5 For Fighting: Handful Of GMs Tied Entering Last Round Of Gibraltar Chess
GM Richard Rapport scored an important victory of GM David Howell. | Photo: John Saunders/Gibraltar Chess.

5 For Fighting: Handful Of GMs Tied Entering Last Round Of Gibraltar Chess

| 13 | Chess Event Coverage

After nine rounds of the 16th Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival, the top players have regressed to the mean. GM Hikaru Nakamura has slowed down with four straight draws after opening with five straight wins, and that has allowed the other two top seeds to catch up after slower starts.

With one round to go, a pair of 21-year-olds has also rebounded to join the trio of top-10 GMs at 7.0/9. The five leaders: Nakamura, GMs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, GM Levon Aronian, GM Daniil Dubov, and GM Richard Rapport.


GM Daniil Dubov is one of two 21-year olds tied for first. | Photo: Sophie Triay/Gibraltar Chess.

In order for Nakamura to fend off the challengers to win his fourth-straight title, he won't be relying simply on the tiebreak, which he's used to winning the last two years. He thinks someone from the top score group needs the full point tomorrow.

"Someone's probably going to win on the 7.0 score group," Nakamura said. "I'm going to have to do something tomorrow."


GM Hikaru Nakamura said he's been feeling less than 100 percent during his drawing streak. | Photo: Sophie Triay/Gibraltar Chess.

While he has yet to play anyone in the one-time 2800 club, he expected it for the final round, adding that it would be "weird" to play all event without squaring off with Aronian or Vachier-Lagrave.

[Update: He will indeed get Black aganst Aronian tomorrow! Also Vachier-Lagrave-Rapport and GM Le Quang Liem-Dubov.]

Aronian has caught up to the lead for the first time all event. An opening-round draw made him part of the chase group. Dubov's Swiss Gambit was even more accelerated; he went down to that furious attack from IM Gary Quillan in round one. Dubov is the only player among the five with a loss on his card—the other leaders are all +5-0=4.


GM Levon Aronian in a familiar position: head between hands, and tied for first. | Photo: John Saunders/Gibraltar Chess.

There's been a little less drama for Rapport and Vachier-Lagrave's path to the lead, although the Hungarian did spoil Howell's tournament in round eight.

Round Eight

Recall that this round began with only Nakamura and Howell atop the standings with 6.0/7. In the pairings, they both faded the highest-rated players in the 5.5 group, Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave.

Still, neither could take advantage. Nakamura drew in only 19 moves against GM Wang Hao, despite seeing some life left in the position. His health was to blame, he said one round later: "Yesterday if I had been feeling better I probably would have played on."

Wang Hao Nakamura

Does GM Wang Hao look fresher than GM Hikaru Nakamura? You decide. | Photo: Sophie Triay/Gibraltar Chess.

Likely Wang would have been full of energy. He was one of 24 players who had taken a bye in round seven, the last round players were allowed to do so (the entire Chinese contingent was among the two dozen taking Monday off).

Still, the American's game went three times as long as Aronian's 50-minute draw. Repeating a game he'd played against GM Nils Grandelius in Norway Chess 2016, the Armenian essentially had an off day as Black when he was forced into a repetition in the opening against GM Grigoriy Opari).

So where did all the action come from yesterday? British chess fans had to endure a suffering position from Howell, who became a voodoo doll for those remembering how it feels to be squeezed.

He broke his new year's resolution for the third time in a row, falling into deep time pressure. Howell had only 15 minutes left to make 24 moves, and played almost exclusively on the increment for the final dozen moves before move 40. But all the time in the world couldn't give him any sort of counterpunch:


But if you're the kind to get emotional about someone else's games and were feeling bad for the end of Howell's tournament chances, you were likely feeling much worse for GM Vassily Ivanchuk. After his one hour, 45 minute loss in our last report, he couldn't even last that long against GM Abhijeet Gupta.

Abhijeet Gupta

GM Abhijeet Gupta said GM Vassily Ivanchuk looked normal, even if his moves didn't. | Photo: John Saunders/Gibraltar Chess.

In a game than couldn't even break the 90-minute mark, Ivanchuk didn't seem to fight. He was up leaving the board often and Gupta reported that he was blitzing most of his moves, even when he got in a worse position.

