Sutovsky and Ju Wenjun 4-0 In Gibraltar, History In Making?

Sutovsky and Ju Wenjun 4-0 In Gibraltar, History In Making?

GM Ju Wenjun, the highest-rated female never to win the top women's prize at the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival, has the chance to do more than just reversing that stat.  

No woman has ever won the overall title. After four rounds, Ju Wenjun leads nearly every man, woman and teenage prodigy on The Rock. She's on 4-0 after beating GM Sam Shankland today when the American grandmaster blundered in a difficult but tenable position.

The only person equalling her success is GM Emil Sutovsky, who convincingly beat a 2700 in round four. He already has his title in Gibraltar -- a dozen years ago he shared it with the likes of Levon Aronian, Alexei Shirov, and others after playing what could be the best game ever played in the tournament (see it below!).

Should he hold on to his lead over the final six rounds, he'd set a bit of history too. No player has had that long of a gap between titles on The Rock.

GM Emil Sutovsky took out 2013 Champion GM Nikita Vitiugov to get to 4-0. (Photo: John Saunders for Gibraltar Chess Festival)

This year, the Masters Section began at capacity with more than 250 players, allowing for as many as 16 perfect scores after four days of play. Instead there just two -- Ju Wenjun and Sutovsky.

In 2012, GM Hou Yifan tied for first place overall, but lost the tiebreak to three-time Gibraltar winner GM Nigel Short. That's the closest a woman has come to being the queen (well, the second queen, since Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II still presides over the British Overseas Territory).

The unique prize structure of Gibraltar allows for females, juniors, or senior players to win multiple prizes (for exactness, Hou Yifan won three prizes in 2012, collecting the junior prize as well!). So while it is very speculative, Ju Wenjun is gunning for double first place, which would amount to £23,000+£15,000=£38,000, or about $48,000 USD.

Why is that number significant? Well the 2017 Women's World Chess Championship, in which Ju Wenjun will be the top seed next month, offers a first prize of $60,000 USD. However, after FIDE's requisite 20 percent share of each paycheck, that would be exactly $48,000 as well!

"I just [got] very lucky," Ju Wenjun told Chess.com about her game today. "There are still many players much stronger than me. I never think about winning in Gibraltar, but I will fight harder."

She was the first player to win in round three and the first to get to 4-0 a day later:

"Well I thought he has to play ...f6 instead of Rxe4," Ju Wenjun said. "Still complicated, but I think White is promising."

Did she think this form would bode well going into the knockout tournament in Iran in mid-February? "Well so far it seems I'm not bad. But that's two different playing systems so we will see."

She is now up to 2596.4 in the live ratings, her all-time high. One more win in round five and she would become only the fifth woman in history to vault over 2600, and the first new player in about five years to do so.

Her top female competition is of course her Olympiad teammate, Hou Yifan, who sits on 3.5/4 and could still win the whole thing, too. Today she remained perfect in her lifetime grudge score against GM Mariya Muzychuk, the woman who she beat less than a year ago for the women's world championship.

GM Hou Yifan has been a lady-killer thus far. (Photo: Sophie Triay for Gibraltar Chess Festival)

Hou Yifan has already pulled out of next month's knockout format women's world championship, although she's getting more or less that event anyway. In her four games in Gibralter, all four opponents have been women!

As for Sutovsky, a clever tactic forced through his passed pawn. GM Nikita Vitiugov's Exchange sac wasn't wrong by any means, but it is well known that you usually do not trade a pair of rooks after doing so. This wasn't the Russian's intent, but White found a clever way to trick the trade.

A draw-filled third round had previously reduced the perfect scores today down to nine, of which Ju Wenjun was only one of two trains to stay on the tracks. One suprise note on those nine: only four came from the top 20 players, while five (Ju Wenjun included) came from seeds 21-40.

The board one favorite today was GM Mickey Adams, 2010 champion. Although GM Eduardo Iturrizaga arrived nine minutes late against the Cornish legend, the default is 30 minutes. That's the closest either player came to losing as the game never moved the needle in the slightest for either player.

GM Sam Shankland had his head in his hands today after the misstep. (Photo: Sophie Triay for Gibraltar Chess Festival)

In other action of the three-pointers, Maxime could only draw GM Vadim Zvjaginsev. That would be GM Maxime Lagarde, the former French junior champion, who through three rounds was outpacing the top-five player with whom he shares a first name. The "original Maxime," GM Vachier-Lagrave, helped himself and his countryman by taking out the final perfect score when he beat multiple-time World Problem Solving Champion GM Kacper Piorun.

