Reports Jan 23, 2015 | 9:46 PMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel 2015 R11: So closes the gap on Carlsen

21-year-old Wesley So is now up to world no. 7 with a 2788.5 rating | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

Unbeaten Wesley So scored his fourth win in Round 11 of the Tata Steel Masters to move within half a point of Magnus Carlsen, who was held to a tough draw by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Anish Giri and Ding Liren also won and are poised a point back, with the latter playing Magnus in Saturday’s Round 12. Women’s World Champion Hou Yifan scored her first win of the event against free-falling Baadur Jobava, who is now below Wei Yi on the live rating list. The Chinese prodigy leads the Challengers alone on 9 out of 11.

We’ve been so spoiled by the action in Wijk aan Zee that even when we had three wins (and eventually four, after a late twist) there were murmurs of discontent about the day’s play.

Tata Steel Chess Round 11 results

Some players had gone down with little fight, while some of the chess world’s big names had struggled to make an impact. Perhaps it was just hard to compete with the basketball the day before!

Magnus plays the main lines

The most anticipated clash of Round 11 was Magnus Carlsen’s game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Although Carlsen had the white pieces this was still arguably his greatest test on the road to overall victory in this year’s Tata Steel Masters. If he didn’t quite come through with flying colours, he once again demonstrated a new-found willingness to take on heavily-armed opponents in hugely complex mainline openings. As one grandmaster remarked:

Jan Gustafsson explains the game for us innocents not versed in all the intricacies of modern chess theory:

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A chance for the chasing pack

Can anyone stop Magnus? | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

That draw gave a chance for Magnus’ rivals to apply some pressure, and it was one gratefully seized upon by Wesley So, albeit with some help from a crumbling Ivan Saric (six losses and counting). After a complex Ruy Lopez in which both players agonised over their choices, White emerged with a strong initiative, and Saric had already gone astray when 23…Bd5? ended the game almost on the spot:

So took five minutes before playing the winning 24.g4! ending up a whole piece after 24…Qf6 25.Bxd5 Nxd5 26.Qxd5. For a couple of moves Saric tested whether his opponent would blunder something trivial in return, but conceded defeat on move 28. It appears what he missed was that 24.g4! knocks the queen off the f5-square, so that 25.Bxd5 Rxe5 26.Qxb4 Rxd5 fails to 27.Re8+ Kh7 and the killer 28.Qe4+!, as so you could see by analysing on our live board

Afterwards Wesley So had another of his regular chats with Yasser Seirawan (an undefeated +4 gets you a lot of studio time!):

Anish Giri won perhaps the game of the day against his Dutch rival Loek van Wely. He found an impressive way to punish his opponent’s Pirc Defence with a pawn advance and sac:

17.f4! Nf7 18.f5! gxf5 19.Nf4! But nobody said it was going to be easy... Shortly afterwards he followed up with an exchange sac:

22.Rxg7 Kxg7 23.Nh5+ Kg6?! – it seems from this point Anish was on top, while if the king had gone back to h8 Black’s position might objectively have held. In any case, there was still a complex knight + bishop vs. rook ending to win, something Anish did with impressively smooth technique. He gave an interview afterwards, noting that beating a compatriot isn’t special: “It’s special NOT to beat someone from the Netherlands!”

The last significant result in the title race was Ding Liren’s late sting-in-the-tail victory over Radek Wojtaszek. The Polish grandmaster at first looked as though he might be rewarded for his brave positional pawn sacrifice with 30.d6!? (a trick he may have picked up from Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the last round):

After an engaging struggle the last game of the day to finish reached an ending where Wojtaszek was an exchange down but had three connected passed pawns on the kingside. The top Chinese grandmasters are ferocious tacticians, though, and after 61.Bd5?! a5! 62.Bb7? Ding Liren pounced with the crushing 62…b5!:

And it was game over. 63.cxb5 c4! followed, when the c-pawn can’t be stopped. 63.axb5 would be the same story, with the a-pawn the criminal on the run (to use Seirawan's terminology). A bitter blow for Wojtaszek, who drops to -1 after an event he started with wins over Carlsen and Caruana, while Ding Liren can have a very big say in who wins the title.

