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    Entries in Wijk aan Zee 2015 (17)

    Sunday
    Jan252015

    Wijk aan Zee 2015, Final Round Recap: Carlsen Finishes First, Four Follow Half a Point Behind

    It wasn't quite the London Candidates in 2013, but the last round of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee had more drama than one might have expected. Entering the round Magnus Carlsen led Anish Giri by half a point, with three other players - Wesley So, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Ding Liren - another half a point behind. There was the potential for a five-way tie for first, but that couldn't happen, could it? It almost did.

    One of the first games to finish was Radoslaw Wojtaszek vs. Giri, and there was never any question of Giri's winning that battle. Wojtaszek had a slight edge against Giri's Gruenfeld, and if anything he could have made his opponent sweat more than he did.

    In the meantime, his three pursuers all won their games and caught up with him. Wesley So demolished Loek van Wely, but it seems to me that was more van Wely's doing than So's. The latter's plan from moves 16 to 18 surrendered his trumps while practically begging So to go on the attack. So did, and it was very effective.

    Vachier-Lagrave had a bigger fish to fry, the (now barely) world's #2 player Fabiano Caruana. MVL played a Najdorf and found a nice pawn sac against the 6.h3 e5 7.Nde2 system, and it worked like a charm. A couple of years ago Caruana lost something like five games in a row to the Najdorf, and it would seem from this game that he hasn't quite gotten it figured out just yet.

    The third member of the triumvirate, Ding Liren, also won, also with Black against the previous (pre-Caruana) world's #2 player, Levon Aronian. Aronian used the trendy Makagonov against the King's Indian, but this time the Makagonov had gone off the rails. White was losing before move 20, and while Aronian played it out for a long time he never came close to saving it.

    So that left only the world champion. With a draw (or of course, a win) against Ivan Saric he would win the tournament, and with the white pieces against a rival rated 200 points below him how hard could this be? As it turned out, surprisingly hard. Saric was comfortably better well into the game and had some advantage even past move 30, but figuring out to make a serious dent in Carlsen's defense proved too difficult. Eventually Carlsen reached safety and briefly had an advantage of his own. Both players were a little inaccurate near the end of the time control, and a couple of moves later the draw was obvious. It was an excellent tournament for Carlsen: he won, he gained rating points, and had a six-game winning streak that included victories over Caruana and Aronian. But with four players just half a point behind - and three of the four younger than him (MVL is a month older) - there's reason to hope that there will be a fight for the #1 spot in the world in the not-too-distant future.

    In the other games, Hou Yifan and Vasil Ivanchuk drew uneventfully, while the game that I thought would be an uneventful draw turned out to be anything but. Baadur Jobava outfought and finally defeated Teimour Radjabov on the white side of a King's Indian that turned into a sort of Benko Gambit. Early on Radjabov stood better and may have been winning at one moment, but once Black allowed White's a-pawn to start moving it was Jobava who enjoyed the better chances. I'm impressed that Jobava had the gumption to fight his way to victory - not many players would have a lot of heart after losing nine games out of 12.

    The games, with my comments, are here, and these are the final standings:

    • 1. Carlsen 9 (out of 13)
    • 2-5. Vachier-Lagrave, Giri, So, Ding Liren 8.5
    • 6. Ivanchuk 7.5
    • 7. Caruana 7
    • 8. Radjabov 6
    • 9-10. Wojtaszek, Aronian 5.5
    • 11. Hou Yifan 5
    • 12. Saric 4.5
    • 13. van Wely 4
    • 14. Jobava 3

    In the Challengers' group Wei Yi entered the last round a point ahead of David Navara, but with the black pieces against fellow GM Salem Saleh, who was riding a three-game winning streak, he was by no means assured of tournament victory. Indeed, Navara won quickly against David Klein, while Saleh had an edge against the tournament leader. Like Carlsen against Saric, Wei Yi defended well and didn't allow things to get out of control, and eventually he managed to hold a draw and claim clear first. That means he will be invited to the top group next year, and given his current rate of improvement who knows how strong he'll be by then!

