Magnus Carlsen leads the Tata Steel Masters by a full point after brushing aside Teimour Radjabov in Round 9 for his sixth win in a row. Other results went the World Champion’s way, with Wesley So and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave drawing their game, while Ding Liren’s resistance was eventually ended by Anish Giri. Levon Aronian’s 1st win was Baadur Jobava’s 7th loss, while the remaining draws were entertaining battles that could have gone either way. In the Challengers, meanwhile, David Navara is finally out in front alone after his fourth win in a row.
Tata Steel Masters Round 9 results
Carlsen commented after beating Radjabov:
I guess at some point when you’re winning many games your score starts to play the games for you - your opponents get intimidated.
Winning many games could be a description of Magnus’ career for the last five years, but it’s clear – as we saw in St. Louis – that a big winning streak can also make a difference, both to the player’s confidence levels and his opponent’s fear. It might not help that Carlsen has one heck of a handshake as you can see briefly in the video clip contained within his post-game interview:
But what of the game itself? Well, fortunately Jan Gustafsson was again on hand to annotate the work of a master:
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Aronian-Jobava was quickest game of the day, both in moves and time, since Jobava left most of his thinking until it was too late. Although not having the tournament of his life, Aronian shared some tricks of the trade on how to handle an opponent doing even worse (Jobava came into the day with six losses, one draw and one win):
When your opponent is struggling it’s important just not to give him any chance to win, and the rest… he’ll start pushing and create problems for himself. That’s what I do, that’s what everybody does. That’s how the business is.
In this case Jobava came up with a curious of plan of installing a knight solidly on b4 – so solidly that it soon didn’t have a single square it could jump to. Aronian set about punishing his opponent’s elaborate play on the queenside by swinging a rook to the kingside – offering the pawn on c4:
Aronian was surprised his opponent took the bait, since he was sure White’s attack would be mating. That proved to be the case, with Baadur perhaps accelerating the end in a desire to get away as soon as possible. He spent 6 seconds on 23…Qd8, which allowed the crushing 24.Qh5!
Jobava resigned, since you don’t need to be a 2700-GM to see that Black is about to get crushed e.g. 24…Rh8 25.Rxe5 dxe5 26.Bxg6…
Aronian joined Hans Bohm to talk about his game:
The day’s other win was a miniature that morphed into a marathon. Anish Giri had been outfoxed in the opening the day before by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, but he was the one doing the outfoxing against Ding Liren.
The Chinese player adopted the King’s Indian Defence but was thinking hard while the players were still deep in theory. Ding Liren delayed giving a bishop check on e3, which allowed Giri to prevent it with 19.Nd1, apparently a novelty. Black immediately launched a pawn storm on the kingside, and then seemed to go astray by exchanging his dark-squared bishop for a knight on move 25. The critical moment was reached after 25...Bf5:
After queen or bishop moves Black is doing fine, but after 13 minutes of reflection Giri uncorked 26.g4!!, the only refutation of Ding Liren’s play. 26…fxg3 would run into 27.Rxf5 Rxf5 28.Qxe4, but in the game the white kingside pawns went on to wreak havoc. The only surprise was that Ding Liren hung on, and on, and on. It began to seem as though he'd found a fortress, but it wasn't to be...
This is the position after Giri played 63.Kf4!. The computer dislikes the sacrifice of the c4-pawn, but Anish had seen a winning plan: put the bishop on c6 (giving up the h5-pawn), gradually manoeuvre the king to d7/8, gobble up the enemy pawns and queen one of your own. Ding Liren resigned on move 75, for his eighth decisive game in nine.
The other encounters were drawn, but they were anything but non-events. It’s impossible to do them justice, but let’s try to at least rank them in terms of excitement:
4) Radoslaw Wojtaszek – Vassily Ivanchuk (replay the game)
These two players starred at the start of Wijk aan Zee, but have since struggled, with Ivanchuk suffering an embarrassing loss in Round 8 when it turned out he was unaware of some well-known theory. That couldn’t quell his fighting spirit, though, and on move 25 he thought for nearly 12 minutes before rejecting a draw by repetition. Soon afterwards, though, Wojtaszek seized the initiative, and his better-placed pieces and the weakness of the black king looked as though they might give him winning chances.
This was the final position, though, since after two losses in a row Wojtaszek applied the well-known Soviet remedy of a draw to stop the rot.
3) Wesley So – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (replay the game)
Wesley and Maxime are not only top representatives of the new generation, but started the day only half a point behind Carlsen. That added significance to the game, but it was tough to get overly excited when they began to bash out a game that had been played before:
For the second day in a row Maxime was the better prepared, but only the strange 28.Re7?, described by both players as a blunder, injected life into the position.
That was hit by 28…Bf8, with Wesley saying he’d missed
that 29.Rfxf7 Bxe7 30.Rxe7 Rd7 31.Bxc5 fails to the intermezzo 31…Rd1+! Curiously, though, 30…Rd7 is by no means the only way for Black to get a good
position. In the end, as so often seems to happen in the Grunfeld, a position a
pawn up for White turned into a position a pawn down, but Wesley So was again
rock solid after that. It’s not for nothing he’s now put together a sequence of
over 50 games without a loss – no-one else has even managed 9 in the tournament!
