Nigel Short won the British Knockout Championship, defeating David Howell in the final match 3.5-2.5. The last three games were decisive, and are analyzed here.
Entries in David Howell (5)
One of the concurrent events in London alongside the Chess Classic is, or rather, was, the British Knockout Championship. Other than Michael Adams, who is playing in the Classic, all the top British players participated, and in the finale Nigel Short defeated David Howell 3.5-2.5 to take the title. The first three games were drawn, and then the player with White won the remaining games, all of which can be found here.
Entering the final round of the Gibraltar Masters Open Hikaru Nakamura led with 8/9, half a point ahead of David Howell and a point ahead of Pentala Harikrishna, Hou Yifan, Nikita Vitiugov and Axel Bachmann. Nakamura had White against Harikrishna, Hou had White against Howell, and Vitiugov had White against Bachmann.
The last pairing was the first to finish, a 30-move draw that put Vitiugov and Bachmann out of the running for first. The other two games went a long time, and for a while a playoff between Nakamura and Howell seemed a real possibility. Howell was definitely better against Hou, while Nakamura's edge against Harikrishna was relatively slight.
The tables turned against Howell, who missed his chances and then tried too hard to avoid the looming draw. He nearly succeeded in avoiding that draw, too, but not the way he intended. Hou was winning, but 45.g5?? let Howell escape. Had Hou won, she would have taken clear second and won £16,000 prize; instead, she "only" won £15,000 for being the top female finisher. (You can replay that game, with my analysis of the ending, here.) Soon after they finished, Nakamura made a little slip in the drawn rook ending that allowed Harikrishna to achieve the draw instantly, and the American finished with a cool £20,000 payday.
As of this writing, the size of the tie for third place remains undetermined. Behind Nakamura's 8.5 and Howell's 8 there's a large group of 7.5 pointers. So far, there's
- Pentala Harikrishna
- Hou Yifan
- Nikita Vitiugov
- Axel Bachmann
- Veselin Topalov (who crushed Mateusz Bartel with Black)
- Maxim Matlakov (who very speedily defeated Stefan Kuijpers, likewise with the black pieces)
- Baskaran Adhiban (another speedy winner with Black; his victim was Ivan Cheparinov)
- Dennis Wagner (who won with White against Eduardo Iturrizaga Bonelli. Wagner is an IM, but surely not for long.)
One more player could join their ranks and that's Wei Yi, who is trying to squeeze out a win in a queen ending against Ruben Felgaer. Right now he is winning with best play, but after 10 straight days and six hours' play there are no guarantees. (You can follow the game here.)
**UPDATE** Wei Yi did in fact win, joining the nine-way tie for 3rd-11th. He finished the tournament rated 2706.1, making him officially the youngest-ever 2700-rated player in chess history.
Of U.S. interest: Daniel Naroditsky could have joined the big tie for third with a win, but a last round draw with Dmitry Jakovenko is hardly a bad result, and he gained some money and a pile of rating points with his score of 7/10. Aleks Lenderman and Kayden Troff both scored 6.5, and Irina Krush scored 6. Unfortunately, her last-round victory came at the expense of another American, John Watson. After seven round Watson was in great shape with 5 points, but he finished with a bit of a thump, losing his last three. Even so, he gained a few points with his final score of 5/10, which was not the case for the United States's Rip Van Winkle - Jim Tarjan - who also finished with five points. After 30 years off he's going to have to take a few lumps.
Back to general interest: John Saunders just tweeted this list of players who achieved title norms in Gibraltar; congratulations to those players as well.
The Gibraltar Masters Open is winding up, and it's a two-horse race. Hikaru Nakamura was held to his second draw of the event, this time by Axel Bachmann (who had White and had whatever advantage there was in the game), while David Howell played a nice positional exchange sac against Daniel Naroditsky and slowly outplayed him to pick up the full point. Thus after nine rounds Nakamura has 8 and Howell 7.5, and after them there are several players with 7 points.
In the last round Nakamura has White against Pentala Harikrishna (7 points), who won rather easily in round 9 against a lower-rated player. On board 2 Howell has Black against Hou Yifan (7 points), who defeated Richard Rapport in a game with a strange finish. (Incidentally, she now outrates her great predecessor by more than 10 points. Not bad!) Finally, Nikita Vitiugov (7 points) takes on Bachmann (the last 7 pointer) on board three. There are five 2700s in the next score group, all out of contention for first. It's a very strong tournament!
Hikaru Nakamura's winning streak in the tournament stopped at six, but he was very close to winning his seventh today and still leads the Gibraltar Masters Open by half a point. David Howell held him to a draw, but only after making a misstep on his way to constructing the Vancura Defense. Nakamura in turn missed his opportunity to exploit Howell's error, which only serves to confirm Siegbert Tarrasch's adage that all rook endings are drawn. (Ironically, though, the Vancura Defense discovered, among other things, that a particular rook ending position Tarrasch claimed was winning for the strong side really wasn't. Chess is hard!)
Howell thus didn't manage to catch up to Nakamura, and neither did Yu Yangyi. He had a serious advantage against Hou Yifan at one point, but Hou defended extremely well to hold. Yu remains half a point behind Nakamura, along with Howell and two new contenders. One is Paraguayan GM Axel Bachmann*, who defeated the strong young German Dennis Wagner, and the other is young American star Daniel Naroditsky, who won with Black against Baskaran Adhiban.
Some fine players are in the group with 5.5 points, including Hou Yifan and Wei Yi (now 2700+ again), and surprisingly Veselin Topalov has only 5 points after scraping out a draw with White against American GM Aleks Lenderman. His fellow American and Giorgi Kacheishvili student Irina Krush is also having a good tournament, with 4.5 points, while John Watson is having an even better tournament: he, like Lenderman, has five points after defeating Gawain Jones!
In round 8 (there are ten rounds overall) Nakamura (6.5) will have White against Yu Yangyi (6), Bachmann (6) will have White against Howell (6), and Naroditsky (6) will have White against Nikita Vitiugov (5.5). While we're at it, a resurgent Peter Svidler (5.5) has White against Hou Yifan (5.5). No easy life for her, with back-to-back black games against 2700s!
The Howell-Nakamura game can be replayed here, with some brief comments on the crucial stage of the endgame.
* Alas, Scottish GM Matthew Turner is not playing in this event, so that's one punny pairing that won't be happening here.