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Eljanov, Caruana Distance Themselves From Isle Of Man Field

Eljanov, Caruana Distance Themselves From Isle Of Man Field

The time-lapse video in the Isle of Man's Manx Museum explains that the British Isles took 400 million years to break away from North America and land where they sit today. In contrast, it only took one week for GMs Pavel Eljanov and Fabiano Caruana to break away from the 131 other players at the Chess.com Isle of Man International.

Both won today, which meant that Eljanov (6.5/7) retained his half-point lead. The chasing group was trimmed from three to one. Caruana is all alone on 6.0/7, and Saturday will produce the marquee matchup that didn't happen today.

GM Pavel Eljanov is 0-3 against GM Fabiano Caruana this year, including a loss at the Olympiad. He will look to stop that streak tomorrow.

Many thought the first all-2700+ game would occur in round seven, but the quirky Swiss-pairings program spotted a second "upfloat to a higher score group" for Caruana and had him play on board two instead. That's all moot now that Eljanov and Caruana are the only ones in the top two score groups. The good news for Eljanov is that their delayed meeting means that he will get White against the world number-two.

Today was apparently a cup of coffee for GM Fabiano Caruana.

What's more exciting than talking about pairings semantics? Pretty much anything, so on to round seven's games.

Most of the early excitement came from the ladies.

Things began with a bang, as IM Nino Batsiashvili upstaged GM David Howell's miniature from yesterday. Whereas he won in 21 moves, it only took her 18 to force mate!

Games via TWIC.

Another quick win was turned in a little later by IM Jovanka Houska versus GM Mihail Marin. The Briton moved to Norway years ago (meanwhile the actual Isle of Man has moved from Norwegian to British dependency in the last millennium), but that's not a bad place for chess culture of course. 

In the battle between two accomplished authors, Houska had a personal advantage. She explained afterward that she had faced this system before; after the game, she asked her computer for advice. It simply said "play Bb4." Houska did and won a pawn rather quickly thanks to some weak dark-squares.

Back to the leaders. Caruana and Eljanov both won within a few minutes of each other.

Eljanov's opponent, GM Santosh Vidit, deserves praise for pushing for the full point. You could argue that to control his own destiny he needed to, but he certainly didn't settle for mere equality as White.

GM Santosh Vidit's (left) determination to win cost him against Eljanov.

The Indian grandmaster first advanced one of those "make-or-break" passed pawns, which could either become scary or detached from its island and lost. Then he eschewed a possible repetition and lashed out with 25.g4?!

The veteran knew what to do, and many moves later that d-pawn did fall.

Caruana kept pace with a win of his own. After a modest setup by both players, GM Maxim Rodshtein waited for a few turns to see what White would do.

GM Maxim Rodshtein (left) awaits his game versus Caruana. He fell to 0-3-1 against him today.

After the position became dynamic, they copied board one in that each got passed d-pawns. The Israeli's went nowhere while Caruana's needed a piece sac to be handled.

The American's win meant the chasing field will become his best friend tomorrow. Should Caruana falter against Eljanov, the Ukrainian will have at least a tie for first. Since tiebreaks will be used instead of a playoff, Eljanov would have the inside track (the first tiebreak is head-to-head, but the second is progressive, which Eljanov would surely win). In fact, only So could catch him in that scenario.

The loss ends Rodshtein's realistic chances at first and dips him back down below 2700, but he's still only a dozen points off of his career peak, set earlier this year. And how's this for a positive trajectory to his career: He's played in the last five Olympiads for Israel, playing (in order), reserve, board four, board three, board two, and this year, board one!

GM Maxim Rodshtein should be installed as his country's full-time board one when GM Boris Gelfand ends his national team career.

GM Wesley So kept his outside first-place chances alive. Of the eight players going into today on 4.5/6, he was the only one to win. 

In the opening, a Benoni(!), So was prepared until move nine. Out came 9...Nh5 from GM Salem Saleh, but unlike 11...Nh5 from game three of the Spassky vs Fischer 1972 World Championship Match, this one won't go on a t-shirt.

You can get your Nh5 shirt at the Q Boutique's online store.

"I looked at many different moves but not Nh5," So said. Later, the larger strategic error was likely Black's decision to allow the endgame.

"I am happy to trade queens," So said. "The endgame should be slightly better." Later, his pressure yielded him a snack, and this time he ate it.

GM Salem Saleh (left) against GM Wesley So in the only decisive game from the large score group on 4.5.

"In my game against Rodshtein a few rounds ago, he left a pawn hanging, and I didn't take it. So today I made sure to take it!"

Here's a few notes based on So's analysis. The complete video is below.

Looking ahead to round eight, if Eljanov fails to win, and So does, he will likely get a title shot against Eljanov or Caruana, whoever has more points.