    By defeating Anne Haast Sam Shankland took clear third in the tournament with 9/13, a point behind Navara and a point and a half behind Wei Yi. For Carlsen, nine points was enough to win the top section; here, incredibly, it made Shankland almost an afterthought, despite his outstanding performance. Robin van Kampen defeated Valentina Gunina to take fourth with 8.5, Sam Sevian beat Jan Timman (who again played some bizarre chess) to tie with Saleh for fifth-sixth with 7.5, and the day's other winner was Erwin l'Ami (against Ari Dale).

    Saturday
    Jan242015

    Wijk aan Zee 2015, Round 12 Recap: Giri Defeats So in a Marathon Game, Trails Carlsen by Half a Point

    Wesley So's very long undefeated streak came to an end, and it took Anish Giri 111 moves and almost seven hours to do it. It was a brutal game that saw So have to fight for his life practically out of the opening. On move 21 Giri went a pawn up, but Black put up a lot of resistance, to offer a massive understatement, and managed to reach a queen ending. At several points So achieved a tablebase draw, but as humans aren't equipped with tablebases that didn't prove enough to save the game. The level of play and fight from both players was extremely impressive, but in the end it's joy for one and misery for the other. With the win Giri has leapfrogged So into clear second place, half a point behind Magnus Carlsen.

    As for Carlsen, his game was finished much sooner. Ding Liren had White and pushed him around for a bit, but he missed an opportunity and Carlsen escaped without too much damage.

    That left Ding tied for third with So, a point behind Carlsen and half a point behind Giri, and equal with a very lucky Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Despite having the white pieces, MVL was quickly outplayed by Levon Aronian in a Catalan. At a certain point Aronian had a choice between two promising-looking continuations. Both seemed to win, but only one did, and needless to say Aronian chose the wrong one. It was a good trap by Vachier-Lagrave, but Aronian had loads of time to double-check his analysis; sadly for him, his mistaken decision took only 27 seconds.

    If either Vasil Ivanchuk and Fabiano Caruana won against each other it would have been a four-way tie for third, but they drew a nice game after a tactical flurry fizzled out.

    There were two other draws, both with less significance for the leaderboard. Teimour Radjabov had a nice pull against Hou Yifan on the white side of a Catalan, but with patient defense she managed to untangle her queenside and equalize the game. Loek van Wely and Baadur Jobava was the dud of the round, but it was entirely forgiveable, as both players have had a lousy tournament and were happy to get one game closer to its conclusion.

    There was one other win in addition to Giri-So, and it was also a marathon in its own right. Ivan Saric and Radoslaw Wojtaszek reeled off 27 moves of Najdorf theory before any of the other players even managed to take off their jackets, but despite this they still wound up playing 71 moves and taking around six hours to finish. Wojtaszek had plenty of chances to draw, but Saric's persistence paid off and Capablanca's "rule" that queen and knight usually make a more effective duo than queen and bishop was confirmed once again.

    The tournament site is here, the games (with plenty of notes and more theory than even the typical Najdorf fan can stand) are here, and the final round pairings ensue. (Note: the games start 90 minutes early tomorrow.)

    • So (7.5) - van Wely (4)
    • Wojtaszek (5) - Giri (8)
    • Carlsen (8.5) - Saric (4)
    • Aronian (5.5) - Ding Liren (7.5)
    • Caruana (7) - Vachier-Lagrave (7.5)
    • Hou Yifan (4.5) - Ivanchuk (7)
    • Jobava (2) - Radjabov (6)

    Some comments. First, expect Carlsen to put in a little extra oomph trying to beat Saric. Doing so ensures that no one catches him, plus it will give him revenge - he lost to him in the Tromso Olympiad last year. I expect to see Giri go for it, but without going too crazy, especially if he sees Carlsen come out of the gate with a great position. I hope to see So bounce back after such a huge disappointment; if he wants to compete for the world championship he's going to need to be resilient and not just a strong player when everything is going his way. The other games involving 7 and 7.5 pointers should be interesting, but Jobava-Radjabov is 99% likely to be drawn.

