MASTERS ROUND 10 & PLAY-OFFS: 30 JANUARY 2013
John Saunders reports: Nikita Vitiugov, from St Petersburg in Russia, won the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters title at the Caleta Hotel on Thursday after a pulsating play-off final against three times winner and reigning champion Nigel Short of England. Four players – the above two, plus Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France and Chanda Sandipan of India – tied for first place on 8/10 after ten rounds of the tournament, necessitating a knock-out play-off to decide the winner of the £20,000 first prize.
Short beat Vachier-Lagrave and Vitiugov beat Sandipan in the two-game rapidplay play-off semi-finals. The final match between Vitiugov and Short was a thriller. The Russian, who will turn 26 in four days’ time, showed amazing coolness under pressure as he played out most of a 104-move game with only seconds available for each move, before finding a clever tactical trick to finish the game. In the second game Vitugov kept his opponent at bay for a draw which clinched the match 1½-½.
In the round ten, the overnight leaders all drew their games despite some enterprising play. Vachier-Lagrave in particular played some bold chess against Vitiugov, with an unorthodox opening strategy and a queen invasion into his opponent’s position. The advantage swung back and forth a couple of times before the Russian managed to hold the draw. A win would have been enough for the other overnight leader, Nigel Short, to overtake them but he was held to a draw by David Navara of the Czech Republic in a game where both players played with ambition and ingenuity.
This left it open for several other players to tie for first. Just one succeeded in doing so: Sandipan capitalised on some inaccurate opening play by Le Quang Liem of Vietnam and despatched him with great skill. Michael Adams tried hard to join the other four on eight points but was held at bay by Kiril Georgiev of Bulgaria.
Top ranked Vassily Ivanchuk also had a chance of joining the group on the top score of 8/10 but he was held to a commendable draw by Chinese woman player Zhao Xue. This was doubly important for 27-year-old Zhao Xue as it secured for her the £12,000 women’s prize ahead of a stellar field of women players.
Gibraltar Masters Play-Off Final, Game 1
Vitiugov - Short
Black to Play
This position arose after an astonishing 102 moves, with both players eventually reduced to only 10-15 seconds for each move. Short, playing Black, might have prolonged the game and conceivably saved it had he played 102...Bxh3 103 Qxh3 Qe1+, etc, but instead he went wrong with 102...Be4. White replied 103 f5+, discovering a check against the black king and shielding the h-pawn from an attack on the h7 square. There followed 103...Kc6 104 Qc3+, covering the h8 square, whereupon Black resigned since he can no longer prevent the advance of the h-pawn to queen in two more moves.