Mere days after former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik retired from professional chess, another ‘Vlad’, 20-year-old GM Vladislav Artemiev of Russia, signaled his arrival by winning the 2019 Gibraltar Masters with an undefeated 8.5/10.
The Gibraltar Chess Festival (held January 21-31) is one of the premier Opens on the chess calendar for both players and fans. It always includes Challenger’s events in addition to the 250-player Masters section, a 10-round swiss which this year boasted almost 100 Grandmasters playing with over a dozen 2700s. This year’s top players included the likes of GMs Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Wesley So. There are also plenty of side events in Gibraltar, including blitz, masterclasses, and the ever-popular Battle of the Sexes.
Battle of the Sexes (photo by Niki Riga)
The Gibraltar Chess Festival sets a great example for other events when it comes to media coverage. There is live streaming coverage of all the action plus daily updates and videos from the scene. IM Tania Sachdev has served as the host of the tournament for a few years now, conducting short interviews with players each day that are posted to their YouTube channel.
Hikaru Nakamura (photo by David Llada)
Artemiev earned lots of fans during Chess.com’s official broadcast of the event, thanks to his candid post-mortem interviews with commentators GM Simon Williams and IM Jovanka Houska. Much like ‘Big Vlad’ (Kramnik), ‘New Vlad’ possesses a fantastic positional style. But in contrast to the former champion, Artemiev rarely looks for a sharp battle in the opening, aiming instead to outplay his opponents in the middlegame or endgame.
Vladislav Artemiev (photo by Niki Riga)
Artemiev’s march to the title started in Round 7, when he defeated four-time Gibraltar champion Hikaru Nakamura to grab the lead:
After a draw with Levon Aronian in Round 8, Artemiev defeated GM David Navara in the 9th round to take the sole lead with one round to go. In the final round, Artemiev outplayed another super-GM, Yu Yangyi, when the latter overextended his kingside in a sharp Caro-Kann:
Yu vs. Artemiev (photo by John Saunders)
19-year-old Indian GM Murali Karthikeyan was another sensation, earning clear 2nd place with 8/10. Karthikeyan won his final five games, with the final three against 2700+ opposition.
Murali Karthikeyan (photo by John Saunders)
Check out this detailed analysis of Karthikeyan’s three final wins against GMs Rauf Mamedov, Maxim Matlakov, and Vachier-Lagrave, by his coach, R.B. Ramesh from Chessbase India:
Sharing 3rd-5th place with 7.5/10 were GM Nikita Vitiugov, GM David Howell, and GM David Anton Guijarro, followed by a mass of players who finished with 7/10, including Nakamura and So.
‘The Home of Women’s Chess’
Gibraltar organizers are not content in ‘just’ being of the world’s strongest Opens. They also aim to be ‘the home of Women’s chess’, as tournament honcho GM Stuart Conquest puts it, offering excellent conditions for top Female players and an additional Women’s prize fund of £50,000. GM Tan Zhongyi won this year’s top prize, scoring 7/10 thanks to a final round win over GM Aleksandar Indjic:
Earning 2nd place among the women was GM Mariya Muzychuk, with 6.5/10, while 3rd place was shared between GM Ju Wenjun, GM Humpy Koneru, GM Lei Tingjie, GM Anna Muzychuk, WGM Pauline Gauchard, and IM Sabrina Vega Gutierrez, all on 6/10.
Stuart Conquest and Tan Zhongyi (photo by Niki Riga)
Mariya Muzychuk (photo by Niki Riga)
Americans on the Rock
Two of America’s elite players, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So, were on hand to represent the US, as were GMs Varuzhan Akobian, Alejandro Ramirez, Akshat Chandra, and of course yours truly. Both Nakamura and So were doing well before untimely losses in the middle of the event. So lost to GM Nils Grandelius in Round 6, and Nakamura lost to Artemiev in Round 7 as discussed above. Neither player could quite bounce back, with both finishing on 7/10—a respectable performance but one that surely satisfied neither player.
David Howell – Hikaru Nakamura (photo by John Saunders)
Navara – So (photo by John Saunders)
Two games that stuck out to me were Hikaru’s win over GM Eduardo Iturrizaga Bonelli and Wesley’s win over GM Daniel Sadzikowski, the first featuring a nice exchange sacrifice, and the second a queen sacrifice!
Akshat Chandra (photo by John Saunders)
As for the rest of us, only Akshat performed well above expectations, finishing with 6.5/10 and gaining a solid twenty rating points. Alejandro had a decent event that was marred by a last round loss, but his draw from Round 4 against GM Gawain Jones ended up winning the tournament’s brilliancy prize – a nice consolation! The game was a short skirmish where Jones sacrificed a pawn and then a piece as he hunted for mate. Alejandro defended accurately and the game ended in a cute perpetual. I believe it was the combination of the nice finish and the variations that took place ‘off the board’ that gave the game its aesthetic value.
Alejandro Ramirez and Gawain Jones (photo by Niki Riga)
Your author did quite reasonably in the event, scoring 5.5/10 while playing up most rounds. The highlight was undoubtedly getting paired with the legendary GM Vassily Ivanchuk in Round 7! ‘Chucky’ has been one of my chess heroes for a long time, so it was absolutely surreal to sit across from him. I enjoyed the game, but I do wish that I could have put up a bigger fight!
Ivanchuk vs. Kostya (photo by David Llada)
As I’ve done before with a few events, I recorded a daily post-mortem after each game and uploaded it to YouTube. In each video I detailed the ups and downs of the struggle, my thought process and decision-making at various critical points, and of course the lines I saw and the lines I missed. Check out the full YouTube playlist of all my games from the event if you’re interested!
The Gibraltar Chess Festival remains one of the premium events of the year, certainly worth visiting for any chess player. With the best male and female players in the world, ample norm opportunities, class prizes and Challenger’s events, there is truly something for everyone, and I very much hope to return in 2020!
Full standings and photos from the event can be found on the official site.