The "appetizer" for the Norway Chess tournament has concluded, and did so most satisfactorily for Wesley So. As in the first pair of games of his match with David Navara, so too in the second: he drew (reasonably) comfortably with Black before winning with White. So seemed to be in good form, and is now up to #8 in the world.
Entries in So-Navara (4)
So far, the match between Wesley So and David Navara is not looking good for the home player (Navara). In game 1 he had to eke out a draw with the white pieces, and today with Black he was suffering throughout on his way to a loss. Around move 40 they reached a rook ending where So had good winning chances, but it wasn't clear whether it would merit a full point.
The critical moment came on move 46. So had a choice between 46.Rb6, aiming to grab as many pawns as possible as quickly as possible, and 46.Ke4, intending to activate the king. After 46.Rb6 Rh1 47.Rxf6+ Kh5 48.Rxa6 Re3+ 49.Kf2 Rxd3 I believe Black's counterplay is enough. Either White will deal with Black's center pawns in such a way that he loses his queenside passers, or he lets them go and gives Black a lot of counterplay - possibly too much. Either way Black should hold, as the swap of both sets of passers results in a drawn ending - probably even without Black's h-pawn.
So (therefore) chose 46.Ke4, and now Navara had to play 46...Rh1, so that by taking on h4 his king could protect the f-pawn from g5. The position is drawn after this, and if White goes all out for Black's f-pawn he can even lose: 47.Kd5 Rxh4 48.Ke6 Kg6 49.Rg7+?! Kf4 50.Kxf6? Rh6+ 51.Ke7 Kxf5 may well be winning for Black. Perhaps Navara missed this last point with 50...Rh6+, or had faith in his counterplay with 46...Re1+. If the latter, his faith was misplaced, and So went on to win pretty quickly and easily - though Navara did get in a little joke with his last move (a cute if simple stalemate trap).
Game 1 of the four-game match between Wesley So and David Navara finished in a long draw. Navara had White in a sharp Sicilian, but the middlegame and any white edge disappeared after 18.Nf5? Black took over the c4 square, which in turn more or less entailed a series of exchanges resulting in an opposite-colored bishop ending that favored Black. So made Navara suffer for a long, long time, and it paid off for all of one move. Navara figured out the right setup to achieve a draw, but goofed in his initial execution of the idea. Navara needed to play 58.Bb6 and only next Kg6 (if necessary). Instead, he played 58.Kg6?, allowing Black a forced win with 58...f3 59.Bb6 Kf4 60.Kh5 (else ...g4-g3) 60...Bg4+ 61.Kg6 Bd7 (so that 62.Kh5 can be met by 62...Be8+ followed by ...g4-g3) 62.Bc7+ Ke4 63.Bg3 g4 and Black will follow up with ...Ke3 (or ...Kd3 in case of 64.Bf2) and ...f2, winning. Black's bishop protects the g-pawn and covers White's c-pawn from its diagonal, so the win is trivial from this point.
Fortunately for Navara, So missed his chance, and afterwards Navara gave him no further opportunities to win. After 94 moves, the game was drawn, and both players have something to be happy about and unhappy about going into tomorrow's game.
A brief lull in the chess world comes to an end today (Saturday) as the first of three noteworthy events gets underway. On Saturday, Wesley So and David Navara begin a four-game match. Both players have been in a little slump lately, but it's still an attractive battle between two fighting players well into the 2700s.
That will keep up occupied through the weekend, and then on Monday the Capablanca Memorial starts in Havana. The Elite Group is a six player double round robin, with five of the six players rated over 2700: Leinier Dominguez, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Dmitry Andreikin, Pavel Eljanov, Yu Yangyi and (in the upper 2600s) Lazaro Bruzon.
Finally, the piece de la resistance is the Norway Chess tournament, which starts with a blitz tournament on Monday (for pairing purposes) followed by the main, classical event on Tuesday. Ten players are competing, including the world's #s 1-9 players excluding Vladimir Kramnik (i.e. Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Viswanathan Anand, Hikaru Nakamura, Veselin Topalov, Alexander Grischuk, Levon Aronian and Anish Giri), plus Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (he was at or near the top ten when the invite was made, but has since plunged to #27 in the world rankings) and local qualifier Jon Ludwig Hammer (#62) in the world. It's at least slightly scandalous that Sergey Karjakin isn't playing, as he is the two-time defending champion of the event, but whether it's a bit of bad luck, a function of Garry Kasparov's distaste for Vladimir Putin (Karjakin is unfortunately a fan of the Russian President, but in this context, so what?) or the Norwegian organizers' lack of interest in inviting the player who has ruined Carlsen's home tournament the last couple of years (or some combination of the above), that's how it is.
Three great events to look forward to - and if that's not enough Dortmund starts immediately afterwards, featuring players from all three tournaments just listed, plus Kramnik and Arkadij Naiditsch. (Naiditsch will surely be on a rampage, looking to regain some points after a mind-blowingly bad performance in the French League where he lost 32 points.)