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FIDE Grand Swiss: Round 11 report

John Saunders reports: a pulsating last round of the 2023 FIDE Grand Swiss at the Villa Marina, Douglas, Isle of Man, saw a remarkable victory for Vidit Gujrathi, who defeated Alexandr Predke to score 8½ out of 11 and take first place despite a first-round loss. This stunning result qualifies the 29-year-old Indian grandmaster for the 2024 World Championship Candidates tournament in Toronto, Canada, next April. The second qualifying place in the Candidates went to Hikaru Nakamura who drew his game with Arjun Erigaisi to finish second in the tournament with 8 points. Indian chess celebrated a double success as first place in the FIDE Women’s Grand Swiss was taken by Rameshbabu Vaishali who drew with Batkhuyag Munguntuul to score 8½ out of 11, ahead of Anna Muzychuk in second place on 8 and Tan Zhongyi in third place on 7½. Vaishali had secured her place in the 2024 Women’s Candidates with a round to spare, and Tan Zhongyi took the second place since Anna Muzychuk had already qualified for the FIDE Women’s Candidates from the FIDE Women’s World Cup.

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Vidit Gujrathi on the brink of victory, at the start of the last round

The battle for the two Candidates places was between the three players on 7½ in the open section – Nakamura, Vidit and Esipenko – and three more on 7 – Erigaisi, Predke and Keymer. However, it was a seventh player from the 6½ point group who intervened to deliver a hammer blow to one of the leaders. Andrey Esipenko was paired with the black pieces against Anish Giri. Before play started one couldn’t help fearing for Esipenko as he had had a fantastic tournament, playing almost all the leading contenders, only to be paired in the last round with a monster who had been comatose through the earlier part of the tournament but then woke up and remembered how to win games of chess.

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A tough last round pairing with Anish Giri was the blow which derailed Andrey Esipenko's tournament

Somehow one just knew that the writing was on the wall for poor Esipenko and so it proved. The opening of their game was a QGD Exchange variation. Esipenko, in quest of a win, decided to spin the dice with 8...c5, giving up a pawn for swift development, and then a second pawn. But to me it looked a little like what I call ‘lastrounditis’ – the phenomenon whereby players seem to go on tilt at the end of tournaments, either because they need to push to achieve an objective, or else they’re just tired and want the game over quickly. The latter might have been the reason here, as Esipenko openly admitted to being tired at his previous post-game interview. They reached a position where Esipenko was a pawn down and he chose not to play a grovelly defensive move but to donate a second pawn. A few moves, after Giri had taken a third pawn to triple his pawns on the f-file, Esipenko simply threw in the towel.

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That took one of the leaders out of contention. The next to finish was Hikaru Nakamura, defending a Kalashnikov Sicilian against Arjun Erigaisi. Given the opening, the pawn structure was imbalanced, with Black having doubled e-pawns, but eventually White also had doubled e-pawns and play continued cagily. It was typical rarefied GM play, the nuances of which mere mortals like me, or even engines, cannot follow with any precision. But it always looked like a draw. The result ensured that Nakamura would receive one of the two tickets to Toronto since the only other player who could make the same score, Vincent Keymer, had an inferior tie-break. So Nakamura proceeded to the commentary room as a Candidate and received a round of applause for his achievement.

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An innocuous opening was the precursor to a great victory for Vidit Gujrathi over Alexandr Predke

We didn’t have to wait long to learn who would take the other ticket. Vidit Gujrathi and Alexandr Predke played the most innocuous of openings, the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, with an immediate queen exchange, but as in the Giri-Esipenko game, the black player felt obliged to stir things up, to his own detriment. Playing the crosstable and not the board is a common affliction in the last round. After wholesale exchanges White found himself a pawn up. In fact, White could have agreed a draw at this point for a place in the Candidates and a share of first/second prizes, but Vidit saw no reason not to continue since he was in no danger of losing a position with no sharp tactics to worry about. Another phenomenon of last rounds is that players whose attempts to stir up play fail often tend to lose heart and play worse, and that may have been true of Alexandr Predke here as he succumbed quite quickly. That meant that Vidit had overhauled Nakamura and taken first place on his own, a first-class ticket to Toronto and the first prize of US$80,000. Vidit too received a warm round of applause in the commentary room and seemed dazed at the magnitude of his achievement.

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A finishing burst of three successive wins wasn't enough to take Anish Giri to the 2024 Candidates Tournament

Third place was shared by five players: the luckless Andrey Esipenko, Arjun Erigaisi, Vincent Keymer, Parham Maghsoodloo and Anish Giri. No Canadian tickets for them, of course: they’ll have to stay at home and watch the Candidates on the internet like the rest of us, unless they can engineer qualification via the Grand Chess Tour or by having a high enough rating on 1 January 2024.

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Parham Maghsoodloo spoilt Nikita Vitiugov's unbeaten record in the final round

There was no joy for England in the final round. Nikita Vitiugov lost (his one loss of the event) to Parham Maghsoodloo with Black. Meanwhile Shreyas Royal, needing a win to achieve a GM norm, drew with 2589-rated GM Dennis Wagner. But still an excellent performance, of course, his TPR being 2573. Like Vaishali, another norm near miss in the women’s event, the acquisition of a GM title is only a matter of time. Another IM in the field, incidentally, Shawn Rodrigue-Lemieux of Canada did qualify for a GM norm with a fine TPR of 2622, as did Ramazan Zhalmakhanov of Kazakhstan, whose TPR was 2665.