The players both talked about the game – and their chess life in general – afterwards:
2) Fabiano Caruana - Hou Yifan (replay the game)
This could easily have taken first place, since it definitely provided the most intense time trouble excitement, and was very nearly a sensation. As she did against Carlsen, Women’s World Champion Hou Yifan played the Najdorf Sicilian, and then managed the feat of causing Fabiano to think for almost 42 minutes about the position on move 14. If he did that we should perhaps devote a few seconds to it:
After the agony of choice he picked 15.0-0, perhaps rejecting plans involving castling on the other side of the board. It’s hard to assess that decision, but the time spent later became a crucial factor as the game ended up balanced on a knife edge with both players desperately low on the clock – which would win out, Hou Yifan’s piece attack on the kingside, or Caruana’s passed pawns on the queenside?
The computer spits out missed chances for both players, but the one that most obviously stands out came after 38…Rf3:
The computer votes for 39.a6, claiming the attack can be parried and the pawns will win material – it shows one particular flashy line where white sacs the queen for the rook on f3 and then puts his own rook behind the a-pawn. Instead Caruana went for the multipurpose 39.Qb1, preventing e3 (although in fact Qb1 is much more effective after e3 has been played) and supporting the b-pawn, but after 39…Rd3! the moment had gone.
The game wasn’t over, though. After the time trouble it’s curious to know what would have happened if Hou Yifan had added fuel to the fire with 41…f5!? It certainly looks tough to meet at first glance. Instead the game ended relatively quickly in a draw by repetition.
1) Ivan Saric – Loek van Wely (replay the game)
These players have been through the grinder in Wijk aan Zee, but they didn’t spare each other. First something went badly wrong for Loek in the opening (some might say playing the Pirc was asking for trouble…), and after 14…cxb5 it was clear the b-pawn’s chances of survival were less than great:
It still, though, took Saric another 16 moves until he successfully rounded up and captured the pawn – with an overwhelming position. It remained overwhelming until the last few moves before the time control, when he fell into an ambush by playing 38.g4? and allowing 38…Rd1+!
Now the curious piece and pawn set-up means 39.Ke2 is actually mate: 39…Ng1+ 40.Ke3 Ree3+. Saric avoided that, but although still nominally up material he’d clearly lost the initiative, and Loek began to demonstrate some virtuoso technique in the double rook endgame.
Ivan slipped from the narrow path around move 80, when computers began to announce distant mates. Loek seemed to know exactly what he was doing until he got down to this position:
As every Russian schoolboy knows this is mate in 39 if you play 90…Kh3… Instead, Loek played 90…Rg3+, when after 91.Ke4 g4 92.Rg5 he could make no progress and agreed a draw.
It was a game hard to beat for prolonged tension,
especially when the broadcast of the moves suffered a glitch right at the end
and the draw was announced in a winning position. The issue was resolved a few
minutes later, though, and given his tournament so far Loek can perhaps breathe
a sigh of relief that he didn’t go on to somehow lose the ending...
Magnus Carlsen previously said he’d needed all his wins just to keep up with or ahead of the field. In Round 9 it wasn’t strictly required, but he did it anyway, and has now opened a gap of a full point ahead of the chasing pack, with guys like Giri and Caruana two points behind with four rounds to go:
The focus of Round 10 is inevitably going to be whether Carlsen can “do a Caruana” by scoring his seventh win, against Ivanchuk with the black pieces. Whatever Magnus says you can be sure he’s highly motivated, especially since merely winning tournaments has become mundane for him. Carlsen’s record against Ivanchuk is +5, although the Ukrainian has also landed some hefty blows (his 2013 win in the London Candidates almost derailed Magnus’ coronation). It should be fun!
In the Challengers, meanwhile, we had an almost unheard of five draws, though they weren’t all entirely solid. It’s not often you see a position as outlandish as this one, from Gunina-Shankland, where after 19 moves the black minor are raking across or embedded in the white position:
Somehow, despite an enormous edge, Shankland managed not to win, Gunina for a brief moment could have turned the tables and then they were able to hoover up all the chaos and end with rook+3 pawns vs. rook+3 pawns on the same side of the board.
The first of the two wins had local significance, since:
This wasn't the day, though, as US youngster Samuel Sevian
crashed through in brutal style. The final position:
That just leaves the game that finally saw David Navara capture the sole lead, with his fourth win in a row taking him to 7.5/9 and no. 15 in the world. His opponent, Salem Saleh, had a promising attack, but saw his overextended structure taken apart when the attack ended with an exchange of queens. Co-leader Wei Yi drew with Robin Van Kampen, and is now half a point behind.
Round 10 of the Masters starts half an hour later at 14:00 CET on Wednesday 21 January and can of course be followed live here on chess24! You can also watch every game in the Masters and Challengers using our free mobile apps:
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