    A note or two on ratings: Giri's win took him to 2797.2, good for fifth on the live list, and if he wins tomorrow he'll join that small, very elite group of players to have broken the 2800 barrier. On the women's side, Hou Yifan started slowly, but if she somehow manages to beat Ivanchuk tomorrow, she will pass Judit Polgar to take #1 on the women's list, the first time someone other than Polgar has headed the list in more than 20 years.

    Now for a quick recap of the Challengers' group. Wei Yi won again, crushing Anne Haast in spectacular fashion. That brings him to 10/12 and to a 2696.4 rating - remember, he's only 15 years old! As David Navara only managed to draw with White against the 14-year-old American GM Sam Sevian, Wei Yi leads by a point going into the last round, and thus needs only a draw against Salem Saleh to guarantee himself tournament victory and an invitation to next year's A-group.

    The other young American grandmaster Sam S - Sam Shankland - won against Erwin l'Ami, and he's in clear third with 8 points. Other winners: Robin van Kampen over Vladimir Potkin, the aforementioned Salem Saleh vs. Bart Michiels, and in the ongoing tragicomedy of the Challengers' group Jan Timman lost again. He was winning as early as move 21, and while he squandered most of his advantage in time pressure he was still better or maybe even winning after both players had made their 40th moves. So what did he do? He resigned. It wasn't even after a long think - I don't think he even spent five minutes on the decision. The way his last two games ended is really mind-boggling.

    Friday
    Jan232015

    Wijk aan Zee 2015, Round 11 Recap: So Cuts Carlsen's Lead to Half a Point

    In the famous 1999 edition of the Wijk aan Zee tournament, Garry Kasparov had a seven-game winning streak that included what may be his most famous game ever, his attacking gem against Veselin Topalov. Amazingly, he rated his later win over Peter Svidler even more highly, which shows what great form he was in. His play in the tournament was lauded as one of his best ever results, and it was the first of a long series of super-tournament wins for the then-world champion. One can pile on the praise, but what's generally forgotten about that event is that Viswanathan Anand finished only half a point behind the winner, and he - unlike Kasparov - went undefeated.

    I bring this up because something similar is happening this time around. Magnus Carlsen has been leading the current edition for quite a while now, thanks to a six-game winning streak, and he has elevated his already stratospheric rating even higher. But meanwhile, almost as if in the distant background, Wesley So is just half a point behind. As in the 1999 tournament, the leader has lost one game while the runner-up has gone undefeated, and the leader's title, rating, streak and presence has sucked up most of the attention. But it's a close competition, and as the current tournament has two rounds yet to go it isn't over yet. (And as we saw in the Qatar Masters, having a six-game winning streak doesn't guarantee first place - just ask Anish Giri and Vladimir Kramnik.)

    So was a point back entering the round, but he cut the gap in half by beating Ivan Saric in what was to me a rather strange game. Saric played a sideline of the Zaitsev Ruy with Black, but even though there wasn't too much theory to master (at least relatively speaking) he seemed unprepared for So's 18th move. His initial reaction was correct, but on his 20th move he played a novelty that left him clearly worse and living on the edge, and his 23rd move lost a piece to a short combination.

    Carlsen had White against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and had the pleasure of playing not one but two lines against the latter's Gruenfeld! (It started out as a 7.Be3 Classical line, only to transpose six moves later into the 7.Nf3 + 8.Rb1 variation.) Carlsen got a good position and started to outplay his opponent, but despite winning a pawn he couldn't manage to push him over the edge.

    Anish Giri defeated his countryman Loek van Wely on the white side of a Pirc. Giri found some nice tactical ideas, and even though one of them made his life more difficult than it needed to be, he was in control pretty much throughout the game and was a deserved winner. That put him into a tie for third place with Vachier-Lagrave, half a point behind So.

