Nakamura, MVL Among Gibraltar Leaders

Nakamura, MVL Among Gibraltar Leaders

| 22 | Chess Event Coverage

It took a week, but the cream has risen to the top at the 2017 Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival. Since our last report in round four, some of the pretenders have fallen off after angering the gods of chess.

Photo Sophie Triay.

Three-time champion GM Hikaru Nakamura took his customary place atop the tables with 6/7 and extended his personal unbeaten streak on the peninsula to 37 games, a streak dating all the way to January 2009. 

He was joined by one of the two players that outrate him, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The third and fourth players with a share of the lead are GM David Anton, last year's Spanish hero, and GM Yu Yangyi. That's right: In chess, as opposed to baseball, Yu's on first.

Conspicuously absent is GM Fabiano Caruana, who dropped a game in round six to the tournament's only other three-time winner, GM Nigel Short. The Englishman had not beaten a 2800 since his lone win against GM Garry Kasparov in the 1993 world championship, and the former world champion noted Short's accomplishment on Twitter, to the delight of Short.

Round four's leaders, GMs Ju Wenjun and Emil Sutovsky, played barely 20 minutes before repeating moves in round five (thus avoiding the 30-move anti-draw rule, which is in effect). Ju had a bit of an excuse -- the first day of the Chinese New Year began that day. She even wore a shirt emblazoned with a rooster, the nominative animal of the 12-year cycle, but a chicken seemed as appropriate on this occasion.

The commentators thought Caissa would not approve, and indeed, both lost in round six to fall off the pace.

In today's round seven, GM David Anton played Nakamura on top board (Nakamura beat him as White last year). They did something similar to Ju-Sutovsky and repeated moves after one hour. It might be veteran savvy for the American. If he goes win-draw-win-draw in his two Whites and two Blacks, he will end on 8/10 which is the most common winning score (and he will surely like any playoff format that comes his way). The last time a winner carded a score less than 8.0/10 was in 2010.

Still, the absence of full-fledged games on the top boards didn't dissuade others from filling in the gaps. Step right up GM Kacper Piorun! The four-time world problem-solving champion played a game with a unique combination of pieces resting on the bottom-left quadrant. Did his problem-solving acumen help him after allowing his rook to be cornered?

"I think actually at this point, it's like 'problem solved!'" he said.

Piorun has a "perfect" score this week: all seven games decisive. His two losses have been to two of the tournament leaders (Vachier-Lagrave, Yu). So that's how to solve the problem of draws -- just have the world's best become elite puzzle solvers.

GM Hou Yifan is rising to the challenge of joining Nakamura and Short. To date, no fewer than seven women have won two lifetime women's titles in Gibraltar. Hou would be the first to get to three, and today she played like Bronstein. Who needs a queen when you have two minors, a pawn and initiative?

That was a wonderful positional queen sacrifice by Hou Yifan. | Photo John Saunders.

In a match between titans, GM Peter Svidler missed a winning shot against Short, who seems to have the tarot cards falling the right way for him. Believers in higher-order forces a work may notice that his act of contrition at the battle of the sexes has turned things his way. First a win against Caruana (farther down in this report) and then a lucky escape against Svidler:

Instant karma: A handshake nine years in the making preceded Short's positive last 48 hours. "It's all good vibes," Short said about the moment and big win that followed.

Speaking of the other man who buried the hatchet, in another interesting matchup, GM Veselin Topalov played his longtime second, GM Ivan Cheparinov (the GM to the left above). Despite some chances for the understudy, the two drew.

A day earlier in round six, GM Mickey Adams played the hand of chess god by exacting retribution on Ju for her earlier draw.

"The French was a complete surprise for me," Adams said, but you wouldn't know it by watching his game:

The big news of the day of course was Short taking out then world number-two Caruana. In fact, even with a draw Caruana might have lost his second billing in the chess world, but instead he dropped about five points below Tata Steel winner GM Wesley So.

