It’s always reassuring to see grandmasters making the sort of mistakes that plague the average woodpusher week in week out – what do you mean, ‘speak for yourself….’? – and this Blunder of the Week falls into that very category. In the recently completed Isle of Man International Tournament David Howell was seeded 24/150 before the start and had enjoyed a successful tournament in ten of the eleven rounds, including a win over GM Alexander Grischuk in Round 10. Victory in his final game could have given him a share of first place depending on the result of the Nakamura-Caruana game on Board 1. In his way stood China’s Wang Hao (playing with the white pieces) who was also on 7/10 with similar ambitions. Here is the position after White’s 18th move. A glance at the board suggests that a win for either player is unlikely but likewise neither is defeat. White has just played 18. Qa4 so the bishop on a2 clearly has to move. Who knows what Howell was thinking but 18….Be6 looks a good bet. However….
The joke about Howell making a howler has been made before – not least here – and this does look a shocker. It probably did not take White too long to reply 19. Rd1 and although the game continued for another nineteen moves, after 19….Bxb7 (what else?) 20. Rxd8 the damage was done. Howell still finished in eleventh place with a performance rating of 2743 but as a result of his victory, Wang Hao won both the tournament on a tie break and also a place in the 2020 Candidates Tournament.