ check for the first time and he replied Ke7 (28 min 55 sec into the video below).

The Iceman Cometh

But nothing happened. Vitiugov played a 74th move and Nigel replied. The moment had passed. (We’ll return to this further down.) Vitiugov played on, often with only his ten-second increment, and eventually won the game. Not to mention a new fan: by the end commentator Simon Williams was lauding Vitiugov’s amazing endgame technique and coolness under pressure. Simon was fair-minded and gave credit where credit was due, dubbing the St Petersburg grandmaster “the Iceman” – a very apt nickname. You can watch the video coverage and follow the game on our JavaScript board below.

[Event "11th Gibraltar Masters Tie-Break"] [Site "Caleta ENG"] [Date "2013.01.31"] [Round "2.1"] [White "Vitiugov, Nikita"] [Black "Short, Nigel D"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E21"] [WhiteElo "2694"] [BlackElo "2690"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [PlyCount "207"] [EventDate "2013.01.31"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Nf3 b6 5. e3 Bb7 6. Bd3 O-O 7. O-O Bxc3 8. bxc3 c5 9. Nd2 Nc6 10. Rb1 d6 11. Qe2 Qe7 12. Bb2 Rae8 13. e4 cxd4 14. cxd4 e5 15. f3 Nxd4 16. Bxd4 exd4 17. Qf2 Nd7 18. Qxd4 Nc5 19. Bc2 Qe5 20. Qf2 Rc8 21. Rfe1 Ne6 22. Bd3 Ba6 23. Bf1 Rc7 24. Rb3 Qc5 25. Rbe3 g5 26. g3 Qe5 27. Rd3 Rd8 28. Rd5 Qg7 29. Qe3 h6 30. Qa3 {After a good start Black is now losing a pawn to a trick.} Bb7 31. Rxd6 Rxd6 32. Qxd6 Rc8 33. Nb3 Qc3 34. Kf2 Rd8 35. Qe7 Bc6 36. Qxa7 Qb4 37. c5 bxc5 38. Qa5 Qb8 39. Bc4 Rd7 40. Bxe6 Ra7 41. Qxc5 Rxa2+ 42. Re2 Rxe2+ 43. Kxe2 fxe6 44. Nd4 Bd7 45. Ke3 Kf7 46. f4 gxf4+ 47. gxf4 Qb1 48. Nf3 Qb3+ 49. Kf2 Qb2+ 50. Kg3 Qb3 51. Qh5+ Kg7 52. Qe5+ Kf7 53. Qh8 Bc6 54. Qh7+ Ke8 55. Qg8+ Ke7 56. Qg7+ Ke8 57. Qg6+ Ke7 58. Kg4 Qe3 59. Qg7+ Ke8 60. Qg8+ Ke7 61. Qh7+ Ke8 62. Qg6+ Ke7 63. Qg7+ Ke8 64. Qxh6 Qxe4 65. Qh8+ Ke7 66. Qg7+ Ke8 67. Qg8+ Ke7 68. Qg5+ Ke8 69. Qh5+ {This position, and indeed the one after Black's reply, will occur three times.} Ke7 70. Qc5+ Ke8 71. Qh5+ Ke7 72. Qg5+ Ke8 73. Qh5+ Ke7 74. Qc5+ Ke8 75. Qc3 Bd5 76. Kg3 Qe2 77. h3 Ke7 78. Qc7+ Ke8 79. Qc8+ Ke7 80. Qc5+ Ke8 81. Qc3 Ke7 82. Ng5 Qg2+ 83. Kh4 Qf2+ 84. Kg4 Qe2+ 85. Kh4 Qf2+ 86. Qg3 Qd4 87. Qa3+ Ke8 88. Qd6 Qh8+ 89. Kg4 Qf6 90. Qb8+ Ke7 91. Qc7+ Ke8 92. Qb8+ Ke7 93. Qc7+ Ke8 94. Qe5 Qg6 95. h4 Kd7 96. h5 Qc2 97. h6 Qd1+ 98. Kh4 Qh1+ 99. Nh3 {Vitiugov has around 20 seconds for each move. You can watch what followed from around 33 min 50 sec into the video above.} Bg2 100. Qd4+ Ke7 101. Qg7+ Kd6 $2 102. Qg3 $1 Be4 $4 (102... Bxh3 103. Qxh3 Qe1+ {might have prolonged the game and conceivably saved it.}) 103. f5+ $1 Kc6 104. Qc3+ 1-0


