There is no pending draw death taking place before our eyes in Wijk aan Zee. Going into the round almost 50% of the games (24 out of 49) finished with a winner, and in round 8 today only one game in seven finished in a draw - and it took 55 moves. There has been lots of fire and blood on board, which is just what we the fans like to see.
The tournament leader is Magnus Carlsen, who won his fifth game in a row to reach unshared first with five rounds remaining. His victim today was Baadur Jobava, who has been many players' victim in this event, despite winning in the previous round. Jobava trotted out 1.b3, which is one of his signature openings, only to find himself slightly worse in the opening. With resourceful play Jobava managed to equalize and probably would have drawn if the time control had come a move sooner. In the last moves prior to the control Jobava played rather passively, culminating in 40.Qc1. Maybe Jobava could have drawn with 45.Qf2, but it wouldn't have been easy. Instead he swapped down to a queen ending, and that couldn't be saved as White's king was too weak.
Vasil Ivanchuk shared first coming into the round, but lost a very mysterious game to Wesley So. Ivanchuk had White and followed the Viswanathan Anand - Levon Aronian game from round 1 of the 2014 Candidates; a good idea if all you know is the result of that game, but a terrible idea if you know that a humongous opening improvement was found for Aronian that very day. It was published all around the web and in print, and there have even been a couple of games in the database showing the improvement. (Those games featured very decent players, like Jan Gustafsson.) Somehow Ivanchuk missed all the possible sources showing and even detailing the move, and walked right into it. So was ready, played well, and crushed him. Ivanchuk thus fell a full point behind Carlsen, while So moved into (a tie for) second, half a point behind Carlsen. (He also moved up to #6 on the Live Rating List.)
Another player in (the tie for) second is Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who crushed Anish Giri in a 4.d3 (Anti-) Berlin. Giri's decision to head for a position where MVL would have an isolated d-pawn doesn't seem to have been a good one, as the enemy bishops received too much scope. From there Vachier-Lagrave turned his attention to Black's kingside, and while Giri managed to hold off the attack it came at the price of a lost rook ending.
Ding Liren also won his game and thereby joined the tie for second. His victim was Ivan Saric, whose decision to play 22...Qxc6 was probably based on a miscalculation. My guess is that he missed the nice tactical trick 27.Nxd5, which netted not only an important pawn but the exchange as well.
Radoslaw Wojtaszek had been tied for first going into the previous round, but with a second straight defeat he's almost surely out of the running. He lost with Black in a 6.h3 Najdorf to Teimour Radjabov after sacrificing a pawn but failing to get enough counterplay in return.
Fabiano Caruana started the tournament with two wins but had gone -2 since then. He badly needed a win, and he got one at Loek van Wely's expense. A win over van Wely turned Carlsen's tournament around; who knows, maybe the same will be true for Caruana. Van Wely started coughing up pawns with White in a sort of Hedgehog, and eventually Caruana managed to convert his material advantage into a win.
Finally, Hou Yifan drew with Levon Aronian in an old-fashioned line of the Giuoco Piano. Aronian tried a little too hard to win, and if White had played 42.Rd6+ she might have had good chances for a win. After Hou's 42.Rxd4 her advantage was too small to win, and Aronian held pretty easily after that.
The games, with my comments, are here. Tomorrow is a rest day, and on Tuesday we'll see these pairings for round 9:
- Saric (2.5) - van Wely (2)
- Giri (4) - Ding Liren (5.5)
- So (5.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (5.5)
- Wojtaszek (4) - Ivanchuk (5)
- Carlsen (6) - Radjabov (4.5)
- Aronian (3) - Jobava (1.5)
- Caruana (4.5) - Hou Yifan (2.5)
In the Challengers' group, it was a bloodbath as usual, though there were "only" five decisive games there today as compared to six in the A-group. Haast beat Gunina (in a surprise), Saleh beat Dale, Navara beat Michiels, Wei Yi beat Klein and van Kampen beat Timman. Navara and 15-year-old Wei Yi are running away with the event, sharing first with 6.5/8; Shankland and van Kampen are next with 5 points apiece.
Update: The game score of the Jobava-Carlsen game was corrupted by an arbiter's error at the end; I've updated and uploaded the correct version in the revised link above.