But only on tiebreaks. Wang Hao's score of 7/9 was matched by Baskaran Adhiban, Martyn Kravtsiv, Yuriy Kryvoruchko, S.P. Sethuraman, and Saleh Salem (representing the UAE, the home country). In my World Chess column on the Sharjah Masters, I take a look at a couple of the key moments that enabled him to take first rather than the fast-rising Adhiban or Kravtsiv.
Entries in Wang Hao (5)
With two rounds to go this year's edition of the Kings Tournament was a bit of a laugher, with Fabiano Caruana at +3 while the rest of the field had a minus score or - in one case only - an even score. In the penultimate round it could have gone almost to farce, as Caruana had a substantial advantage against Wang Hao. 27.Rd3, 28.gxh5+ and 29.gxh5+ would all have given White great winning chances. The game was complicated, and a bit at a time Caruana's advantage was lost and then the game was, too.
In the last round Wang Hao won again, getting to +1, but by then it was too late for that to matter in the race for first, as Caruana had drawn several hours earlier. (Apparently Teimour Radjabov didn't feel like playing, as he forced a quick draw in the opening with White.) So it was a bumpy end to an otherwise fine tournament for Caruana, and Wang Hao can be reasonably satisfied as well, at least with the finish. Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu also has grounds for satisfaction, finishing with an even score despite being the lowest-rated player in the tournament by a fairly substantial margin. (He was outrated by 49 to 105 points by the other competitors.) Radjabov at -1 and Ruslan Ponomariov's at -2 score will be less happy.
After browsing the WhyChess website in the context of the previous post, I noted several interviews that might be of general interest. First, there's a short one with world #2 Levon Aronian, in which, in passing, he (sort of) names Alexander Alekhine the best player of all time. ("For me he's the best.")
Next up, a medium-sized interview with a player mostly unknown to those of us in the West, Biel winner Wang Hao.
Finally, there's a longer interview with newly crowned World Junior champion, federation-hopper and professional elbower Alexander Ipatov.
Magnus Carlsen came close to winning the tournament and threatened Garry Kasparov's all-time rating record for a while, but in the end he was second on both counts. Wang Hao quickly defeated Anish Giri in a Gruenfeld, and then waited while Carlsen tried to grind Bacrot down in a Spanish torture. Bacrot held firm, and the result was that although Carlsen outscored Wang Hao on normal scoring (7 vs. 6.5 [out of 10]) and beat him 2-0 in their head-to-head battles, Wang Hao won Biel thanks to the ridiculous 3-1-0 scoring system. The difference was that although Carlsen went +4, he had six draws, while Wang Hao only drew one game while winning six (and losing three). (Mind you, I'm not complaining about the result. Wang Hao seems like a nice, humble person who plays very exciting chess, and I think it's good that Carlsen not win every tournament he plays in. It's just that this seems a ridiculous outcome.)
A little more about Wang Hao - Giri. The line of the Russian System Gruenfeld they chose had previously seemed like an instant draw. In particular, the position after 17.0-0 had been played in 13 GM games since 2009 (and only in GM games!), with an overall score of +1 -1 =11. Yawn, right? Except it didn't work out that way. Giri's 19th move was new, but he didn't follow it up in the right way. After White's slightly inaccurate 22.Bc5, Giri would have equalized (with chances for more) with 22...Rfd8. Then if 23.Rfd1 e6 looks slightly better for Black after 24.dxe6 Rxd1+ (24...Qxc6 is fine too) 25.Qxd1 Qxc6 26.exf7+ Kh8.
Giri first played 22...Bh6, and after 23.Rc2 continued 23...Rfd8 24.Rc2 e6. This time it doesn't work: after 25.dxe6 Rxd1+ 26.Qxd1 Black cannot play 26...Qxc6 on account of 27.exf7+ Kh8 28.Bd4 (or 28.Be7), when it's time for him to resign. 22...Bh6 was an okay move, but not in conjunction with the (here) mistaken 24...e6(?). Giri played 26...fxe6, but the damage had been done. After 27.Ba4 material was even, but White's bishops were monsters and the e6 pawn was a big weakness. Giri was in trouble, and further errors on moves 27 and especially 29 led to a speedy finish. Down the exchange with the worse position, Giri gave up on move 32.
Finally, just as it was Bacrot's lot to repeatedly lose with the King's Indian, Viktor Bologan's bane was the Benko. In fact he wasn't in too much trouble in the middlegame and early endgame against Hikaru Nakamura, but couldn't quite manage to hold the rook and knight ending a pawn down. One of the curious aspects of the game was the seeming "immortality" of White's a-pawn. Starting from around move 22 it looked for all the world like the pawn would be rounded up, but there was always some trick that kept it alive. Eventually it perished as a b-pawn, but by that point Black was suffering in a clearly lost knight ending. Maybe Bologan could have kept some drawing chances with 33...e4 or some other 34th move, though it would have been difficult. Once the rooks came off, it was a "mathematical" forced win.
With the win, Nakamura finished tied for third-fourth with Giri (both on normal and fake scoring) and has come within 1.6 rating points of Bobby Fischer's American record of 2785. (If you think there has been rating inflation, then he still has a ways to go to "really" catch him, but it's still a very impressive figure in any case.)
