Caruana alone at the top of IOM with one to go!

2019 IOM is an official FIDE World Championship qualifier

Standings after 8 rounds (top 42)

Round ten was a day of decisive games on the top ten boards in the Isle of Man Grand Swiss, with seven wins and three draws. The top players clearly knew there is no more point in holding back anymore and if they wanted to do something in the tournament, then penultimate round was a crucial milestone. After sharing the lead for 9 rounds of the tournament, World No 2 Fabiano Caruana finished round 10 as the sole player on the top. He defeated the Spaniard David Anton as White and enters the final round with half a point ahead of the other top players. Chasing Caruana is a pack of seven GMs, which includes the World Champion Magnus Carlsen who, after victory in round nine, has also achieved his 100th game without losing. The final round of the Isle of Man Grand Swiss will see eight top players deciding who will be the winner of the $70,000 first prize and, also, who will take win the race for the place in the 2020 Candidates’ tournament.

On board one of the penultimate round of the Isle of Man Grand Swiss, Fabiano Caruana was playing as white against David Anton of Spain. Caruana opened with an English game. Queens were quickly exchanged and there was an even position on the board. In 20 moves they reached an endgame with a rook and a knight and seven pawns each. Caruana had the advantage of his pieces being more active and positioned more naturally, compared to Anton who had doubled pawns on the c-file and the g-file.

The world No 2 decided to make a push on the kingside, leaving Black to counterattack on the left flank. Caruana created a much better position, making it quite uncomfortable for the Spaniard who offered a move repetition but was refused. As the moves progressed Caruana was slightly worse on time, but steadily secured his advantage and brought the game to the first time control. With his knight pinned and protected on e5, and a pawn on c4 (blocking the progress of black’s c5-b6-c7 pawns), Caruana was freer to engage in the right flank. With his advanced pawns, an active king and a rook and knight who were all endangering the black monarch, Caruana seemed on a path to victory.

The next few moves brought about the exchange of knights and Black winning an extra pawn, but at a price of his king being further pushed away from White’s pawns on the right flank. With Caruana cutting the board in two with his rook on e6, White was left to push his king and pawns forward without any serious threats to them. Black tried the only thing he could – to push his own pawns on the queenside and hope for a wonder.

In the moves that followed, David Anton finally gave up his rook for White’s pawn on g7, putting everything on the queen promotion of his pawns on the left flank. Caruana was, however, quicker and, although Black did promote a queen as well, Caruana had the decisive check which led to a threat of imminent mate to Anton. The Spaniard resigned and was, effectively, kicked out of the race for the top.

With this win Fabiano Caruana (who is on 7.5/10) became the sole leader of the tournament one round before the end.

The battle of the slow-starters

Board two saw a clash in the Spanish Game between two slow-starters in the tournament: Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian.

Black (Aronian) quickly castled on the kingside and launched an attack in the centre, while White’s king was still on the e-file. This was, however, followed by an exchange of pieces in the centre, including the queens, leaving Aronian with an isolated pawn on d6. The two sides were even: Aronian’s position seemed more natural while Nakamura had a bishop on a3 which was somewhat out of action due to his pawns being in front (a4, b4, and c3).

On move 16 Levon Aronian thought for over ten minutes, although the position was pretty forced. After a further exchange of pieces in the centre, the two entered a four-rook endgame. The position was slightly better for white but easily drawn with correct play. The game ended with both players splitting a point after two and a half hours of play.

Carlsen’s achieves a 100-game streak without a loss

The World Champion Magnus Carlsen had a somewhat odd tournament: in the beginning he was very fortunate to escape loses due to his opponents missing winning moves; in the second part he picked up speed and play, but his top opponents managed to hold him to a draw. The World Champion was always lurking in the background but was missing a key breakthrough to the very top.

In the round ten game against the 2017 European Champion, Maxim Matlakov, history was repeated: the two met in the Tata Steel tournament in 2018 when Carlsen was also White and played a very long game where the World Champion managed to edge a win in the end. This was to be repeated in the Isle of Man.

In the Round 10 game of the Isle of Man Grand Swiss, Carlsen achieved – according to the computer – a completely winning position well before the 40th move, but Matlakov managed to squeeze out and play on.

The game started with a complicated position in the Semi-Slav defence which opened up at one point. Matlakov spent significantly more time thinking, which suggests that he walked into a good preparation by Magnus Carlsen. Black managed to create a protected passed pawn on c3, but had only 12 minutes on his clock with 17 moves to the first time control on 40.

Carlsen then created a comfortable position: he opened up the f-file, directly aiming for the black’s weak spot on f7, and centralized his rooks (on d6 and f4). The situation seemed desperate for Black – with less than two minutes on his clock, Matlakov pushed his c3-pawn forward, towards promotion Carlsen took on c2 and then progressed with pressing Black on the f7-weak-spot. White hen took on f7 and Matlakov’s king started a retreat along the 8th rank, trying to escape White’s deadly threats.

Matlakow was down to a minute and 17 seconds for six moves and in dire straits. An important psychological moment for the game occurred: Carlsen spent 15 minutes thinking, trying to find the sharpest threat which could force Black to panic and blunder. Matlakov – limited for move options – played the best he could. The computer was still showing a completely winning position for White and it seemed that mate was around the corner. The Russian, however, managed to escape and reached the time control, with getting his pieces more activated than before.

Carlsen pressed on but Matlkaov – always low on time and having to play carefully to maintain himself in the game - continued to relentlessly defend himself, eventually ending with a rook and pawn against the queen.

When he exhausted all of his options, slowing Carlsen on the path to his 100th game without a loss, the Russian finally resigned.

