Latest News

  • Preview: 2023 FIDE Grand Swiss & Women's Grand Swiss

    Published: 26 Sep 2023

    John Saunders reports: on Wednesday 25 October, the 3rd FIDE Grand Swiss tournament, and the 2nd FIDE Women’s Grand Swiss tournaments begin in Douglas, Isle of Man. This is a welcome return for the ultra-strong world championship qualifying competition whose inaugural event was held on the island in 2019. This time it is being held in the familiar surroundings of the Villa Marina on the sea front at the island’s capital Douglas, the venue which hosted five editions of the Isle of Man Masters tournaments between 2014 and 2018 as well as the 2005 British Chess Championship.

    villa marina 8 20140225 1839906594

    Chess makes a welcome return to the Villa Marina in Douglas, Isle of Man

    The opening ceremony is scheduled for Tuesday 24 October, with round one starting at 14.30 GMT+1 on Wednesday 25 October. Both open and women’s tournaments consist of eleven rounds, with one rest day after the first six rounds on Tuesday 31 October and the final round 11 being played on Sunday 5 November, followed on the same day by the closing ceremony. Alan Ormsby (Isle of Man) is the tournament director, IA Alex Holowczak (England) the chief arbiter of the Grand Swiss and IA Ana Srebrnič (Slovenia) the chief arbiter of the Women’s Grand Swiss.

    Once again, the event enjoys the generous patronage of the Scheinberg family, with a prize fund to the tune of US$600,000, part of a seven-figure sponsorship package. The first three prizes in the open tournament are $80,000, $60,000 and $40,000 and, in the women’s tournament, $25,000, $17,500 and $15,000 respectively, with further prizes for those finishing below the top three places.

    The primary function of both tournaments is as world championship qualifiers, with the two highest placed players from each going forward to the two 2024 FIDE World Candidates’ tournaments. As in previous editions this is made a little complicated by the inclusion in the field of players who are already qualified for next year’s eight-player Candidates’ event who still wish to take part in the Grand Swiss, whether motivated by prize money or the need to compete. It will be recalled that Magnus Carlsen took part in the 2019 Grand Swiss when he was world champion, though he joked about it being “immoral” to do so. His successor as world champion, Ding Liren, is not in the 2023 Grand Swiss line-up, nor is the women’s world champion Ju Wenjun competing in the women’s event. The players who finished runner-up to the two champions, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Lei Tingjie, are similarly absent from the Isle of Man competitions, both being automatically qualified for their respective 2024 Candidates’ events by virtue of being losing finalists.

    However, the Isle of Man line-up features a handful of players who have already qualified for the Candidates via the recent FIDE World Cup competitions. Though the open competition was won by Magnus Carlsen, he has made it crystal clear that he won’t be taking up his place in the Candidates, so that leaves the three qualifiers from that tournament as Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (India), Fabiano Caruana (USA) and Nijat Abasov (Azerbaijan) who were the runner-up and two beaten semi-finalists in the month-long Baku knock-out competition. All three are slated to appear in the Isle of Man line-up, so if they were to figure in the top two places in the Grand Swiss, the next player down from them on the final score table would qualify for the Candidates. Similarly, in the women’s competition, there are three players competing in the Isle of Man who have already qualified for the 2024 FIDE Women’s Candidates’ tournament, namely Aleksandra Goryachkina (competing under the FIDE flag), Nurgyul Salimova (Bulgaria) and Anna Muzychuk (Ukraine), so the same scenario applies if they also finish in the top two in the Women’s Grand Swiss. 

    We are used to referring to Swiss tournaments as “opens” but neither Grand Swiss is open in the usual sense of “being open to anyone who wishes to enter.” They are both closed events, whose entrants have qualified via a rigorous set of strictures to ensure that the great majority of the competitors have a realistic chance of going further in the world championship cycle, plus a handful of continental and local nominees. The Grand Swiss features 21 players rated 2700+ and a further 73 rated 2600+. That leaves a further 15 to complete the field, of whom two are rated below 2400, being representatives of the host country. Very few Swiss tournaments in chess history have approached this level of strength in depth, with notable exceptions being the two previous Grand Swiss competitions, plus the 2017 Isle of Man Masters won by Magnus Carlsen.


