No, this is not a reference to the UK weather causing havoc but the fact that with one round to go we have five players in the joint lead on 7/9 and amazingly we could have eight players tied for first place at the end of 10 rounds - if results go the right way (or wrong way, depending on your perspective!).
However, there can be no joint winners in Gibraltar. In the event of a tie the players will indulge in a rapidplay play-off for the £15,000 first prize. However, the play off is limited to four players so, if there are more than four players tied for first, only the four with the highest tournament performance rating will play off.
The possibility of a pile up was helped enormously by the joint leaders Vugar Gashimov and Vadim Milov drawing on board 1. Milov was sweating for a considerable period of time and must have been surprised and relieved when his opponent, in the following position played 40 Nd5 and offered a draw.
Gashimov v Milov 40 Nd5 ½-½
Gashimov v Milov
So, the scene was set for others to take advantage and Peter Svidler did not waste the opportunity afforded to him. Buoyed by the England cricket team's recovery from 94-4 to finish 236-5 in the first test in Jamaica (Peter is a huge cricket fan, supporting England for those who wonder why he would care about such things. And yes, he asks for an update on the score even when playing!!).
Svidler (2723) was black against previous tournament leader Alexander Beliavsky (2646) :
Belyavsky v Svidler
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 The Exchange variation of the Gruenfeld. Svidler is without a doubt the leading exponent of this opening among the current elite. 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 Nc6 9.Be3 0–0 10.0–0 Bd7 [Svidler tends to prefer this move to the more widely used 10...Bg4 which he did use recently against Alexander Onischuk at the 6th Poikovsky/ Karpov tournament. The game continued 11.f3 Na5 12.Bxf7+ Rxf7 13.fxg4 Rxf1+ 14.Kxf1 and was agreed drawn soon after.] 11.Rb1 Qc7 12.Nf4 [Shirov played 12.Bd3 against Svidler at Corus 2007, while at the same tournament, van Wely preferred 12.Bf4, also against Svidler. Beliavsky chooses yet another option that has not been employed very often.] 12...Qc8 13.Be2 This was previously played in Riazantsev-Areshchenko, RUS-chT 2006. Svidler decides to apply a personal touch. 13...Rb8 14.Qd2 Rd8 15.Rfc1 Be8 16.d5 b6 17.Qb2 Na5 18.Qa3 e5 19.dxe6 fxe6 20.Bg4 Bf7 21.Qa4 Rd6 The position is balanced. 22.h4?! Beliavsky creates an unnecessary weakness that comes back to haunt him. 22...Qe8! 23.Qc2? [Trading queens would still have been better than backing off as this surrenders the initiative to Black. 23.Qxe8+ Rxe8 24.Be2 Red8 25.g3 and White can limit the damage.] 23...Nc4 24.Qe2 Ne5 25.Bh3 Rbd8 26.Qa6 White seeks to stop Black's queen from taking up a dominant position on a4. 26...Qe7
27.g3 [Unfortunately for White, this is the only way to secure the h4 pawn. Abandoning it in return for Black's a7 pawn does not work out too well as White's bishop on h3 is in danger of being trapped. For instance, 27.a4 Qxh4 28.Qxa7 g5 29.g3 Qh6 and Black wins a piece.] 27...Nf3+ 28.Kg2 Nd2 29.Bxd2 Rxd2 By forcing this trade, Black has established a point of penetration along the d-file. He has complete control of the board as he owns the only open file. 30.Bg4 Be5 31.Nh3 R8d3 The threat on the g3 pawn must be parried, resulting in the loss of the c3 pawn. 32.Be2 Rxc3 33.Rxc3 Bxc3 With the extra pawn, it is only a matter of time before Black drives home his advantage. 34.Ng5 Bd4 35.Rb3 Be8 36.Nf3 Rc2 37.Nxd4 cxd4 38.Rf3 Rc5 39.Ra3 Rc7 40.Rd3 Qb4 41.Rd1 Bc6 42.Qd3 e5
Black has steadily improved his position. His pieces are more active and he has turned his extra pawn into a protected passed pawn. 43.Qf3 Ba4 44.Rf1 Qf8 45.Qg4 Qf6 46.Bd3 Rc3 47.Qe2 White is reduced to passive defence. It does not help him any that his bishop is of the wrong colour. 47...Qc6 48.h5 g5 49.h6 A desperate attempt to find some counterplay. 49...Qxh6 50.Bc4+ Kg7 51.Bd5 Bd7 52.Rh1 Qf6 53.Rf1 b5 54.Rb1 a5 And now the queenside majority gets into the action. White could well resign right here. 55.Rb3 b4 56.Rxc3 bxc3 57.Qc4 Qb6 58.Bg8 Be8 59.Bd5 Kf8 60.Qc8 Ke7 61.Qf5 Qf6 62.Qc8 Qd6 63.Qf5 h6 64.Qc8 Bd7 65.Qc4 Qb6 66.Qxc3 0–1
A masterful performance by Svidler.
