It’s a widely-held perception in the chess world that the higher echelons of world champions, candidates and the top-10 elite all live in a bubble by restricting their appearances to all-play-all super-tournaments and title matches. But in today’s professional game, there is a new category of tournament, the “super-opens”, such as the Gibraltar Masters and the Chess.com Isle of Man Masters – the latest edition of which got underway at the weekend – where even the likes of Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Viswanathan Anand and Vladimir Kramnik et al., now mingle alongside the riff-raff of jobbing grandmasters and serious amateurs.
But anything can – and invariably does – happen in the vagaries of a Swiss open when you end up “slumming it” with amateurs and semi-pros, as Kramnik discovered to his peril in last year’s Isle of Man Masters. The Russian ex-world champion was sensationally defeated by veteran US GM James Tarjan, and then held to a draw by the English IM Lawrence Trent – and this directly cost him one of the two guaranteed rating places for the Berlin Candidates, and having to rely instead on being ‘gifted’ a wildcard spot by the organisers.
So despite what might be perceived as “easy pickings” in the early rounds, sometimes it can instead become a traumatic ordeal for an elite-level grandmaster, with the potential not only to lose face and standing but also a helluva lot of rating points. And with this year’s event being the strongest open tournament in history, with a slew of twenty elite-level 2700 grandmasters leading the charge for the top prize of £50,000 ($65,000), over half of them were left shocked and dazed after being unexpectedly held to draws in the opening round by much-lower rated players.
Top seeds Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Anish Giri and Levon Aronian are all in the top-10 and 2780-rated GMs – and even Giri was humbled when he was held to a draw by IM Alina Kashlinskaya. But the Dutchman wasn’t the only one to suffer: Also held to draws were Kramnik, the previous world championship challenger, Sergey Karjakin, and the leading US pair of Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura. They all at least survived the shock of a “giant-killing” loss – but nearly not so lucky was living-legend Anand.
Finding himself up against his rapidly-rising 13-year-old fellow countryman, IM Raunuk Sadhwani – one of a large 35-strong Indian contingent competing, and whose chess hero is Anand – the five-time ex-world champion, inexplicably, started to play some very strange and loose moves in an unusual opening and soon fighting for his very survival. And just when all seemed lost, somehow Anand managed to come back from the dead with the unlikeliest of – what was supposed to be an “easy” – wins.
Photo: A living-legend finds the going tough against one of his country’s legion of young players | © John Saunders / Official site
IM Raunak Sadhwani – GM Viswanathan Anand
Chess.com IoM Masters, (1)
Ruy Lopez, Smysov/Barnes System Deferred
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 g6 It was probably Vasily Smyslov who is best known for developing the theory of the Spanish fianchetto defence (with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6), which is now widely regarded as one of Black’s most solid choices. But with the interpolation of 3…a6, Anand tries to avoid some of the critical lines normally associated with this system. 5.0-0 Bg7 6.c3 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.d4 exd4 9.Nxd4 Bd7 10.Bd5 Nge7 11.Bg5 The pins are awkward, to state the obvious – and about now, Anand may well have regretting trying to catch his young fellow countryman out by opting for a surprise opening choice. 11…f6 12.Nxc6 Bxc6 13.Bxc6+ Nxc6 14.Bh4 Qd7 If Anand could only castle quickly and safely, then he’d be OK. But because of the Qd5+ winning the knight, he has to waste a move – and with it, Sadhwani keeps up the pressure with even more threats based on the same theme of Qd5+. 