    Who are the main contenders? The rating list is probably the best guide to the answer, bearing in mind that the Grand Swiss consists of classical chess, pure and simple, in contrast to the FIDE World Cup where quicker forms of the game play a significant part. Where ratings don’t quite tell the full story is in identifying who is on an upswing or the opposite. Nor does the rating list always reflect the rate of improvement of younger players. Another factor may be the mindset of the three competitors in each tournament who have already booked their ticket to the Candidates. This can work both ways. They may be less motivated to press for victory, but by the same token may benefit from the reduced pressure on them to maximise their chances.

    phc08459 r11 iom2019 emelianova 20191021 1635021440

    Hikaru Nakamura (left) meeting Fabiano Caruana in the last round of the 2019 Grand Swiss. They are the top seeds in the 2023 event (photo Maria Emelianova/

    The two highest rated contenders are both Americans: Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura. There is a sense that neither is under pressure to succeed, for different reasons. Caruana is already through to the Candidates, so he will be in the Isle of Man for the money and the prestige. Having narrowly failed to become world champion in 2018 – he became the only losing finalist in world championship history not to lose a classical game to the eventual winner – he went through a relatively fallow period of recovery but now seems to be flexing his muscles once again. Good results in the Superbet Bucharest Classic in May and the FIDE World Cup in August bode well for the renewal of his assault on the world championship. We may perhaps compare his possible world championship trajectory, now that Carlsen is removed from the scene, with that of Vishy Anand when Garry Kasparov retired. At 31, there is still time for Caruana to establish the sort of reign that Vishy Anand enjoyed once Kasparov had departed. A victory in the Grand Swiss – which would be a second straight success in the Isle of Man, where he finished 1st= in 2019 – would be another morale booster going into next year’s Candidates showdown.

    Hikaru Nakamura’s reason for being relatively relaxed about his performance in the Grand Swiss is different. Two or three years ago his burgeoning career as a chess streamer seemed to indicate a dwindling interest in over the board play, or at least classical chess, but a strong showing in the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix saw him regain his status in the longer form of the game. His victory in Norway Chess 2023, ahead of both Carlsen and Caruana, took him to second place in the FIDE ratings for the first time since 2015. Nakamura’s experience and success in strong Swiss events – he has four Gibraltar Masters titles under his belt, including three consecutive wins from 2015 to 2017 – make him a strong contender in the 2023 Grand Swiss.

    Alireza Firouzja, now of France and rated third in the tournament line-up, will be playing in the Isle of Man for the first time. At the time of the 2019 Grand Swiss he was a star on the horizon. During that tournament the director of the Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee Jeroen van den Berg told me that he had invited the young Iranian for the next edition of the legendary Dutch tournament. Firouzja scored a 50% score on that occasion, his first appearance in an elite event, but made rapid progress during the following two years, culminating in his victory at the November 2021 Grand Swiss tournament held in Riga, thereby qualifying for the 2022 Candidates Tournament. His progress since then has been steady, if not meteoric, with few classical chess appearances. There’s a sense in which he has been overshadowed by the achievements of teenaged Indian players in the meantime. The change of nationality and culture shock of moving from Iran to Paris may have slowed his trajectory fractionally but the rating list still shows him at number five in the world at the time of writing. At 20, the best is yet to come.

    2018iom rd5 js 9722 20181024 2083404855

    "Giri's just wanna have fun": Anish Giri enjoying himself in 2018 – but is it time to get serious now that Magnus is out of contention? (Photo: John Saunders)

    Anish Giri is fourth in the Grand Swiss line-up. He has long been one of the most richly talented players in the world but at 29, in a chess world whose stars are getting ever younger, he may be close to his peak. 2023 has been successful for the mercurial Dutchman, with a win in the Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee Masters, beating the then current and soon-to-be world champions Carlsen and Ding Liren along the way. Then, for good measure, he added another individual win against Ding Liren in the Bucharest Superbet Classic in May, though he did not win that event. His playful posts on social media give the impression of someone who is satisfied with his current status and lifestyle but perhaps that masks a more serious attitude and a steely ambition to reach the top. Giri has played in the Isle of Man once previously, in 2018, as top seed level with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Levon Aronian, when he was unbeaten on 6/9 to finish 10th=.