Another player seizing his opportunity is Hikaru Nakamure (2699). After losing two of his first five games, Hikaru won three on the trot before being paired black against Poland's Bartosz Socko (2631). Could he emulate last year's feat of five consecutive wins before winning the tournament in a play-off?
B.Socko v Nakamura
B. Socko v H. Nakamura
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.f4 Qc7 7.Be2 g6 8.g4 e6 9.Be3 b5 10.g5 Nfd7 11.a3 Bb7 12.0–0 Rg8 13.Qd2 Nb6 14.b3 N8d7 15.Bf3 Rc8 16.Nde2 Bg7 17.Bd4 Bxd4+ 18.Qxd4 Qc5 19.Rad1 Ke7 20.e5 dxe5 21.Qxc5+ Nxc5 22.fxe5 Bxf3 23.Rxf3 Ncd7 24.Re3 Rc5 25.Nd4 Rgc8 26.Ne4 Rxe5 27.Nf3 Rd5 28.Rxd5 Nxd5 29.Re2 Nc5 30.Nf2 Nc3 31.Re3 Nb7 32.Ne5 Nd6 33.Nfd3 Nce4 34.h4 Rxc2 35.Nb4 Rc1+ 36.Kg2
Here Nakamura is cruising to an easy victory on the Black side of a Sicilian Najdorf, but a moment's carelessness almost let the game slip away. 36...Nc5?! [Although this should still be regarded as a winning move, it would have been more prudent not to allow White any counterplay. 36...Ra1 37.Nxa6 Ra2+ 38.Kg1 Rxa3 would have retained the two pawn advantage without letting the second white knight take up position close to Black's king.] 37.Nd5+! The knight cannot be touched because of the discovered check with Nd3. 37...Kf8 38.Nf6 Nf5 39.Rh3 Suddenly, Black's position has become rather uncomfortable as White is threatening to crash through on the h-file. 39...Rc2+ [Black misses his best defence. 39...h5 40.gxh6 Nxh6 41.b4 Ke7! 42.Nh7 Rc2+ 43.Kg1 Nd7 would have kept the win firmly in hand. Instead, Black hands White a lifeline.] 40.Kf1 Ke7? Once again, ...h5 would have kept White at bay. Now, Black must embark on a perilous journey. 41.Ng8+ Kd6 42.Nxf7+ Kd5 43.b4 Rc1+ [Black must be careful not to walk into mate! 43...Ne4? 44.Rd3+ Kc4?? 45.Ne5# would be a tragedy.] 44.Kg2 Rc2+ 45.Kf1 Na4 Black's extra pawn and more active king still give him the advantage. But it is easy to hallucinate in these double knight positions and walk into a knight fork, particularly in the sudden death control. White has plenty of fight left. 46.Nf6+ Kd4 47.h5? [Nakamura remarked that during the game he was concerned about 47.Nd8 although it appears that 47...Ke5 48.Nxh7 Nc3 49.Nf6 Nd5 still gives Black good winning chances due to his superior king position.] 47...gxh5 48.Nxh7 Nc3 49.g6 Ne4
50.Nhg5?? [White is first to crack under pressure. He could have continued to offer resistance with 50.Kg1 e5 51.Rxh5 Ne3 52.Rh4! when Black must step out of the pin with ...Kd5 to retain the advantage as 52...Rg2+ 53.Kh1 Rxg6 would allow White to pull ahead with 54.Nhg5] 50...Nxg5 51.Nxg5 Ne3+ White must now give up his rook as 52.Kg2 drops the knight to ...Rg2+, while 52.Ke1 walks into a mating net after ...Kd3. 52.Rxe3 Kxe3 53.Nf7 White cannot allow Black's rook to reach g8 and blockade the g-pawn. 53...h4! 54.g7 h3 Black threatens mate on the move. The only way for White to avoid it is 55.Kg1 which loses the g-pawn to ...Rg2+. White resigns.
Completing the quintet of players on 7/9 is Pentala Harikrishna, who beat Spain's GM Lopez Martinez when the latter blundered horribly when slightly worse in a queen and rook ending.
In the race to claim the female prizes, Nana Dzagnidze (2518) regained her half point advantage over the field with a great victory with the black pieces over Ferenc Berkes (2651). White has just played 33 Bf4 to reach the following position:
Berkes - Dzagnidze
33... Bxg2!! 34.Kxg2 Qe4+ 35.Rf3 g5 36.Bxg5 hxg5 37.Kf1 Ng4 0–1
Five women are just half a point behind Nana, Antoaneta Stefanova, Pia Cramling, Keti Arakhamia-Grant, Viktorija Cmilyte and Tania Sachdev. Should there be a tie for the best female player, the prize will go to the player with the best TPR.