Upsets continue in round 2 at Isle of Man


**Round 2 results (top 40)**​

Round two of the Isle of Man Grand Swiss was marked by two events. First, the World Champion, after a difficult struggle, drew on board one against the excellently prepared 19-year-old Russian Alexey Sarana. Secondly, after just two rounds, in the field of 154 top-class chess players, only five have a maximum score of two out of two! The 100% group is led by the world No 2, Fabiano Caruana, who is at the top joined by Baskaran Adhiban of India, Wang Hao and Bu Xianghzi of China, and Alexei Shirov of Spain.

On the top board, the game between Magnus Carlsen and the 19-year-old Russian Alexy Sarana progressed very fast, with most pieces being exchanged within the first 50 minutes of play (by move 26, after a massive exchange). The Russian created a strong position, threatening Carlsen’s king who, in return, had a free pawn on the queenside. Savana secured such an advantage that Carlsen was pushed to play very precisely in order to strengthen the chances of a draw. The dynamic and intriguing pace of the game between Carlsen and outsider Sarana attracted an unusually large number of GM spectators in the hall.

After a large exchange of pieces, the Russian continued to press the World Champion towards a very tough endgame. Eventually, Carlsen had to let go of his bishop so he could find a way to a rook and knight vs rook endgame.

Usually, it could be said that Magnus Carlsen gave away half a point, but in the case of the game against Sarana (their first-ever duel), it would seem more appropriate to say that the World Champion was fortunate to save half a point.

Interestingly, what appeared a very dynamic and spontaneous game, with developments promising excitement, was, actually – all part of Sarana’s deep preparation, which went all the way to move 22!

Young Indian prodigy pushes former World Champion challenger towards a fast draw

The first game of the day to finish was that between former contender for the title of World Champion, Sergey Karjakin, and the 13-year-old Indian prodigy Raunak Sadhwani. The key moment of the duel was on move 18, when Black managed to build a stable position, creating a blockade in the middle and preventing White from advancing. After an exchange on the a-file, both players were left with a bishop and seven pawns each. Soon afterwards the bishops were exchanged and it was an even pawn endgame. A good start for the Indian prodigy who at the last year’s Isle of Man tournament also played a much-noticed game in which he almost defeated Viswanathan Anand after a spectacular attack.

Top players mostly showed confidence in round two, as Vishy Anand bounces back

Board two saw a big duel between two American players: Sam Sevian playing Fabiano Caruana. The latter managed to secure a pair of bishops and made a push on the kingside. All along the game, Caruana enjoyed the advantage of better time control which he used in the finish to find the precise way to trap the black king. Sevian tried to save the day with a stalemate trick, but Caruana saw straight through that. After five hours and 20 minutes of play, with one step away from promoting a pawn but facing a checkmate, Sam Sevian resigned.

One tiny detail might have impacted Sam Sevian though: before the game he realised he entered the playing room without his ID card and seemed somewhat uncomfortable about that, until the arbiters gave him a temporary pass.

One of the most serious hopefuls for the last place in the Candidates’, Levon Aronian played as white against Nijat Abasov of Azerbaijan (despite a rating of 2632, is not a member of his country’s Olympic team). While Aronian did secure the advantage, he was struggling in finding the right path to break black’s defence. After a draw in round one, Aronian, however, again had to give half a point away. It will be interesting to follow how Aronian plays in the coming rounds. This tournament is his last chance to qualify for the Candidates’ so – assuming he is aiming for that – he must come down hard on his upcoming opponents.

One of the chess crowd’s favourites, Hikaru Nakamurascored a victory which boosted his chances but, maybe even more importantly, his confidence. Nakamura highlighted that he hasn’t played well recently, so all he wants at this tournament is to get his game going.

Round two saw an interesting performance by Alexey Shirov, who with black pieces beat Ervin L’Ami and is in the small group of players with a maximum score after just two rounds. Shirov built a strong position, secured an extra pawn and then delivered a decisive blow with an excellent bishop to a4, attacking a pawn on b3.

The defending Isle of Man champion, Radoslaw Wojtaszek secured a point against Aryan Tari of Norway and is now on 1.5 out of two. His wife Alina Kashlinskaya, however, was out of luck for the second game in a row. She faced David Howel of England who – as always, dicing with time trouble – secured an advantage and won.

Ruslan Ponomariov, who celebrated his 36th birthday today, drew against Turkish GM, Mustafa Yiminez. The former World champion is now in the middle of the board, with one point out of two.

After a shocking loss in the opening round, Vishvanatan Anand - playing on board 62 (!) – bounced back defeating the Israeli GM Tal Barton.

A double upset by two women players

A big upset happened on board 74 as Indian GM S.P. Sethuraman (2624) lost to Alina Danielian, who is more than 250 points lower-rated. Playing the French Defence, Danielian sacrificed a pawn in the middlegame to activate her pieces and launch a forceful attack on the white king. As it usually is the case in the life of a chess-player, S.P. Sethuraman refused an offer to repeat moves and draw, going for a win but eventually – lost the game. S.P. Sethuraman blundered badly in the 36th move and had to sacrifice his queen to avoid checkmate.

Another notable game for the women players on the Isle of Man was that of Antoaneta Stefanova who was playing with white pieces against Gawain Jones. Stefanova created an advantage early on. The English player gave a rook for a bishop to secure a bishops’ pair and some initiative, but Stefanova returned the material soon afterwards in an exchange, getting an extra pawn and a very comfortable position. With two passed pawns on the queenside and an active king rushing to mate the black monarch, Stefanova forced Jones to capitulate.

Dronavali Harika drew again and is on one out of two.

This makes Stefanova, Harika and Danielian the top women players in the tournament so far.

After holding a player who is 200 points stronger to a draw in round one, Elisabeth Paehtz lost her second game to Ukraine’s Pavel Elianov. The British women’s champion Jovi Houska did not have a great day as she suffered another loss (this time, at the hands of Andrey Esipenko)

Alexey Serena’s (pre-prepared) surprise for Carlsen:

“My hands were shaking and my heart was beating hard… but I’m not happy with a draw”

After defeating the great Czech GM and the World senior 65+ champion Vlastimil Jansa in round one, the 19-year-old Russian Alexey Sarana was facing the current world champion – Magnus Carlsen.

The rising Russian star marked the second day of the Isle of Man event by managing to lure none other than the World Champion Magnus Carlsen into an uncomfortable position, leaving him struggling for a draw. The Russian admitted it was all part of his own preparation – which went as far as to move 22!

After the game, Serana gave a short interview for FIDE:

Q: What were you thinking of when you saw the pairings for Round Two?

  • I was really happy because I have never played with him before. This is the first time I’m playing at a tournament where Carlsen is playing so to meet him in the second round was quite a surprise.

Q: How did you feel after the draw?

  • I had a very good positon. I knew I couldn’t lose after the opening, so I wasn’t very happy with the draw. But, it’s normal, it’s a part of the game.

Q: If the situation was the other way around – that Magnus had a rook and a knight and you had a rook in the endgame, do you think he would have played on, or would have offered you a draw?

  • I think he would have played on. I would have played this endgame if I was facing someone 200 points or lower than me. But, in my case, I knew Carlsen could easily defend his position.

Q: How will this outcome impact how you feel about the way you play?

  • I’m hoping that maybe in the future I will play without being nervous. In the opening when I played with Magnus, my hands were shaking and my heart was beating strongly. If I play him again in the future, I won’t be so nervous. 

​Text: Milan Dinic