    phc03261 round2 iom2019 emelianova 20191011 1811300418

    Still only 17, Gukesh has recently overtaken former world champion Viswanathan Anand in the rating list (photo: Maria Emelianova/

    It is hard to believe that Dommaraju Gukesh (better known in the press as Gukesh D) is still only 17. And perhaps even harder to believe that he was only 13 when he scored 6/11, bracketed with 21 players rated in the 2600s, four years ago in the 2019 Grand Swiss here. In that time Gukesh has soared past the 2600 level to an eye-watering 2758 on the September 2023 rating list – eighth place in the world, one place ahead of his great Chennai predecessor, Vishy Anand. The maturity of his play mirrors the extraordinary calmness of his bearing, both at the board and away from it. Since a slightly negative start to 2023 with 5½/13 at Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee, Gukesh has steadily accumulated rating points during the year in events in Menorca, Dusseldorf (including a win versus rival Praggnanandhaa), Stavanger (including a win versus Firouzja), Ankara and the FIDE World Cup in Baku. His victims in the latter competition included Wang Hao, who won the 2019 Grand Swiss, before losing in the fifth round to eventual winner Magnus Carlsen. With a trajectory as impressive as this, it seems only a matter of time before he challenges for the world title.

    2018iom rd5 js 9746 20181024 1864909166

    Richard Rapport playing Jeffery Xiong in round 5 of the 2018 Isle of Man Masters (photo: John Saunders)

    27-year-old Hungarian grandmaster Richard Rapport, who now represents Romania, is ranked fifth in the Grand Swiss line-up and 11th in the current world rating list. He has been a grandmaster since shortly before his 14th birthday. His year started with a 6½/13 performance in the Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee event. During that tournament he defeated Ding Liren but in April he found himself on the same side of the board as the Chinese player as he acted as his second for his successful conquest of the world championship against Ian Nepomniachtchi. Subsequently his only classical chess has been in the Bucharest Superbet Classic where he made a plus one score with no losses. Rapport, who lives with his wife Jovana Vojinovic in Belgrade, is known for his aggressive style of play. Rapport didn’t take part in the 2023 FIDE World Cup but is one of five players from the 2022 Candidates tournament to take part in the 2023 Grand Swiss, so will be attempting to qualify for his second successive Candidates’ event.

    levon aronian v magnus carlsen 48935412943 o 20191021 1999444549

    Levon Aronian drew with Magnus Carlsen in the last round of the 2019 Grand Swiss. They tied for 3rd place behind Wang Hao and Fabiano Caruana. Photo: John Saunders

    World number 15 Levon Aronian will turn 41 the day after the Grand Swiss ends, so I fear will have to endure being referred to as a ‘veteran’ by me and other chess writers. The Armenian/US star made a par score at Wijk aan Zee to start the year, but showed he is still a force to be reckoned with in winning the WR Masters in Dusseldorf in March ahead of a stellar field, despite losing a game to Ian Nepomniachtchi. He did not take part in the FIDE World Cup in Baku. He will be making his third appearance in the Isle of Man, having scored a modest 5½/9 in the 2018 Isle of Man Masters but a stronger 7½/11 in the 2019 Grand Swiss. Aronian took part in the 2007 FIDE World Championship tournament, but it is fair to say that his results in this and subsequent Candidates’ tournaments have been generally disappointing. He failed to qualify for the 2020 Candidates and finished last in 2018. Could the 2023 Grand Swiss mark his last hurrah as a credible candidate for the world title?

    2019iom rd10 7120 20191021 1190561604

    Alexander Grischuk's chances in the 2019 Grand Swiss were ended by defeat at the hands of David Howell (photo: John Saunders)

    Alexander Grischuk turns 40 a few weeks after the Grand Swiss ends, so joins Aronian in the veteran category. Like the Armenian, Grischuk took part in the 2007 World Championship tournament in Mexico City but suffered a similarly disappointing result. His best performance in a world championship qualifier was in 2011 when he defeated Aronian and Kramnik in short matches before losing to Boris Gelfand in the match to decide the challenger to Vishy Anand. His classical chess appearances in 2023 have been confined to a team event in Sochi in June and the FIDE World Cup when he went out in the second round, defeated in rapid/blitz play-offs by the Iranian grandmaster Bardiya Daneshvar after two draws in the classical games. Grischuk will be making his third appearance in the Isle of Man: in 2018 he scored 6½/9, half a point behind the joint winners, and at the 2019 Grand Swiss, 7/11.