"With Ivanchuk you never know," Gupta said. "He can be the best player on the planet. But sometimes he can play like how he did today."

Gupta also said he didn't bother preparing.

"[Ivanchuk] used to play everything from A00 to E99," Gupta said, referring to the entire taxonomy of chess openings. Here he is smashing the Queen's Indian (E12, for the record).

Ivanchuk thus went to 0-2 against Indian GMs in just a little more than three hours total. He left the board visibly saddened, but recovered in round nine with a win.


A forlorn GM Vassily Ivanchuk. | Photo: Sophie Triay/Gibraltar Chess.

An even more crushing attack came at the expense of GM Kateryna Lago, who along with GM Ju Wenjun was co-leading the women's prizes at the end of round seven. Grandelius formed a brute-force battery on the f-file, but finished off with an aesthetically subtle giant zugzwang.

With Howell going down, another local hero stepped in to please the home fans. Well, just over the border anyway.

The young IM-elect Lance Henderson de La Fuente, who got his first IM norm at Gibraltar 2017, just finished his qualifications with this final norm last month in London. He doesn't show any signs of slowing down, as he sensationally defeated GM Alexander Huzman as Black.

Lance Henderson

IM-elect Lance Henderson de La Fuente, 14, received an award for Pairs Blitz, but his bigger award came a day later with his first GM norm. He didn't know who was the youngest Spanish GM in history, and neither do we! | Photo: John Saunders/Gibraltar Chess.

No big deal, just beating GM Boris Gelfand's longtime second, and the man who once beat GM Garry Kasparov, a few days before becoming 15. Four pieces are indeed better than a rook!

Henderson de La Fuente followed up with a solid draw today that clinched his first GM norm.

"My hand was shaking when I was writing the moves," he said in the waning moments today.

Here's the kid's full analysis of the win against Huzman (skip to 4:25):

Watch Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival, Round 9 from Chess on

Round Nine

Today's round began with Nakamura thrown off the top board for the first time since early in the event. Still, he had a share of the lead with 6.5/8, along with three others. But yet again, the trip of upper-echelon super-GMs avoided direct encounters.

Dubov, playing on the premier board after a long climb after losing to a 2300 on day one, didn't press Vachier-Lagrave much and the two had shaken hands before two hours had elapsed.

Nakamura played White and showed much more persistence, but still never rocked Rapport's boat.

"Every move that he played I wasn't really expecting," Nakamura said. He said he thought his plan with f5 made sense, but, "I don't think it's anything special...there probably just wasn't anything decisive for me."

The mostly-static games on the top boards allowed Aronian to complete his comeback into the top score group. Today he beat GM S. P. Sethuraman.

"The strongest players, they take a longer time to adjust," Aronian said. "In open tournaments you have to understand how your opponents feel and think and that's harder."


GM S. P. Sethuraman let GM Levon Aronian have his way today. | Photo: Sophie Triay/Gibraltar Chess.

On today's game, Aronian liked his queen's sorties.

"This little idea with the queen jumping around makes some sense," he said. "He didn't know how to proceed. He was spending a lot of time...He was trying to create some counterplay and it didn't work out.

"I have the squares and I have the bishops....I was not worried."


Like Nakamura, Aronian said he feels a full point is needed tomorrow to win the event, which will be his last before the Candidates' Tournament. But don't think he will necessarily sequester himself all evening. The night before he learned about a card game from Vachier-Lagrave and other French players, and Aronian suggested he might return to it tonight.


GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has already played GM Levon Aronian, but only in cards. | Photo: Sophie Triay/Gibraltar Chess.

While Henderson de La Fuente was getting a GM-norm, FM Prithu Gupta also had a banner day. He won to earn his final IM norm, and scored a double by winning by getting a GM norm too!


GM Sergey Karjakin's record is officially safe. "Pragga-watch" is over but this 12-year-old made a magical run at becoming the youngest GM in history. | Photo: John Saunders/Gibraltar Chess.

So what's possible better than finishing off a title and starting a new one? How about earning the GM title a second time!? Well, at least having report on it a second time!

