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Isle of Man winner: Harikrishna in interview

by Sagar Shah - 20/10/2015

As the Isle of Man tournament came to an end the tournament winner, Pentala Harikrishna, packed his bags to travel to the World Blitz Championships in Berlin. In between his travel and intense schedule he found time to give us a small interview. Apart from this we have a beautifully annotated game by one of the GM norm scorers from this tournament.

Interview with the Isle of Man winner: Pentala Harikrishna


The 2015 Poker Stars Isle of Man International chess tournament was held from the 3rd to 11th of October 2015. The tournament is slowly establishing itself as one of the most elite event in the chess calendar. This year we witnessed a total of 37 grandmaster, and 25 International Masters, and players from 27 different countries, participating in this event. The top seed was the English grandmaster Michael Adams.

The Isle of Man is a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland. It’s known for its rugged coastline, medieval castles and rural landscape, rising to a mountainous center. In the capital, Douglas, the Manx Museum traces the island’s Celtic and Viking heritage. The Isle of Man TT is a major annual cross-country motorcycle race around the island. [Source: Wikipidea]


The tournament was quite keenly contested right until the end, and India’s Pentala Harikrishna emerged ultimately as the champion, with 7.0/9. He tied for the top honours with Laurent Fressinet and Gabriel Sargissian, but won the event thanks to his better tiebreak score. The schedule of the tournament was excellent for serious players: one round every day starting at 1.30 p.m. local time, and the time control was 100 minutes for 40 moves, followed by 50 minutes for 20 moves, then 15 minutes for the remaining moves, with 30 seconds added per move from the start. Just a few days ago we published a beautiful report on the tournament sent to us by IM Alina L’Ami.


After the tournament was over we were able to get in touch with the winner, Harikrishna, who was all set to take part in the World Blitz beginning within a day. We sent him the questions and Hari obliged us by sharing his views in the limited time he had.



A jubilant Harikrishna at the closing ceremony
Sagar Shah: Hari, first of all congratulations for winning the very strong Isle of Man International chess tournament. Is this performance right up there with the best tournament victories of your career?


Pentala Harikrishna: Thank you Sagar! This is one of my best victories (opens), along with the Biel Open which I won two years ago.


SS: The World Rapid 2015 event clashed with the Isle of Man tournament. Why did you prefer to play in the latter?


PH: I received invitation to play in the Isle of Man couple of months ago. At that time the World Rapid and Blitz dates were not known. It is pity that the dates clashed. It would have been better if they hadn’t. In any case, as I confirmed my participation in the Isle of Man tournament before, I did not want to change anything.



Mine is broken! – Harikrishna and Harika, two stars of Indian chess, hail from the same state of Andhra Pradesh

SS: How was the atmosphere, conditions, and strength of the opposition in the Isle of Man tournament?

PH: The atmosphere was pretty relaxed. The weather was nice this year, apart from one or two rainy days. Venue and conditions were very good. It is already a very strong tournament. In the coming years I am sure that it will have more top players. Had the World rapid and blitz not clashed with it some more 2700+ players would have played this year.

SS: Which was your favourite game from the tournament?


PH: I liked my game against Vishnu Prasanna from the second round. I calculated the line starting with 23. Nc4 until 27.Qxa8 with the conclusion that White having the bishop pair + pawn up is clearly better.

