Vishy Anand smoothly outplayed Hou Yifan in Round 11 to move within half a point of the leading trio of Anish Giri, Magnus Carlsen and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who all drew. Vladimir Kramnik’s chances were hit hard by Sergey Karjakin, who beat his second fellow Candidate of the event to join Kramnik a point off the pace. Wesley So also joined that group with an outside chance of first place after outwitting Gawain Jones in time trouble. In the Challengers the Vidit-Korobov clash was a draw that allowed Jorden van Foreest to cut the gap to the leaders to a point.
Round 11 of the 2018 Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee was a good day for White:
Magnus had poked some fun at his opening preparation for Wesley So the round before in Groningen, though of course in the end it couldn’t have worked out better:
Back in Wijk aan Zee on Friday it was the big one – the clash with his co-leader Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who had been something of a client for Magnus over the course of their careers. This time it didn’t go entirely the World Champion’s way, however, despite a serious start:
Mamedyarov met the 5…Qxd5 variation of the 4.Qc2 Nimzo-Indian with Jan Gustafsson’s recommended way of “playing for two results”, 6.e3 (Jan notes 6.Nf3 is more interesting, but that Black is doing well there). Shakh continued to follow Jan’s repertoire for White all the way to 15.Ne5, though it seems it wasn’t fresh for him either, since this last move cost him almost 22 minutes:
As you can see, here Jan points out 15…Ndb4! 16.Rd2 Rxd2 17.Kxd2 Nxa2! for Black, and with precise play Black should equalise. Instead Magnus, who hired Jan as a second for the World Championship match against Sergey Karjakin, played 15…Bd7?!, later explaining:
Obviously it’s a decent result, but I’m not really satisfied with the way it went early on, because I knew that we had solved this line – this whole thing starting with 15.Ne5 – and then for some reason I didn’t check it today and I just couldn’t recall it. I spent like 17 minutes trying to recall what to do there and then I just had to realise that I don’t remember and I’m going to be a bit worse. So I was kind of unhappy about that, but then probably he didn’t play in the most accurate way, and then I solved my problems rather easily.
The game did indeed just fizzle out in 38 moves, leaving neither player particularly satisfied but also doing no harm to either’s chances of overall tournament victory.
Magnus tweeted later:
That sparked Anish Giri back into social media action:
He was probably referring to this tweet of Carlsen’s after a surprisingly effortless win over Wesley So in last year’s Sinquefield Cup:
Anish could have taken the sole lead yet again, with a win over Fabiano Caruana, but instead he was busy hanging on for dear life. Fabi, who started the year as world no. 2, is still on minus 2 and explained that he’d never recovered from a bad start:
I really wanted to fight for first place before the tournament, and everything went wrong from the start. I’m just kind of lacking energy and motivation and my play has been pretty sub-par as well.
He remains a dangerous opponent, though, and with 7.g4!? signalled his ambition early on in the game. Giri later admitted he became “obsessed” with expelling the white bishop from g5, only to drive it to a better square on e5. In time trouble he said he was “basically just trying not to lose anything by force”, though in the end it was Caruana who cracked:
White is in the driving seat, but here Fabiano played 33.Qc3? and 33…Nd5! instantly equalised. White can’t hold onto both attacked pawns with 34.Qg3, since that runs into 34…Nxf4 anyway, and if 35.Bxf4 Qf6+! leaves Black on top. The game ended quietly in 44 moves.
With two rounds to go and three players tied for first place, it was understandable that the interviewer asked about a potential playoff, though Anish felt it was “ridiculous” – giving an unusual explanation for why!
There are two rounds to go and we are all having very interesting pairings and it’s really like you’re marrying and skipping the wedding night, or something like that.
He did answer the question, though, first pointing out that he’s aware of Carlsen’s record:
I remember that before every tiebreak this Norwegian guy Tarjei Svensen writes how many tiebreaks in a row Magnus Carlsen won. First 10, then 11, then 12, and everybody knows by now that he hasn’t lost tiebreaks since some kind of match with Aronian in 2006.
Why is Magnus so good at them?
The opening theory matters a little bit less in quick chess, and so he excels because he… gets away with his shortcomings and his chess is very good, everybody knows that, so at quick time controls he’s much stronger.
Let’s briefly mention the other draws before getting to the decisive action. Adhiban-Wei Yi was over in 21 moves in a position where play could have continued, but neither player is having a good event and both may be thinking mainly about reaching the finish line.