    2018iom rd9 js 0278 20181028 1846030005

    Praggnanandhaa looking self-confident at the 2018 Isle of Man Masters (photo: John Saunders)

    Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (more commonly Praggnanandhaa or simply ‘Prag’), along with Firouzja and Gukesh, forms the teenaged triumvirate that threatens to take the chess world by storm. Just 18, the brilliant youngster from Chennai astonished the world in August when he fought his way through to the final of the gruelling, four-week FIDE World Cup in Baku. His list of victims along the way comprised Maxime Lagarde, David Navara and then Hikaru Nakamura (in a rapid play-off – probably an even greater achievement than beating the American quickplay wizard at classical chess). That wasn’t the half of it, literally, as he still had to overcome Ferenc Berkes, Arjun Erigaisi and Fabiano Caruana before coming face to face with Magnus Carlsen, who was trying to win one title that had eluded him as world champion. Prag held Carlsen 1-1 in the classical games before succumbing in a rapid shoot-out, but his achievement in reaching the final was sensational enough and reverberated throughout the world, particularly in India, where he was seen being borne aloft by cheering crowds on arrival home and on his return to school. Like Gukesh, Prag seems unaffected by all the ballyhoo going on around him. Perhaps his mere appearance in the Isle of Man is testament to this, since he is already qualified for the Candidates’ tournament, showing he is simply keen to get the chance to cross swords with the elite. Of which he is now definitely a member, of course. Prag first played in the Isle of Man Masters in 2016 when he scored an excellent 5½/9 as an 11-year-old, beating a 2645-rated GM in the final round. He made the same score in the significantly stronger 2017 Isle of Man Masters, taking a point off David Howell along the way, then 5/9 in 2018. With a win against current world champion Ding Liren under his belt already, Prag must already be focused on the world championship crown.

    2018iom rd9 js 0302 20181028 1422447311

    Maxime Vachier-Lagrave playing Alexander Grischuk in the last round of the 2018 Isle of Man Masters (photo: John Saunders)

    Maxime Vachier-Lagrave completes the list of the ten highest rated starters in the 2023 Grand Swiss. As someone very close in age to Magnus Carlsen – the Frenchman is a month older than the Norwegian – it would be easy to argue that MVL’s opportunities of challenging for the world title had come and gone, but perhaps it is more a matter of motivation than age. Some excellent results in 2021 and 2022 (first in the Shenzhen Masters and the Bucharest Superbet Classic) suggest he is still a strong contender. He has been less successful than others at qualifying for Candidates’ tournaments but when his chance came in 2020/2021, as a replacement after Radjabov withdrew, his challenge was the victim of force majeure. The first leg of the double-cycle tournament saw him defeat Ian Nepomniachtchi and thus share the lead with the Russian, a point clear of the field, but at that point the tournament had to be suspended due to the Covid-19 outbreak. It was not resumed until a year later when MVL started with a loss to Caruana, after which he was unable to make up the leeway on Nepomniachtchi though still finishing second. In 2023 MVL’s classical chess appearances have been in the Bundesliga, the Bucharest Superbet Classic (where he made a par score) and the FIDE World Cup, in which he was eliminated in round three by the 17-year-old Uzbek grandmaster Javokhir Sindarov, who is also in the Grand Swiss line-up.


    There is nothing say that the winner of the Grand Swiss will come from the ten players featured above. That still leaves another 11 players rated over 2700 in the field who all have a realistic chance of doing well, not to mention the huge phalanx of players in the 2600 range. I’ll pick out a few names... Jan-Krzysztof Duda reached the 2022 Candidates’ final and will be keen to do so again. Yu Yangyi has been active in Sharjah, Dubai and Baku (where he went out to Etienne Bacrot in a play-off): perhaps surprisingly, he is the only Chinese-registered player in the Grand Swiss line-up. England will be pinning its hopes on Nikita Vitiugov, who will be playing his first major event under the aegis of his new federation.

