After taking the team gold in the Baku Olympiad, many perhaps wondered why there was none of the three Top-10 Americans at the recent Tal Memorial in Moscow, as neither Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, nor Hikaru Nakamura was playing. And neither were the “Three Amigos” to be found among the field for Maurice Ashley’s “Millionaire Chess 3” currently ongoing in Atlantic City. Instead, they opted for the mad dash across the Pond for the Chess.com Isle of Man International, one of the strongest tournaments to be held on the British Isles.
The top-rated Masters section had 132-players, and they were among the throng of 25 Grandmasters rated over 2600 doing battle for the £50,000 prize fund, with £12,000 going to the winner. Among the other American grandmasters in the field were New Yorker Alex Lenderman and Jim Tarjan of Oregon, who is on the comeback trail after a lengthy sabbatical from chess.
But Nakamura slipped further back in the world rankings (now dropping to #8) when he was sensationally crushed in the fifth round, by the Dutch GM Benjamin Bok, in what turned out to be the big shock result of the tournament, and he could only finish tied for eighth-place. Like the Olympiad, it was Caruana and So who again turned in the best performances; the pick being Caruana, the reigning US champion, who tied for first place on 7.5/9 alongside GM Pavel Eljanov with both taking home £9,000 each - however, the Ukrainian taking the bragging rights to the Manx title and trophy on the better tiebreak score.
Caruana though had the conciliation that his 2900+ performance added a further 10 points to his live rating — and he’s now 30-points behind numero uno Magnus Carlsen. Eljanov reached #16 in the live ratings, and he's more than halved the margin between his current rating and his peak, set last year.
The early pace-setter was Alexei “Fire On Board” Shirov, who was the only player left with a perfect score of 4/4. After round five, Eljanov joined Shirov in the lead on 4.5/5, and when the two met in round six, Eljanov never looked back as he overpowered the co-leader to hold the advantage going down the home straight.
Final standings: 1-2. Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine), Fabiano Caruana (USA) 7.5/9; 3. Arkadij Naiditsch (Azerbaijan) 7; 4-7. Wesley So (USA), Alexei Shirov (Latvia), Saleh Salem (UAE), David Howell (England) 6.5.
GM Pavel Eljanov - GM Alexei Shirov
Chess.com IoM Masters, (6)
King’s Indian Attack, Keres variation
1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Bg4 3.Bg2 Nd7 The Keres variation, named after the Estonian great Paul Keres (1916-1975), the pre- and post-war world championship contender, who spanned the generations between Alexander Alekhine and Bobby Fischer. With 3...Nd7, Black keeps his options open for a quick ...e5 or, more likely, the standard ...Ngf6,...e6 and ...c6 and a Reversed Torre Attack set-up. 4.0-0 Ngf6 5.h3 Putting the question immediately to the bishop. 5...Bxf3 6.Bxf3 e6 7.d3 Bd6 8.Bg2 0-0 9.Nd2 c6 10.e4 e5 11.a4 a5 12.exd5 cxd5 13.Nb1 Bb4 14.c3 Bd6 15.Na3 Bxa3 16.Rxa3 Black may well have the centre with his pawns on e5 and d5, but White has the more long-term potential if he can open the game for his two bishops. 16...Rc8 17.Rb3 b6 18.Rb5 Nc5 If 18...Rc5 White will maintain pressure on Black's pawns with 19.Qb3 - but this would have been preferable than what Shirov played, as now he gets left with a weak and isolated d-pawn. 19.d4! exd4 20.Qxd4 Nfe4 Although it looks a little awkward, Shirov would have been better hunkering down with 20...Rc6 to try and attempt to hold the line in the position - but this just isn't in Shirov's DNA. Instead, he'd much rather jettison the d-pawn and attempt to get his compensation with some active play. 21.Bf4 Nd6 22.Bxd6 Qxd6 23.Bxd5 Rfd8 24.Rd1 The extra pawn, dominant bishop and active rooks has left Eljanov with a somewhat easy win to convert. 24...Qg6 25.Qg4! The forced exchange of queens makes Eljanov's task easier. 25...Qxg4 26.hxg4 Nxa4 Shirov's only realistic chance now, as 26...Rb8 allows the simplifying 27.Bb3! Nxb3 28.Rxd8+ Rxd8 29.Rxb3 Rd6 30.Rb5 Kf8 31.f4 Ke7 32.Kf2 and a technically won rook and pawn ending. 27.Rd4 Nc5 28.Rxb6 Now f7 is a target, and also vulnerable will be Black's a-pawn. 28...Kf8 29.g5! (See Diagram) Not only grabbing more space by stopping ...f6, but also, in certain circumstances, perhaps later Eljanov's rook will swing over to h4 to hit h7. 29...Rb8 Shirov could have offered up more resistance with 29...Rd7 but after 30.Rb5 a4 31.f4 Black will soon be squeezed into submission. 30.Rxb8 Rxb8 31.Rf4 Ke7 Shirov can attempt to activate his rook with 31...f6, but there's the sting in the tail of a sudden mating attack that forces a won ending, after 32.gxf6 Rxb2 33.Rc4! Rb5 34.Bc6 Rb1+ 35.Kg2 Nd3 (No better is 35...Ne6 36.Bd5 Rb6 37.Rc8+ Kf7 38.fxg7 Kxg7 39.Ra8 and an easy win, as ...a5 drops.) 36.fxg7+ Kxg7 37.Be4 Ne1+ 38.Kh3 Rc1 39.Rc7+ Kf8 40.Bxh7 a4 41.Ra7 and White is going to be left with the bonus of the two connected kingside pawns. 32.Rxf7+ Kd6 33.c4 With the dominant bishop now protected, Eljanov's rook is going to hoover up Black's g- and h-pawns. 33...g6 34.Rxh7 Rxb2 35.Rg7 a4 36.Rxg6+ Ke5 37.Rg7 a3 38.Ra7 a2 39.g6 1-0 Shirov resigns, as Eljanov's g-pawn cannot be stopped: 39...Rb1+ 40.Kg2 a1Q 41.Rxa1 Rxa1 42.g7 etc.