The biggest crush of round four was surely GM Babu Lalith, who had one thing on his mind after his FM opponent failed to stop an early ...e4.

A day earlier in round three, IM Leandro Krysa drew GM Veselin Topalov a day after drawing top-seeded GM Fabiano Caruana.

Also accomplishing double draws against top-flight players was IM Nitzan Steinberg. Not even 24 hours after forcing a repetition against Vachier-Lagrave in round two, he squandered a better position against GM Peter Svidler and thought he was losing.

If "eureka" moments in chess had a visual, it would be Steinberg. His despondency changed to confidence before the online audience's eyes. He sat up and bobbed his head "like the Duracell bunny" commentator GM Simon Williams said. 

Nevermind that executives at Energizer are second-guessing decades of marketing, see if you can spot the only sequence Steinberg has, and make sure to bounce your head when you've found it.

GM Hikaru Nakamura was taken off the perfect score list when GM G.N. Gopal locked it all up (the American got back on track today against Hungarian talent GM Benjamin Gledura).

To show the narrow margin between "fine" and "time to resign" against top-flight opposition, look no further than GM Erik Blomqvist's game in round three. His opponent went from "fine" to "dinner time" in one move:

As for the tournament's second seed, Vachier-Lagrave clarified a messy position in a hurry against the current Norwegian champion. 

"It is not obvious that it works," the Frenchman said of his earlier Exchange sac. "The pair of bishops are not very efficient. I have to solve this problem on the queenside. If all the pawns get traded off, I definitely won't have any winning chances.

"In practice it's quite easy to play for Black."

Suddenly White's position collapsed. Williams was excited to see "Gary" (or it is "Garry"!?) jump forward, and indeed ...g5 wrecked White's defenses.

MVL has had a few playoffs but never won first in Gibraltar.

Hou Yifan's run of playing only women runs out in round five (GM Mickey Adams takes White); she's basically unable to play any more in her score group, although a future date with Ju Wenjun is very possible. To see how she continued her dominance against M. Muychuk, check out her Master Class:

Ju Wenjun takes White against Sutovsky. There are 14 total players chasing the leaders -- three from England, three from France and two from USA.

"I'm having a very good time playing with my French friends," Vachier-Lagrave said.

Here's the memorable game from Sutovsky. Can you think of a better one in Gibraltar's 14+ years? If so, let us know!

2017 Gibraltar Masters | Round 4 Standings (Top 20)

Rk. SNo Fed Title Name Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3 w-we
1 38 GM Ju Wenjun 2583 4 10,5 5,5 10,5 1,34
2 28 GM Sutovsky Emil 2628 4 9,5 5 9,5 1,28
3 5 GM Adams Michael 2751 3,5 12 6 10,25 0,37
4 15 GM Zvjaginsev Vadim 2679 3,5 11 5,5 9,25 0,49
5 34 GM Lagarde Maxime 2594 3,5 10 5 8,25 0,85
6 21 GM Iturrizaga Bonelli Eduardo 2652 3,5 10 4,5 8,25 0,77
7 2 GM Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 2796 3,5 9,5 5 8,25 0,16
8 24 GM Anton Guijarro David 2650 3,5 9,5 5 8,25 0,48
9 10 GM Gelfand Boris 2721 3,5 9 4,5 8 0,18
10 18 GM Fressinet Laurent 2660 3,5 9 4,5 7,75 0,42
11 22 GM Hou Yifan 2651 3,5 9 4,5 7,75 0,58
12 27 GM Akobian Varuzhan 2633 3,5 9 4,5 7,75 0,33
13 3 GM Nakamura Hikaru 2785 3,5 8,5 5 7,25 0,22
14 20 GM Howell David W L 2655 3,5 8,5 5 7,25 0,59
15 26 GM Sethuraman S.P. 2637 3,5 8,5 4,5 7,25 0,44
16 16 GM Short Nigel D 2675 3,5 8,5 4 7,5 0,29
17 13 GM Cheparinov Ivan 2689 3 11,5 6 8,5 -0,06
18 9 GM Vitiugov Nikita 2724 3 11,5 5,5 7,5 -0,06
19 11 GM Naiditsch Arkadij 2702 3 11 6 8 0,11
20 8 GM Yu Yangyi 2738 3 10,5 5,5 7,5 -0,12

(Full standings here.)


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