Isle of Man 2017

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| Isle of Man

I knew a bit about the Channel Islands growing up, but not so much about Isle of Man between England, Ireland and Scotland. As any respectable island it has mountainous hills in its midst, and before round 3 my girlfriend Synne and I made the hike to Snaefell 600 meters above sea level. The train ride up-country in an 1891-model wagon took longer than expected, and courtesy of the organizer Alan picking us up, I got back in time for the round.

The relaxed atmosphere combined with fairly aggressive and ambitious opening play has worked well for me in the first 6 rounds. I’m currently sole leader at 5.5/6 with up-and-coming Santosh Vidit in second place at 5 points, followed by Caruana, Nakamura, Anand and many others at 4.5.

The organizer interpreted “drawing of lots” literary in round one! An exception to the Swiss tournament “top half versus lower half” was made with arbitrary pairings. I drew white against Islandic Bardur Birkisson (rated 2164) while second ranked Caruana drew third ranked Kramnik!

Against much lower rated opponents it is sometimes too easy to simply wait for a mistake. It doesn’t always appear. Birkisson though, did miss a tactic. 21…. Nd5? allowed Rxa8 followed by Nxc6, and I won fairly quickly. In round 2 against GM Perelshteyn I spent quite some time regretting having allowed his e6-sacrifice in the opening. But when he tried to simplify with the inexplicable Nxf6 grabbing a pawn and exchanging queens, I had more than enough compensation There was no way white could force a draw. I quickly won back the pawn and later found some precise maneuvers. Faced with mate or piece loss, he resigned.

Jeffery Xiong is reigning Junior World Champion and obviously very talented. As white in R3, I got a huge advantage in the early middle game, but it was difficult to see how to convert. I went for an interesting attacking line sacrificing two pawns. He may have had a way to keep the balance, but short on time he immediately went astray and resigned well before the time control. Avoiding too many long games is very useful in a 9-round Open event without restdays.

In round 4 I was black against former FIDE World Champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov. I tried to provoke him in the opening and got a fairly interesting position. It was imbalanced and okay for black. I felt I somewhat lost the thread in the middle game although it might not have been any way to make progress. He kept the tension as long as he felt comfortable, and after major exchanges I didn’t get any real winning chances despite the extra pawn in the rook ending. Draw.

In round 5 against Granda Zuniga from Peru I must have slightly misplayed the early middle game. The required plan with Bd2 and Re2 was not very energetic, and I realized I didn’t have much of an advantage. Fortunately he allowed a long and interesting combination on the kingside where I could recap the knight that took my stranded bishop on h7, a pawn up. A few moves later he simply resigned a pawn down in the queen and bishop ending.

Today I faced the only other player at 4.5/5 points, 2016-edition winner Eljanov. He is an ambitious player always ready for a fight, and I’ve got a perfect score against him in the past despite some fairly dubious positions underway. I managed to surprise him in the opening and soon equalized. Subsequently he was not up to his usual standard.  I had expected 15.Bd6 (and not dxc5), and had planned to respond with Bc6. He must have misevaluated the position after 17…. Rc8. He allowed me to activate my knights and win his c-pawn and resigned in face of further material losses. A decent game from my side, but the main challenges are yet to come.

It has been a great event so far. As expected I’m white against Vidit in round 7 at 1:30 pm local time Friday.