Matlakov-Svidler was an encounter between two players who have done a lot of work on chess together, including some during the tournament, but the time spent suggested a full-blooded encounter that nevertheless fizzled out into a 27-move draw.
Surprisingly, perhaps, these two great champions have only played three games, with Vishy drawing with Black the last time he played the Tata Steel Masters in 2013 and then beating Hou Yifan convincingly with White in the final round on the Isle of Man last year to finish in joint second place there. Their game in this year’s Tata Steel Masters was no less convincing, with Anand saying he’d determined with his team that the position after 15.d5! was pleasant for White:
He couldn’t remember all the details, and spent 25 minutes on replying to 15…Ne5 with 16.Bb5, but the play that followed worked like clockwork, with a white passed pawn inexorably moving up the board.
It was always immune to capture, with 31…Qxc6 here allowing the old trick 32.Rd8+, winning the queen. There was nothing better, though, and after 31…Qa5 32.c7 Rf8 33.Qe7 Hou Yifan resigned.
Vishy is just half a point behind the leaders and you can watch him talk through the game below:
Vladimir Kramnik had been just half a point behind the leaders himself, but his poor run against compatriot Sergey Karjakin continued, with Sergey now having a 5:1 lead in classical wins. Magnus Carlsen’s last challenger has had a quiet tournament with 9 draws, but he’s now beaten two of the players he’d most want to beat. As he put it:
Of course it was a very important game for me because we are both playing in the Candidates and it was psychologically important for me to win, and also I won a game against Caruana, who is also playing in the Candidates.
Karjakin managed to spring some small opening surprises (e.g. 8.Nc3) which got his opponent out of book, and later, talking to Chess-News.ru, criticised a number of Kramnik’s choices – 13…Qc8?! (13…Bd6!), 16…Nxd8?! (16…Qxd8!), 17…f5?! (“interesting, but tempo-by-tempo it doesn’t work”) until perhaps the final mistake, 23…Re8?! (23…Rf8 aiming for Rf7 may have been better):
There followed 24.Bc6!, and the attempt to force a draw with 24…Rc8 25.Bb5 Rc7 fails to 26.f4! In the game Kramnik seemed to put up inventive resistance for a long time, but Sergey’s technique was flawless as he ground out a win. Despite an instantly forgettable last year he can’t be ruled out of contention from challenging Magnus again.
Wesley So bounced straight back from his loss to Magnus to beat Gawain Jones on Friday in a dramatic game that reached this position after 17…Rxb7:
It looks like a quiet position until you realise that White is a full piece up! There are difficulties, though, and in fact 18.f3! was a key move to avoid Black ending up better by attacking the e3-bishop. After 18…Rxb3 19.Bf2 Ra8 20.Nh3 Rb7 21.0-0 Rbxa7 22.Bxa7 Rxa7 White’s edge was reduced to an exchange for a pawn.
This game would be Gawain’s third loss in four games, starting with the Carlsen game, but he didn’t think he’d played so badly:
I don’t think I’ve collapsed. I was just one move away from drawing this one. I just blundered in the time control.
39…Nc4? was the point of no return:
40.e4! Ne5 41.exd5! and Black can’t take the rook on c6 as the c-pawn would be unstoppable. After 41…exd5 42.Rd6 Gawain lost the pawn and then the game.
That result means we now have a clear split in the standings, with the top 7 players within a point of the lead with two rounds to go, while the remaining half of the field is completely out of contention:
Vidit-Korobov could almost have decided who would qualify to play in the 2019 Masters from the Challengers, but it ended as a relatively uneventful draw in the 3.Bb5+ Sicilian. That was a chance for the rest of the field to close the gap, but only Jorden van Foreest took up the challenge, beating Harika Dronavalli with Black in 97 moves to close within a point of the leaders. He also plays Vidit in the final round.
Jorden is also well and truly winning the battle within his family, since his brother Lucas van Foreest, who was a draw away from the GM title in Round 9, has lost four games in a row, the last to Jeffery Xiong. It’s not going to get any easier, since Lucas now has Black against Anton Korobov, who is sure to be out for blood. Given that, and his tough last round opponent, Vidit probably also considers Black vs. Olga Girya in the penultimate round a must-win game.
In the Masters no less than six games on Saturday may influence the tournament winner, with the leading trio all playing opponents they’ll hope to beat: