Levon Aronian wins Tradewise Gibraltar Masters
The 2018 Tradewise Gibraltar Masters, which came to an end on Thursday at the Caleta Hotel, was won by the favourite, Levon Aronian of Armenia, following an exciting play-off after the tournament ended with a seven-way tie for first place on 7½. Aronian received a cheque for £25,000. The top women’s prize of £15,000 was won by Pia Cramling of Sweden, who scored 6½, level with Kateryna Lagno, but Cramling had a better performance rating.At the start of the day’s play five players were on the top score of 7 out of ten and this number swelled to seven after the games between four of the leaders ended in a draw. Top seed Levon Aronian drew with four-times winner Hikaru Nakamura (USA) while second seed Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) drew with Richard Rapport (Hungary). The fifth of the overnight leaders, Daniil Dubov (Russia) lost his game to Le Quang Liem (Vietnam) which allowed the latter player to tie with the other four for first place. Two more players, Mickey Adams of England and Nikita Vitiugov of Russia, both former winners of the Masters, also won their final round games to increase the number of players who reached the top score of 7½ out of 10 to seven.
The rules of the competition stipulate a single winner, and only allow the four players with the best tournament rating practice to proceed to the play-off stage, so this meant that Le Quang Liem, Mickey Adams and Nikita Vitiugov, whose performance tie-breaks were inferior to those of the other four were not eligible for the subsequent rapid tie-break phase.
In the play-off, the winners of the semi-finals were Levon Aronian, who beat Richard Rapport, and Maxime Vachier Lagrave, who beat the holder Hikaru Nakamura, thus ending the American’s hope of a fourth successive title and a fifth in total. Aronian won both rapid games against Rapport, but Vachier-Lagrave needed a further pair of blitz games to qualify for the tie-break final after the two rapid games against Nakamura ended in a draw.
The final showdown was thus between the tournament’s top two seeds, Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. They drew the two scheduled rapid games (with 10 minutes each, and an extra 2 seconds added after each move) and then the first blitz game (3 minutes each plus an add-on of 2 seconds). Finally Aronian managed to win the second blitz game to clinch overall victory.
This was Aronian’s second visit to the Rock, having finished in a five-way tie for the first prize in 2005, which was the eventuality that determined the organisers to institute a play-off system to resolve ties and produce a single winner.
Final scores in the Masters: 1st Levon Aronian (Armenia, on tie-break) 7½/10; 2nd equal Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Richard Rapport (Hungary), Mickey Adams (England), Le Quang Liem (Vietnam), Nikita Vitiugov (Russia) also 7½.