The difference between the FIDE Grand Swiss and any other Swiss tournament is that nobody gets a weak opponent in round one.
Usually, at open Swiss events, the favourites can expect weaker opponents in the first few rounds before facing each other. However, at the Isle of Man, challenging games started immediately.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that there were some draws and wins by the underdogs. Still, these are not surprises, as everybody can beat everybody in this tournament.
Top seed Fabiano Caruana surprised his opponent Ivan Saric with the Sicilian Najdorf, a variation he doesn’t usually play. Most likely, his intention was either to conceal his ideas in the openings he normally plays or to try a new opening and/or to confuse his future opponents in the Candidates.
Whatever his reasons, it worked to perfection, as Fabiano obtained a promising position very quickly.
Black’s usual choices here are 8…Nc6 or 8…0-0. Caruana’s 8…Nbd7!? is a rare continuation, but perhaps that will change after this game.
After the natural 9.Qd2 Black continued in provocative style with 9…b5, inviting 10.a4 b4 11.Nce2, and here, the second-rated player in the world sacrificed a pawn with 11…d5!
Saric spent more than 25 minutes on his reply and chose the sub-optimal 12.Bh6?! Taking the pawn with 12.Qxb4 offers Black good compensation after either 12…Qc7 or 12…Rb8. If White wanted to play Bh6, it was better to insert the exchange on d5 first and then play Bh6, which would have led to an unclear position.
After the immediate exchange of bishops, Black took on e4 and created an isolated pawn on e4, which gave him a structural advantage.
Black has a better structure, but White can certainly fight here. However, instead of 17.c3 or even going for the endgame with 17.Qf4, where White’s activity should keep him out of danger, Saric over-optimistically sacrificed an exchange with 17.Rxf6?! exf6 18.Qg7 Rf8 19.Qxf6, but after the cold-blooded 19…Bb7, threatening …Rd8 or …Qd8, he had little to show for it.
Caruana masterfully controlled the tactics and wrapped up the game in 30 moves.
Levon Aronian has been out of the top 10 for some time now and recently didn’t do so well at the US Championship. Playing young and ambitious Max Warmerdam with the black pieces, he seemed invigorated and introduced a very interesting novel direction as early as move five (!) in a popular line in the English Opening.
The usual move here is the natural 5…Nxe5, played by Levon on more than one occasion. Instead of that, Aronian played the surprising 5…Qe7!?, which is a long-term pawn sacrifice. After 6.Nxc6 dxc6 7.d3 White is solid, so where’s the compensation?
Not surprisingly, the engine doesn’t see anything troublesome for White, but in practice, things are far from simple, especially when seeing the position for the first time. It does resemble the notorious Stafford Gambit, the difference being the pawn on c4 instead of c2. Just compare it with the position from the Stafford Gambit, arising after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nc6?! 4.Nxc6 dxc6 5.d3 Bc5.
White continued with natural moves, but this seemed to be all preparation by Aronian, who continued to play fast, making the engine’s preferred moves. Soon enough, the engine gave Black full compensation, with the evaluation hovering around 0.00.
The critical position arose after Aronian’s 13th move when White should have accepted Black’s piece sacrifice, but since it seemed very risky, he declined it.
Here, Max should have played 14.d4! Rxd4 15.Rf1 though after 15…Rd3 things look scary for White; even objectively, Black isn’t worse. Unfortunately, already under a lot of pressure, Warmerdam wanted to bail out quickly and went for 14.Nxe4?! Rxf4 15.0-0-0 Rxg4 when material was equal, but Black was better thanks to White’s weak pawn on d3. Aronian managed to convert his positional advantage with surprising ease.
Hikaru Nakamura was in trouble early, which is surprising as his opening preparation is usually top-notch. He was in danger of losing but showed his signature defensive grit and managed to draw against Rasmus Svane.
A notable duel in the first round was between Vasyl Ivanchuk and Ihor Samunenkov. Both from Ukraine, they are separated by 40 (!) years: Ivanchuk was born in 1969, and Samunenkov in 2009. Ivanchuk posed all the questions in their game, trying to squeeze something out from a position where his opponent had an isolated pawn on d5. The 14-year-old defended with admirable tenacity and managed to draw in spite of the veteran’s pressing for more than 60 moves.
In the women’s section, the top three favourites, Aleksandra Goryachkina, Aleksandra Kosteniuk and Mariya Muzychuk, all drew.
While Kosteniuk and Muzychuk didn’t have real winning chances, Goryachkina outplayed Anna Matnadze in her trademark positional fashion and obtained a winning position, only to blunder her rook and end up losing an exchange! Then it was Matnadze’s turn to miss her golden opportunity, and the game ended in a draw.
Elizabeth Paehtz started with a magnificent attack to checkmate Alice Lee in a miniature. It was a tough blow for the 14-year-old prodigy from the USA and a promising start for one of the tournament favourites.
In a sharp English Opening, both players seemed out of the book early on. White quickly obtained a huge lead in development but gave her opponent a chance to limit the damage.
Finishing the development with 12.Bg2! would have been decisive, while White’s 12.Nxe4?! allowed Black a sudden chance. Alice should have played 12…Bxd2 13.Nxd2 a5! Intending 14…a4-a3. This is very counter-intuitive; lagging back in development, Black goes for counterplay with the a-pawn, neglecting it even more! But it works, and that’s what counts in modern chess…
Lee took the knight, but after 12…Qxe4? 13.Bxa5 the threat of Rd8 was decisive. After 13…Be6 14.Bg2! Qe5 15.Rd8 Kf7 16.Qa3 with Qf8 to come, White already had a crushing attack.
The final position speaks volumes about the importance of piece development in the opening.
Black resigned in view of 23…g4 24.Qxf7# 1-0
Sometimes, young players mess up the theory. 16-year-old Savitha Shri fell into a well-known trap against Marsel Efroimski in the Accelerated Dragon.
In this position, the usual move for White is 8.Bb3, because after 8.f3?!, as played by Savitha, Black has 8…Qb6! and suddenly a lot of things are hanging, the pawn on b2 and the whole centre after …Ng4.
The teenager defended well and managed to equalise. Then she got very lucky.
The position is equal after the exchange of rooks, but instead, Black blundered horribly with 29…Rxb2?? After 30.Rg4+, she not only loses the rook on f8 but is also mated.
The first round is only a harbinger of what is to come: tough games and long battles.
Round 2 starts tomorrow at 14:30 PM local time.
Written by GM Alex Colovic
Photos: Anna Shtourman
Official website: grandswiss.fide.com
About the event:
The FIDE Grand Swiss and FIDE Women’s Grand Swiss 2023 takes place from the 23rd of October to the 6th of November at the Villa Marina, Douglas, Isle of Man.
Both tournaments are part of the qualifications for the World Championship cycle, with the top two players in the open event qualifying for the 2024 Candidates Tournament and the top two players in the Women’s Grand Swiss qualifying for the 2024 Women’s Candidates.
Eleven rounds will be played under the Swiss System, with 164 players participating from all continents: 114 in the Grand Swiss and 50 players in the Women’s Grand Swiss.
The total prize fund is $600,000, with $460,000 for the Grand Swiss and $140,000 for the Women’s Grand Swiss.
The first Grand Swiss was held in 2019 in the Isle of Man and was won by GM Wang Hao, who scored 8/11. Because of COVID-19, the 2020 edition of the event was cancelled. The 2021 edition took place in Riga and was won by GM Alireza Firouzja.
This is the second time that a Women’s Grand Swiss event will be held. The inaugural edition in Riga was won by GM Lei Tingjie.