Isle of Man Open: Vidit Gujrathi holds tournament leader Magnus Carlsen, remains joint second after Round 7

The battle for the title is heating up for the Isle of Man Chess Open in Douglas. The Indians in the fray include the former five time world champion, Viswanathan Anand, the 22-year-old rising star, Vidit Gujrathi and the joker in the pack, Grand Master Swapnil Dhopade.

In the ante-penultimate round of the event, Gujrathi, having won his round six game against compatriot, Harsha Bharathkoti, was pitted against the sole tournament leader, Magnus Carlsen. Anand, in the meanwhile, was only able to draw his game against the Swedish number one, Nils Grandelius in the previous round and was to play Aleksandr Lenderman.

Pune-based Dhopade also thrust himself into contention with his win against Aryan Tari in round six and was paired to play Richard Rapport in the next round.

Anand was clearly the favourite to win in his seven game against Aleksandr Lenderman. He is more than 200 points senior to Lenderman by Elo rating, not to mention the plethora of experience the Indian possesses. As for Lenderman, he has had a wonderful event in Douglas having beaten players like Francisco Vallejo Pons and drawn against greats like Nakamura. A decisive result on this board would have catapulted the winner to the second place in the event for sure.

 Isle of Man Open: Vidit Gujrathi holds tournament leader Magnus Carlsen, remains joint second after Round 7

Aleksandr Lenderman against Viswanathan Anand. Image Courtesy: John Saunders

But with the black pieces in hand, and given that his opponent was having a great run, winning the game wasn’t as easy as it looked on paper for Anand. What was worse was that the game headed straight into a completely equal endgame as early as on move 10 when Anand offered a queen exchange and Lendermann accepted the offer. More pieces were exchanged after some pawn breaks in the centre and the players reached an almost dead drawn double bishop endgame. There wasn’t much to play for in the position for either side. Players agreed to a draw on the 46th move.

While Anand’s game was a dull draw, Dhopade’s game was scintillating. Part of the reason was that he was playing Rapport, the guy who always likes to see things happening over the board. Living up to his reputation, the Hungarian number three dived into complications immediately after the opening phase of the game. Rushing his pawns forward, Rapport generated a dangerous looking attack on Dhopade’s king. In the opinion of the computers, however, this was just dubious.

Dhopade defended calmly and seemed to have withstood the attack when, surprisingly, the players agreed to a draw. The Indian had an extra pawn along with a good game in the final position. It isn’t clear why he settled for a draw.

For Gujrathi, this was his first encounter against the world champion in a classical game. The two had been paired only once before this in a rapid game at the World Rapid Championship in Qatar, last year. Carlsen had won that game. The odds were heavily against the young Indian.  Not only is Carlsen the current world champion, he is also rated 125 points above Gujrathi.

But Gujrathi too has had a phenomenal year. Just last month, he had breached the coveted 2700 Elo mark and had become the fourth Indian to do so. Furthermore, Gujrathi had had an unbeaten run at the World Teams Championship earlier this year and had outwitted players like Le Quang Liem at the recently concluded Chess World Cup.

Vidit Gujrathi taking on the mighty Magnus Carlsen. Image Courtesy: Maria Emelianova

Vidit Gujrathi taking on the mighty Magnus Carlsen. Image Courtesy: Maria Emelianova

In the game, Carlsen didn’t seem to be in the mood for testing Gujrathi’s opening preparation and kicked off with the non-committal 1. Nf3, instead. Seeing the world champion was drift the game out of theory, Gujrathi played in a principled classical manner by bringing his pieces out and playing towards the centre. By the end of the opening phase, Vidit hadn’t just acquired equality, but in fact a slightly better position. With his opponent getting better space and good play, Carlsen decided to get a pair of rooks exchanged and relieve a bit of the pressure. By the 18th move the position was completely equal and players signed truce after completing 30 moves, as the rules of the tournament dictate.

After the game, talking to the tournament’s official commentator, Simon Williams, Vidit said he was happy with his play. “I think I made no big mistakes, it (the game) was pretty accurate.”

This is an excellent result for the young Indian especially because of how easily he was able to draw the world champion. More importantly, Gujrathi's rating after this draw has gone up to 2720.8 and has put him on the 35th spot in the world rankings.

On the down side, four other players have joined Gujrathi's on the second spot after his draw. This list includes big names like Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, Emil Sutovsky and the tournament’s defending champion, Pavel Eljanov.

In round eight, Gujrathi's will be playing Eljanov on board three while the top board will witness an encounter between longtime rivals Carlsen and Caruana. Among the other Indians at the top of the leaderboard, Anand will be facing Laurent Fressinet on board four while Dhopade will take on Nigel Short on board eleven.

Rank after round seven

Rank after round 7

Round eight pairing


Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India

Updated Date: Oct 01, 2017 18:16:01 IST