The killer: After 102...Be4?? Vitiugov plays 103.f5! to win the game

To three or not to three – that is the question

What of those threefold repetitions? Nobody seems absolutely certain how the law stands. Simon and Irina can be heard on the video remarking that Short couldn’t claim a threefold repetition at a rapidplay time control. Nigel himself came into the press room after game one of the final and asked me whether he could have claimed. Slightly flustered that I had been put on the spot (I have no arbiting qualification), I had to admit that I wasn’t sure about the rule and told him that I hadn’t personally spotted a repetition (I now know I was wrong on the latter point).

Could Nigel have claimed? A little while later a qualified arbiter who was not officiating in that capacity at the congress told me he saw no reason why Short shouldn’t have pressed a claim, though I’m not entirely sure I understand under which law. The rules for quickplay finish have provision for a draw claim in the case of someone making no effort to win by normal means, but this was not a quickplay finish – it was quickplay from the start.

Law nine, governing draws, talks in terms of players writing draw claims on scoresheets – inapplicable in the circumstances of a rapidplay game. In this respect the rules have failed to keep up with the times or meet the requirements of high-profile competitions. This game was played with highly sophisticated technology being deployed to record the moves via the board and video cameras – and, of course, had a large sum of money riding on it. Not to mention a vast watching audience online, with the reasonable expectation of having a game that would not be interrupted by player claims or arbiter interventions. As they say in tennis, “play must be continuous” and we are ever to attract a TV audience, chess needs to strive for the same thing.

In these circumstances there are three interested parties: the two players and the audience. The audience wants to see a game played in accordance with the normal rules of chess (as far as possible), with no interruptions. The players probably want much the same thing, plus the certainty of knowing when a game is drawn or not without having to think about when to claim, or rely on the speed of vision or chessplaying ability of an arbiter.

The non-applicability of the normal threefold repetition rule in electronically recorded rapidplay chess seems positively prehistoric. Without it, a player can seemingly go on repeating (and gaining ten-second bonuses) as long as they feel like it, or at least until an arbiter feels constrained to step in... and do what, exactly? As things stand, it is not clear (a) how many times a player can repeat until the opponent can claim he is making no effort; (b) on what basis the arbiter makes a ruling; and (c) whether any existing law of chess is applicable at all. Ludicrous!

Perhaps the most ludicrous thing of all is that the technology to solve the problem has been around for years, and is used in online chess. Software already exists on chess servers to identify a threefold repetition and offer a player the option to claim a draw. It would surely only be a simple matter to adapt this software and make it available on a watching official’s computer so that the computer can flag instantly when a threefold repetition has occurred (or indeed 50 moves without pawn move or capture elapsed). A law for a blitz or rapidplay game played with suitable technology could then be introduced to allow an arbiter to declare the game a draw at the point when the repetition occurs. Nice and simple – everyone, including the arbiter, knows exactly where they stand, and nobody has to make Solomon-like decisions.

Apologies for the long digression but it seems high time that this lack of legal clarity is addressed by FIDE. Let’s be clear, I’m not laying any blame at the door of the Gibraltar arbiters or organisers. It is the FIDE laws themselves that are at fault.

The denouement

That still left a second game to play. One had to feel for Nigel as the drama of the first game was probably still on his mind, and he didn’t get the best of openings. He went a pawn down but typically fought back with all guns blazing, eventually going ahead on material. But it was an opposite-coloured bishop ending and Vitiugov held fairly comfortably.

The winner


Nikita Vitiugov receives his winner's cheque for £20,000 from Tradewise CEO James Humphreys

I must emphasise that none of my commentary on the rapidplay is intended to detract from the achievement of Nikita Vitiugov. Far from it: he led from the front and deserved his success for his cool temperament and impressive chess technique. The Tradewise Gibraltar Masters is now one of the richest and most prestigious events on the chess circuit and, by winning it, we can probably state that he has ‘arrived’. Of course, he has previously held a 2700 rating but winning this calibre of tournament gets a player noticed. He joins the ranks of Short, Ivanchuk, Adams, Nakamura, Svidler, etc, who have won the tournament in recent years and can perhaps expect to receive invitations to other major tournaments on the strength of it.