Also still mathematically alive is Nakamura, who essentially needs to run the table after starting with only 3.0/5. He's halfway there, as today's grind over GM Sabino Brunello gave Nakamura his second win in a row and a chance to conduct the post-mortem in Italian. Nakamura is fluent.

In round eight, Nakamura gets So. To have a chance to win the tournament, Nakamura may need to beat his two American Olympiad teammates in the final two rounds (and even that may not be enough).

Moving away from the race for first, other interesting match-ups occurred today. The top two women faced off, GMs Harika Dronavalli and Hou Yifan

Backward to go forward: Both GM Harika Dronavalli (right) and GM Hou Yifan undeveloped their knights to advance them to better squares.

That wasn't the only curious thing about the game. In what is becoming the move of the tournament, the world champion moved her knight back to b8, only to have White follow suit later with Nh1! After the sly knight-jumping ended, the Indian player got her first-ever win against Hou Yifan, in any time control.

Here's some additional thoughts by the winner on the women's world championship and the local Indian restaurants:

In the game between GM Julio Granda (49) and GM Oleg Romanishin (64), the combined age of the two legends was greater than that of the top two boards combined, and by a healthy margin. Today, the "youngster" prevailed.

GM Julio Granda (left) faces a stare-down from GM Oleg Romanishin.

GM Benjamin Bok vs GM Alexei Shirov was a barn-burner. The Botvinnik System is a Shirov favorite and suits his famous style.

You might think GM Simon Williams would be a fan of the crazy positions too, but not so. "It's too much theory for me!" he said. "You can get out-prepared straight away. At the top level, you've got to be less predictable."

Finally, some players are here to bag some norms. Nearly there is IM John Paul Wallace of Australia.

John Paul Wallace got his IM title 20 years ago, but he is making a run at a GM norm here.

He lives in England as a chess coach and took a decade off from tournament chess, but his infectious excitement came through once again today as he beat his third GM in four games. This one was his first 2600.

Wallace has now bagged 30 rating points.

"He's the surprise of the tournament," Williams said.

Chess.com Isle of Man 2016 | Round 7 Standings

Rk. SNo Fed Title Name Rtg TB1 Rp rtg+/-
1 5 GM Eljanov, Pavel 2741 6,5 2972 13,8
2 1 GM Caruana, Fabiano 2813 6 2913 7,3
3 2 GM So, Wesley 2794 5,5 2784 0,4
4 3 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 2787 5 2697 -5,6
5 4 GM Adams, Michael 2745 5 2726 -0,4
6 8 GM Rodshtein, Maxim 2687 5 2784 10
7 9 GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 2686 5 2713 3,7
8 10 GM Naiditsch, Arkadij 2684 5 2766 6,9
9 11 GM Shirov, Alexei 2679 5 2757 6,6
10 15 GM Melkumyan, Hrant 2653 5 2570 -4,8
11 21 GM Howell, David W L 2644 5 2683 5,3
12 22 GM Grandelius, Nils 2642 5 2759 12,2
13 26 GM Bok, Benjamin 2594 5 2740 14,6
14 29 GM Donchenko, Alexander 2581 5 2534 -3,1
15 35 GM Sunilduth Lyna Narayanan 2536 5 2692 15,4
16 36 GM Harika Dronavalli 2528 5 2698 16,4
17 74 IM Wallace, John Paul 2355 5 2683 29,5
18 6 GM Leko, Peter 2709 4,5 2573 -10
19 13 GM Fressinet, Laurent 2676 4,5 2596 -6
20 14 GM Sargissian, Gabriel 2670 4,5 2608 -4,5
21 16 GM Salem, A.R. Saleh 2650 4,5 2624 1,2
22 18 GM Granda Zuniga, Julio E 2648 4,5 2571 -5,4
23 23 GM Gupta, Abhijeet 2626 4,5 2589 -1,7
24 24 GM Van Foreest, Jorden 2615 4,5 2661 6
25 25 GM L'ami, Erwin 2605 4,5 2598 1,2
26 32 GM Aravindh Chithambaram Vr. 2564 4,5 2498 -4,5
27 33 GM Shyam, Sundar M. 2552 4,5 2442 -8,1
28 34 GM Svane, Rasmus 2552 4,5 2530 -0,5
29 37 GM Vishnu, Prasanna. V 2522 4,5 2527 1,1
30 38 GM Schroeder, Jan-Christian 2514 4,5 2550 4,1
31 44 IM Batsiashvili, Nino 2480 4,5 2551 7,7
32 45 IM Puranik, Abhimanyu 2471 4,5 2470 1,4
33 46 GM Illingworth, Max 2465 4,5 2577 11,5
34 63 WIM Shvayger, Yuliya 2405 4,5 2567 17,6
35 71 Hemant, Sharma (del) 2371 4,5 2543 34,8
Make sure you join the action at Chesscom/TV on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. local time (that is 5:30 a.m. Pacific, 8:30 New York and 2:30 p.m. CEST) for live commentary with GM Simon Williams and WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni.

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