Leading Seeds Draw Early In Gibraltar Chess Festival
Festival Director GM Stuart Conquest opens the tournament with Miss Gibraltar and defending champion GM Levon Aronian in the background. Photo: David Llada.

Leading Seeds Draw Early In Gibraltar Chess Festival

| 20 | Chess Event Coverage

Through three rounds, only one of the top 34(!) players at the 17th Gibraltar Chess Festival has proven himself as indestructible as the peninsula's famous rock. That would be GM David Navara of the Czech Republic. Overall, a mere five players out of 249 have bagged a trio of wins.

How brutal is it? GM Hikaru Nakamura, winner of three straight here from 2015-2017, and owner of 5-0 and 6-0 starts here during that run, began with not one but two draws. Both of his split points came to players around 2400, but he was far from the only big name to give away some half-points early in the event.

David Navara Victor MikhalevskiDavid Navara (left) can now camp out on board one if he keeps winning, like he did against Victor Mikhalevski. Photo: John Saunders.

Fourth-seeded GM Yu Yangyi also yielded draws in both of the opening rounds. While many top players got through one round cleanly, in yesterday's round two, top-seeded GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, number-two GM Levon Aronian (also the defending champion), and several other 2700s also got nicked.

For the elites, they can at least be thankful none has been tagged for a loss yet.

Mariya Muzychuk Levon AronianGM Mariya Muzychuk is one of the many women battling for the £15,000 first prize for ladies. She drew Levon Aronian in round two. Photo: John Saunders.

Finally, in today's round three, the dominoes kept falling when the highest remaining 2-0, GM Wesley So (number-three seed), drew GM Rasmus Svane on board one. GM Le Quang Liem needed nearly six hours just to hold a draw against GM Suri Vaibhav—he would have preferred to just "ask Siri" for a draw but Le was down the exchange for the entire ending, so they played down to K vs. K.

So who's left? GM David Navara is the most recognizable name on 3-0. In fact his precise win today over GM Victor Mikhalevski was the only decisive game among the top dozen boards. The most surprising perfect score is IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh, who is nearly on her peak rating and getting close to 2500 as she prepares to make the number of worldwide female GMs inch ever closer to 40.

Sarasadat KhademalshariehA second GM norm in the works for Sarasadat Khademalsharieh? Photo: David Llada.

There are three other perfect scores, and all are rated within one rating point of one another (either 2603 or 2604). Those would be GM Rinat Jumabayev, GM Daniel Deac, and GM Gabor Papp.

Mikhalevski was far from the most prominent Israeli GM newsmaker in Gib: In the middle of round two, FIDE director general Emil Sutovsky announced that World Chess (formerly known as Agon) will no longer organize world championship matches or Candidates' tournaments (extended interview here). will have a full report on that later.

GukeshThe world's youngest GM, and maybe the most active too—D. Gukesh. He's one of the many Indian players this year (India is tied with England for most-represented federation). Photo: John Saunders.

In round one, GM Sebastian Maze played a nice crush. He might have had some pent-up energy after missing last year (or maybe not—his wife was adding a second child to the family). After "faking" the Closed Sicilian, Maze spotted the uncastled enemy king and resorted to traditional measures. Many short Sicilians have featured a knight offering on d5 and this one was "impeccable," which translates perfectly into French.

Two past winners won with nearly the identical winning moves. The returning champion Aronian played 31. Nh7 to end his game with IM Irine Sukandar, while 2010 champion GM Mickey Adams "improved" by beating another top female one move earlier, with 30. Nxh7!

Here's Aronian:

And now Adams:

Nakamura's slow start wasn't just only due to solid play by his opponents. He also missed a tactic in the opener that would have started him off on a better foot. Maybe if the Puzzle Rush countdown timer had been shown then he would have found this Pavlov-assisted trick:

In round two, the star game was turned in by So. He had a curious explanation for his increased willingness to part with this queen. 

"I've been playing some chess variants lately and it says that the queen is not a big deal!" So said afterward.

Dejan Bojkov

Here's So's full analysis on the game, where he explains that giving away his queen was quite an easy decision. It begins at 3:46.

Watch Gibraltar Chess Festival, round 2 with GM Simon Williams and IM Jovanka Houska from GibChess on

While rising star Khademalsharieh is the most eye-catching player on 3-0, a day before that an even more unlikely and largely unknown player got to 2-0. The untitled Nigerian player Kolade Onabogun took out two grandmasters in the opening two rounds. He said they were the first two GMs he had ever defeated! Unfortunately both of his games appeared so far down the board list that he wasn't on a DGT board.