    Ding Liren is also in that third place tie after an absolute gift from Radoslaw Wojtaszek. Wojtaszek was better throughout (though maybe never quite winning), and pressing for hour after hour. Had he played g4 on move 59 or 60 he would have kept some winning chances, but after that he needed to show a little caution. Unfortunately, he uncorked the blunder 62.Bb7??, forgetting that Black could have ideas too (this is psychologically understandable when all the winning chances have been yours for the past four hours), and after 62...b5 the game was essentially over. Wojtaszek played three more moves, but there was nothing to be done. Chess can be cruel!

    The day's last winner was Hou Yifan. That was her first win of the tournament, and if you've been following the events you can probably guess who her opponent was...Baadur Jobava. He's having the tournament of his life, in a bad way, with just 1.5 points out of 11, and has lost 35.7 rating points and dropped 25 spots on the rating list. Today he was worse but not lost in a queen and bishop ending, but that changed when he blundered the bishop to a simple fork on move 39.

    In the department of draws, Levon Aronian was had an enduring edge against Vasil Ivanchuk but couldn't reel him in, while Fabiano Caruana couldn't make anything out of his small edge against Teimour Radjabov.

    The tournament site is here, the games with my notes are here, and tomorrow's penultimate round pairings are as follows:

    • van Wely (3.5) - Jobava (1.5)
    • Radjabov (5.5) - Hou Yifan (4)
    • Ivanchuk (6.5) - Caruana (6.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (7) - Aronian (5)
    • Ding Liren (7) - Carlsen (8)
    • Saric (3) - Wojtaszek (5)
    • Giri (7) - So (7.5)

    There are two huge games there, and the chase pack really needs to see a win by Ding Liren as Carlsen will have White against Saric in the last round.

    In the Challengers' group it was Wei Yi's turn to pull ahead. The 15-year-old has 9/11 after defeating Bart Michiels, half a point better than David Navara, who could only draw against Valentina Gunina. Sam Shankland won his game with David Klein to take sole possession of third place, half a point ahead of Robin van Kampen (who lost to Salem Saleh) and Vladimir Potkin, who won in bizarre style against Jan Timman.

    Timman had to defend a long time, but finally reached a relatively comfortable position with rook and pawn against rook and bishop. Maybe Potkin would eventually win the pawn and reach rook and bishop vs. rook, but while players do sometimes win that ending Timman is a great endgame expert who was writing articles on that ending before Potkin was even born. But see for yourself what happened, starting from the position after Timman's 73rd move. Everything is healthy, and then he plays 74...Kd6-c7 and 75...Kc7-d8, which is absurd and then some, and then there's the insane 76...Re6?? to cap it all off. Assuming this actually happened and isn't a DGT error on steroids, all I can come up with was that Timman thought that 77.Bxe6 would be stalemate. But really, the whole thing is nuts, and I hope someone who was at the tournament today or has read an eyewitness report can shed some light on this.

    Thursday
    Jan222015

    Round 10 Games are Up

    The update was already made to the previous post, so you can go there or just click this direct link to my annotations for the round 10 games from Wijk aan Zee.

    Wednesday
    Jan212015

    Wijk aan Zee 2015, Round 10 Recap: Draws At The Top (Updated, with Annotated Games)

    Magnus Carlsen's winning streak came to an end today, though the result wasn't such a bad one: an easy draw with Black against Vassily Ivanchuk. That's an acceptable result for anyone - or at least any human being - and as his closest competitors (Wesley So and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave) didn't gain any ground, so much the better.

    The Ivanchuk-Carlsen game was strange - "nonsense", as the latter noted afterwards (see the link in the previous post). Ivanchuk followed known theory and grabbed the draw. It might be understandable for most of us to do something like that against the world champion, but Ivanchuk is a great player in his own right, one who has beaten many world champions, including Carlsen himself.