IM Nino Batsiashvili's road to becoming the 36th woman in history to become a grandmaster has been nothing if not adventurous. Back in October, she was so dominant in the first two-thirds of the Isle of Man Open that she nabbed a grandmaster norm despite losing the last three games!

Nino Batsiashvili

IM Nino Batsiashvili proved the expression, "Showing up is half the battle." | Photo: John Saunders/Gibraltar Chess.

Batsiashvili thought it was her third and final norm, but in the intervening months, she told that FIDE nullified one of her norms. So in Gibraltar she did it again—overperforming so much in the opening eight rounds that today she had the easiest task in would-be grandmaster history.

She simply had to show up! That's right, she just needed to arrive at the board to commence the game, and finally her third norm would be conferred (the pedantic reader may note she may have had to play a single move, but we trust that with 20 different options that they were all to her liking).

The Georgian is also amongst four women on 6.0/9 that lead the race for women's prizes. The others are: GM Pia Cramling, GM Ju Wenjun (the defending champion), and GM Valentina Gunina.

Wenjun JuGM Ju Wenjun likely won't benefit from the other leading ladies playing 1. f3 like GM Hou Yifan did last year in the final round. | Photo: Sophie Triay/Gibraltar Chess.

Gunina got there by beating GM Nigel Short today. Several days earlier, it was Short calling out from the audience and interupting during Gunina's master class, but today she was firmly the one giving the lesson.

Tomorrow the action kicks off four hours earlier at 11 a.m. local time (CET). The table below includes performance rating, which could be important if none of the 7.0s win and there's a massive tie for first.

In case of a tie, there will be a playoff and the first-place money will not be split. Here's how the regulations would work in that case:

In the event of a tie for first place, there shall be a play-off. If there are four or fewer players tied for first place, there will be a speed knock-out play-off for the first prize of £25,000.
If three players tie for first place, the player with the highest performance rating will be seeded directly into the Final of the Play-Off; the other two players will contest the Semi-Final.
If more than four players tie for first place, the four players with the highest performance ratings shall qualify for the play-off to decide the first prize.
All other prizes shall be shared where players have the same score (except the Women’s First Prize).

2018 Tradewise Gibraltar | Round 9 Standings (Top 25)

Rk. SNo Name FED Rtg Pts. TB1
1 3 GM Nakamura Hikaru 2781 7,0 2830
2 2 GM Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 2793 7,0 2771
3 12 GM Rapport Richard 2700 7,0 2765
4 1 GM Aronian Levon 2797 7,0 2748
5 15 GM Dubov Daniil 2694 7,0 2703
6 16 GM Howell David W L 2682 6,5 2766
7 38 GM Antipov Mikhail Al. 2588 6,5 2757
8 31 GM Gupta Abhijeet 2610 6,5 2734
9 24 GM Grandelius Nils 2647 6,5 2727
10 9 GM Duda Jan-Krzysztof 2724 6,5 2725
11 10 GM Wang Hao 2711 6,5 2720
12 33 GM Oparin Grigoriy 2607 6,5 2715
13 7 GM Vitiugov Nikita 2732 6,5 2698
14 11 GM Adams Michael 2709 6,5 2692
15 14 GM Gelfand Boris 2697 6,5 2680
16 32 GM Vocaturo Daniele 2609 6,5 2677
17 6 GM Le Quang Liem 2737 6,5 2667
18 13 GM Cheparinov Ivan 2699 6,5 2637
19 93 GM Kobo Ori 2477 6,5 2629
20 81 GM Debashis Das 2501 6,0 2704
21 78 IM Batsiashvili Nino 2504 6,0 2661
21 104 GM Cramling Pia 2449 6,0 2661
23 4 GM Navara David 2749 6,0 2645
24 25 GM Sethuraman S.P. 2646 6,0 2644
25 8 GM Ivanchuk Vassily 2726 6,0 2638

Full standings are here.

The 16th Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival is a 10-round open event that takes place from January 23-February 1 at the Caleta Hotel in Gibraltar. Rounds 1-9 take place at 3:00 p.m. local time (9 a.m. Eastern U.S., 6 a.m. Pacific). The final round will be four hours earlier at 11:00 a.m. local time. Live commentary with GM Simon Williams and IM Jovanka Houska and player interviews with IM Tania Sachdev can be found at or the official site.

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FM Mike Klein

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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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