    2018iom prizes js 0454

    Vincen Keymer having some fun playing bullet chess with Lawrence Trent after the end of the 2018 Isle of Man Masters, while Nihal Sarin looks on (photo: John Saunders)

    Re the teenaged triumvirate mentioned above: you may feel that my arithmetic is awry there as there are some more teenagers sporting 2700+ ratings, namely Vincent Keymer (Germany, aged 19), Nodirbek Abdusattorov (Uzbekistan, 19) and Arjun Erigaisi (India): OK, the latter is now 20 but only just. Like Gukesh, Erigaisi reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup, while Keymer went out to Carlsen in round four despite beating the former world champion in their first game. Abdusattorov suffered an early exit in the World Cup but performed well in the 2023 Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee tournament, leading with a round to go but then losing to Jorden van Foreest and being overtaken by Anish Giri.

    phc06651 r7 iom2019 emelianova 20191017 1569443320

    Nodirbek Abdusattorov of Uzbekistan, playing Pavel Eljanov at the 2019 Grand Swiss (photo: Maria Emelianova/

    Other young stars to look for, further down the rating list: Nihal Sarin (India, 19) is a few points short of the 2700 mark and has impressed in the Isle of Man on previous occasions, while Hans Niemann (USA, 20 in June) was 2708 as of last May but has since slipped to 2667, perhaps as a result of all the controversy surrounding him. He’s been very active in 2023 but slipped in rating until an encouraging upswing in September saw him regain some points. At the time of writing Niemann is competing in the world junior championship in Mexico. Another young American is Abhimanyu Mishra, just 14 years old but he’s been a grandmaster for two years already, having beaten Sergei Karjakin’s record for being the youngest player to qualify for the title. As of September 2023, his rating stands at 2599. He has surpassed rating performances of 2730+ twice in the past year so is on a similar trajectory to the other older teenagers in the field.

    The Grand Swiss is not just about the young stars, of course: some famous established stars will be doing battle too. For example, Alexei Shirov, Vasyl Ivanchuk, Boris Gelfand and the 2002 FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov are to be found in the list of competitors at numbers 46, 47, 51 and 64 respectively: all players who have either won the world title or else qualified for a world title match. It may seem incredible to see those numbers matched to those names, but it underlines the amazing strength in depth of the field.

    boris gelfand 48885992458 o 20191012 1302258677

    A pensive Boris Gelfand at the 2019 Grand Swiss (photo: John Saunders)

    Alongside the 100+ GMs there are seven IMs and just one untitled player competing. A few pointers about those players... 18-year-old IM Elham Amar of Norway is being talked about as a major talent in the making, in a country which knows a thing or two about brilliant young players. England has a second player in the line-up, 14-year-old IM Shreyas Royal. ‘Shrez’ is the country’s great hope for the future, and recently enjoyed a close encounter with UK prime minister Rishi Sunak as the announcement was made of a £500,000 investment in British chess over the next two years. Shrez chalked up his first GM norm last year at a younger age than David Howell so much is expected of him.

    2019iom rd01 5073 20191011 1460072309

    Flying the Manx flag is IM Dietmar Kolbus, manager of the highly successful Manx Liberty which has won two British Team Championships in the past two years (photo: John Saunders)

    The Isle of Man is itself represented in the Grand Swiss by IM Dietmar Kolbus and Li Wu. You’ll note that their names appear in the list of competitors with the designation ‘IOM’ as the Isle of Man is now an affiliate organisation of FIDE and treated as a federation in many respects. Both are strong players with good track records in domestic UK competitions – notably the 4NCL (Four Nations Chess League) a.k.a. the British Team Championship, which Manx Liberty have won for the past two seasons – but the opposition they face in the Grand Swiss will be, shall we say, challenging. Best of Manx luck, guys...


    Alongside the (open) Grand Swiss is the 2023 FIDE Women’s Grand Swiss, being held for the second time after the inaugural event in 2021 in Riga. The field consists of 50 qualified and (in a few cases) nominated players.