    Vachier-Lagrave was more ambitious, and had some advantage with White in an English against Radoslaw Wojtaszek. It seems that his pawn sac on move 14 wasn't completely sound though, and he had to work for the draw, which he eventually achieved.

    So, on the other hand, had the black pieces, and while his preparation was outstanding (the entire game was part of his homework) it only netted him a quick draw by repetition against Ding Liren.

    Before turning to the day's decisive results, let's wrap up the draws by mentioning the battle between Teimour Radjabov and Levon Aronian. Unlike the other draws, this went well past the first time control. Radjabov was better for a good chunk of the first time control, and Aronian had to defend well and patiently to hold the game, which was played all the way to king vs. king.

    Turning to the decisive games, two were won by youngsters, who thereby pulled within half a point of So and Vachier-Lagrave. Anish Giri defeated Ivan Saric with Black, which "began" when he improved on his game against Radjabov from round six. The position was sharp but approximately level until Saric went gung ho starting with 26.g4; this quickly backfired against him, and after 30...Rxc3 31.Qxc3 Nxe4 32.Qd3 Nc3+ White was busted. Giri finished things up more expeditiously than he did against Ding yesterday, and with the win moved to +2 in the standings.

    The other winning youngster was Fabiano Caruana, whose path to victory was less smooth. He too won with Black, against the unfortunate Baadur Jobava, and he stood much better most of the way. Near the end, however, Jobava's very resourceful play gave him a chance to save half a point. Had he played 51.Kf2 - and he plenty of time to do so - a draw might have been his after 51...Qd4+ 52.Ke2 Qxd8 53.Be6! Instead, he played 51.Kg3?? and had to resign a few moves later, faced with the choice of losing his queen or getting mated.

    Finally - though he was the first of the winners to finish his game - Loek van Wely crushed Hou Yifan. Hou paid insufficient attention to her kingside, so van Wely and his pieces gave Black's king all the attention it could handle and then some, resulting in a miniature.

    The tournament site is here, the games (without annotations for now; I'll get it to it in the morning) are here, and the pairings for round 11 - on Friday (Thursday is a rest day) - are as follows:

     

    • Giri (6) - van Wely (3.5)
    • So (6.5) - Saric (3)
    • Wojtaszek (5) - Ding Liren (6)
    • Carlsen (7.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (6.5)
    • Aronian (4.5) - Ivanchuk (6)
    • Caruana (6) - Radjabov (5)
    • Hou Yifan (3) - Jobava (1.5)

     

    In the Challengers' group the top two inverted their results from the previous round. This time it was Navara who drew his game while Wei Yi won (vs. l'Ami), and so they are again tied for first; both players have 8/10. Van Kampen won against Michiels to move into solo third place, while the day's other winner was Salem Saleh, who defeated Timman.

    UPDATE: The games, with my notes, are here. It took a bit longer to get to than I had hoped, but they're up now.

    Wednesday
    Jan212015

    A Meaty Carlsen Post-Game Interview

    Magnus Carlsen's game today against Vassily Ivanchuk was a short one and all theory, so with time to kill and energy to burn Carlsen stayed in the commentary room for a long time answering a wide range of questions from host and New in Chess editor Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam. Have a look here - Chess24 has the video and significant written highlights too.

    Tuesday
    Jan202015

    Wijk aan Zee 2015, Round 9 Recap: Carlsen Wins 6th Consecutive Game, Leads by a Point

    Six game streaks used to be rare, but nowadays they're a dime a dozen - or should we say a nickel a half-dozen? Bobby Fischer made six-game streaks cool when he strung a couple of them together in consecutive Candidates match victories over Mark Taimanov and Bent Larsen in 1971, and those victories were parts of an even larger overall winning streak of 20 games. Since then there haven't been too many streaks of that sort - Anatoly Karpov had a couple of them, most famously in Linares 1994, while seven-game streaks like Garry Kasparov's in Wijk aan Zee 1999 were even rarer. That seems to be changing lately.