[Event "PokerStars IoM Masters"]
[Site "Douglas ENG"]
[Date "2015.10.04"]
[Round "2.2"]
[White "Harikrishna, Pentala"]
[Black "Vishnu Prasanna, V."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C88"]
[WhiteElo "2737"]
[BlackElo "2503"]
[Annotator "Sagar Shah"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "bn2r1k1/2p2ppp/3p1b2/N4N2/q3B3/2P2Q1P/5PP1/2B1R1K1 w - - 0 23"]
[PlyCount "31"]
[EventDate "2015.10.03"]
{White is a piece up right now but his bishop on e4 is hanging and it cannot
move because the rook on e1 is undefended. At the same time the knight on a5
is also loose. Harikrishna found a very nice way to come out of all the
problems.} 23. Nc4 $1 {The main idea of this move is to deflect the black
queen from the defence of the e8 rook.} Qxc4 (23... d5 {looks like a natural
move but it loses to} 24. Nh6+ $1 {Finding this move might not be so easy but
it is not too difficult for a 2700+ player.} gxh6 (24... Kf8) (24... Kh8 25.
Nxf7+ Kg8 26. Bxh7+ Kxh7 27. Qh5+ Kg8 28. Nh6+ gxh6 29. Qg6+ Bg7 30. Rxe8+ $18)
25. Qxf6 {The threat of Bxh6 is not so easy to parry.} Re6 26. Bxh7+ Kxh7 27.
Qxf7+ Kh8 28. Rxe6 $18) 24. Nxd6 $1 {The knight has to be taken} cxd6 25. Bxh7+
$1 Kf8 (25... Kxh7 26. Qh5+ Kg8 27. Rxe8#) 26. Rxe8+ Kxe8 27. Qxa8 {White has
an extra pawn and the bishop pair. And the fact that the knight on b8 is
hanging gives him enough time to reorganize his pieces and save the bishop
from getting trapped on h7.} Qb5 28. Bc2 Ke7 (28... Bxc3 29. Ba4 $18) 29. Qa7+
Kf8 30. Qc7 Nc6 31. Qxd6+ {Winning another pawn. Harikrishna easily managed to
convert this.} Kg8 32. Qd7 g6 33. Be4 Qe2 34. Qxc6 Qe1+ 35. Kh2 Qxf2 36. Qe8+
Kg7 37. Bd5 Bxc3 38. Bxf7 1-0


The picture is high on happiness quotient: Antoni Fiona-Steil, Harikrisha, Harika and one the most popular chess couples in the world, Alina and Erwin L’ Ami

SS: In many of your tournaments you tend to serve with both hands. Sometimes 1.e4, sometimes 1.d4 or 1.Nf3 or even 1.g3. But here you stuck to 1.e4 in all the games. What was the reason for that?

PH: I wish I knew the reason! I tend to decide based on how I feel on that particular day. Somehow here I felt like playing 1.e4 and it worked well.
SS: One of the most critical games in the tournament for you was your battle against Arkadij Naiditsch in the seventh round. Let me get your view on two of the critical position from that game:

Naiditsch – Harikrishna, round seven

 Black to play

SS: You had a pretty comfortable position out of the opening, why did you choose 25…Bf6 here instead of some simple move like 25…Qc7?

PH: 25…Qc7 was my original intention. I saw that 26.Bb5+ Kf8 27.Nd7 Kg7 28.Rg3+, and I missed that my bishop is doing pretty good job by controlling g5 square. 25…Bf6 was a mistake as White can open the position with 26.c3. I realized it as soon I played it. 


White to play

SS: Could you understand on the board that 34.Kb3 would have given you a lost position and what were you planning to do after that move?

PH: After his strong move 26.c3 I had no other choice but to go into this forced line. I thought it was my best practical chance. I saw that 34.Kb3 was strong. I wanted to play 34…Rfc8, but the position is obviously lost. A simple move like 35.Rb8 should be enough after 34…Rfc8.

SS: Would you say this above game against Naiditsch was the luck factor that one requires in order to win a championship?

PH: Definitely there is some luck involved. At the same time I had to think where he could go wrong or else luck would not have been able to help me!