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Manx representative IM Dietmar Kolbus finished last but was happy just to be playing in the 2023 FIDE Grand Swiss

The last round results of the Manx representatives were a loss for Li Wu, so he finished with 3½/11, while IM Dietmar Kolbus drew with Brazilian GM Alexandr Fier in the final round for a score of 1½. Just playing in such stellar event was a wonderful experience for both of them which they will remember all their lives. And, who knows, they might do it again in two years’ time. At the closing ceremony tournament organiser Alan Ormsby announced that the Isle of Man would again be bidding to hold the next Grand Swiss competition, in 2025.

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Richard Rapport left his best until last at the FIDE Grand Swiss

Richard Rapport had a poor tournament by his high standards, but he managed to reach 6/11 with the following win against Chopra Aryan which showcases his typical flair for the unusual.

Women’s Grand Swiss

With Anna Muzychuk already qualified for the Candidates and Rameshbabu Vaishali’s place secured in the previous round, there was just one Candidates slot left to play for in the FIDE Women’s Grand Swiss. The main contenders were Batkhuyag Munguntuul, who was on 7 and paired with Rameshbabu Vaishali, and four players on 6½, namely Leya Garifullina, Tan Zhongyi, Antoaneta Stefanova and Pia Cramling, in order of their post-round-ten tie-break positions.

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Leya Garifullina abandoned her hopes of qualifying for the 2024 Women's Candidates almost without a fight

Of these, Leya Garifullina surprisingly abandoned her attempts to reach the Candidates very early on in proceedings when she played a rather lame repetition to reach a draw with Lela Javakhishvili after only 15 moves: this, despite having the best tie-break of the 6½ group (opponents’ rating average) and the white pieces.

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For one fleeting moment, Tan Zhongyi's hopes of Candidates qualification lay in the hands of Gunay Mammadzada - but the chance went begging

Perhaps encouraged by this apparent cop-out, it was the member of the 6½ point sorority with the second-best tie-break who struck the next blow, though it could so easily have gone horribly wrong for her. Tan Zhongyi defeated Gunay Mammadzada in a sharp Najdorf Sicilian via a powerful kingside attack. But the Azerbaijani IM unaccountably missed a clear shot to turn the tables on move 24. Had the result been reversed then Munguntuul would have taken the Candidates place.

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Batkhuyag Munguntuul's chances of Candidates qualification foundered as Rameshbabu Vaishali held her to a draw

This piled pressure on Batkhuyag Munguntuul, who now needed a win to get ahead of Tan Zhongyi as her potential tie-break was not as good. But she faced the redoubtable Rameshbabu Vaishali on a roll. The opening was a Ruy Lopez in which Munguntuul, playing White, chose a suspect line which allowed an early ...Nxe4 tactic which solved any opening problems that Black might have had and entailed a queen exchange. For a while it looked like Vaishali might win yet another game, but she failed to capitalise on her edge and allowed Batkhuyag Munguntuul to draw, undesirable though that result was for the Mongolian player as it cost her a chance of qualifying for the Candidates as well as a GM norm. Her consolation is that she qualifies for the Women’s Grand Prix.

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Pia Cramling's experience and resourcefulness steered her through to a draw with Anna Muzychuk

The other two Candidates hopefuls, still in play, couldn’t now catch Tan Zhongyi. Also left to resolve was the matter of who finished first. The game which decided the latter was Pia Cramling versus Anna Muzychuk, who needed a win to tie with Vaishali for first place. That she didn’t succeed in doing so was down to Pia Cramling’s experience and resourcefulness. The opening was a QGD Sem-Slav and in the early middlegame Black held an advantage which was converted into an extra pawn. However, the remaining pawns were on the kingside only and White managed to draw with some ease.

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Rameshbabu Vaishali, already qualified for the Candidates, clinched first place outright in the final round

Anna Muzychuk’s draw meant that Rameshbabu Vaishali was the outright winner of the event and Indian joy was palpable. A truly wonderful achievement for India as a country, to have their players win both events: one, as 15th seed (Vidit) and the other, the 12th seed and not yet a grandmaster. In fact, Vaishali’s draw in the final round means that she still hasn’t yet reached the 2500 threshold. She remains a tantalising 2.9 rating points off the magic number. But it’s merely a matter of time: she will become a GM soon enough.

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Antoaneta Stefanova finished in a tie for 5th-8th on 7/11 in the FIDE Women's Grand Swiss

Antoaneta Stefanova, still in play, now knew she could not qualify for the Candidates, but she was still in with a chance of tying for third place with Tan Zhongyi if she could win her game against Stavroula Tsolakidou. However, she could make no progress, the game remaining level throughout and drawn on move 43.

That’s a wrap. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my reports as much as I have writing them. This might not be my last word as I’ve yet to cover the prizegiving and buffet that closed proceedings. That will await my return to England. But in the meantime thanks for reading and best wishes to you all.

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John Saunders reports: a pulsating last round of the 2023 FIDE Grand Swiss at the Villa Marina, Douglas, Isle of Man, saw a remarkable victory for Vidit Gujrathi, who defeated Alexandr Predke to score 8½ out of 11 and take first place despite a first-round loss. This stunning result qualifies the 29-year-old Indian grandmaster for the 2024 World Championship Candidates tournament in Toronto, Canada, next April. The second qualifying place in the Candidates went to Hikaru Nakamura who drew his game with Arjun Erigaisi to finish second in the tournament with 8 points. Indian chess celebrated a double success as first place in the FIDE Women’s Grand Swiss was taken by Rameshbabu Vaishali who drew with Batkhuyag Munguntuul to score 8½ out of 11, ahead of Anna Muzychuk in second place on 8 and Tan Zhongyi in third place on 7½. Vaishali had secured her place in the 2024 Women’s Candidates with a round to spare, and Tan Zhongyi took the second place since Anna Muzychuk had already qualified for the FIDE Women’s Candidates from the FIDE Women’s World Cup.


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