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Tarjan Beats Kramnik In Battle Of Generations
GM James Tarjan enjoys his huge win. | Photo: Chess.com/Mike Klein.

Tarjan Beats Kramnik In Battle Of Generations

GM James Tarjan is either 65, or only three, depending on how you count. Either way, his chess was good enough to take out the former world champion GM Vladimir Kramnik in round three of the 2017 Chess.com Isle of Man International.

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How can he be a senior and a junior all at once? It's not quantum physics. His chess career can be divided up into two distinct parts. First, he was one of America's best players in the 1970s, winning several Olympiad team and individual gold medals.

Then after a three-decade hiatus where he mostly worked as a librarian, he rejoined the tournament scene a few years ago. His first tournament back was here in the Isle of Man in 2014.

"I'm really proud of myself," Tarjan said after his monumental upset today. "I'm not a bad player. I came out of retirement a few years ago and I feel like I'm getting better. You can think of me as a promising three-year-old!"

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Some smiled when they saw GM Vladimir Kramnik capitulate to GM James Tarjan. For IM Lawrence Trent (blue t-shirt and hoodie), he simply couldn't believe it. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Tarjan was nearly at a loss, and somewhat out of breath, when asked to describe his emotions. For one afternoon, a new generation got to see one of the past generation's greats.

"It's impressive I can play with him at all, at my age," he said. "Surprisingly I can still make some moves and I held in there."

While that game clearly takes center stage, that wasn't the only eyebrow-raising result of the day. In the two woman-vs-woman matchups in the 1.5 score group, both underdogs won. First, IM Nino Batsiashvili took out GM Hou Yifan thanks to some strong center pawns. Then IM Jovanka Houska won when GM Ju Wenjun simply forgot to keep track of the remaining time on her clock.

One near-headline that became merely an asterisk on this jam-packed day: GM Magnus Carlsen's intra-island adventure that nearly caused him to be stranded before his game began. Chess.com spoke with Carlsen about what happened, and you can read that below.

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A hint at Carlsen's culprit: The electric train line is even slower than it looks! | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Tarjan, the only U.S. player to appear in all four modern editions of the Isle of Man's biggest tournament, put the punctuation on his return to competitive chess today. After mostly just trying to stay alive in his game, he pounced on a middlegame mistake by Kramnik. The Russian tried to engineer a structurally-winning position, but overlooked an important detail.

"He wants to play with this strong knight against bad bishop," Tarjan said, "but he forgot about [31...Qxf1 and then] Be2. Clearly he overlooked this trick."

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GM James Tarjan, the world's strongest three-year-old chess player! | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Prior to that, Tarjan said he just kept making sure he wouldn't be mated. 

"It's like Muhammad Ali, you know, the rope-a-dope," Tarjan said.

"He never plays patzers like me," Tarjan said. "Maybe he was surprised it was a tough game, I don't know."

The five-time U.S. Olympiad team member, who helped his country win it all in 1976, had played other 2700s before. For example, a loss to GM Mikhail Tal at the Interzonal in 1979. But it had been a while. While he never quite aligned to play with GM Bobby Fischer, today he got to beat a former world champ. They are actually equals in at least one regard -- both have two individual Olympiad gold medals.

"You're just psyching yourself out worrying," he said about his mindset going into the game. "You just play your best chess." Today he did, and the small crowd in the commentary room applauded -- the first such praise given to a guest on the live show.

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Another world champion nearly topped the news, but it had nothing to do with his play. Well, at least not his chess play. Carlsen had inquired prior to the tournament how to ascend Snaefell, the island's highest point. Today the weather cleared after a weekend of rain, so he jumped on the electric railway that climbs the mountain and disembarked atop the peak.

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A typical Snaefell day last week. The peak is on the left with the clouds lingering over it. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

While the pinnacle enjoyed a rare moment free from fog, Carlsen said the rest of the island was clouded over. But that wasn't his main problem he soon realized.

"The train we were taking was supposed to take 50 minutes to the top but it took one hour 20," Carlsen explained to Chess.com. He was in danger of not making the 1:30 start.

In serious time pressure, he hurriedly called tournament organizer Alan Ormsby and asked for a car. Private transportation was sent, and Carlsen rushed into the tournament room, arriving about 10 seconds after the start. The forfeit time is 30 minutes, meaning that phone call likely saved him. His win today gets an assist from Manx Telecom.

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GM Jeffery Xiong's proud dad had to capture the moment his son played the world champion. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Like the clouds, the game itself was not without its own opacity. Carlsen seemed to have a small but clear advantage, but like the top of the mountain, the fog came in, this time in the form of a rook on c3. Cell phones explicitly barred from helping him again, this time he turned to a spontaneous pawn storm.

"Earlier I thought I was definitely better then I realized since he was short on time I should go for it,” Carlsen said.

Asked why he made a last-minute decision to play in Isle of Man, Carlsen repeated what he'd said before the event began.

