Tradewise Gibraltar is widely reckoned the best open event in the world and its 2018 edition did not disappoint. The Rock’s attractions include elite grandmasters from the global top, rising talents, the highest prize fund for women in a mixed event, a large high-class hotel venue, active support from government and a full social programme between games. Even a raging afternoon gale at the start of round seven failed to ruffle the organisers, who simply extended the default time by one hour.
A trio from the world top 10 fought out the £25,000 first prize in a speed play-off, which Levon Aronian won from Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura. The 35-year-old Armenian is the bookmakers favourite to challenge for Magnus Carlsen’s world crown in London in November but he struggled to draw a pawn down in round one against the Hungarian woman GM Anita Gara. It seemed that Nakamura, winner of the last three Gibraltars, would make it four when he started with 5-0, downing Poland’s best young talent in this week’s puzzle, but the American then slowed with five draws.
At the end there was a seven-way tie but only the four with the best performance ratings were eligible for the play-off. The eliminated trio included the England No 1, Michael Adams, as the 46-year-old Cornishman caught up only by winning his final two games to reach 7.5/10. Adams will not complain, as the sextet earned around £10,000 while a large group half a point behind received barely one-tenth of that. This is quite normal for a large Swiss System event.
Nigel Short faded after losing to Aronian but David Howell was arguably unlucky on 7/10 as he shared the lead with Nakamura in the middle rounds and met an unusually strong field. Only arguably, though, because Howell has become notorious for mishandling his clock time. The most bizarre instance came in round seven when he took a total of 55 minutes, half his available time for 40 moves, for just 15 Bd2-c3 and 19 also Bd2-c3. In his post-game interview he said he had made a new year resolution to be “more practical”.
Howell may well become the England No 1 when Adams and Short age further, yet it is hard to avoid the conclusion that in a higher sense he is a wasted talent. As an under-10 he was of similar strength to his contemporaries Carlsen, Sergey Karjakin, Vachier-Lagrave and Ian Nepomniachtchi, but they have all gone on to reach the world top 20 or better while the Sussex GM is barely in the top 50.
The Poisoned Pawn Sicilian, an echo of the era of Mihhail Tal and Bobby Fischer, makes a rare comeback here and includes a remarkable move. White must have thought hew was winning after 21 Rxb7?! since if Bxb7? 22 Rxe6+ Kf7 23 Qd7+ Kg6 24 f7+ wins. Instead 21…Rg1+!! enables the black queen to stop a white check at d4 and, even subtler, creates a bolt hole for the black king at g8.
Alan Pichot v Ivan Cheparinov, Tradewise Gibraltar 2018.
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Bg5 e6 7 f4 h6 8 Bh4 Qb6 9 Qd2 Qxb2 10 Rb1 Qa3 11 e5 dxe5 12 fxe5 g5 13 exf6 gxh4 14 Be2 Qa5 15 O-O h3 16Bf3 Nd7 17 Kh1 Ne5 18 Rfe1 Nxf3 19 gxf3 Rg8 20 Nxe6 fxe6 21 Rxb7?! Rg1+!! 22Kxg1 Qc5+! 23 Kh1 Bxb7 24 Rxe6+ Kf7 25 Qd7+ Kg8! 26 f7+ Kg7 27 Qd3 Qg5 28 Qd4+ Kxf7 0-1
3553 1...f2! 2 Bxf2 Re7! diverted the guarding queen and led to 3 Qxe7 Qxc3+ 4 Ka3 Qa5 mate.