"A lot of GMs, I'm just going around saying, 'I love your book!'" he said.

His run ended then in round three. He had to play the "high 1.5/2", which was Vachier-Lagrave, and the tournament's top seed didn't drink the Kolade.

Kolade OnabogunWe couldn't get Kolade Onabogun's wins in the report, but we hope his wife will like this nice picture! Photo: David Llada.

Also in round three, Navara put some small space between him and all of the other 2700s with that win over Mikhalevski.

Khademalsharieh, fresh off her honeymoon in the Maldives, is getting a second honeymoon in a slightly less tropical place. She broke the back of the Benoni in a typical way. Black didn't get enough play before White found a way to get in e5. The pawn sac ripped open the f-file, and all of the Iranian's heavies were ready to land there:

Want even more analysis of this game? Khademalsharieh is giving a masterclass Friday night at 9 p.m. local time (3 p.m. Eastern U.S.). She plans to review this game and her round two win as well. Tune in here.

Also, despite Nakamura's slow start, he was in good spirits for his own masterclass, which you can see here:

Watch Gibraltar Chess Festival | Masterclass Hikaru Nakamura from GibChess on

Here are some interviews with IM Tania Sachdev, with many of the players mentioned in the report.

"It easy to feel intimidated...but I'm happy I was able to keep my composure so far," said Onabogun.

"I don't know what to say, it's probably the most that I have never worked...because we had our honeymoon," said Khademalsharieh.

"It is a good start particularly compared to the previous year when I lost in the second round," said Navara. 

"I missed last year because my wife gave birth for the second time," said Maze. 

2019 Gibraltar Chess Festival Masters Section | Standings After Round Three

Rk. SNo Name FED Rtg Pts.
1 6 GM Navara David 2738 3,0
1 94 IM Khademalsharieh Sarasadat 2468 3,0
1 35 GM Jumabayev Rinat 2604 3,0
1 37 GM Deac Bogdan-Daniel 2603 3,0
1 38 GM Papp Gabor 2603 3,0
6 40 GM Svane Rasmus 2594 2,5
6 3 GM So Wesley 2765 2,5
6 9 GM Le Quang Liem 2714 2,5
6 41 GM Vaibhav Suri 2590 2,5
6 11 GM Artemiev Vladislav 2709 2,5
6 2 GM Aronian Levon 2767 2,5
6 15 GM Cheparinov Ivan 2691 2,5
6 46 GM Peralta Fernando 2580 2,5
6 16 GM Jones Gawain C B 2691 2,5
6 88 IM Harsha Bharathakoti 2481 2,5
6 17 GM Saric Ivan 2690 2,5
6 7 GM Naiditsch Arkadij 2734 2,5
6 8 GM Vitiugov Nikita 2720 2,5
6 62 GM Muzychuk Mariya 2540 2,5
6 63 GM Puranik Abhimanyu 2536 2,5
6 20 GM Grandelius Nils 2682 2,5
6 48 GM Ju Wenjun 2575 2,5
6 10 GM Ivanchuk Vassily 2713 2,5
6 22 GM Sethuraman S.P. 2665 2,5
6 23 GM Melkumyan Hrant 2660 2,5
6 52 GM Vazquez Igarza Renier 2567 2,5
6 13 GM Adams Michael 2701 2,5
6 26 GM Edouard Romain 2643 2,5
6 54 GM Lagno Kateryna 2560 2,5
6 18 GM Adhiban B. 2689 2,5
6 55 GM Lalith Babu M R 2547 2,5
6 56 GM Kadric Denis 2545 2,5
6 24 GM Short Nigel D 2648 2,5
6 66 GM Hjartarson Johann 2530 2,5
6 58 GM Santos Ruiz Miguel 2543 2,5
6 21 GM Eljanov Pavel 2680 2,5
6 29 GM Iturrizaga Bonelli Eduardo 2637 2,5
6 60 GM Werle Jan 2541 2,5
6 36 GM Lagarde Maxime 2604 2,5
6 39 GM Maze Sebastien 2596 2,5
6 1 GM Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 2780 2,5
6 51 GM Ramirez Alejandro 2567 2,5
6 31 GM Vocaturo Daniele 2626 2,5
6 92 IM Bilguun Sumiya 2471 2,5
6 59 GM Koneru Humpy 2541 2,5

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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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