Magnus Carlsen is the sole leader of the Tata Steel Masters going into the second rest day after David Navara beat Fabiano Caruana with a virtuoso display of endgame technique. Carlsen himself drew early with Sergey Karjakin, while four more draws were packed with drama, including a late twist in Adams-Eljanov. The day’s other winner was Loek van Wely, whose self-confessed gambling in a Sicilian Najdorf paid off handsomely against Hou Yifan.
This was one day when the relative lack of decisive results was no real reflection of the chess we witnessed:
The last game to finish took seven hours, with Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler covering all the action – and most subjects under the sun – in their live show for chess24. You can rewatch it all below:
Perhaps the most anticipated game of the day was a mild disappointment.
Magnus Carlsen was on a run of three wins in a row and seemed keen to mix things up again when he played a fianchetto Ruy Lopez and then the “goofy” (Jan Gustafsson) 11…Ng8!?
That near novelty prepared 12…Bh6 and an exchange of dark-squared bishops, a plan to which Sergey Karjakin could find no antidote. The position equalised until a draw by repetition was reached on move 31.
Karjakin afterwards revealed one of the many difficulties of playing the current World Champion telling Evgeny Surov:
To be honest I just didn’t have any real idea of what to expect from the game in terms of the opening. Therefore I only opened my computer an hour and a half beforehand. I didn’t see any great point in preparing too hard and overloading my head. I revised some variations, but overall I considered it more important to have a fresh head.
The other two games that were crucial for the standings started as theoretical battles that played right into the hands of our commentary team.
First Wei Yi played a spectacular Grünfeld Defence against his compatriot Ding Liren, sacrificing material across the whole width of the board. That culminated in the dramatic 20…Qh4+
Ding Liren thought for almost 26 minutes before taking the bull by the horns with the critical 21.g3, when Wei Yi blitzed out 21…Nxg3 22.Bf2 Qh3. That last move was far from obvious, since the computer was also suggesting the still more spectacular 22…Rxb2. If Wei Yi’s play was somehow a bluff it was brilliantly convincing, since after 23.Bxg3 Rec8 24.Bf1 Qg4 Ding Liren repeated the position and took a draw.
Peter Svidler, who of course produced the definitive guide to the opening, was hugely disappointed that he wouldn’t get the chance to see what Wei Yi had in mind and commentate on all the options for the next couple of hours. All that remains is to play through the game here on chess24 and try out different moves for the players.
Jan Gustafsson, meanwhile, saw David Navara play his recommendation in his 4.Qc2 against the Nimzo-Indian video series. Jan, ever the salesman, described the position as, “boring, but it’s my kind of boring!” Suddenly, however, it flared into life at a curious moment. Fabiano Caruana played 24…e5, probably under the impression that 25.fxe5 was impossible – but David blitzed it out!
Now 25…Bg4 was winning an exchange, but although Navara admitted he’d miscalculated something in advance this was the kind of position he was hoping for, playing 26.e6+! Kg6 27.Be4+... and now if 27…Kh6 had followed we would have got to see if the Czech no. 1 was correct that his compensation was sufficient. