Round five of the Isle of Man Open brought some pleasant surprises for the Indian fans. Halfway down the tournament, three players from the Indian contingent in Douglas are within striking distance of the tournament leaders – Magnus Carlsen and Pavel Eljanov.
The pleasantly surprising part is that Viswanathan Anand is not among these three. Of course, he is having a decent event himself having scored an unbeaten 3.5/5. But half-a-point ahead of him are Vidit Gujrathi, SP Sethuraman and a 17-year-old International Master, Harsha Bharathkoti.
While Vidit drew against the American GM Alexander Lendermann, Sethuraman and Bharathkoti stunned the former World Championship candidate, Boris Gelfand and the Indian number five, Adhiban Bhaskaran respectively.
The current Indian national junior champion, Bharathkoti has faced much higher rated opposition in each one of his five games in Douglas. And every time, he proved his mettle.
Bharathkoti performance rating in the tournament so far is a whopping 2894 which is much higher than any of his compatriots, including Anand. In these five rounds, he has gained 31 rating points and he’s sure to gain more in the upcoming rounds.
In the last round against Adhiban, Bharathkoti went for the Sicilian Najdorf with the black pieces and was able to equalize successfully out of the opening. As the play proceeded, the 17-year-old played a thematic exchange sacrifice in the Sicilian to shatter his opponent’s queenside pawn structure.
But Adhiban defended tenaciously and was able to maintain equality until the 35th move when he blundered and allowed Bharathkoti a dangerous attack on his king. Wasting no time, Bharathkoti plunged straight in with his queen and rook after playing an initial pawn break to open up lines. Within just five moves, Adhiban’s position went from being equal to dead lost. The Chennai lad threw in the towel on move 40.
Grand Master (GM) Gujrathi, who was co-leading the tournament, slipped down from the top spot after conceding a draw to the American GM Alexander Lendermann as Carlsen and Eljanov won their games on boards one and two respectively.
Playing from the white side of a Fianchetto Gruenfeld, Gujrathi came up with a novelty in the opening on move 11. Lendermann, however, reacted well to the surprise and did not let his opponent disturb the equilibrium. In the middle-game, the Indian was able to gain some space on the queen side and create play.
Lendermann, in response, exchanged both pairs of rooks and held the queenside together by posting his queen and light squared bishop on defensive duties. After duking it out over the board for 43 moves, the players agreed to sign peace.
The draw between Gujrathi and Lendermann allowed 10 other players to catch up with their score. One of those 10, was Gujrathi’s compatriot Sethuraman. In his round five game, Sethuraman was paired against the 2012 World Championship challenger, Boris Gelfand.
The game kicked off with the classical variation of the Nimzo Indian Defence in which the Indian had the white pieces. Gelfand was able to equalize comfortably out of the opening and even got an advantage a few moves after the queens were traded off the board. By move 23, Gelfand was really dominating the position with his pawn majority on the queenside. Sethuraman, on the other hand, was still to bring all his pieces out. While Sethuraman did that, Gelfand began pushing his majority. But back to back errors by Gelfand on moves 27 and 29 helped Sethuraman win a pawn come back in the game.
With the rooks exchanged, Sethuraman was able to block Gelfand’s passer with his bishop and king. On move 42, Gelfand blundered once again and this was the last nail in the coffin as it allowed the Indian to roll his pawns down the board with decisive effect. By the 52nd move, Gelfand was on his knees.
On board five, Anand played a solid game against the Swedish GM Nils Grandelius in the Najdorf variation of the Sicilian Defence. Anand, who had the white pieces went for the much in vogue six. h3 variation. Grandelius went for dynamic play in response by placing his rook on the queen knight file, looking for a queenside attack. Anand knew, his attack was on the king side and he isn’t the kind of player who would back down on playing a complex position. So, he took the bull by the horns and castled queenside. But on move 11, Grandelius went for the move Qa5, which, Anand said after the game, reaches an endgame by force.
And so it happened. Players traded queens on the 18th move and after some minor skirmishes in the centre and queenside, agreed to a draw in an equal position on move 35.
In another exciting encounter, the world’s youngest International Master, Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu got the better of the 2701 rated English GM David Howell.
The game began as a Caro-Kann in which Praggna had the white pieces. Going into the advanced variation, the 12-year-old was unable to get any advantage out of the opening. Howell too looked satisfied maintaining equality as players kept exchanging pieces. On move 32, however, the English number two fumbled and got his pawn structure shattered.
Trying to make the most of this, little Praggna activated his rooks and began harvesting Howell’s weak pawns. But he too started making errors in the endgame and almost blew his advantage away by exchanging rooks on move 52, after which the position was completely equal. Fortunately, his opponent was kind enough to return the favour immediately on the next move and give Praggna the advantage again. This time, the Chennai lad made no mistake converting his advantage and sealed victory on the 64th move.
There will be two all-Indian encounters on the top boards on Friday. Bharathkoti will have the white pieces against Gujrathi while Sethuraman will play with black against Anand.
Rank after round five
Round six pairing
Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India
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Updated Date: Sep 28, 2017 21:21:11 IST