Going into the penultimate round of the Isle of Man Open, as many as five players – including India's Vidit Gujrathi – had the chance of catching Magnus Carlsen in the lead. In fact, they were right on his heels, just half-a-point behind.
Two other Indians, Viswanathan Anand and Swapnil Dhopade, also had an outside chance of catching the world champion. However, they were a full point behind. If Carlsen had drawn both of his next games and if Anand and/or Dhopade had won both of theirs, they might have been able to catch Carlsen. In fact, Carlsen was going to face some tough pairings in his final two rounds, so the supposition wasn't totally unrealistic.
But after the dust of round eight had settled, it was clear that none of this was going to happen. Carlsen had won his game against Fabiano Caruana. This instantly discarded any possibility of Anand or Dhopade catching him. But both Anand and Dhopade won their games convincingly.
With black pieces against Laurent Fressinet, this was not an easy task for Anand. The Frenchman essayed the Italian Opening and the game got thematically positional. The queen's knight of both black as well as white took the theory-stipulated journey to g6 and g3 respectively. Play was calm.
But just then, Fressinet overextended his queen's pawn and allowed Anand tremendous play on the queenside with his knight and rooks. A white pawn fell on the 33rd move. Anand now needed to defend his passer on the queen rook file. The pawn was placed under the defence of both rooks on a4. The other black knight then travelled over to c5 from the king's side. There wasn't much to play for anymore. Fressinet knew the rooks will be coming in now and he was going to be dead lost. He cut his suffering short, therefore, and resigned.
In the game of Dhopade against Grand Master Nigel Short, the former got a pleasant position out of the opening. With his well-posted knights on the queenside, Dhopade exchanged queens and went into a favourable endgame. Thanks to his active pieces, Dhopade won a couple of pawns after some accurate play. On the 50th move, knights were exchanged. The position was dead lost for black by now. A rook and pawn endgame was reached. Short tried to create play by pushing his only remaining pawn.
But this was blocked easily by Dhopade's king and then the Indian's three pawns began rolling down. The Pune Grand Master gave a nice finishing touch to the game with a temporary rook sacrifice to force his pawns to the last rank and seal the game in his favour.
While Anand and Dhopade's wins will surely improve their overall standing in the tournament, they were already out of the race for the title.
There was still Gujrathi though. If the Nashik lad had won his game, he would still have been in contention. He was playing with white pieces against the defending champion of the event, Pavel Eljanov. The two played a Queen's Indian Defence in which neither was able to secure an advantage for himself. Pieces were traded at regular intervals and the players reached a rook and bishop endgame and things were absolutely equal. As soon as they reached move 30, the players agreed to a draw. With his draw, Gujrathi moved up to six points.
This gave Hikaru Nakamura the opportunity to move up the tournament leader board. His game against Emil Sutovsky featured the Queen's Gambit Accepted. Sutovsky, who had black pieces, went into ultra-aggressive mode from the word go. Sacrificing a pawn in the opening, Sutovsky tried to trap Nakamura's queen.
But this eventually backfired as Nakamura was able to break through on the queenside and force Sutovsky's king in the centre, denying him the right to castle. Soon one of Sutovsky's bishop was trapped on the king side and was about to be hacked off the board, not to mention he was already a pawn down and had the worse pawn structure. By the 31st move, Sutovsky had seen enough and resigned.
Nakamura was the only one among the five players who were chasing Carlsen, to keep his chances alive. Not only has he put himself in the sole second place, but has also earned the right to play Carlsen in the final round. This ensures it will be one of these two players who will be lifting the trophy.
Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India
Updated Date: Oct 02, 2017 11:09 AM