Round ten

I mustn’t forget the last round classical chess. Rapidplay shoot-outs tends to overshadow proceedings, but round ten saw some interesting games. The overnight leaders all drew despite some enterprising play. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s courage in unfurling a weird new move on move three has to be applauded: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 f3 e6!?. Admit it: had an unknown opponent played that against you in a tournament, you’d have marked him down as a rabbit for weakening his dark squares, wouldn’t you? There followed 4 e4 d5 5 e5 Nh5, and it still looks a bit beginner-ish. But we had previously sampled some of Maxime’s sense of humour in the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ chess match so maybe it was a bit more of his Gallic wit. A sort of chessplaying Fernandel. (Not heard of him? Ask your grandfather or ‘wiki’ him.) His position didn’t look too great in the middlegame but then Vitiugov let it slip and was even lucky to draw.

Nigel Short was held to a draw by David Navara (above) of the Czech Republic in a game which included some intriguing tactical tricks from both players but which ultimately fizzled out.

This left it open for several other players to tie for first. Just one succeeded in doing so: Sandipan capitalised on some inaccurate opening play by Le Quang Liem and despatched him with aplomb. Michael Adams tried hard to join the other four on eight points. Had Adams won, he would have displaced Short from the play-off quartet on TPR but he was held at bay by Kiril Georgiev.

Top ranked Vassily Ivanchuk also had a chance of joining the group on the top score of 8/10 but he was held to a commendable draw by Chinese woman player Zhao Xue. This was doubly important for 27-year-old Zhao Xue (above) as it secured for her the £12,000 women’s prize ahead of a stellar field of women players. Like Vitiugov, she was a most deserving winner of the big prize after an excellent tournament, and a worthy successor to fellow countrywoman Hou Yifan in 2012.


Master Class in Gibraltar by Zhao Xue

Top final rankings (after ten rounds)