[Event "PokerStars IoM Masters"]
[Site "Douglas ENG"]
[Date "2015.10.09"]
[Round "7.1"]
[White "Naiditsch, Arkadij"]
[Black "Harikrishna, Pentala"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C11"]
[WhiteElo "2682"]
[BlackElo "2737"]
[Annotator "Sagar Shah"]
[PlyCount "112"]
[EventDate "2015.10.03"]
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 dxe4 5. Nxe4 Be7 6. Bxf6 gxf6 7. Nf3 a6 8.
Qd2 f5 9. Nc3 b5 10. O-O-O b4 11. Ne2 Bb7 12. Kb1 Qd6 13. Ne5 Bd5 14. Qe1 Nd7
15. Nf4 c6 16. Bd3 Bf6 17. Nxd5 cxd5 18. f4 Qb6 19. Be2 h5 20. Rd3 Rc8 21. Qd2
Be7 22. Rb3 Nf6 23. Rd1 a5 24. a4 Ne4 25. Qe1 Bf6 ({Harikrishna's first
intention was to play} 25... Qc7 {but he was afraid of} 26. Bb5+ Kf8 27. Nd7+
Kg7 28. Rg3+ Kh7 $17 {And Hari felt that his king is a little weak. But the
knight on e4 and bishop on e7 ensure its safety.}) 26. c3 $1 Qc7 {Harikrishna
felt that going to this forced tactical sequence was his best chance in the
game after the mistake on the previous move.} 27. cxb4 Qc2+ 28. Ka2 axb4 29.
Bd3 Nc3+ 30. Qxc3 $1 (30. Rxc3 Qxa4+ $17) 30... Rxc3 31. Bxc2 Rxc2 32. Rxb4 O-O
33. Nd7 Be7 34. Rb7 $6 (34. Kb3 $1 {was the winning move. Hari saw this during
the game but the position was already beyond salvation.} Rxg2 (34... Bxb4 35.
Kxc2 $18) (34... Rfc8 {As Harikrishna pointed out this move loses to} 35. Rb8
$1 $18) 35. Nxf8 Bxb4 36. Kxb4 Rxb2+ (36... Kxf8 37. b3 $18) 37. Ka3 Rb7 38.
Nxe6 fxe6 39. a5 $18) 34... Ra8 35. Nb6 (35. Kb3 Rxg2 36. Rb8+ Rxb8+ 37. Nxb8
$16 {The a-pawn is quite strong.}) 35... Ra6 36. Rd3 Bd6 $1 {Black is back in
the game and it is no longer easy for White to prove his advantage.} 37. Rg3+
Kh8 (37... Kf8 38. Nd7+ Ke7 (38... Ke8 39. Nf6+ $18) 39. Nc5+ $18) 38. Kb3 $6 (
38. Rc3 {was necessary.} Rxg2 39. Rc6 Bxf4 40. Rxf7 $14 {White is no longer
winning but the position is dangerous for Black and he must defend carefully.})
38... Rc7 $1 39. Rb8+ Kh7 40. Rgg8 Bxf4 $17 {Black is just better now. How the
tide changed!} 41. Rh8+ Kg7 42. Rhg8+ Kf6 43. Rgd8 Rca7 44. Re8 Bxh2 45. Ka3
Bg1 46. Ra8 Bxd4 47. Nd7+ Kg5 48. Rxa7 Rxa7 49. Nb8 Ra8 50. b4 Ba7 51. a5 Rxb8
52. Rxb8 Bxb8 53. b5 Bc7 54. b6 Bd8 55. Kb4 d4 56. Kc4 e5 0-1

SS: One thing which is not easy to miss in your games is a great feel for co-ordination and harmony. More often than not your pieces end up on good squares. Also your endgame technique of converting minute advantages is just phenomenal. How are you so good at both these things?

PH: When I was young my trainers were positional players. They taught me which piece should be put on where. As for the endgame technique, I think one has to study it from a very young age to be good at it.

SS: How was your experience playing Poker and how did you do in the poker tournament? 

The highest rated poker table ever? Pentala Harikrishna, David Howell, Daniel Gormally and Laurent Fressinet

PH: My first experience with poker was playing online. The Late GM Vugar Gashimov taught me a bit and we used to play for fun. I mean we used to play some blitz and then poker. This was around six to seven years ago. After that I never played poker till I came to the Isle of Man. At first I thought I won’t last for long. But before the poker session began I got some nice advice from Michael Adams. He mentioned that he survived last year until the last table by folding at the right moment and not playing all hands. I followed that and finished sixth and even won a prize! This was my first poker tournament. It was fun playing combined chess + poker event!