    Aleksandra Goryachkina, ranked third in the world after Hou Yifan and Ju Wenjun, is probably the favourite to win this tournament. Though the gap between her and the next group of players is not huge in rating terms, she is a little bit younger (at 25) and in good form having won the FIDE Women’s World Cup in August. There her progress was smooth as far as the quarter-final where she needed rapid games to eliminate Harika Dronavalli. She then defeated former world champion Tan Zhongyi in the semi-final (partial revenge for being knocked out of the 2022/23 Candidates’ tournament by the Chinese player) before once again needing rapid games (and a bit of good fortune) to see off Nurgyul Salimova in the final. This success qualified her for the Candidates’ tournament, so a victory in the Isle of Man would be icing on the cake. Having said she is in good form in terms of recent success, her rating has suffered a little since its peak at 2611 in May 2021. Though she gained some points in the Grand Prix event in New Delhi in May, she lost more in the (open) European Individual Championship in Serbia in April and also in the Cyprus Grand Prix tournament in June where Dinara Wagner (Germany) was the surprise winner.

    harika dronavalli 48936178017 o 20191021 1980027487

    Harika Dronavalli was the top female scorer in the 2019 Grand Swiss: now there is a separate Women's Grand Swiss in which she is sixth seed (photo: John Saunders)

    Goryachkina’s closest rating rivals are all former women’s world champions. Alexandra Kosteniuk, ranked second in the line-up and seventh in the world, has switched federation from Russia to Switzerland this year. Having lost to Goryachkina in the 2022/2023 Candidates’ eliminator, she bounced back with victory in the Munich leg of the FIDE Grand Prix in March, then not so well in the Cyprus event before finishing first equal in the Cairns Cup in Saint Louis, USA, in July. In the 2023 FIDE World Cup she was surprisingly eliminated by Serbian IM Teodora Injac in the third round.

    2018iom rd9 js 0402

    The honour of winning the very last game in the 2018 Isle of Man Masters went to Alexandra Kosteniuk (photo: John Saunders)

    Tan Zhongyi is third ranked player in the line-up in the 2023 FIDE Women’s Grand Swiss and currently ranked ninth in the world. Coming into 2023 following a comfortable win in the Chinese Women’s Championship, she then defeated Kateryna Lagno and Aleksandra Goryachkina in the quarter and semi-finals of the 2022/23 Candidates before being eliminated in the final by Lei Tingjie. She was mildly below par in the Munich Grand Prix but then suffered a defeat at the hands of Lei Tingjie in the Candidates’ final in May. Her World Cup aspirations were ended by Goryachkina in the semi-finals. She is the only Chinese player in the line-up, perhaps surprisingly for a country that has dominated women’s chess for so long.

    Ranked fourth and fifth in the Women’s Grand Swiss line-up are Ukrainian sisters Mariya and Anna Muzychuk, currently rated within seven points of each other. Both lost to Lei Tingjie in the Candidates’ eliminators. The two then went head-to-head in round four of the World Cup when elder sister Anna won through in a rapid play-off, proceeding eventually to the semi-final where she lost to Nurgyul Salimova. However, she then won a 3rd/4th place play-off against Tan Zhongyi to secure her place in the 2024 Candidates’ competition. Thus, the pressure is on Mariya Muzychuk to secure her place via the Grand Swiss as her rating lags behind Humpy Koneru, who is likely to receive the final Candidates’ place by dint of her position in the women’s rankings.

    Those are the five highest rated players but there are no fewer than ten other holders of the (full) GM title who might challenge them, not to mention a few other up and coming players. Close in rating to the Muzychuk sisters are Harika Dronavalli (India) and Polina Shuvalova (FIDE). 19-year-old Kazakh IM Bibi Assaubayeva is a rising player, as is the 24-year-old Kalmyk-born German WGM Dinara Wagner after her astonishing victory and full GM norm in the Nicosia leg of the Grand Prix in June (after finishing last in Munich previously), followed by another first place in the Dortmund Sparkassen tournament in the same month. Another player to follow will be Nurgyul Salimova, after her remarkable success in reaching the final of the World Cup, thus clinching a place in the 2024 Candidates. She is 27th in the Isle of Man rankings.

