The final day of the Isle of Man Grand Swiss turned out to be decisive in determining the winner. The round started with World No 2 Fabiano Caruana leading the tournament for half a point (7.5/10), trailed by seven players (all of which, save the World Champion, were fighting for the spot in the 2020 Candidates tournament). Caruana drew his game with Hikaru Nakamura and, with 8 points, secured first place. The game which changed everything was played on board three where Wang Hao of China was playing David Howell of England. After his opponent blundered in an even position and was forced to resign, Wang secured the top spot (thanks to a better tiebreak than Caruana) and a space in the Candidates. The best-performing women players of the tournament are Harika Dronavalli of India and Dinara Saduakassova of Kazakhstan who both finished on 5½**/11.**
The closing ceremony
The Fide Chess.com Isle of Man Grand Swiss ended with a ceremony in which the Isle of Man Chief Minister Howard Quayle MHK presented the trophies and prizes to the top players.
In his brief address to the audience, Alan Ormsby – who has been the director of the Isle of Man tournament since its beginning – said that he was very pleased with how the event went and congratulated the players.
Maybe add something from Alan’s statement.
The key games of the final round
On board one Hikaru Nakamura played as White against Fabiano Caruana, who was before the round the sole leader of the tournament. The Russian game was played and Nakamura chose a side-line on move seven - h3 – aiming to get out of the theoretical lines. Caruana, however, wasn’t caught out by this and continued to develop his pieces.
There was an unusual situation early in the game: by move 16, Caruana had played his b8-knight - seven times!
Both players were fighting for control in the centre but the position was even. After an exchange of queens on move 23, the game was heading to an even endgame. Nakamura could not avoid further exchanges in the centre with the position remaining even, it was impossible for Nakamura to create a break and the two players agreed to share a point.
This was the first game to finish among the top eight of the tournament. With an even position on all other boards, it seemed that Caruana will be the sole winner, half a point ahead of everyone else. But things were about the change.
Carlsen sets a new unbeaten record
It was a make or break moment for Levon Aronian on board two who was playing against the World Champion Magnus Carlsen. It was Aronian’s last realistic chance to qualify for the Candidates’ and the opportunity to take down Magnus Carlsen. The only way to do this was to defeat the World Champion in the last round of the Isle of Man Grand Swiss.
Carlsen, from his end, also had a lot on the line (and it wasn’t just a spot at the top, or the prize money): the World Champion was on the verge of setting a new world record – 101 games without a loss.
It started with a Nimzo-Indian. The game quickly developed into a very sharp position with both sides creating threats. White sacrificed a pawn in the centre for the initiative. Black was struggling as his queen was in danger of being trapped while at the same time his queenside was undeveloped.
In the next several moves the key play was happening in the centre where both sides had to be cautious about threats. Carlsen, however, succeeded in deflating the situation and developing his queenside.
From move 21 the players entered a line followed by exchanges which ended in an even rook endgame. Even though Carlsen had a free extra pawn on the a-file, White’s rook was active and positioned well, and the two decided to draw.
The last top game to finish
Board three saw a Russian duel between Nikita Vitiugov and Kirill Alekseenko. The game was last to finish among the leading boards.
White (Vitiugov) managed to dominate the centre and, after an exchange of pieces, he ended with an extra pawn on d6. Black, however, had a free pawn on b6. Alekseenko tried to threaten the White king, which – after careful play – ended with an exchange of queens followed by an exchange of a pair of knights.
White was slightly better, but with careful play, it was even. After 56 moves and six hours of play, the two players agreed on a draw.
The game which decided the tournament winner
The key upset of the tournament happened on the final day on board four. Wang Hao of China was playing against David Howell of England.
Wang had a very strong tournament, was among the leaders and constantly played on the top-boards. By game 11 he had only one loss (in round seven, from Levon Aronian). Wang had the advantage of white pieces, but more importantly – he had the best tiebreak score from all other players with seven points, which meant that he was in the best position to secure a place in the Candidates’, even with a draw.
His opposite was David Howell, the English GM who by the first half of the tournament had only 50 per cent and then scored an impressive 4.5/5 in the second part. Out of all of the other top players with seven points after 10 rounds, Howell had the worst tie-break. This meant that – if he wanted to get in a chance to challenge Carlsen for the title of the World Champion – he needed to win in round 11.
Howell played the Grünfeld, but the opening ended in an even position with a very thin advantage for White. Wang pushed for an exchange of pieces in the centre which suggest he was going for a draw.
A symmetrical position occurred, with White being slightly better developed and wanting to simplify. On move 14. Howell went into a deep think – spending more than 25 minutes: follow the line of simplifications and draw or, risk it all and go for a win. Howell played 14…Be6 which was followed by a further exchange, with both white and black pawns falling on the queenside, which suggested an even clearer equal position.
Howell was, however, worse on time. After over two and a half hours of play, the top two boards drew. This meant that Wang needed a draw to qualify and a win to take the tournament. Then, on move 18, Howell blundered: instead of putting his bishop on e6 or the queen on e7, he made a bishop’s move and was immediately lost. In the next two moves he had to give up his queen for a rook and a bishop, but he was lost. The game lasted until move 37 when Howell resigned.
A pronounced success for Wang and a great tragedy for Howell, who seemed to be on a roll with 4.5 in the last five rounds of the tournament.
The king of draws
One player at the tournament drew all 11 games: Victor Erdos of Hungary split a point in every single game he played.
Draws were a common feature in the final round of the tournament on the lower boards as many GMs seemed to be tired from playing and some were getting ready to catch early flights to Batumi where the European team championship starts on the 23rd October.
Harika Dronavalli wins the best women prize on tiebreak
Harika Dronavali (India), after a draw in the last round, and Dinara Saduakassova (Kazakhstan) after a win, both reached 5.5 points out of 11 and are the best performing female players of the tournament.
In the last round, the highest-rated female player of the tournament Harika Dronavalli, playing as black, drew her game against GM Matthias Bluebaum. For a while she was alone at the top of female players, but then Dinara Saduakassova won her game against Egyptian GM Ahmed Adly and caught up with the Indian. It was a double success for Saduakassova as she also secured a GM norm!
Harika, however, had a better tiebreak which meant that she won the prize for the top woman player. Both Harika and Saduakassova shared the prize for the top woman of $10,000.
The third best performing woman player was Alina Kashlinskaya who lost her final game against GM Rinat Jumabayev and finished on 4/11.
Jeroen van den Berg, chairman of the Appels Committee
The head of the FIDE Appeals Committee – and for over two decades the head of the TATA Steel Tournament - Jeroen van den Berg said that from his view the tournament went well and that the partnership between FIDE and organisers of the Isle of Man tournament was a success:
"The organisers have proved in the past that they know how to do their job. As a colleague organiser, I can only say that they did a good job. From the perspective of FIDE I have no complaints: there were no appeals from players, on the contrary, they were very relaxed and seemed to have enjoyed themselves. The Isle of Man event was the first time that a Swiss tournament was being organised in partnership between FIDE and a private organiser and it proved to be a good decision."
Text: Milan Dinic
Official website: www.iominternationalchess.com