    Fabiano Caruana went on a widely celebrated seven-game streak in last year's Sinquefield Cup, and shortly thereafter Alexander Grischuk, Anish Giri and Vladimir Kramnik all went on six-game streaks. Now it's Magnus Carlsen's turn, and who knows how far his streak will continue. Right now it's up to six games, thanks to his victory today over Teimour Radjabov. Radjabov played the Berlin, Carlsen (rightly) replied with 4.d3, and slowly but surely built up a kingside attack that won the game. This was helped along by Black's almost absurdly ineffectual bishop on b6, which was only a spectator to the game once Black entombed it with 19...c5. Carlsen now has 7 out of 9, and for the moment seems unstoppable. Ultimately, everyone is stopped, but it's an impressive streak for the moment.

    Another impressive streak - maybe an even more impressive one - belongs to one of the players tied for second, Wesley So. He made life slightly difficult for himself against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, but when the game finished in a draw his string of games without a defeat reached 53! He and Vachier-Lagrave are tied for second, a point behind Carlsen.

    Ding Liren started the round tied with So and Vachier-Lagrave, half a point behind Carlsen, but now he's a point and a half behind. His 21...Bxd2 was a mistake, and Anish Giri's accurate rejoinder gave him a winning position. His technique wasn't exactly Carlsen-like, but he found the moves he had to and eventually pulled out the win.

    The other winner today was Levon Aronian, who got his first full point of the tournament by bludgeoning Baadur Jobava. Jobava's plan with 9...a5, 10...Na6 and 11...Nb4 was questionable on several levels, and in the end Black's lack of concern for his king resulted in a speedy mating attack for the Armenian super-grandmaster.

    Turning to the most important draw of the round with respect to the leaders, Vassily Ivanchuk could have moved into a tie for second by defeating Radoslaw Wojtaszek, but with Black he never really came close to a win. He did come somewhat close to a loss though, thanks in part to his provocative 27...gxf6, but Wojtaszek was possibly still smarting after back-to-back losses and was happy just to stop the bleeding.

    Fabiano Caruana won in the previous round, but against Hou Yifan today he did not look like he was really "back". He thought for a huge amount of time on his 15th move, and that hurt him near the end of the first time control, when he alternated between getting in real trouble and possibly missing a good winning chance. Overall, I'd say he was more fortunate to get a draw than he was unfortunate not to win.

    Finally, the game between Ivan Saric and Loek van Wely was something of a tragicomedy. Saric played a great first part of the game to achieve a winning position, and certainly one that looked impossible to lose. As we all know only too well, almost no position cannot be lost with just a little bit of carelessness, and Saric's 38.g4(?/??) took the position from just about winning for White to equal - with White needing to maintain the equality - in a single shot. From there it was time for part two of the tragicomedy. Van Wely played a fantastic ending and finally induced a losing error out of Saric on move 78. After working so hard to first save the game and then to achieve a winning position, van Wely's 90th move let the win slip. Hopefully both players can overcome this game, psychologically, by remembering that they were both clearly lost at different points.

    The tournament website is here, the games (with my comments) are here, and tomorrow's round 10 pairings are as follows:

    • van Wely (2.5) - Hou Yifan (3)
    • Jobava (1.5) - Caruana (5)
    • Radjabov (4.5) - Aronian (4)
    • Ivanchuk (5.5) - Carlsen (7)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (6) - Wojtaszek (4.5)
    • Ding Liren (5.5) - So (6)
    • Saric (3) - Giri (5)

    In the Challengers' Group the round was relatively quiet for a change. The red-hot David Navara defeated Salem Saleh to win his fourth consecutive game. His score of 7.5/9 puts him half-point ahead of Chinese prodigy Wei Yi, who only managed a draw against Robin van Kampen (who is tied for third with 5.5). The day's other winner was Sam Sevian, who crushed Anne Haast with a nice attack. The other American, Sam Shankland, was crushing Valentina Gunina but let her escape. (She even had a one-move opportunity to win the game.) He's tied with van Kampen for third, half a point in front of Sevian, Erwin l'Ami and Vladimir Potkin.

