American Losses Set Records As Artemiev Leads Gibraltar Chess Festival
The leader of the 2019 Gibraltar Chess Festival, GM Vladislav Artemiev. Photo: John Saunders.

American Losses Set Records As Artemiev Leads Gibraltar Chess Festival

| 24 | Chess Event Coverage

It has been 10 years since GM Hikaru Nakamura lost a classical game in Gibraltar. It has been never since a Swede beat a chess player as highly-rated as GM Wesley So. The top two Americans at the Gibraltar Chess Festival have both suffered losses in the last two days to allow the leaders to pass them.

In today's round seven, GM Vladislav Artemiev took control of the lead as he took out Nakamura in a wild middlegame. The American, winner of four editions overall and three straight from 2015-2017, had not lost a game on the peninsula since 2009 (however he has not played all of the editions since then).

Artemiev Nakamura
Vladislav Artemiev defeated Hikaru Nakamura, handing the four-time champ a rare loss on the Rock. Photo: John Saunders.

Artemiev is the only player to get to 6.0/7, and will necessarily play on board one tomorrow.

A day earlier, in round six, GM Nils Grandelius wore his Sunday best and won as Black against So. That temporarily vaulted the Swede to the top of the tables.

No research was needed on the historical significance of the game—Grandelius informed right away that this was not only his best career win, but also the highest-rated opponent any Swedish player had ever defeated. The record he eclipsed was formerly owned by GM Erik Blomqvist, and was also set in Gibraltar (2016 vs. GM Li Chao).

Gibraltar Battle of the Sexes
The ladies won the Battle of the Sexes on Saturday night, 2-1. GM Stuart Conquest said it was the second time the ladies defeated the men. Photo: Niki Riga.

Other miraculous saves and spectacular crushes dotted the playing hall since the last report, so let's pick up the action in round four where the last report left off.

Early star IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh, owner of a perfect 3.0/3 start, kept up the norm-hunting with a hold against defending champion GM Levon Aronian. Her toughest decision thus became what to show at her masterclass, already scheduled for that same evening (she showed snippets of games 2-4).

Sarasadat Khademalsharieh
IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh has a 2700+ TPR, and that's not including beating the men! Photo: Niki Riga.

The Iranian star, owner of one norm, held another draw in round five against another grandmaster, this one 200 points her superior. She suffered her first loss in round six and took a bye today but is still well clear of the GM threshold with a performance rating of 2710. 

Stuart Conquest
Tournament director GM Stuart Conquest plays the hits to open Battle of the Sexes. Photo: Niki Riga.

Also in round four, the early leader GM David Navara defended board one nicely with a win against GM Daniel Deac. That put Navara as the sole leader with 4.0/4.

As he explained it, the two had a score to settle. In the 2018 edition, they played in the final round, with both needing a win to have a chance at the title. This year they repeated the line from one year ago.

One amazing escape was turned in by GM Le Quang Liem. Facing the defense of rook+pawn vs. queen (where the pawn was far enough advanced to allow the enemy to run behind it and eventually win it), the Webster University grad showed that all those puzzles given to him in college paid off.

See if you can also conjure the desperate draw:

In round five, top-seeded GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave shone with his knowledge of minor piece endings against women's world champion GM Ju Wenjun. At first it looked like a fearsome attack was coming, which excited commentator GM Simon Williams to no end. Like many three-year-olds, he had trouble coloring within the lines:

Ju Wenjun survived and got to the ending a pawn down. But in an instant, the one-time 2800 ensured she would not Instagram the moment to "happylittleju."

Ju Wenjun Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Ju Wenjun, the past female champion in Gibraltar, went down to the top seed. Photo: John Saunders.

Part of getting to the top in an open always involves some fortune, and for Artemiev, that came in round five. Both players moved with speed until nearly the ending, but then GM Rinat Jumabayev didn't see a key backward defensive move that spoiled his plans of mating.

In round six, Aronian got back in the hunt by mixing the common with the irregular. First, the familiar—he broke out the "sartorial Siamese" by donning yet another cat-theme t-shirt (no word on whether he packed "Cat-astrophe" in his luggage again).

Levon Aronian
Looks carefully at the t-shirt—the Lion's ears have just perked up! Photo: John Saunders.

And then he added a new element: the Sicilian! In fact he's now played the otherwise-common opening exactly as often as his opponent had won in Gibraltar. Aronian's third-ever Sicilian was good enough to beat three-time champion GM Nigel Short.

Nakamura continued his torrid comeback through the weekend. He often goes on long winning runs here, but they usually come at the beginning of the event. This time, after opening with two disappointing draws, he fought back with four straight wins to rejoin the roped-off boards.

The host Caleta Hotel, at night after she has put the action to rest. Photo: John Saunders.