[Ed: the chess + poker event was a unique event merging the two games. There were three prizes in chess and six in poker. First all players play a blitz tournament consisting of six rounds of chess. Every point you score in chess translates into 1000 extra chips in poker. Hari finished fourth in chess so didn’t get a prize, but he scored 4.5/6 – which meant that he earned 4500 poker chips in addition to the 7000 basic chips. So he started the poker session with 11,500 chips. On the other hand the winner of the poker tournament, Kenny Chih-Hung, only scored 1.0/6 in chess and got 8000 chips at the start of the poker session. But Kenny is a professional poker player, and even with less number of chips was able to beat GM Michael Adams in the poker finals and win the title. Adams, as the runner-up, won £1165, Harikrishna finished sixth and went back home with £345.

Kenny Chih-Hung, is a poker pro from USA. He won the 2nd edition of the poker + chess combined event and was richer by £1680.

SS: What does the first prize of £6,000 in the Isle of Man tournament mean to you? (Ed: The first prize was £10,000 but the prizes were shared so all the top three finishers received £6,000)

PH: For me the title is more important!

SS: And finally, what is your aim in the World Blitz starting from tomorrow?

PH: To play good games and enjoy chess. (Ed: Harikrishna finished 49th in the event)

All the players who finished the tournament with six points. From left to right: Arkadij Naiditsch, Sergei Movsesian, Swayams Mishra, Erwin l’Ami, Michael Adams, Julio Granda Zuniga, Alexander Donchenko, Sabino Brunello, Jorden van Foreest, Tiger Hillarp Persson and the tournament director Alan Ormsby

Final standings

 GM norm winners

It is quite a success for the organizers if many players achieve their norms at their event. While rating gained or prize money earned is ephemeral in nature, winning a norm is permanent and helps you to achieve the elusive titles of grandmaster and International Master (also WIM and WGM). In the Isle of Man seven players were able to make their norms. Alan Merry, Thorben Koop, Pier Luigi Basso made their IM norms while Yuliya Shvayger made a WGM norm. The three players who made their GM norms were: 

Jorden van Foreest receiving his GM norm certificate from the tournament director Alan Ormsby. Jorden, who has already completed all his formalities for GM title, proved that he is grandmaster material by scoring 6.0/9
Martin Zumsade beat James Tarjan, Sabino Brunello and drew with super strong GMs Daniel Fridman, Sergei Tiviakov and Gawain Jones to achieve a 2600 performance


IM Swayams Mishra needed a last round win against the legendary GM Jan Timman to achieve his second GM norm. The game began with the crazy Two Knight’s Defense – 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5!? “This complicated variation was just what I needed in this must-win scenario,” writes Swayams, who had the black pieces. The Indian IM has sent us the meticulously annotated game which contains some very high quality analysis. 
[Event "Pokerstars IoM Int'l 2015"]
[Site "Douglas, Isle of Man"]
[Date "2015.10.11"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Timman, Jan H"]
[Black "Swayams, Mishra"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C58"]
[WhiteElo "2562"]
[BlackElo "2444"]
[Annotator "Swayams Mishra"]
[PlyCount "74"]
[EventDate "2015.??.??"]
[EventCountry "GBR"]