"I thought his position was practically lost," Short said. Despite his extra pawn, the veteran had trouble putting away the man less than half his age.

"With these strong players, you've got to really stick the stake through the head, because they don't die!" he said. 

Upon seeing the Kasparov tweet, Short broke out into laughter and said, "thank you, Garry."

For those thinking that the Cheparinov handshake was nothing more than hocus pocus, consider this: Short got a very similar rook-vs-bishop ending against...Cheparinov, in the once-aborted handshake game! Short said he even remembered that game in the closing moments of the conversion against Caruana.

In round five, Topalov also took out a "youngster" (the world's highest-rated under-16 player), this time with a tactical melee rather than a grind.

Veselin Topalov, after the game, next to Tania Sachdev. | Photo John Saunders.

The real star game from that day was turned in by Adams. He beat Hou by first collecting an assortment of pieces, then outsmarting even the computers. He saw the winning breakthrough long before the machines (or the commentators) did!

Hou Yifan's drinks and snacks couldn't help her enough in this game, but she did copy Adams's queen sac the very next day. | Photo John Saunders.

Gibraltar Masters | Round 7 Standings (Top 30)

Rk. SNo Fed Title Name Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3 w-we
1 2 GM Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 2796 6 32 23 27,25 0,71
2 3 GM Nakamura Hikaru 2785 6 31,5 23 26 0,61
3 8 GM Yu Yangyi 2738 6 30,5 22,5 26 0,73
4 24 GM Anton Guijarro David 2650 6 30,5 21,5 26 1,73
5 5 GM Adams Michael 2751 5,5 33,5 24 25,25 0,57
6 16 GM Short Nigel D 2675 5,5 32 23 24,75 1,03
7 13 GM Cheparinov Ivan 2689 5,5 32 23 24,5 0,75
8 10 GM Gelfand Boris 2721 5,5 31,5 22 23,75 0,14
9 28 GM Sutovsky Emil 2628 5,5 31 21,5 22,5 1,19
10 7 GM Topalov Veselin 2739 5,5 30,5 21,5 23,75 0,2
11 27 GM Akobian Varuzhan 2633 5,5 29,5 21,5 22 0,77
12 12 GM Matlakov Maxim 2701 5,5 29 20 22,5 0,33
13 33 GM Fridman Daniel 2594 5,5 28,5 20 22,75 0,79
14 58 GM Stefanova Antoaneta 2512 5,5 28 20,5 20,75 1,9
15 30 GM Edouard Romain 2613 5,5 27 19 21,5 0,17
16 38 GM Ju Wenjun 2583 5 31,5 23 20,75 1,23
17 9 GM Vitiugov Nikita 2724 5 31,5 22 21,5 -0,29
18 94 IM Carlstedt Jonathan 2413 5 31 22,5 21 2,56
19 20 GM Howell David W L 2655 5 31 22 20 0,69
20 40 GM Gopal G.N. 2579 5 31 22 20 0,62
21 23 GM Piorun Kacper 2651 5 31 22 19 0,42
22 1 GM Caruana Fabiano 2827 5 31 21,5 21 -0,86
23 22 GM Hou Yifan 2651 5 30,5 21,5 20,25 0,23
24 47 GM Muzychuk Anna 2558 5 30 22 20 0,72
25 42 GM Deac Bogdan-Daniel 2572 5 30 21,5 19 0,56
26 17 GM Shankland Samuel L 2674 5 30 21 20,75 -0,27
27 48 GM Huzman Alexander 2557 5 29,5 21 20 0,91
28 6 GM Svidler Peter 2748 5 29,5 20,5 20,5 -0,51
29 18 GM Fressinet Laurent 2660 5 29 21,5 19,75 -0,04
30 45 GM Grigoriants Sergey 2564 5 29 20,5 18,5 0,47

(Full standings here.)

A compilation of the battle of the sexes held on Saturday night.

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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