John Henderson
By John Henderson

If ever there was a corner of a foreign field that is forever England, then Gibraltar is it. Stuck on the edge of Spain and straddling the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, the strategic 426m-high Iberian limestone ridge was ceded to the British in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht and the Spanish have wanted it back ever since. It’s a tiny place with a huge history – and, as Brexit looms, a very uncertain future as the EU only last week branded the Rock as “a colony of the British Crown” in the ongoing legislation in an effort to cope with the real possibility of a no-deal exit.

The 300-year-plus latest Anglo-Spanish dispute played out at the end of last week, coincidently in the same week that saw another big fight taking place on Gibraltar – only this one on the Rock was over the title of what has now become one of the biggest, richest and most popular open tournaments/chess festival on the international circuit, where the territory of Gibraltar itself is the principal sponsor.

The annual Gibraltar Chess Festival has been running now since 2003, with that debut event attracting just fifty-nine competitors, with 24 being Grandmasters. Now arguably there are more elite-level grandmasters doing battle on the Rock than just about any other tournament in the world, and no wonder with a high-class hotel venue and the sunny climes in mid-January, not to mention the lure of the lucre with a very substantial prize fund on offer.

This is also an elite-level open tournament that’s become a happy hunting ground over the years for Hikaru Nakamura: the four-time US champion has captured three £25,000 first prizes in 2015-17 before losing the 2018 speed play-off to Levon Aronian. And such is his dominance, it has been 10 years now since the US #3 has lost a classical game in the tournament – but with one key loss in the tournament, we arguably witnessed the changing of the guard not only for the American but also for a Russian!

After falling off the early pace with two draws against low-rated players, Nakamura crashed to his first defeat in a decade in the tournament, as he was outplayed by new rising Russian star Vladislav Artemiev, who hit a rich vein of form in what proved to be a big breakout performance for the 20-year-old, as he also outplayed China’s world no.10, Yu Yangyi, in the final round to claim outright victory, the biggest win of his career, half a point clear of yet another 20-year-old rising star in India’s Murali Karthikeyan.

And his victory came as something of a relief for faltering chess superpower Russia, who last week saw one Vlad in Vladimir Kramnik crash and retire at Wijk aan Zee, only to see within a couple of days yet another Vlad, this time Vladislav Artemiev, rise to overnight fame with his Gibraltar victory, as he jumped 16 places in the process on the unofficial live rating list, and now on the cusp of breaking into the world’s top 20 for the first time.

Leading Gibraltar final scores:
1. V. Artemiev (Russia) 8½/10; 2. M. Karthikeyan (India) 8; 3-5. N. Vitiugov (Russia), D. Anton (Spain), D. Howell 7½. And among the 17-player GM logjam on 7 points, Tan Zhongyi (China) captured the £15,000 women’s first prize. Link to final crosstable

Photo: Vlad its all over, as Vladislav Artemiev announces his ‘arrival’ with a big breakthrough victory | © John Saunders / Gibraltar Chess Festival

