November 2019 update
Tuesday I played a simul against representatives of the finance community in Norway as part of a seminar organized by the Norwegian Chess Federation.
Later this week I’m going on vacation to recharge and get ready for the Kolkata Rapid & Blitz late November, the London Classics early December and the Rapid & Blitz World Championship in December.
Now, back to Isle of Man. In the second half I simply played too many draws to get in serious contention for 1st. After draws with black against Alekseenko and (tournament winner) Wang Hao, and with white against Caruana, I finally got close to the lead after winning the penultimate round against Matlakov. However, my tie-break (based on average rating of opponents) didn’t leave me any chance of clinching first. With black I played an interesting draw with Aronian to end shared 2nd but 6th on tie-break. Interestingly I had a better tie-break than Aronian before our last round encounter but my higher rating rocketed him into 4th! (Long before the tournament started, I communicated this inherent absurdity in the tie-break rules to FIDE, but decided to participate anyhow as I didn’t need the coveted win to qualify to the Candidates, and money-prizes where shared.)
The local organizers did a great job, and I think the introduction of a Grand Swiss qualifier to the Candidates is a good idea also for the future.
Finally a few words about the inaugural Fischer Random (Chess 960) World Championship that took place at Hovikodden in Baerum outside Oslo last week. It was a great event and well organized. Right or wrong, I had been spotted a place in the semifinals based on my match victory against Nakamura in the unofficial Fischer Random WC match in 2018 (also at Hovikodden).
Based on both the historical results in the FR Chess tournaments in Maine more than a decade ago, and the qualifiers this year, FR Chess generally favors the same players as classical chess. The other three contestants were Caruana, Nepomniachtchi and Wesley So. Caruana has been my main competitor in classical chess for quite some time, and is ranked clear number 2. Nepomniachtchi was ranked as no 5 in October while Wesley So was no 2 for quite some time in 2017.
I wasn’t particularly satisfied with the drawing of lots, facing Caruana already in the semi-final. The matches started off with 4 slow Rapid games over two nights, and I was a bit lucky to lead 7.5-4.5 going into the last day (featuring 4 fast Rapid games and 8 Blitz games). My play was a bit nervous and again I was a bit fortunate to clinch the match already in the last Rapid game. In the other semi-final Wesley So somewhat surprisingly took down Nepomniachtchi with apparent ease, and it turned out to be an ominous sign for the final as well.
I don’t want to dwell too much on the final. It is still a rather painful memory, and my play was generally disastrous. In retrospect I should maybe be reasonably happy with my play on day 1 despite missing wins in the first game and losing the second. In the second game I had equalized from the opening and was quite optimistic allowing his kingside attack. I survived but the endgame was much more difficult than anticipated. Game 3 was devastating. Instead of exchanging a rook first I erroneously pickup my bishop and was simply lost (after Bc6) and cursed myself repeatedly. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to forget about the incident and focus properly, and I never really recovered.
Congratulations to Wesley So on winning the Championship! He generally played pragmatically and made very few mistakes, and it turned out to be more than sufficient this time around. Second place is arguably better than third or fourth, but not much of a consolation anyhow, and I have to do better next time.