Isle of Man FIDE Grand Swiss

I hadn’t visited Isle of Man prior to participating in the 2017 edition of the strong Open event, which was both an interesting visit to a beautiful island, maybe especially agreeable to people from Norway and other northerners, and it was a success chesswise as I came out on top back then.

This year the tournament organizers captured the status as FIDE Grand Swiss, the recent addition to World Championship qualifying events. The winner is secured a place in the 2020 Candidates. As with other FIDE qualifying events, the regulations does not stop or discourage elite players to whom the qualifying step does not apply, in this case Caruana and me. On the rest day after six rounds we are both in contention. He is joint leader together with Wang Hao and I’m shared 3rd half a point behind with five rounds to go, so that we both may influence the outcome for the others trying to qualify to the Candidates.

I played less convincingly in the August Sinquefield Cup than in the other classical events this year. Nevertheless, winning the last two rounds and the fact that I haven’t lost a classical game in more than 14 months should give me plenty of confidence here at Isle of Man this year.

In the first round I played white against Kuzubov, Ukraine. We met already 17 years ago in World Youth U12, and it is interesting how several of the participants from U12 back then are active very strong Grandmasters today.

I thought I was clearly better after the opening, but suddenly I simply could not find a clear plan. I underestimated his counterplay with Nd2+, and 31. Qb4 was an attempt to force a draw as I had missed a5 32. Qxa5 Qxd4 33. Rh1 Qxe5 stopping my mating attempts, and he wins. (Other moves, for instance 33… Qxd3 leads to a perpetual check and draw.) My hope was to continue fighting after 33…. Qxe5 34.Ne4, but I was not particularly optimistic. After Bxd2 I thought I would hold, but to end up winning was asking too much!

As black against young Sarana in round two I have to be satisfied with calculating well and defending accurately to hold the draw.

In round three against Kasimdzhanov my technique was not good enough, although he deserves praise for defending well.

In round four against Kovalev I thought I was more than fine with black in the middle game. In retrospect I should have considered my options more carefully and spent more time before taking such risks. Cudos to him finding 23. Ree1, the only move that not only gave him an advantage, but close to a winning position. Fortunately I started fighting well early enough to give him some difficult choices before the first time control, and this was clearly something positive to take away from a difficult game.  He missed his chances and after the time control the game quickly petered out to a draw.

In round 5 and 6 against Ganguly and Shirov, I’m generally happy about my own play. There were some oversights, especially missing Qd8+ in the Qh4-line I missed against Shirov, but my play have gradually improved and I very much look forward to the finish!