    2018iom rd9 js 0329 20181028 1552006659

    Rameshbabu Vaishali accompanied her brother Praggnanandhaa to the 2018 Isle of Man Masters and made a creditable score, as she did in 2017 (photo: John Saunders)

    As well as Harika Dronavalli, India will be looking to Rameshbabu Vaishali, sister of Praggnanandhaa, and 21-year-old Agrawal Vantika to challenge for a high place. IM Tania Sachdev, so often with a microphone in her hand these days, will be back at the board in the Isle of Man, playing her first classical chess of 2023. Another young Indian player to look out for will be Shri B Savitha, a 16-year-old player already rated 2375 and with a world under-12 title to her name.

    2019iom prize 7634 20191021 1250270484

    Antoaneta Stefanova, Nino Batsiashvili, Pia Cramling and Swaminathan Soumya shared 3rd-6th female prizes in 2019; the first three will be playing in 2023 (photo: John Saunders)

    Other familiar faces in the line-up will be the evergreen Pia Cramling and former world champion Antoaneta Stefanova. Neither has been involved in women’s world championship or world cup action recently but they have still kept their hand in this year with some team chess and domestic events.

    There is just the one US player in the field, but she is definitely one to watch. Alice Lee won’t turn 14 until a few days after the tournament but already holds the IM title and is just a few points short of 2400. After finishing 5th= in the 2022 US Women’s Championship, she’s been piling on the rating points in 2023, notably in a norm tournament in Saint Louis in January, and then the American Cup where she scored wins against Irina Krush, Nazi Paikidze and Atousa Pourkashiyan in coming second to the first-named in a rapid play-off. She completed her third IM norm during the 2023 Canadian Transnational Championship in June, beating two GMs and achieving a performance rating of 2531.

    I hope that has whetted everyone’s appetite for the forthcoming action in the Isle of Man. I look forward to reporting on it for you when the tournaments get underway on 25 October. You can follow play live on the organiser’s official domain,, plus FIDE’s various platforms, links to which will be announced in due course.


John Saunders reports: It’s that time again – the Isle of Man Chess International starts on 20 October 2018 at the Villa Marina, Douglas, and runs for nine days up to 28 October. Once again the line-up is going to be incredible...

... with a couple of exceptions. Last year you will recall one of the key face-offs was between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana in the penultimate round. This year these two young gentlemen will be meeting elsewhere in the British Isles to decide the little matter of the world chess championship title. That match starts on 9 November, just 12 days after hostilities end in Douglas and precluded their prior appearance on our small but perfectly formed island in the Irish Sea. Caruana had provisionally entered the 2018 Isle of Man event but he must ultimately have realised it would have been too much to take on with less than a fortnight to his date with destiny in London.

03 r8 masters iom2017 4y3a7277 emelianova 20170930 1001316387

Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana face off in the Isle of Man in 2017. Magnus won their individual game then - but who will win in London this year? Photo: Maria Emelianova/

But even without Magnus and Fabi the line-up in Douglas will be awesome. Caruana was replaced by another big name, Anish Giri, swiftly followed by the entry of Alexander Grischuk. So let’s take a look at the top ten* in rating order: Levon Aronian (Armenia), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Wesley So (USA), Viswanathan Anand (India), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Radoslaw Wojtaszek (Poland). How does that strike you? Not bad, is it? And it doesn’t stop there as there are a further 10 players rated 2700+ up behind them and many other big names including former world title challengers Boris Gelfand, Peter Leko and Nigel Short, and UK number one and 2018 British champion Mickey Adams. * updated 18 September: Ding Liren withdrawn.

Of course, as all chess tournament connoisseurs will realise, a long list of big-name players doesn’t necessarily translate into decisive results on the board and spectator appeal, but this is an open tournament so the big names will have to do battle with lower rated opponents who can deliver a surprise or two. Who can forget last year when long-retired GM Jim Tarjan surprised himself as well as the rest of us by downing Vladimir Kramnik? That was just one of many David versus Goliath successes to savour, and you can be sure there will be plenty more such upsets this year.

