There were generous plaudits given to Magnus Carlsen for his almost flawless performance to win the chess.com Isle of Man Masters, but the biggest cheer heard during the prize-giving ceremony on Sunday evening didn’t go the world champion but instead to an American Olympiad gold medalist – and it wasn’t for Fabiano Caruana nor Hikaru Nakamura, but for veteran Jim Tarjan, who rolled back the years with a stellar performance that included beating two Russian ex-world champions!
The 65-year-old caused a major sensation by beating Vladimir Kramnik in round three – in the process all but ending the Russian ex-world champion’s Candidates’ rating qualification bid – and then he turned on the style in the final round by also beating Alexandra Kosteniuk, the Russian former women’s world champion, for a final score of 5.5/9, making it one of the best performances in recent years from a senior player.
Tarjan was three decades out of of top-flight chess and had only returned to the fray in 2014 when he retired as a librarian – yet it was almost as if he hadn’t left the game at all, and still in his pomp as a professional back in the 1970s, with an impressive tournament performance rating of 2671, beating three grandmasters and drawing with five other grandmasters.
And back in his pomp, Tarjan was a player with an attractive playing style and a regular in U.S. Chess Championships from 1973-84, his best score being clear second-place in 1978. But in 1986, and in his early 30’s, he grew disillusioned with chess as a career, declaring it to be too difficult to make a living from the game, and then went on to become a reference librarian, working for over 20 years at the Santa Cruz Public Library.
But above all else, Tarjan is best remembered as being a big talismanic player for his country in Olympiads. Through the mid-1970s and early 1980s, he played in five Olympiads with distinction, earning four team and three individual medals. His 75.5% score (+31 =13 -6) in 51 games stands even to this day as one of the very best ever achieved by an American player.
(Photo) The warmest cheer of the night went to Jim Tarjan! | © John Saunders (Official site)
GM James Tarjan – GM Vladimir Kramnik
Chess.com IoM Masters, (3)
1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 c6 3.Nf3 d5 4.b3 Bg4 5.Bg2 e6 6.0-0 Nbd7 7.Bb2 Bd6 8.d3 It is a Reti’s Opening, but, in essence, to boil it down for you, from the Black side it is simply a reversed Torre Attack. 8…0-0 9.Nbd2 Re8 10.h3 Bh5 11.Re1 a5 12.a3 e5 13.cxd5 cxd5 14.Nh4 Nc5 15.Qc2 Not the tempting 15.Nf5? which loses on the spot to 15…Nxd3! 15…Ne6 16.Rac1 Nd4 17.Qd1 Nb5 18.Nb1 According to Tarjan in his postmortem, “Nb1 and later Be1, they were not such terrible moves,” – and then he probably bemused all the millennials by adding “It’s like Muhammad Ali, you know, the rope-a-dope.” Of course, those of a certain age wouldn’t know who Ali was, let alone his famous rope-a-dope during his 1974 ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ against George Foreman! Rope-a-dope and Ali is a generational thing, youngsters! 18…Qd7 19.Kh2 Ra6 A timely rook lift, the threat being to eventually swing it over to g6 or even h6 and a powerful attack – but somehow under the relentless pressure from Kramnik, Tarjan manages to hang on. 20.Nf3 e4! This should clear a path to victory – but Kramnik miscalculates at the critical moment to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. 21.dxe4 Nxe4 22.Rf1 Bb8 Making way for the rook to dramatically swing over into the kingside attack. 23.Nc3 Nbxc3 24.Bxc3 Rae6 25.Be1 h6 If 25…Rh6 26.Bd2 Rg6 27.Be1 is more rope-a-dope – but I can’t help thinking that with the rook on g6 for free, this might instead have been preferable for Kramnik. 26.Rc2 Ba7! White would perhaps like to play 27.e3 here but, unfortunately, he can’t as 27 …Rf6 will force a further loosening of his position with 28.g4, and sooner rather than later, Black will simply play …Bb8 and …Qd6 with an unstoppable mating attack. 27.Qc1 Bb6 28.e3 Qb5 29.Nd4 Bxd4 30.exd4 Bf3? Kramnik has achieved his optimum position with his pieces superbly placed and ready to move in for the kill – but he gets too hasty and moves in too quickly. Instead, with Tarjan at his mercy, and not able to do anything constructive, Kramnik should have simply defended his only weakness with 30…b6! threatening to simply capture on b3, which leaves White in a mess, as after 31.b4 Be2 32.Rg1 axb4 33.axb4 Bc4 White is running out of moves very quickly. 31.Bxf3 Nxg3 In view of what happens now, I’m perhaps wondering if Kramnik had simply miscalculated earlier on in his calculations what happens if he first takes on f1 with 31…Qxf1 32.Be2 as after 32…Nxg3 it all looks scary, but then 33.Bxf1 Nxf1+ 34.Kg2 Rxe1 35.Qb2 R8e6 and with the knight ‘trapped’ on f1, the threat of the mating attack is all that Black can do here, but now 36.Rc8+ Kh7 37.Rc1! the best Black has now is a perpetual with 37…Rg6+ 38.Kh1 Ng3+ 39.Kh2 Nf1+ 40.Kh1 Ng3+ 41.Kh2 Nf1+ etc. It’s just a hunch, but it could be that somewhere in there Kramnik thought he was simply winning, and overlooked that it was only leading to a forced draw. As it is, he’s playing a much weaker opponent and has to justify making the position as murky as he can now, but Tarjan keeps calm to unravel and win the ensuing ending. 32.fxg3 Qxf1 33.Bf2 Qd3 34.Rc3 White’s two bishops stop Kramnik’s rooks infiltrating further into his position – and with that threat cleared, it soon becomes clear that d5 is weak and Kramnik is now fighting for his very life. 34…Qf5 35.Kg2 Rf6 36.Qc2! All queen-less endgame scenarios are hopelessly lost for Black. 36…Qd7 37.g4 Not so much stopping the queen returning to f5, but making way for Bg3 and Be5 with a dominating position. 37…Rc6 38.Rc5! The pressure on d5 is mounting – something now has to give. 38…Rd8 39.Qf5 Right now, with all the relentless pressure, you could be forgiven for walking past the board and thinking it was Kramnik who was White here. 39…Rxc5 There’s no other option now. If 39…Qe7 40.Bxd5 Rxc5 41.dxc5 the bishops both attack and defend at the same time, and there’s no stopping White’s queenside pawns rushing down the board now. 40.Qxd7 Rxd7 41.dxc5 d4 42.Kf1! [see diagram] The king now moves swiftly across to round-up the d-pawn. The rest is now fine technique from the American veteran, as he forces Kramnik’s resignation in a few moves by blockading and capturing the d-pawn, and then pushing his own queenside pawns up the board. 42…d3 43.Ke1 d2+ 44.Kd1 Kf8 45.Bg3 Ke7 46.Bd6+ Ke6 47.Kxd2 b6 48.Ke3 bxc5 49.Bxc5 Rd8 50.b4 axb4 51.axb4 f5 52.b5 fxg4 53.hxg4 g6 54.b6 h5 55.g5 Kd7 56.b7 1-0