Hou Yifan puts the boot in

It's not clear how Alina l'Ami chose which legs to photograph for this encounter... | photo: Tata Steel Chess Facebook

Hou Yifan has deserved more than she’s got from this year’s event in Wijk aan Zee, and it was unsurprisingly Baadur Jobava who decided to right that wrong by providing the Women's World Champion with her first win. Once again he played an offbeat opening, achieved a worse position and then cracked in dramatic fashion, this time with 39…Kg8??:

40.Qe6+ won the black bishop, with the white queen and bishop comfortably able to shield the white king from any attempt to deliver perpetual check. Hou Yifan generously described her opponent’s play as a “bishop sacrifice” in her post-game interview, where she also noted that she’s interested in matching Judit Polgar’s lifetime best rather than her current rating:

Slumbering giants

That left two games featuring players you might legitimately expect to see fighting for the top spot. In his tournament preview Vlad Tkachiev wrote:

I’m particularly eager, as always, to see the encounter between Ivanchuk and Aronian, as the history of their games is truly unique: 38 classical games, 16 draws and 22 decisive results. I don’t know of anything that can match that at this level!

After Ivanchuk started with 3 wins in 4, though, he’s been on the decline (6 draws, 1 loss), while Aronian, like Hou Yifan, only has a win over Jobava to show for his tournament. That was reflected in today’s game, which although hard-fought never really dazzled. Perhaps with more precision Aronian could have made more of an edge in space and more active pieces, but instead the game fizzled out into a 38-move draw.

A tough game - a tough post-mortem

Caruana and Radjabov have also had mediocre tournaments, by their respective standards, but at least their game in Round 11 had one memorable moment. Caruana exchanged queens at the cost of doubled isolated pawns:

For a time it looked as though he might create a strategic masterpiece that would be taught by chess coaches everywhere, but instead it ended in 42 moves, after the players spent 39 minutes between them on the last two moves. Clearly they'd calculated that the rook + pawn endgame was drawn.

The day’s results leave Magnus Carlsen a big favourite, but any slip-up and there’s a hungry pack ready to pounce:

1.Carlsen, Magnus286282918
2.So, Wesley27622880
3.Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime275772835
4.Giri, Anish278472842
5.Ding, Liren273272833
6.Ivanchuk, Vassily27152813
7.Caruana, Fabiano28202805
8.Radjabov, Teimour27342755
9.Wojtaszek, Radoslaw274452713
10.Aronian, Levon279752705
11.Hou, Yifan267342654
12.Van Wely, Loek26672620
13.Saric, Ivan266632567
14.Jobava, Baadur27272446

Ding Liren has the white pieces against Carlsen in Saturday’s Round 12, before Carlsen has what on paper looks like a much easier task with White against Saric on the final day. 

Giri - So and Vachier-Lagrave - Aronian are also big games for the final standings, while Ivanchuk-Caruana is one to enjoy regardless of its influence on the scoretable.

Wei Yi leads the Challengers

Another game, another crushing victory for Wei Yi | photo: Tata Steel Chess Facebook

Being tipped as the next big thing by Magnus Carlsen doesn’t seem to have knocked 15-year-old Wei Yi out of his stride, and his seventh win was enough to take him into the sole lead in the Challengers and also up to 2695.1 on the live rating lists. Another brutal final position, this time against Belgium's 2563-rated Bart Michiels:

Unbeaten Sam Shankland notched his third win to climb to within two points of the lead, but the only realistic title challenge to Wei Yi will come from David Navara, who was held to a draw by Valentina Gunina and is now half a point behind. The UAE's Salem Saleh moved to a plus score after upsetting the hopes of Robin van Kampen, and later joined Yasser Seirawan in the studio:

Chess legend Jan Timman continued to struggle, with the best thing that can be said about his tournament being that he’s outscoring Baadur Jobava in the Masters!   

Jan has one win and four draws to show for his 11 games in the second tier of a tournament where he twice won the top event | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook 

The Georgian has become a consolation for us all...

It's all going to be decided this weekend in Wijk aan Zee. Round 12 starts at 13:30 CET on Saturday 24 January, with live commentary and all the games here on chess24

You can also watch every game in the Masters and Challengers using our free mobile apps:


See also:

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