Final Standings (3-1-0 scoring first, 1-.5-0 scoring in parenthesis):
1. Wang Hao 19 (6.5)
2. Carlsen 18 (7)
3-4. Giri, Nakamura 16 (6)
5. Bacrot 7 (3)
6. Bologan 4 (1.5 out of 8 games, with Morozevich 0 for 2 before that)
The Chinese grandmaster Wang Hao was something of a regular on the world chess scene in 2010, but then disappeared last year. He's back now, and with a vengeance, as his first half total of four wins (and a loss to Magnus Carlsen) has him in a dominating first place, all the more so on the 3-1-0 scoring system in place at Biel. In round 4 he defeated Anish Giri, who had been leading after three rounds. The chief culprit was probably 15.g3, a TN (theoretical novelty) that was more like TNT that backfired. Despite the fairly symmetrical pawn structure that resulted a couple of moves later, and the exchanges of several pieces, it was always Black who enjoyed more space and more control, and Giri was ground down mercilessly.
In round 5 Wang Hao won again, this time against Viktor Bologan, who has unfortunately managed to build flawlessly on Morozevich's "perfect" score. Bologan's 10...Bc8 was rare and the sequence 10...Ba6-c8, 11...Ba6-c8, 12...Bf5-c8, 13...Bc8-a6 was pretty amusing; but as students of the Benko Gambit know it's in fact a pretty typical maneuver. On move 10 the bishop does little on a6 but get in the Ra8's way, and that's thanks to the pawn on e2. Richocheting the bishop to f5 induces e2-e4, and then the bishop can bounce back to a6 and from there go to d3. Thus White played 15.Nf3, and that covered d3 but allowed 15...Bc4. Now neither 16.Ra1 nor 16.a3 is pleasant, while 16.b3 is an outright error. So Wang Hao simply sacrificed the a-pawn to break in the center. (He was up a pawn anyway, and returning it broke the pressure and let him completely take over the initiative.)
After 22.e6 White enjoyed a very big advantage, and soon it was a winning one, but on move 28 he gave most of it away. 26.Nd3 would have won a piece, and 26.Re2 would have been fine if he had met 26...Nc6(!) 27.Nxc6 (not 27.Qxb6?? Nd4!) Qxc6 with 28.Re7! Instead, he played 28.Re6?, probably missing 28...Qa4! 29.Qxb6 Qd1+ 30.Bf1 Rxf4! Taking the rook allows an immediate perpetual, so Wang Hao had to play 31.Qxc5 and hope to win the game all over again. He did. 35...Ke6 was an error, as was 42...Qg4. In the end, Bologan even lost his bishop, but after 42...Qg4 there was already no saving the game.
Wang Hao was not the only player to go 2-0 in rounds 4 & 5; Hikaru Nakamura did so as well. In round 4, he "welcomed" Bologan to the tournament by defeating him in a long, exciting but not very cleanly played game and after winning that game with Black in a Queen's Gambit Accepted he defeated Etienne Bacrot with White. Bacrot has played well and successfully with White in the tournament, but with Black he has used the King's Indian in every game and been decisively outplayed each time. Bacrot's earlier King's Indians were in the Bayonet Attack, but Nakamura chose instead the Petrosian System.
Bacrot followed theory for a long time, but it's not clear that he was really in control in terms of his preparation. His 14...f5 (rather than the usual 14...Bh6) left the beaten track (although Garry Kasparov beat Vladimir Kramnik with that move in a rapid event back in 1995, but Bacrot deviated from that game a move later. The position after White's 20th move had occurred in six earlier games, with White scoring 100%. Only Nakamura's 22nd move was officially new, but it's unlikely that either player was still in preparation by then. Certainly Bacrot wouldn't have been, or he would have prepared a losing line! Nakamura's move was a very good one, and when Bacrot played 22...Nb8, fearing 22...Nc5 23.b6, the upshot was that he was a piece down for the rest of the game, as that knight would never again see the light of day.
It all came down to whether Black's kingside attack could break through. If not, then the joke-knight on b8 would cost him the game. Objectively, it seems that White was much better or winning, but the position was complicated enough for the players to miss something, and perhaps they did. After Nakamura's apparently erroneous 29.Qd2 (the engine prefers 29.Nxg3, 29.Nxg5 Qxg5 30.gxh3 and even 29.b6) Bacrot missed a spectacular resource: 29...hxg2 30.Kxg2 Nh3!!, which would have offered dangerous counterplay. Having missed his chance, White kept control and won.
The day before Bacrot drew with White against Carlsen in a Bogo-Indian (via the Keres-Indian), and Carlsen could only draw in round 5 with Giri in a 5.d3 Petroff. (Boooooooooo!) The good news for Carlsen is that he has his round 3 game with Bologan coming Sunday, and as the Morozevich/Bologan "team" ("Morozogan"? "Bolozevich"?) has gone 0-for-the tournament so far, he'll have good chances to get right back into the race for first.
Here are the standings at the halfway point, excluding tomorrow's make-up game:
1. Wang Hao 12
2-3. Nakamura, Giri 8
4. Carlsen 6 (out of 4 games)
5. Bacrot 4
6. Bologan 0
Round 6 Pairings:
Nakamura - Carlsen
Bacrot - Wang Hao
Giri - Bologan