News Isle Of Man: Xiong, Gupta Join Leaders
An all-Indian battle on boards dour and 16, which happened to be next to each other. Superman won. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/ Isle Of Man: Xiong, Gupta Join Leaders

| 26 | Chess Event Coverage

Grab your saddle. The fifth round of the 2018 Isle of Man International was all about knights versus pawns. The final verdict? A draw.

Jeffery Xiong's three pawns overcame Richard Rapport's knight for the American to join the lead. But Sergey Karjakin's two knights, his final two pieces, were enough to checkmate Sam Sevian precisely because of the American's remaining pawn. And finally, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave offered his knight for three pawns, but had to settle for a perpetual in an all-knights ending!

horses isle of man

The Isle of Man...and horses. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

On the top board, Wang Hao and Arkadij Naiditsch, the two perfect scores, drew to move to 4.5/5. But that allowed two others to catch up—Xiong and Abhijeet Gupta (who beat the heretofore dominant Vidit Gujrathi). 

Xiong wasn't that thrilled with his pairing and said, "I consider Richard Rapport to be the most creative player in the world, actually." But it was the teenager who produced the unique idea that formed a rare diamond formation of pawns. 

Xiong and Danny Rensch

Jeffery Xiong participated in the game of the day video with Daniel Rensch. You can see it tomorrow during the live show on Twitch. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Of course, that came after Xiong's scouting report proved correct. Rapport's offbeat 1. d4 Nc6 2. c3 got even more obscure with an early pawn sac on e4 (a novelty). Soon after, the teenager simply left his knight en prise to collect two more center pawns, bringing the total haul to three pawns for the horse.

Once his king scampered to safety, it still looked like the impressive formation was stuck, until Rapport went pawn grabbing. That released the dam and the passers came rolling quite quickly.

Dejan Bojkov

So score one for the pawns, but how about the knights? Get ready for some extreme endgame minutiae.

Karjakin's two knights versus one knight ending slowly became devoid of pawns. Sevian decided to offer his lone knight for White's last pawn, leaving the Russian with only two knights. But there was a problem: Sevian still had one pawn remaining. Otherwise, the game would be a relatively easy draw since two knights can't force mate against a lone king.

Enter famous chess composer Alexey Troitsky. Despite being born a year after the U.S. Civil War ended, his contributions were relevant today.

Troitsky's pre-computer-era analysis of where the pawn must be for the knights to win was "astonishingly accurate," according to John Nunn. Here's the "Troitsky Line," which holds that if White has the two knights and Black the lone pawn, then the pawn must be on the red squares or behind them for the knights to have enough time to release the blockade and mate the king (the line is independent of the 50-move rule).

Troitsky Line

Now let's see the position arising from Karjakin's game with Sevian, right after Black gave up his last knight:


Karjakin-Sevian, position after 58. Nxb2.

According to Troitsky, with "normal" king positions (which this game has) the game would be winning, but only if White had the next move! He wants to play Ng5 and stonewall the pawn as far up the board as possible. Instead, it was Black's move, and Sevian correctly played 58...g5. The farther down the board the pawn gets, the fewer moves White will have after releasing the pawn.


Although he is called the "minister of defense", Karjakin knows how to demolish his opponent! | Photo: Maria Emelianova/ 

Of course all of this is academic. Actual chess has to be played, and despite the theoretical draw, and Sevian even getting his pawn one more square down the board, Karjakin found a way to win.

Want to try it out yourself? Luckily, has this exact drill for you to try to be like Karjakin.

With the score: Knights 1 - Pawns 1, now let's look at detente between the warring factions. That would be MVL's effort against another "man with three names"—Mircea-Emilian Parligras of Romania.


The Romanian Parligras is having a great tournament in the Isle of Man. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

But it wasn't three names Vachier-Lagrave was after; it was three pawns:

The two pre-round leaders couldn't find ways to improve their respective positions, so the last two perfect scores went by the wayside after this handshake between Wang Hao and Naiditsch:

Hikaru Nakamura continued his move back up the standings with his second win in a row. Against Alexey Shirov, he said he blitzed out preparation that he'd looked at before the game.