    Sunday
    Jan182015

    Wijk aan Zee 2015, Round 8 Recap: Carlsen Wins 5th in a Row and Leads by Half a Point (Updated)

    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.

    Saturday
    Jan172015

    Wijk aan Zee 2015, Round 7 Recap: Carlsen Catches Ivanchuk

    Magnus Carlsen is on a roll, and the question now is simply this: can anyone stop him? Today Hou Yifan gave it a good shot, but Carlsen ground out the full point - admittedly, with some serious inaccuracies near the end. Still, between the high general quality of his moves and the persistence of his pressure, the women's world champion eventually buckled. This gave Carlsen his fourth win in a row, and enabled him to finally catch Vassily Vasil Ivanchuk in the leader's circle.

    Carlsen nearly took that spot all for himself, as Ivanchuk had to struggle for a long time to save a queen ending against Anish Giri. The position was objectively drawn most of the way, but Giri was always better and at one moment could have won thanks to some unobvious play on move 90.

    Radoslaw Wojtaszek could have made it a triumvirate, and with the white pieces against tailender Baadur Jobava his chances looked good. Indeed, he was clearly better in a complicated middlegame, but Jobava did a better job of navigating the tactics and eventually even won the game.

    Wesley So also had the chance to reach the first-place tie, and had some winning chances against Teimour Radjabov before letting the latter escape in the run-up to the time control. He is thus half a point behind the leaders, as are Ding Liren and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

    Ding Liren shouldn't have been within half a point of the leaders, as he was much worse against Loek van Wely - losing, even, at least two or three times in the game. Most of van Wely's advantage had disappeared by the end of the first time control, but it still seemed as if he'd have the better half of a draw. Somehow, it just didn't pan out, and he even went on to lose the game.

    Vachier-Lagrave's win was also a gift, awarded in a single moment. An exciting Najdorf with Ivan Saric had been balanced throughout, and a perpetual check would have resulted after 31.Qc1. Instead, Saric played 31.Rd2??, missing a nice but simple tactic a couple of moves later, which ended the game on the spot.

    It's incredible that the only game involving two players who came into the round more than a point behind the leader was between Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana. Caruana played the first part of the game well and enjoyed a serious edge. Unfortunately, he has been getting into time trouble throughout the event, and did so once again. This gave Aronian the chance to not only escape but to press, but once Caruana had some more time to think in the second time control he managed to survive.

    The tournament site is here, the games (with my comments) are here, and tomorrow's pairings for round 8 are as follows:

    • van Wely (2) - Caruana (3.5)
    • Hou Yifan (2) - Aronian (2.5)
    • Jobava (1.5) - Carlsen (5)
    • Radjabov (3.5) - Wojtaszek (4)
    • Ivanchuk (5) - So (4.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (4.5) - Giri (4)
    • Ding Liren (4.5) - Saric (2.5)

    In the Challengers' Group, there were six decisive games and the seventh should have been decisive too. Wei Yi beat Jan Timman and David Navara defeated Robin van Kampen; those two winners are tied for first with 5.5/7. Sam Shankland is in clear third with 4.5 points, but he could have 5, as he had a decisive advantage at one point against Salem Saleh. Valentina Gunina upset Erwin l'Ami, Vladimir Potkin bested Anne Haast, Bart Michiels beat Ari Dale and Sam Sevian won against David Klein.

    Friday
    Jan162015

    Wijk aan Zee 2015, Round 6: Carlsen Defeats Caruana; Ivanchuk Still Leads

    For now. With Magnus Carlsen winning his third game in a row, and his second straight over a key rival, I don't think the odds are looking good for the rest of the field when it comes to the battle for first. Carlsen is fit, playing well and confident, so it's going to take something special to stop him from rolling the field.