Given the importance of maximising your score in Swiss events in order to go after the big money – £50,000 is the first prize in 2018 – top players also realise that they have to attack each other with rather more venom than they are accustomed to in closed elite events. No doubt people will recall last year’s innovative random first-round draw when Caruana and Kramnik found themselves facing each other in the first round, and a full-blooded game resulted in favour of the American. Unfortunately, the killjoys at FIDE subsequently decided this innovation was too much like fun and have since changed their regulations so that future tournaments using random pairings can no longer offer norm opportunities, so we will have to wait a few rounds before witnessing super-GM-on-super-GM action this year, I’m afraid. We’ll have to be patient but sooner or later we should get to see some mighty clashes.


One other major feature of this tournament which closed elite tournament can’t deliver is the sight of the stars of the future in action. If the pairings pan out well, we can hope to see them getting their first shot at elite players. Two Indian players, Nihal Sarin and Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, were amongst the talented youngsters who caught the eye at last year’s tournament and they are back in 2018 with their shiny new GM titles. Sarin is 52nd in the pecking order, while Pragg is 57th, but you can be fairly sure that they will posing a major challenge to those ranked above them at this year’s tournament.

15 closing iom2017 img 9190 emelianova 20171002 1167989495

Nihal Sarin (left) and Rameshbabu Pragganandhaa in high spirits at last year's prizegiving. A year on they are now even stronger... Photo: Maria Emelianova/

There are plenty of other young players to look out for this year. Here’s a sample of them. Amongst those already sporting a 2700+ rating is Vladislav Artemiev of Russia, whom we have to remind ourselves has only just turned 20. Jeffery Xiong and Samuel Sevian, both in the vanguard of the USA’s growth in chess strength, are already rated in the mid-2650s and will still be only 17 when they play in the Isle of Man. Aryan Tari, the 2017 world junior champion and the most notable product of the Carlsen boom in Norway, is 19. He ranks 39th on the Isle of Man starting grid. Semyon Lomasov, 16, of Russia is another world champion, having taken the under 14 title in 2016. He doesn’t have his GM title yet but it can only be a matter of time as he is rated well in excess of 2500 and with a first place in February’s very strong Moscow Open under his belt.

German IM Vincent Keymer won’t be 14 until November but two years ago he attracted the notice of Garry Kasparov who referred to him as “exceptional”. This spring he confirmed the legendary world champion’s judgement when he won the Grenke Open ahead of 49 GMs with a score that was 1½ in excess of the GM norm and a performance rated at 2798. Spanish IM Lance Henderson de la Fuente, whose parents are from the USA and Spain, is 15 and he made his mark at the 2018 Gibraltar International, achieving a GM norm with a remarkable 7/10 score, with wins against four GMs.


The women’s prize fund is also generous, with the first prize set at £7,000, guaranteeing a strong line-up. However, as with the open world championship, this year there is a calendar clash with the women’s world championship knock-out competition starting in Khanty-Mansiysk, Siberia, on 2 November, less than a week after the Isle of Man tournament ends. Even so the line-up of female names is impressive: Former world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk leads the list, followed by Elisabeth Paehtz (Germany) and Nino Batsiashvili (Georgia), who gave Hou Yifan a good for her money in 2017. Pia Cramling may be a little further back these days in terms of rating but she remains a formidable contender and as strong as ever, recording an excellent unbeaten 6½/10 to take the prestigious top women’s prize in Gibraltar earlier this year. Alina Kashlinskaya of Russia is another top woman player to look out for. Her husband Radoslaw Wojtaszek will be playing alongside her, guaranteeing some top-class pre-game preparation. Jovanka Houska and Tania Sachdev, of England and India respectively, are part of the commentary and broadcasting team in Gibraltar, but they will be playing in this year’s Isle of Man International.

r1 iom2017 4y3a5025emelianova 20170924 1459372661

Alexandra Kosteniuk playing Hou Yifan in 2017. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Hopefully that will have whetted your appetite for what is going to be another great tournament to watch online. I should add that it is too late to enter yourself as entries have long since closed at 174 names. Another 70 or so players take part in the Major and Minor events held alongside.

Sponsored By

With assistance from
Department of Economic Development Event Lighting Services - lighting, soun and audio visual effects
Organised by IOM International Chess Limited