{Playing against a legendary player always feels great! At the peak of his
career he was known as "The Best of the West". Checking out his games, I
noticed he has a wide range of opening reportire and knew he could play
anything he wanted to.} 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 {The sharpest
variation in the Two Knight's Defence. I was actually happy with this, because
requiring to win for my GM norm, couldn't have asked for a more dyanmic
opening.} d5 5. exd5 Na5 6. Bb5+ c6 7. dxc6 bxc6 8. Bd3 Nd5 9. h4 $5 {I had
faced this rare variation twice,losing both times. I opted for the 3rd
possible move in this game!} Be7 (9... Nf4 10. Bf1 h6 11. Nf3 Bd6 12. d4 exd4
13. Qxd4 Qe7+ 14. Be3 O-O 15. Nc3 Ne6 16. Qa4 Bb4 17. a3 Bxc3+ 18. bxc3 Qc7 19.
Bd3 $16 {Zhou,Y (2464)-Swayams,M (2484) Sunny Beach BUL 2014 1-0}) (9... g6 10.
Nc3 Nf4 11. Bf1 h6 12. Nf3 Bg4 13. d4 Qe7 14. Bxf4 exf4+ 15. Qe2 Bxf3 16. gxf3
O-O-O 17. O-O-O $16 {Sengupta,D (2570)-Swayams,M (2440) Kolkata IND 2013 1-0})
10. Qf3 {I spent a lot of time trying to recall my analysis in this variation,
but failed to do it completely. So,looking at the circumstances, I decided to
avoid complications for the time being.} Nf6 $6 {Interestingly, this move was
played twice already.} (10... Nf4 11. Nxf7 Kxf7 12. g3 $16 {With a very
comfortable position for white.}) (10... Bxg5 11. hxg5 Qxg5 12. Rh5 $1 {
And white regains his pawn back. For example-} Qf6 (12... Qe7 13. Qg3 f6 14.
Rxh7 $16) 13. Qe4 $16) (10... f5 $142 11. Bxf5 Rf8 12. Qh5+ g6 13. Bxg6+ hxg6
14. Qxg6+ Kd7 15. Ne6 $6 (15. Nf7 Nf4) 15... Rg8 $1 16. Qf7 Qe8 17. Qxe8+ Kxe8
$15 {With a better endgame for black}) 11. Nc3 O-O $6 {Commiting the king too
early is a mistake. It makes White's play easier.} (11... h6 12. Nge4 Nd5 {
Was a better way for black to play as happened in: Pijpers,A (2313)-Werle,J
(2539) Netherlands 2012 ½-½}) (11... Rb8 12. a3 c5 13. Bb5+ Bd7 {Poetsch,H
(2475) -Diermair,A (2449) Jenbach AUT 2013 ½-½}) 12. a3 $1 {Forces Black to
give up the control over the c4 square.} (12. Nce4 Nxe4 13. Qxe4 f5 $44) 12...
Qc7 13. b4 Nb7 14. Nce4 Nxe4 15. Bxe4 (15. Qxe4 {Forcing black to play g6 and
weakening the kingside.} g6 (15... f5 16. Qc4+ {Now the control over c4 square
is evident} Kh8 17. Nf7+ Rxf7 18. Qxf7 $18) 16. Qe2 $16 {I was expecting this})
15... h6 16. Bxc6 $2 {Was unnecessary,I think my opponent considered if i
captured his knight it would give him a very strong attack,but it wasn't so
clear.} (16. Bb2 $16 {White being material ahead, safer king, better placed
pieces, is always a favorite.}) 16... hxg5 17. hxg5 Bxg5 18. d4 (18. Qh5 Bh6 $1
$17 {And black defends against the mating threats by blocking the h-file on h6.
} 19. d3 Qxc6) 18... Bxc1 19. Rxc1 Rd8 20. Qh5 (20. Bd5 $5 exd4 21. Bxf7+ Qxf7
22. Rh8+ Kxh8 23. Qxf7 Nd6 $14 {With a very unbalanced position.}) 20... Kf8
21. d5 Bd7 22. Bxb7 Qxb7 23. Qxe5 $2 {This move weakens his own king and
allows black to get several tempos} (23. c4 $1 $14) (23. Qh8+ Ke7 24. Qxg7 Qxd5
25. Qg5+ f6 26. Rh7+ Kd6 27. Qxf6+ Kc7 {White has 3 pawns for the piece but
now black king is very safe from any danger.}) 23... Kg8 (23... Re8 $4 24. Rh8#
) 24. Qh5 f6 25. c4 $2 {Being over-ambitious} (25. Qh7+ Kf7 26. Qh5+ Kf8 27.
Qh8+ Kf7 28. Qh5+ {Black has to take a draw.}) 25... Re8+ 26. Kf1 Re5 $1 {
Now no perpetual checks for white.} 27. Qh7+ Kf7 28. f4 Bf5 29. Qh5+ Bg6 30.
Qh3 $6 {Leaving the f4 square unprotected.} (30. Qf3 $1 Be4 (30... Re4 $4 31.
f5 $18) 31. Qe2 Re7 32. Qh5+ Bg6 33. Qf3 Qd7 $15) 30... Re4 31. Kg1 (31. f5
Rf4+ $19) 31... Qc8 (31... Rxf4 $4 32. Qe6+ Kf8 33. Rh8#) (31... Rae8 $1 32. f5
Re1+ 33. Rxe1 Rxe1+ 34. Kf2 {With less time in the clock,I rejected this
variation because I thought of starting with Rh1 first which fails to fxg6+} (
34. Kh2 Qc7+ 35. g3 Re2+ 36. Kg1 Qxc4 $19 {And the white king is now close to
getting mated.}) 34... Bxf5 $1 $19 {But starting with Bf5 just wins}) 32. Qc3 (
32. Qxc8 Rxc8 33. c5 Rd4 34. d6 Rxd6 $19 {and i think Black has enough
advantage to convert the position into a win.}) 32... Qf5 (32... Rxf4 {Was
better maybe, but with the clock ticking, you always want to play safe!}) 33.
d6 Rae8 34. c5 Qd5 {Covering the dangerous a2-g8 diagonal and avoiding checks,
also planning a shrewd attack against the white king.} 35. Rh3 Re2 36. Qf3 $4 {
This loses on the spot} (36. Qc4 Rxg2+ 37. Kf1 Qxc4+ 38. Rxc4 Rd2 $19 {
Stopping white's pawns from advancing further and also expoiting white's king
position.}) (36. Rg3 Bf5 37. Qc4 Re1+ 38. Kh2 (38. Kf2 R8e2+ 39. Qxe2 Rxe2+ 40.
Kxe2 Qe4+ $19 {With the weak king and the pawns being stopped, white is close
to defeat}) 38... Rh8+ 39. Rh3 Qxc4 40. Rxc4 Bxh3 $19) 36... Qd4+ 37. Kh2 (37.
Kh1 Re1+ 38. Rxe1 Rxe1+ 39. Kh2 Qg1+ 40. Kg3 Re3 $19) 37... Rxg2+ $1 {A nice
tactic to win the game.} (37... Rxg2+ {Leading to heavy material losses for
white.} 38. Kxg2 (38. Qxg2 Qxf4+ 39. Rg3 (39. Kg1 Qxc1+ $19) (39. Qg3 Re2+ 40.
Kh1 Qxc1+ $19) 39... Rh8+ 40. Kg1 Qxc1+ $19) 38... Be4 $19) 0-1