GM Vladislav Artemiev – GM Hikaru Nakamura
Gibraltar Masters, (7)
English/Neo-Catalan
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 e6 4.0-0 Be7 5.c4 0-0 6.b3 c5 This is a slower system for White, the idea being not to immediately take control of the center, but instead to fianchetto both bishops, and then play on undermining any Black pawn-centre. Black, of course, can play 6…d4 and try to keep the pawn on d4 to restrict White’s play – but after 7.Bb2 c5 8.e3 Nc6 9.exd4 cxd4 10.Re1 (stopping …e5) 10…Re8 11.a3 (In an ideal world, White would like to forgo this move and just “get on with it” with 11.d3 but now 11…Bb4! cuts right across White’s plan of playing Na3-c2 to pressure d4, and also makes way for the supporting …e5 next.) 11…a5 12.d3 Bc5 13.Ne5 Nxe5 14.Rxe5 with a complex struggle ahead for both sides. 7.Bb2 Nc6 8.e3 b6 9.Nc3 dxc4 Black really has to release the central pressure now, as 9…Bb7 10.cxd5 Nxd5 (If 10…exd5 11.d4 Black is going to be left having to defend a pair of vulnerable hanging pawns on d5 and c5.) 11.d4! White is going to emerge with a promising position with the game opening for his bishops and his rooks coming to the d- and c-files. 10.bxc4 Bb7 11.Qe2 White has to play with care and not rush into things. If 11.d4 cxd4 12.Nxd4 (Not 12.exd4? Na5! suddenly White is the one left with the vulnerable hanging pawns on c4 and d4!) 12…Qc8! And Black has to be preferred here with the more solid pawn structure, and an easy target of the vulnerable c4 pawn. 11…Rc8 12.Rad1 Qc7 13.Ne1!? Artemiev is using the threat of playing for d4 as a decoy, with a flank plan now of playing f4 to control e5 and then launch a sudden kingside attack. 13…Ne8 14.f4 Nd6 Hikaru is Hikaru, and he tends to have his own over-ambitious ways of playing positions., preferring to counter-attack rather than have to defend. This is something that has worked well in the past for the 4-time US champion – but here, he goes astray and quickly falls into a bad position. 15.Nf3 a6 16.a4 Just nipping in the bud any plans Nakamura had of sacrificing the b-pawn with 16…b5!? and …Rb8 with active play. 16…f5 This isn’t an easy a position as it looks, as there are some subtle nuances on the board that has to be carefully considered. The first is that 16…Nb4 17.d3 Rfd8 18.e4! White has strong threats with f5 and Bh3 and a dangerous attack brewing on the kingside. 17.d3 Bf6 As we’ll soon see, this move becomes something of a liability for Nakamura. Better was 17…Nb4 but things start to take a walk on the wild-side with 18.Bh3!? but after 18…Bxf3 19.Rxf3 Bf6 20.g4 fxg4 21.Bxg4 Nf5! Black looks to be emerging with the better position – certainly preferable to the position he now falls into! 18.h3 Nb4 19.g4 Artemiev had been hinting at this kingside pawn advance for a few moves now – but perhaps Nakamura simply underestimated his opponent’s intentions here, particularly with his 24th move? 19…g6 20.e4!? fxe4 21.dxe4 Nxe4 It’s no better playing 21…Bd4+ as after 22.Kh2 White stands clearly better. 22.Nxe4 Bxb2 23.Neg5! [see diagram] It’s obvious that there’s a big weakness on e6 – but you would think that Black should really be able to muster enough resources here to stay competitive. But it is not to be, it seems. 23…Bxf3 24.Rxf3!? More adventurous, and more than likely a move that came as a surprise for Nakamura, who perhaps thought that what was coming was 24.Bxf3 Bd4+ 25.Kh1 Rf6 26.Nxe6 Qd6 27.f5 Qg3! where it is far from clear if White stands any better. 24…Bd4+ 25.Kh1 Rce8 No better is the alternative 25…Rfe8 26.Nxe6 Qd7 27.f5 Qxa4 28.fxg6 Qc2 (If 28…hxg6 29.Rxd4! cxd4 30.Rf6 is winning for White.) 29.Nxd4 Qxg6 30.Qf2 cxd4 31.Rf6! Qg7 32.Rxb6 a5 33.Rxd4 White has a better position with the active pieces and the extra pawn. 26.Nxe6 Qc6?! It is never recommended to voluntarily put your queen directly into an x-ray attack – Black simply had to try the tricky 26…Rf6!? 27.f5 Qe5 28.Qxe5 Bxe5 29.Re3 Bf4 30.Re4 gxf5 31.gxf5 Bh6 and try to see if he can successfully hold this position, as now Black crashes to defeat with the game continuation. 27.f5 Qxa4 Nakamura has burnt his boats and this is now the only show in town – but it soon backfires as his queen and minor pieces are out of the game and unable to contribute to defending his king. 28.fxg6 Rxf3 29.gxh7+ Kh8 30.Bxf3 Time pressure – the killer move was 30.Qxf3! and Black can resign now, with his best option being 30…Qxd1+ 31.Qxd1 Rxe6 32.Qf1 Rf6 33.Qb1! and no answer to the coming threat of g5 and Qg6. 30…Nc6? Nakamura blunders badly, but his position is strained anyway even after the better continuation of 30…Nd3 31.Qxd3 Rxe6 32.g5 Qe8 33.h4 Re1+ 34.Kg2! Rxd1 35.Bxd1 Qe1 36.g6 Qg1+ 37.Kf3 Qh1+ 38.Kg4 Qg2+ 39.Kh5 and the White king marches up the board to safety from the checks. 31.Nxc5 1-0 Nakamura resigns following his blunder, as after 31…Rxe2 32.Nxa4 Rc2 33.c5! bxc5 34.Bxc6 picks up a whole piece.

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