    Fabiano Caruana had White and good memories of having the last win in their series, and in addition he probably felt like he had the better position as well. Carlsen played risky chess in a Rossolimo Sicilian, counting on his counterplay to compensate for a compromised structure. Maybe he was never in grave danger, but 21.Rfe1, creating a cubbyhole for White's king on e2, might have given Carlsen some difficult problems to solve. After 21.Nh2? Caruana reached an endgame, but not an easy one. He hoped to buy his way out of his problems with 29.Bxf4?, but after 29...exf4 30.Kxg2 f3+ 31.Kf1? Rf4! his king was in a mating net. Carlsen won a few moves later, though he did miss a beautiful way to win more quickly and convincingly.

    The win clearly re-established the pecking order in the world rankings. After three rounds Caruana was closing in on the champion, within about 26 points, but now the gap is up to almost 49 points, and Caruana is in danger of falling to third place on the rating list. Levon Aronian, meanwhile, until recently the world's consistent #2 player, has fallen all the way to 8th and is more than 50 points lower-rated than he was a year ago. The biggest winner so far in the rating realm is Wesley So, who continues to fly up the rating list and has passed Hikaru Nakamura to take over the mantle as the highest-rated U.S. player.

    Back to the tournament. Vassily Ivanchuk (who is now going by "Vasil" rather than "Vassily" - I didn't hear the explanation of this, so if someone understands this please drop us a line in the comments) continues to lead after his draw with Ivan Saric, but maybe he could have had more if he had played 28.d5.

    Ding Liren entered the round tied for second place with Radoslaw Wojtaszek, but lost today to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Ding had prepared very deeply in a razor-sharp line of the Caro-Kann, and had he played 25...Rh5 he might have had decent chances for a win. Instead, it was the first of a series of inaccuracies, and by move 32 all he had left was a bad endgame a pawn down, and Vachier-Lagrave converted his advantage smoothly.

    As for Wojtaszek, he remains half a point behind the leader after a comfortable draw with Black against Hou Yifan. Hou tried a rare sideline against the Dragon that had worked well for Vladimir Onischuk, but Wojtaszek was well-prepared and put the line out of business.

    Wojtaszek and Carlsen are tied for second, and So joined them with a win over the suffering Baadur Jobava. Jobava found another interesting opening novelty - 7.Bd5 in the Giuoco Piano - and it looks like a good surprise idea for blitz or rapid. Classical chess is another story, and after a 15-minute think So found a way to neutralize it, and soon he stood better. Thanks to his bishop pair and pressure against f2 Black was always doing well, and with the exception of an understandable error on move 25 it was a convincing victory for the younger player.

    With a win Anish Giri could have made it a four-way tie for second, but if I've analyzed 15.Nf3 correctly he was fortunate to get a draw against Teimour Radjabov. Radjabov went for an entertaining rook sacrifice instead with 15.fxe6 dxe6 16.Rxf7, and the result was an entertaining flurry resulting in a perpetual check.

    Finally, in the only game where neither player could at least reach a tie for second with a win, Loek van Wely and Levon Aronian drew by repetition after 30 moves. The game had its interesting moments, though, and may have some theoretical significance as well, so it would be wrong to write it off as a "grandmaster draw" in the bad old sense.

    The tournament site is here, the games (with my comments) are here, and these are tomorrow's pairings for round 7:

    • Ding Liren (3.5) - van Wely (2)
    • Saric (2.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (3.5)
    • Giri (3.5) - Ivanchuk (4.5)
    • So (4) - Radjabov (3)
    • Wojtaszek (4) - Jobava (.5)
    • Carlsen (4) - Hou Yifan (2)
    • Aronian (2) - Caruana (3)

    In the Challengers' group there were five wins, and four of them were quick and brutal: van Kampen's win vs. Dale, Navara's over Timman, Wei Yi's against Sevian and Shankland's vs. Michiels. Klein also won, vs. Gunina, in a long ending, while Haast-Saleh and l'Ami-Potkin were drawn. Navara and Wei Yi lead with 4.5/6 half a point ahead of Shankland, l'Ami and van Kampen.