David Anton Guijarro, the 24th seed, is the sole leader after 7 rounds, but a world-class field lurks just a half point behind him.

The Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival, along with the Qatar Masters Open and the Millionaire Open, is one of the three strongest open tournaments in the world.  It regularly attracts players with ratings over 2700 and even close to 2800. This year is no exception.

The tournament, which began last week, includes Hikaru Nakamura of the United States (No. 6 in the world), Viswanathan Anand of India (No. 8), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France (No. 7), Pentala Harikrishna of India (No. 14), Li Chao b of China (No. 16), and Yu Yangyi, also of China (No. 19), with plenty of other players in the low- to mid-2700s.

The tournament is so strong that none of the top seeds has been dominant — indeed, there have been many upsets and no one has a perfect score or even close to it. In fact, the tournament is so wide open, there are many players who could win.

David Anton Guijarro of Spain has played really well so far and is in clear first with a score of 6 out of 7. But 15! players, including a couple of the highest seeds, are just half a point back and so Guijarro will certainly face serious challenges in the final three rounds if he is to win. 

Guijarro moved into first place with a victory in Round 7 over the ever-creative Richard Rapport of Hungary (No. 30 in the world). 

In the above position, Rapport, who was White, has been somewhat outplayed, and his shaky king position and poor pawn structure give Black an edge despite White having the bishop pair. Still, I can’t imagine White would have too much trouble holding a draw if he exchanged queens.

Instead, Rapport decided to keep the queens on the board with 28. Qd3? Guijarro immediately jumped at his chance and responded with the powerful 28. … Nb6!, attacking the d7 rook and blocking the a7 bishop’s control of the f2 square. Since 29. Bxb6 Qxb6+ followed by Rh8 would immediately lead to checkmate, Rapport had to try 29. Rf1. but even this was not enough as after 29. … Nxd7!, Black is completely winning. White should have tried 30. Rxf6, meager as it is, as it might offer better chances than the game continuation of 30. Qxd7. After that, White was simply down an exchange and Black converted his advantage very nicely into a win.

The most shocking result of the day was things going from bad-to-worse for Anand, the former World Champion. Playing Black against Benjamin Gledura, a 16-year-old Hungarian international master, he seemed almost uninterested in the game, choosing an extremely solid and drawish line that he has played many times and that he must know thoroughly. I thought the game was heading for a draw, but Anand kept playing moves without thinking much, and let the White king invade. Finally, the decisive mistake came in the following position:

Black is definitely suffering a bit because White’s knight and king are more active than Black’s bishop or king, but he would keep very real drawing chances after a modest move like 36. … Kc8. There could follow 37. Ne4 Kd7 38. Nd6 Bxf2, and White can take the pawn on either f7 or b7, with some advantage in both cases.

Instead, Anand chose 36. … Bxc5?, which just left him in a lost pawn ending. All White has to do is put the king on b6, force the Black king to shuffle between c8 and b8 until he runs the kingside out of moves, and then, once the kingside is frozen, White can zugzwang Black into playing Kc8 and meet it with Ka7. This endgame is reasonably well known and I even had it myself once in a game with Vladislav Vorotnikov some years back, so it was pretty surprising that Anand went for it. Gledura found the right method to win the game with no trouble at all.

It was a tough loss for Anand, who has had a brutal time playing in his first open tournament in two decades — years before Gledura was born. 

Another big upset was notched by Sebastien Maze, a French grandmaster, who defeated the much higher rated Dmitry Jakovenko of Russia, while playing Black.

In the very complex position above, both sides have their trumps and anything can happen. The computer suggests the natural 34. d5!, advancing the White center, and evaluates the position as slightly better for White.

Positions like this one are very difficult to play for White — the open king requires constant minding, and time tends to run out really fast. Not only that, but mistakes tend to be decisive. Indeed, that was the case in this game as Jakovenko burned half of his remaining time on 34. Qf2? and after 34. … Ng5! Black threatened both Nxf3+ and Nh3+.

The only defense White could find was 35. Qg2, but after another strong move, 35. … Kg7!, White was surprisingly helpless to stop the simple yet totally devastating plan of 36. … Rh8 followed by 37. … Nh3+. Jakovenko resigned right after time control.

While there is definitely a degree of randomness to games like this, one has to admire how well Maze handled himself in time pressure and how cleanly he punished Jakovenko’s mistake.

FInally, I was very impressed by the victory of Aryan Tari of Norway over Zoltan Almasi of Hungary. Tari, a 16-year-old Norwegian international master (and 2015 Norwegian champion), who just satisfied the requirements for the grandmaster title, got a nice position with a huge advantage out of the opening. More impressive than that was how cleanly Tari, who was White, executed a winning plan in the following position:

White is winning, but he has to be precise — it would not take that much for him to mess things up. For example, 23. dxe6 Qg6 would still require some work to bring in the full point.

Tari calculated perfectly with 23. Qxd7! Re3 24. Qxb7! If 24. … Rxd3, then 25. Qc8+ Kf7 26. Qe6+ would give White an overwhelming advantage.

I thought Tari might have been tricked after 24. … Qe8!, which is a good practical try as now the Black king is safe and both 25. … Rxd3 and 25. … Re1 are serious threats. But Tari had clearly anticipated this idea and played 25. Qc6!, threatening a queen exchange and kicking the Black queen off the back rank. The point is that 25. … Qxc6 would fail to 26. dxc6 Rxd3 27. c7. Almasi, down a piece, resigned immediately, suffering one of the shortest losses of his career.

Round 8 should be interesting as Guijarro will face Li Chao b, one of the top seeds. And the way things have been going, it would also not be surprising to continue to see a bunch of upsets. 


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 7 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He is @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.