Although I won both Paris and Leuven Rapid and Blitz this summer, I’ve missed and longed for a victory in classical chess this year.
In last three rounds of the strong Isle of Man tournament I played two draws with white and won with black to win outright with 7.5/9. Nakamura and Anand shared 2nd at 7, with Kramnik, Caruana and many others at 6.5.
I can hardly remember the last time I scored 7.5 or more in a classical 9-rounds event. It feels great!
After a disappointing 7th round encounter with Vidit, in which I was worse and only some precise moves and maybe lack of ambition on his part spared me a long suffering, I was suddenly quite nervous before the 8th round as black against Caruana. This was a considerable change from the earlier rounds were I felt totally at ease and just enjoyed chess. Maybe being the leader and playing a top opponent in the penultimate round reminded me too much of a typical situation in the more tense regular top level events. Caruana sprang the intimidating novelty 15.g4 in a popular Ruy Lopez variation, and my position looked quite scary. He was probably nervous as well, and his indecision led to much time spent and likely the unwillingness to clarify the position without a significant advantage. After his Bc2 I was no longer worse, and it was probably both easier and more enjoyable to play black. I found harmonious and natural moves, and he did not put up much resistance in the end. A very important victory more than making up for round 7.
The last round as white against Nakamura represented an interesting psychological theme. A draw would be sufficient to win outright, while Nakamura would probably not be tempted to take huge risks as 2nd or shared 2nd would be an acceptable result. I tried to prepare mentally and chess-wise as usual, but the brain doesn’t really work that way. In principle I would have liked to use the white pieces to play a good game and try to win. Still, the thought “draw is fine” is constantly present, and when he went for an opening where I could force a situation where he has to draw or play on in a significantly worse position, I just went there. He spent some time, maybe just to recalculate the variations, and a draw by repetition was reached.
I’d like to thank the organizer for inviting me to Isle of Man and for organizing this great event!
During Isle of Man, the World Cup finished. I’d like to congratulate Levon Aronian on winning his 2nd World Cup and him and runner-up Ding Liren for qualifying for the Candidates 2018! Aronian has had a great year winning Grenke Classic and Norway Chess in style as well as the Sinquefield Rapid and Blitz before the World Cup.
Magnus Carlsen, Oslo, October 4th, 2017