Rk. Ti. Name FED
Rtg
Pts.
 TB1 
Rp
we
w-we
rtg+/-
 1 GM Vitiugov Nikita RUS
2694
8.0
2830
2821
6.23
1.77
17.7
 2 GM Vachier-Lagrave M. FRA
2711
8.0
2788
2777
6.98
1.02
10.2
 3 GM Sandipan Chanda IND
2590
8.0
2765
2762
5.73
2.27
22.7
 4 GM Short Nigel D ENG
2690
8.0
2730
2715
7.30
0.70
7.0
 5 GM Georgiev Kiril BUL
2643
7.5
2745
2738
6.07
1.43
14.3
 6 GM Adams Michael ENG
2725
7.5
2744
2733
7.15
0.35
3.5
 7 GM Navara David CZE
2710
7.5
2742
2733
6.98
0.52
5.2
 8 GM Kamsky Gata USA
2740
7.5
2730
2697
7.38
0.12
1.2
 9 GM Ivanchuk Vassily UKR
2758
7.5
2726
2685
7.64
-0.14
-1.4
GM Yu Yangyi CHN
2688
7.5
2726
2717
6.91
0.59
5.9
11 GM Salgado Lopez Ivan ESP
2606
7.5
2698
2693
6.19
1.31
13.1
12 GM Fridman Daniel GER
2667
7.5
2653
2644
7.52
-0.02
-0.2
13 GM Zhao Xue CHN
2554
7.5
2621
2620
6.42
1.08
10.8
14 GM Le Quang Liem VIE
2705
7.0
2726
2717
6.57
0.43
4.3
15 GM Jones Gawain ENG
2632
7.0
2678
2672
6.19
0.81
8.1
16 GM Felgaer Ruben ARG
2557
7.0
2635
2634
5.79
1.21
12.1
17 GM Wojtaszek Radoslaw POL
2723
7.0
2622
2611
8.02
-1.02
-10.2
18 GM Shirov Alexei LAT
2708
7.0
2614
2605
7.91
-0.91
-9.1
19 GM Stefanova Antoaneta BUL
2516
7.0
2611
2611
5.62
1.38
13.8
20 IM Gunina Valentina RUS
2490
7.0
2593
2593
5.46
1.54
15.4
21 GM Muzychuk Anna SLO
2582
7.0
2589
2586
6.75
0.25
2.5
22 GM Sutovsky Emil ISR
2684
7.0
2542
2521
8.38
-1.38
-13.8
23 GM Gallagher Joseph SUI
2499
7.0
2538
2538
6.21
0.79
7.9
24 GM Bartel Mateusz POL
2629
7.0
2521
2514
8.05
-1.05
-10.5
25 IM Kuipers Stefan NED
2431
7.0
2384
2342
7.14
-0.14
-1.4
26 GM Iturrizaga Eduardo VEN
2650
6.5
2631
2624
6.58
-0.08
-0.8
27 IM Oparin Grigoriy RUS
2478
6.5
2592
2591
4.72
1.78
17.8
28 GM Dzagnidze Nana GEO
2555
6.5
2572
2571
6.12
0.38
3.8
29 GM Swiercz Dariusz POL
2627
6.5
2571
2565
6.98
-0.48
-4.8
30 IM Ibarra Jose Carlos ESP
2538
6.5
2569
2569
5.92
0.58
5.8
31 IM Larino Nieto David ESP
2497
6.5
2562
2554
5.39
1.11
11.1
32 IM Docx Stefan BEL
2426
6.5
2543
2543
4.81
1.69
16.9
33 GM Jakubiec Artur POL
2518
6.5
2541
2541
6.02
0.48
4.8
34 GM Kulaots Kaido EST
2587
6.5
2534
2531
6.93
-0.43
-4.3
35 GM Kanep Meelis EST
2512
6.5
2519
2519
6.28
0.22
2.2
36 GM Gordon Stephen J ENG
2533
6.5
2517
2517
6.52
-0.02
-0.2
37 IM Muzychuk Mariya UKR
2471
6.5
2516
2516
5.72
0.78
7.8
38 GM Hoang Thanh Trang HUN
2469
6.5
2512
2510
5.77
0.73
7.3
39 GM Cramling Pia SWE
2518
6.5
2509
2500
6.32
0.18
1.8
40 IM Paehtz Elisabeth GER
2482
6.5
2504
2504
6.01
0.49
4.9
41 GM Harika Dronavalli IND
2514
6.5
2475
2475
6.80
-0.30
-3.0
42 GM Vazquez Igarza Renier ESP
2565
6.5
2465
2464
7.42
-0.92
-9.2
43 IM Tania Sachdev IND
2403
6.5
2461
2453
5.40
1.10
11.0
44 Janev Pavel BUL
2126
6.5
2452
2452
2.46
4.04
60.6
45 GM Maze Sebastien FRA
2546
6.5
2435
2430
7.67
-1.17
-11.7
46 FM Gromovs Sergejs ITA
2001
6.5
2433
2454
1.40
5.10
76.5
47 IM Omar Noaman UAE
2314
6.5
2417
2417
5.01
1.49
22.4


GM Antoaneta Stefanova from Bulgaria scored 7.0/10 with a 2611 performance


IM Elisabeth Pähtz from Germany with 6.5/10 points


Indian IM Tania Sachdev, 6.5/10, gains 11 rating points in Gibraltar

About the author

John Saunders, 60 this month, graduated in Law and Classics from Cambridge University in the mid-1970s. With a Welsh father and Scottish mother, he should be referred to as 'British' rather than 'English'. He claims that his most outstanding achievement was making the lowest score on bottom board for Wales, the country which finished last in the 1997 European Team Championship. In the late 1990s he changed career from IT professional to chess editor and photo-journalist and only regrets it once at annual intervals when he has to file a tax return. He became the BBC Ceefax teletext service's chess columnist in 1998. He went on to become editor of British Chess Magazine in 1999, moving to the same role at Chess in 2010 before retiring from full-time chess magazine editing in 2012 to spend more time with his wife and cats. He is now a freelance writer and editor, and acts as press officer for the London Classic and Tradewise Gibraltar tournaments. In the past he has been the webmaster for the 4NCL and the English Chess Federation (for whom he also once edited the in-house magazine ChessMoves). In 2007 he wrote and had published a richly-illustrated hardback book for beginners, How to Play Winning Chess, which is now available in a number of languages.


Links

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