The above position that was reached in the game between Jan Timman and Swayams Mishra has been analyzed quite deeply by the Dutch GM Erwin L’Ami in the latest ChessBase DVD entitled “The modern two knights.” In her review for this product IM Nisha Mohota writes about the diagrammed position:

A couple of months back a friend of mine who happens to be a strong GM had mentioned that 9.h4 is a line which deserves a lot of analysis by both sides. I had stored this piece of information in my mind but was never able to devote time to the variation. When I saw this DVD and found ready-made analysis by a strong GM, I was very happy! However, I had my doubts. The line looked really double edged and I was sure an active player like Erwin must have withheld some useful analysis, so some of the evaluations could be misleading. I spent a couple of days trying to find a flaw in his analysis. I failed. The variations given have the precision of computer calculation and the right evaluations of a strong human! The analysis is of extremely high quality and most importantly it leads to positions with a lot of material imbalance, so it is not easy to assess. Erwin’s guidance in these tough-to-evaluate positions is of great importance. Had I worked on these positions on my own, it would have taken me more than ten days to come anywhere close to the analysis provided, and I am not sure I would have figured out the positions correctly. 

You can buy Erwin L'Ami's DVD from the ChessBase Shop 

Three people who did phenomenal work in this tournament captured in one frame: Winner Pentala Harikrishna, press officer WIM Fiona Antoni Steil and videographer Vijay Kumar

You can read some very nicely crafted articles written by Fiona on the official website. She has also captured wonderful pictures which can be viewed on the official facebook page of the tournament.

Vijay Kumar is a legendary videographer who is present at many of the elite events. He sends us excellently edited video reports with interviews of top players. Below you can find the video of the closing ceremony. In order to see other round videos you can visit the Youtube page of the Isle of Man tournament or Vijay Kumar’s official youtube channel where you can find thousands of videos from top tournaments like Shamkir, Zürich Challenge, Qatar, etc.

Pictures by WIM Fiona Antoni-Steil

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