Shirov Nakamura

After the handshake, the smoke is still settling. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/ 

With the proclivities of the two players, it was pretty clear something dynamic would happen. It came mostly from Shirov, but a little more restraint was called for. Shirov's exchange sac was perhaps playable but he followed it up by immediately opening lines, which could only benefit Nakamura's extra rook.

"I felt it was difficult to play under the circumstances," Nakamura said about the critical move and Shirov's time deficit.


After a bit of a slow start, Hikaru took down the first 2600 player in an interesting fight. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Even after that, Giri, commenting on the game in the studio, said there were "ways for Black to go wrong" but ultimately Nakamura didn't:

Nakamura called today's pairing "lucky" and explained that it is because "it's good to play against someone who's going to try to win, who's going to play interesting chess."

He continued: "When you play someone like Alexey, a 2600 who you know is going to try, it makes it a lot easier because you can just play natural chess as opposed to kind of just having to make some stuff up at the board and hope that it works."


Gupta only looks calm. His heart rate monitor has been showing activity close to an active workout today, but the joint lead in such event doesn't come easy. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Gupta joined Naiditsch, Wang Hao, and Xiong on the lead with 4.5/5 by beating Vidit. His countryman had been slicing up the field until today, which also happened to be Vidit's birthday.

Many of the other notable players on boards 5-8 could only draw today against lower-rated opposition, including Levon Aronian, Anish Giri, Wesley So, and Alexander Grischuk.

Boris Gelfand wasn't even that fortunate, as he went down to the young German national team member Rasmus Svane.

We're not quite done with technical endings yet. Unlike yesterday's report where we saw David Howell squeeze a win in rook+bishop-vs.-rook against a teenage Indian GM, today another teenage Indian GM was able to hold it against Georg Meier. (Robert Hess: "There's too many youngsters to keep track of!")

Praggnanandhaa mom

Long days for Pragg's mom: She is always waiting for her bright son in the playing hall, sometimes up to seven hours! | Photo: Maria Emelianova/ 

Maybe Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa read yesterday's report in detail, or maybe he took the advice to practice that drill.

Finally, the live show hosted someone you don't get to hear from often:'s head of cheat detection, Gerard Le-Marechal. If you'd like to hear all about how it works behind the scenes, check out his interview and Q&A session:

Watch Fair Play Q and A with Danny Rensch and Gerard Le-Marechal: 2018 Isle of Man International from Chess on

2018 Isle of Man International | Standings After Rd. 5 (Top 20)

Rk. Title Name FED Rtg TB1
1 GM Wang Hao 2722 4,5
1 GM Naiditsch Arkadij 2721 4,5
1 GM Xiong Jeffery 2656 4,5
1 GM Gupta Abhijeet 2588 4,5
5 GM Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 2780 4,0
5 GM Nakamura Hikaru 2763 4,0
5 GM Karjakin Sergey 2760 4,0
5 GM Wojtaszek Radoslaw 2727 4,0
5 GM Parligras Mircea-Emilian 2623 4,0
5 GM Jumabayev Rinat 2605 4,0
5 GM Svane Rasmus 2595 4,0
12 GM Aronian Levon 2780 3,5
12 GM Giri Anish 2780 3,5
12 GM Kramnik Vladimir 2779 3,5
12 GM So Wesley 2776 3,5
12 GM Anand Viswanathan 2771 3,5
12 GM Grischuk Alexander 2769 3,5
12 GM Rapport Richard 2725 3,5
12 GM Adams Michael 2712 3,5
12 GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 2711 3,5

Full standings here and round five pairings here.

Games via TWIC.

Watch Isle of Man Day 5 Starting Soon! from Chess on

The 2018 Isle of Man International is a nine-round Swiss from October 20-28 beginning at 2:30 p.m. local time daily (GMT+1), except for round nine, which begins at 1:00 p.m.. The host site is the Villa Marina and the tournament is generously sponsored by the Scheinberg Family. Live coverage can be found at either or

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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