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Isle of Man Masters: Another tough day for Anand

by Aditya Pai - 22/10/2018

Viswanathan Anand found himself in trouble once again in the second round of the Isle of Man Masters in Douglas. This time he was caught off guard in a French Defence by American GM Robert Hess. Although Anand's position looked precarious in the endgame, the Indian ace managed to hold ground and drew after 78 moves. Meanwhile Vidit Gujrathi, once again, played the game of the day. Sacrificing his queen, Vidit annihilated Debashis Das' king in merely 25 moves. Harsha Bharathakoti also won a fine attacking game against SP Sethuraman to reach 2.0/2. We have an illustrated report with games.

The rating gap between the top seeds and their less accomplished opponents had narrowed in the second round of the Isle of Man Masters. Still, with about 200 points of rating difference between the opponents, the higher seeds could have been expected to dominate the matches. This was far from what actually happened, however.


Alexander Grischuk’s game against compatriot Semen Lomasov was the first unexpected result of the day. More surprising than the result, in this case, was how quickly the game wrapped up. Grishchuk, who had the white pieces, went for a repetition of moves, just 14 moves into a well-known line of the Ruy Lopez. After the game, Grischuk cited tiredness due to visa difficulties that delayed his arrival to the venue as the reason for his decision.

The third board saw another top grandmaster concede a half point in the game between Viswanathan Anand and Robert Hess. Although, given the way the game went, it would be more accurate to say that Anand saved a half point rather than saying he conceded.


After a difficult game against the 13-year-old Raunak Sadhwani in the previous round, Anand had a rough day once again in round two. Hess, who is more than 200 points lower rated than Anand, caught the former five-time world champion off guard with the French Defence.


At the topmost level, the French isn’t the most popular opening. Also, Hess has expressed dislike for the French in the past. Talking about Hess’ opening choice, GM Daniel King, one of the official commentators of the tournament, pointed out that the French, despite being a solid opening by itself, allows white too much space. At the highest level, players know well how to exploit this to the fullest with white and black players, therefore, choose to avoid it.


But in this particular instance, the French worked like magic for the 26-year-old American GM as it was Anand who struggled to save the game while he pressed for an advantage. Exchanging off all minor pieces, Hess had managed to reach a heavy piece endgame where he had a pleasant edge in the position. Eventually, Hess even managed to win a pawn and pressed on until the sixth hour of play to bring the Indian ace down.

Position after 34.Rc2

Going got tough for Anand here when Hess uncorked 34...d4! After 35.cxd4 Rxg3+ 36.Kf2 Rxh3, Hess had the extra pawn in the rook endgame. And although all the pawns are on the same side of the board, this position isn't a trivial draw. Black's passed 'h' pawn makes it quite tricky and white has to play accurately to secure half point.


Anand played excellently in the second half of the game, though, and did not allow let his position go out of hand. Around move 45, he even sacrificed a pawn – going down two pawns by this point – to reach a drawn rook endgame. Hess, however, kept hunting for a win and it wasn’t before bare kings remained on the board that players called it a day.

Vishy Anand had yet another tough day in round 2 | Photo: John Saunders

Vidit Gujrathi was another Indian to play against the French Defence with the white pieces in his second round game against Debashis Das. Unlike in the Anand-Hess game, here, white exploited his kingside space to the fullest. After the first 20 moves, Das had quite a few of his pieces amassed on the queenside. His queen, in particular, was quite oddly placed on the a8 square – or as Danny King wittily described it, ‘the black queen was in Siberia’.

Position after 23.Nxh7

On his 23rd turn, Vidit ripped black’s king shelter apart with a knight sacrifice on the h7 square and finished off a couple of moves later with a scintillating queen sacrifice. From the above position, after 23...Nxh7 24.Bxg6 Ndf6 came the killer queen sac 25.Qh5! Now, the threat of mate on h7 is obvious. And if black takes the queen with 25...Nxh5, white has 26.Bxf7+ Kh8 27.Rg8#.

The brilliant finish!

With his win, Vidit has made it into the pack of 19 players on a perfect 2.0/2 score. | Photo: Niklesh Jain

Like Vidit, India’s latest grandmaster, Harsha Bharathakoti also won a quick 31 move game against his countryman – and here again, the game featured a sparkling queen sacrifice. The big difference was, here, Bharathakoti wasn’t the favourite. He was the underdog.


On the 14th board, Harsha had the white pieces against GM SP Sethuraman. In a razor-sharp Averbakh King’s Indian, Harsha refrained from castling and stormed his pawns towards the enemy king. Out of the opening, Harsha had a definite edge when Sethuraman expedited the end with an error on the 23rd move. Harsha immediately broke into the enemy camp with his pawns and annihilated the black king with a brilliant queen sacrifice.

Position after 29.Nxf5!

Harsha simply hacked off on f5 with the knight here and allowed 29...Ne4+ forking king and queen. But after 30.Ke2 Nxd2 31.g7 black was forced to resign.

GM Harsha Bharathakoti deployed some dazzling tactics to win his round 2 game | Photo: John Saunders

Two boards above, on board 12, GM Vishnu Prasanna scored another major upset defeating Israeli GM Tamir Nabati. Rated 2504, Vishnu had to bridge an almost 200 point rating difference to accomplish the feat. Vishnu had the white pieces in the game and, for several hours, both Grandmasters were on an equal footing in the middle game. But in an unexpected turn, Nabaty blundered on his 27th turn and a simple pin lost the Israeli Grandmaster a full piece.

GM Vishnu Prasanna scored a win with a pin in round 2 | Photo: Sophie Triay

Prodigy, R Praggnanandhaa was up against GM Peter Leko, who was, in his younger days, a child sensation himself. Praggananandhaa, who had the black pieces in the game, matched every wit of his higher rated opponent in the Advanced variation of the Caro-Kann Defence. All of the minor pieces were traded off by the 20th move and Praggnanandhaa made no mistake holding to a draw in the ensuing endgame.

Praggnanandhaa R played a solid Caro-Kann to hold Peter Leko on board 13 | Photo: John Saunders

Among some other important Indian results, GM Shyam Sundar M held the newly minted FIDE Vice President, GM Nigel Short to a draw rather comfortably in 34 moves. IM Ravi Teja overcame a whopping 332 point rating difference to hold the English number three, GM David Howell to a draw. 16-year-old IM Rahul Srivasthav also had a great result as he drew the Latvian-Spanish creative genius, GM Alexei Shirov.


At the very top, lower rated Indians were thoroughly outplayed. While GM Maxime Vachier Lagrave scored a smooth win over GM Abhimanyu Puranik in a Sicilian Najdorf on the second board, Nihal Sarin failed to cope against Wang Hao’s kingside attack in an Italian Opening.

All games from round 2  

Standings (Top 20)



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