The quartet of wins was capped with a pleasant exchange sacrifice against GM Eduardo Iturrizaga. The two reprised their Queen's Indian from Gibraltar 2017, but with the same result, a win for the American. Not too much analysis is needed as you can just eyeball Black's position and realize that there's nothing over there to guard his king.

Nakamura, whose stepfather is one of the more prolific chess teachers in U.S. history, seems to have given his dad more material for lessons:

And then there was that history-making game with Grandelius against So, where the Swedish top player admitted that it wasn't exactly all preparation.

"I didn't know anything," Grandelius said. "I was just making moves...The position is very scary even with preparation!"

Here's Grandelius' analysis on the game at 3:37:30.

Watch Gibraltar Chess Festival, round 6 with GM Simon Williams and IM Jovanka Houska from GibChess on

Round seven featured a complete crush on one of the top boards. GM Baskaran Adhiban, set to give one of the tournament's masterclasses that night, had all too much time to prepare his lesson after GM Yu Yangyi gave him one of his own. It's hard to be lost so quickly as White in the Four Knights' Opening, but Adhiban had just not known of a wicked knight retreat.

"I was not expecting some Nd7," Adhiban said. "The situation just got worse and worse."

He's not necessarily lost, but in previous iterations of the opening, White has then resorted to sacrificing his queen for a few minor pieces. Instead, Adhiban found the novelty 11. Bxf7+?! after about 35 minutes of thought but he never really got back in the game.

Artemiev then beat Nakamura, handing the Olympiad silver medalist his first loss on the Rock since 2009. Nakamura had a late chance to get back in the game, but the move was diabolical. When this reporter informed Artemiev of the possibility, even though the young Russian speaks decent English, there was still something lost in communication. Not until he saw it on the board during the commentary did he then smile and realize that it was plausible and that he had heard me correctly!

Here's Artemiev's synopsis of the game. "It's not every day that I get a chance to play Hikaru...Hikaru also looks for a fight."

Navara also showed that it's not just tactics that will win tournaments. Although he's fallen a half-point back after being sole leader in round four (two draws and one half-point bye since then), he held the annoying ending rook+bishop vs. rook against GM Ivan Saric. In fact the Croatian didn't even make him play the final 20 moves until the 50-move rule. And why would he? Navara was defending with instant replies and Saric even had to smile at his opponent's encyclopedic knowledge after relenting and offering a draw. asked Navara how he'd known the defense so well. Navara replied that he's simply memorized it. He's now a perfect four-for-four defending the worse side of the ending, and Navara said that the last time he had to do it, he had only the two-second increment to work with.

David Navara
David Navara, human tablebase. Photo: John Saunders.

The ladies also won the Battle of the Sexes on Saturday night. The score was tied 1-1. But before the deciding game, men's captain GM Nigel Short curiously swapped out 28-year-old GM David Howell for 70-year-old GM Raymond Keene. The veteran promptly hung a piece in an already tough position, and the ladies converted with ease to win 2-1.

2019 Gibraltar Chess Festival Masters Section | Standings After Round Seven

Rk. SNo Name FED Rtg Pts.
1 11 GM Artemiev Vladislav 2709 6,0
2 6 GM Navara David 2738 5,5
2 20 GM Grandelius Nils 2682 5,5
2 7 GM Naiditsch Arkadij 2734 5,5
2 2 GM Aronian Levon 2767 5,5
2 8 GM Vitiugov Nikita 2720 5,5
2 17 GM Saric Ivan 2690 5,5
2 40 GM Svane Rasmus 2594 5,5
2 9 GM Le Quang Liem 2714 5,5
2 1 GM Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 2780 5,5
2 4 GM Yu Yangyi 2764 5,5
2 28 GM Alekseenko Kirill 2637 5,5
2 14 GM Matlakov Maxim 2700 5,5
14 62 GM Muzychuk Mariya 2540 5,0
14 55 GM Lalith Babu M R 2547 5,0
14 3 GM So Wesley 2765 5,0
14 13 GM Adams Michael 2701 5,0
14 12 GM Mamedov Rauf 2703 5,0
14 70 GM Cuenca Jimenez Jose Fernando 2512 5,0
14 21 GM Eljanov Pavel 2680 5,0
14 18 GM Adhiban B. 2689 5,0
14 5 GM Nakamura Hikaru 2749 5,0
14 37 GM Deac Bogdan-Daniel 2603 5,0
14 80 IM Gukesh D 2497 5,0
14 36 GM Lagarde Maxime 2604 5,0
14 83 GM Chandra Akshat 2492 5,0
14 30 GM Indjic Aleksandar 2630 5,0
14 19 GM Howell David W L 2685 5,0
14 27 GM Anton Guijarro David 2642 5,0
14 49 GM Karthikeyan Murali 2570 5,0

Gibraltar's tagline is "The Home of Women's Chess" and here they definitely get the chance to face renowned grandmasters. Photo: Niki Riga.

Previous reports:

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