"I just wanted to play after the World Cup," he said. "Hopefully I'll get some interesting games...They haven’t been that much fun apart from the result. Especially yesterday I was just worse.”

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Xiong had a brief chat with Carlsen after the game. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

The mathematical improbability that just keeps on going, GM Hou Yifan's never-ending supply of female opponents, didn't turn out well for her today. Giant-killer IM Nino Batsiashvili, who once drew Carlsen, took out the former women's world champion today.

Batsiashvili has actually figured twice in Hou's improbable run of 10 out of 13 women in open events this year (and three-for-three here in Isle of Man). The Georgian was the last woman to play Hou in Gibraltar 2017, in round nine, just before Hou's infamous thrown game.

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GM Hou Yifan, right, at the start of her ill-fated game against IM Nino Batsiashvili. | Photo: John Saunders/Chess.com Isle of Man International.

Today Batsiashvili told Chess.com that with all the attention paid to the streak, and Hou's clear preference for not playing only women, that she may have had some psychological advantage before the game began.

Here's Batsiashvili's thoughts after the game:


The loss knocked Hou down into a lower score group and actually gave her a greater chance to playing a fourth woman. Indeed, it happened! Arbiters are using two separate pairings programs to ensure nothing is amiss, and they keep lining up in agreement. This time they announced that she's playing WGM Yuliya Shvayger in round four. For those shouting conspiracy, even conspiracies are more subtle than this. It's certainly aberrational, but there is zero evidence of any malfeasance or intentional manipulation.

The other half of the Chinese delegation didn't fare any better in round three, and again, a female opponent was on the other side. GM Ju Wenjun, the only other Chinese player in the field, inexplicably lost on time to IM Jovanka Houska.

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IM Jovanka Houska, who still couldn't believe she hiked 80 miles the week before the event, felt sheepish about winning on time today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In a mostly static position, the women's world number-two could have nearly shuffled for three more moves to get to her 40th, but instead lost track of the clock. Afterward, the British women's champion wasn't proud of the win, but she will take it nonetheless.

Houska explained to Chess.com the game and her "preparation" for the event:

GM Aleksandr Lenderman continued his hot hand from the World Cup. After polishing off two upsets there (over GM Pavel Eljanov and GM Aryan Tari) and having decent chances against GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, it's only a "small" upset beating GM Francisco Vallejo.

Whereas the pawnless ending queen-vs-rook was the hallmark of Tbilisi, Lenderman reminds that rook+bishop vs. rook is far more common. Learn it!


GM Alexandra Kosteniuk nearly got in on the upset action, but ultimately GM Arkadij Naiditsch held the draw.

With 20 players beginning the round on perfect scores, four remain. Carlsen and Lenderman got there, and Eljanov also joined them. The final player on 3/3 is GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov, who will take White against Carlsen tomorrow.

The Uzbek may have to turn the tables and have his student prepare him; he sits a half-point ahead of his charge, GM Fabiano Caruana. The other pairing of Lenderman-Eljanov is no less interesting. It's an instant rematch of their World Cup opening rounder.

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"Did you help prepare your wife to beat me in round one?"..."I don't know what you're talking about!" | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Full pairings can be found here.

2017 Chess.com Isle of Man International | Round 3 Standings, Top 23

Rk. SNo Title Fed Name Rtg TB1
1 1 GM Carlsen Magnus 2827 3
8 GM Eljanov Pavel 2734 3
18 GM Kasimdzhanov Rustam 2676 3
46 GM Lenderman Aleksandr 2565 3
5 3 GM Caruana Fabiano 2799 2,5
4 GM Anand Viswanathan 2794 2,5
5 GM Nakamura Hikaru 2781 2,5
6 GM Adams Michael 2738 2,5
12 GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 2702 2,5
14 GM Short Nigel D 2698 2,5
20 GM Movsesian Sergei 2671 2,5
26 GM Fressinet Laurent 2657 2,5
27 GM Granda Zuniga Julio E 2653 2,5
28 GM Grandelius Nils 2653 2,5
31 GM Shirov Alexei 2630 2,5
32 GM Bok Benjamin 2620 2,5
33 GM Sethuraman S.P. 2617 2,5
41 GM Tari Aryan 2588 2,5
49 GM Deac Bogdan-Daniel 2559 2,5
55 GM Swapnil S. Dhopade 2532 2,5
56 GM Harika Dronavalli 2528 2,5
68 IM Batsiashvili Nino 2472 2,5
98 IM Houska Jovanka 2393 2,5

The Chess.com Isle of Man International is an elite nine-round open tournament from September 23-October 1. The time control is 40/100, 20/50, SD/15 with a 30-second increment from move one. The total prize fund is £133,000 with a £50,000 first prize (~$65,000 USD). All rounds will be at 1:30 p.m. local time (GMT+1) except the final round, which will be at 12 p.m. All of the action can be found live at Chess.com/TV with commentators GM Simon Williams and WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni.


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