Wang back at the top after Anand blunders

Just as he was making confident progress towards the top of the tournament, after a surprise loss in Round one, former World Champion Vishy Anand was stopped in the 10th game of the Isle of Man Grand Swiss, having blundered in a mostly even position as Black against Wang Hao of China.

After the Russian Game in which both players followed theory for 17 moves, the position quickly proceeded to an endgame in which Anand seemed to have a better perspective. However, in the post-mortem Wang revealed that his preparation went until the 17th move, that he had checked all the relevant lines for this position before the game and concluded that there were no serious threats to him, even though his kingside castle was missing a pawn on h7.

After 22 moves the position was completely equal but demanded careful play from both sides. It was at that point that Anand blundered with 23.f5, and then 24.e6. White’s rook was left trapped on a3.

The final mistake for white was taking a pawn on e4 with his rook, leaving the first rank undefended. Black aligned his rooks on the f-file threatening either checkmate or to win a bishop. Anand instantly resigned and left the playing hall.

A somewhat abrupt end for the former World Champion.

Wang Hao enters the final round with the best tie break from all of the players. From this game, all he wanted – as he later said – was a draw, which would keep him in contention for one of the top places. Now he is among the very top with considerably high chances of securing a spot in the Candidates’

Karjakin’s piece sacrifice in move eight ends in defeat

One of the most interesting games of round 10 was played between former contender for the title of the World Champion, Sergey Karjakin as white against Kirill Alekseenko. Karjakin decided to sacrifice a piece on move eight and played a with a piece down until the (bitter) end!

The cost of the knight was dear for Black: he had to give up three pawns, eventually winning one back, but White managed to get his pawn to b7 and protect it. Karjakin then comfortably went on to exchange queens and proceed towards an endgame where he was still a piece down. The former contender for the title of World Champion, however, had compensation: he activated his pieces, was creating threats on the 7th and 8th rank, while Black needed time to get his kingside-rook activated.

Time also played into Karjakin’s hands: Alekseenko had under three minutes for 18 moves. By his final minute, Alekseenko was still 13 moves away from the 40-move time-break. White seemed confident – while his opponent was struggling to find the right move and to reach the time-control, Karjakin more or less played instantly.

White then went for further simplifications. Eventually, however, Karjakin realised it’s hard for him to win so he offered a draw instead, giving the Black king several checks: from move 34 to move 44 Alekseenko made ten moves with his king, walking him to the centre of the board and then back to his kingside castle safety, gaining important time and reaching the first time control. By this stage it had seemed as if the tables have turned on Karjakin.

By move 49, Black was up a bishop while Karjakin had a pawn extra on the a-file. Karjakin pushed a bit more, but it was in vain – he had to resign.

Thorough the game Karjakin had very good compensation for his piece but Alekseenko was defending himself well – which is quite a thing given that the was facing ‘The Minister of Defence’.

After this victory, Alekseenko is on 7/9 and with the second-best tiebreak (after Wang Hao) has serious chances to reach the Candidates’ in the final round.

Howell defeats Grischuk in a blitz marathon

On board six, England’s David Howell led the white pieces against Alexander Grischuk of Russia. Both players are notorious for getting into time trouble, and their duel in round 10 was no exception.

Howell struggled with the theory in the opening, spending about an hour on moves 10-13, after Black’s 9th move Qc8. By move 25 the Englishman managed to take command of the centre and was left to clear Black’s left flank. Still, time was an issue: after two and a half hours of play the two were only on move 12! David Howell only had under 17 minutes for 28 moves, While Grischuk was somewhat better in that respect.

The Russian managed to counter Howell’s initiative and get his pieces into the game. The Englishman was still better but needed to be careful.

By move 20 the players were in the middle of a blitz game: Howell made his 23rd move with just 8 seconds on the clock! Both players had under a minute for 13 moves till the first time control. With one second remaining, Grischuk put his knight on c8. By this stage, however, he was lost: Howell was a pawn up and his pieces looked very good. He had two unopposed pawns on the queenside. Grischuk soon resigned.

A great turnaround for the three-time British champion who started with a loss in the first round and was on 50 per-cent after the first five rounds, but managed to get 4.5 points in the last five games.

A hat-trick for Howell who with this victory has not only reached the top group behind Caruana but, also, passed the 2700-mark and overtook Mikey Adams as England’s top player.

Parham Maghsoodloo drops out of the top tier

By round ten three other players were also in contention for the top spots: Nikita Vitiugov, Aleksandr Rakhmanov and the Junior World Champion Parham Maghsoodloo.

Vitugov managed to secure a solid position in the opening against Aleksandr Rakhmanov, going on to take initiative in the centre. After 28…Ra7, Black was lost as he overlooked a piece sacrifice on e6, leading to a winning position for White. Vitiugov went on to include all his heavy pieces in the attack on the black king, eventually forcing Rakhmanov to resign.

One of the tragic players of the top boards was Iran’s Parham Maghsoodloo who after nine rounds where he was unbeaten against the top performers of the event, lost in round ten to Vietnam’s Le Quang Liem who was on 5.5 points and has no chances to progress to the top even with this point against the Iranian.

Harika Dronavali and Alina Kashlinskaya heading for the top female prize

Indian GM Hraika Dronavalli and Russian GM Alina Kashlinskaya both drew games against their opponents in Round ten and are now both of 50 percent which makes them the top-performing women players at the Grand Swiss (out of a pull of 18 women competing in the event).

Dronavalli has a better tie break than the Russian and so far stands most chances of winning the top female prize of 10.000 US dollars, but everything will depend on what both do in round 10.

Kazakh player Dinara Saduakassova also drew her game today (she is now on 4.5 points) and with it she has secured a 10-round GM norm.

Text: Milan Dinic Photo: John Saunders

Full standings here:

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