15.a4! Rb8 16.axb5 axb5 17.Ra6 Sadhwani is relentless in preventing his illustrious opponent from castling to safety, due to the omnipresent threat of Qd5+. 17…Ne7 18.Qb3 Anand is in a dilemma: how does he castle to get his king to safety and connect his rooks? 18…Qg4 19.Bg3 Qxe4 Frustrated by not being able to castle, Anand braves a risky pawn snatch – but it is dangerous, as it opens more lines towards his king. But sometimes in chess, you just have to press the gamble button. 20.Ra7 Kd7? It’s a difficult position, and Anand admitted he had unwittingly underestimated the strength of his opponent’s last and next moves. His best hope for survival was, understandably, seeking the trade of queens asap with 20…Qc4!? 21.Qxc4 bxc4 22.Rxc7 Nf5 23.Re1+ Kd8 24.Bxd6 Nxd6 25.Rxg7 Rxb2 Black should be holding on – but danger still lurks in the position, with White’s pieces being the somewhat better placed. 21.Rd1 Suddenly, it dawns on Anand that he’d unwittingly allowed the added toxic threat of Rxd6+ into the heady mix. 21…Rb6 22.Na3 Nc8 [see diagram] Anand knew he was in dire straits, and that Bxd6 was winning, but said in the post-game live interview that he “gambled”, since now there was no obvious other way to play. 23.f3? The gamble is paying off, as Sadhwani misses his ‘Andy Warhol 15-minutes of fame’ moment. What Anand feared was 23.Bxd6!! Rxd6 24.Qf7+ Ne7 25.Rxc7+ Kxc7 26.Nxb5+ Kc6 27.Nxd6 Qe2 28.Qb3 and, to avoid being mated, Black has to play into 28…Qxd1+ 29.Qxd1 Rd8 30.c4 Rxd6 31.Qa4+ Kc7 32.b4 where, although Black has a material advantage, those passed pawns on the queenside are storming up the board and will win. 23…Qe8 24.Ra5 Qe6 25.Qb4 Bh6 26.Rxb5 Instead, the brave 26.Nxb5! looks uncomfortable for Black. If 26…Be3+ 27.Kh1 Re8 28.b3 and Black is bust with no obvious way to defend a “happening” around his king. 26…Re8 27.Nc4 Ra6 28.Rb8 You can’t keep on missing an open goal against someone like Anan! After the simple 28.Rb7! Black is forced into the humiliating retreat 28…Kd8 and now White easily wins with 29.Qb5! Be3+ 30.Kh1 Bf2 (There’s no defence now. If 30…Ra7? 31.Rxa7 Nxa7 32.Qb8+ Nc8 33.Bxd6! comes crashing through.) 31.Bxf2 Qe2 32.Rg1 Qxf2 33.Rxc7! Kxc7 34.Qxe8 and the best-case-scenario for Black is that he just losses more pawns here and tries to struggle on in a hopeless endgame – but that is wishful thinking, as more likely than not Black’s king will soon get snared. 28…Be3+ 29.Kh1 Rc6 30.Na5? This was the last chance for fame. After 30.Nxe3! Qxe3 31.Qh4! Black is stretched on all parts of the board now, and something will surely have to give. 30…Rb6 31.Rxb6 Nxb6 Anand is over the worst of it now – he’s not only dodged a bullet, but he’s also emerged with a cohesive position with just enough resources left in the position to now outplay his young opponent. 32.c4 Ke7 33.c5 Bxc5 34.Qh4 Qf7 35.Qh6 g5! Now Anand is on the ascendancy, as the simple threat is …Qg6 that will unravel Black’s position. 36.f4 Qg6 37.fxg5 Qxh6 38.gxh6 Be3 39.Bh4 Kf7 Remarkably, the ending is just lost for White, who by now was probably wondering how it had all come to this, and what had happened to his superb position of less than a dozen moves ago? 40.Rf1 Nd7 41.Nc6 Bxh6 42.Be1 Ne5 43.Nd4 Nd3 44.Bc3 Be3! 45.Nc2 Bf2 Anand’s pieces have now all come to life. 46.Rd1 Nc5 47.Nb4 Ne4 48.Nd3 Bb6 The bishop plays an important role, keeping White’s king from easily coming into the game. 49.Be1 Ng5 Threatening …Re2, after which White can resign. 50.h4 Ne4 51.g3 f5 52.Kg2 Nf6 53.Nf4 Re3 54.Bc3 Ne4 Anand is in his element now. 55.Rd3 c6 56.Rxe3 Bxe3 57.Nd3 Ke6 The rest is simple. Anand not only has an extra pawn in this simplified ending, he also has the more active pieces and king. “Nothing more to see here, move on”, as the cops would say at the aftermath of an incident. 58.Kf3 Bh6 59.Be1 Nf6 60.b3 Ng4 61.Ke2 Ne5 62.Nf2 d5 63.Nd3 Nxd3 64.Kxd3 c5 65.Ke2 Bf8 66.Kf3 h5 67.Ke3 Bd6 68.Bf2 Be5 69.Kd3 Kd6 70.Be1 Kc6 71.Bf2 Kb5 72.Be1 c4+ 73.bxc4+ dxc4+ 74.Kc2 Kc5 0-1