After nine rounds, India’s five-time World Champion Viswanathan Anand ended at 5 points to finish at joint third with Armenia’s Levon Aronian. The two of them split the point as they played their last round against each other. But in final standings, Anand had to take the fourth place behind Aronian since the Armenian didn’t lose a single match, whereas Anand suffered a defeat against Kramnik in Round-4. However, the Indian still delivered an impressive performance with two victories and added a few rating points. The tournament winner was Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi, who recovered from a hopeless position to draw against Israel’s Boris Gelfand and finished with 6 points. Netherlands’s Anish Giri with 5½ points was second. In Isle of Man Masters chess, India’s Harika Dronavalli caused a sensation by defeating China’s women’s World Champion Hou Yifan in a Round-7 game. With 4 wins, 3 losses and a draw, Chennai chess prodigy R Praggnanandhaa had slipped to 51 in overall rankings after 8 rounds.
Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia won the 10th Tal Memorial chess tournament and collected the winners’ cheque of US $ 200,000. In Round-9, Nepo faced tournament’s worst performer Israeli Boris Gelfand but sliped on the brink of defeat. However, the Russian hung on and an error by Gelfand helped him claw back for draw. The loss would have pushed Nepo into a blitz play with Anish Giri, who also had 5½ points after 9 rounds. But Giri missed out on a winning chance in his Round-9 game against China’s Li Chao. Giri had other issues weighing on his mind as he became a father while the tournament had been in progress.
Anand’s Round-9 game with Aronian was a tense affair as both players looked superior at times. Anand had the advantage of White pieces but somehow he chose to volunteer the exchange of pieces early on in a Giuoco Piano opening. It was a must-win game for Anand, if harbored any serious intention of tying the game with Giri or Nepomniachtchi. Theoretically, Anand played solidly against someone, who is ranked higher than him but could only manage the draw. If Anand had taken an adventurous posture, he could have pressurized Aronian but the Indian ace probably didn’t want any risks that could backfire on him. In a lighter vein, Anand saved the blushes for Aronian, who was celebrating his 34th birthday as he faced the Indian.
But the all-important game was the one between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Boris Gelfand. The Russian had been leading the standings for the last four Rounds and he didn’t want to end the day on the losing side. It was the first time for Nepo to be crowned champion in an elite field and he didn’t want to miss out on his greatest tournament victory of his career. However, to underestimate Gelfand was the biggest folly Nepo could have committed. Far from the expectations that Gelfand would welcome a short draw, the Israeli forced the game on Nepo. When Nepomniachtchi took out an isolated queen’s pawn, Gelfand employed positional skills and turned the tables on Nepo. With the Russian pressed in a corner, Gelfand went for his throat. However, the Israeli blundered in 37.Ne5 and Nepo breathed a sigh of relief. In the end, a draw was agreed upon. Since Giri had also drawn his game with China’s Li Chao, Nepo emerged as the clear winner.
In Isle of Man Masters international chess tournament, India’s Harika Dronavalli created the biggest upset of Round-7 by defeating Chinese women’s world no.1 Hou Yifan. The Indian was meeting Yifan for the 23rd time after losing to the Chinese on all 22 previous occasions. This time, however, Harika beat Yifan to everyone’s surprise. Playing with Whites, Harika opened with 1.c4 and Yifan chose 1…b6. Then Harika went for a Botvinnik setup and improved her position. Later, Harika surprised Yifan by playing 13.Rac1 that created a tense situation and it became evident that the Indian wanted a full point. Though Yifan secured the e5 square for her knight, the d6 pawn was a weak piece and it provided solid advantage to Harika in the middle-game. Afterwards, Harika decided to exchange the queens and everything went downhill for the Chinese as she resigned on move 45.
In another good result for Indian fans, 18-year-old SL Narayanan crushed his Armenian opponent Sergei Movsesian in just 27 moves but Vidit Gujrathi lost another game. However, Vidit’s opponent was none other than Ukrainian tournament leader Pavel Eljanov. Vidit had White pieces and he adopted the same line as Anand and Carlsen in 2014 at Sochi. It has been repeatedly proved that White gets absolutely no advantage out of this opening and yet, Vidit used the line probably because he had a new idea up his sleeve. He revealed that on d6 but the pawn on d6 was a mix of strength and weakness depending on how Black dealt with it. The overambitious Vidit pushed his pawn to g4 and since Eljanov played with great precision, he took out the d6 pawn and converted the endgame to his advantage. Vidit now has 5½ points and he is placed 8th in the tournament.
Another keenly watched Indian at Isle of Man is Chennai’s 10-year old Praggu. The kid has played eight rounds so far and he is placed at no.51. In his matches, he has beaten four players and lost to three. He has just one Round-4 drawn game against Germany’s Georg Meier. It is evident that the Indian prodigy plays for wins and takes heavy risks. It is remarkable that two of his four victories have come with Black pieces. Unlike experienced players; Praggu doesn’t attempt draws. Maybe, he will learn as time passes.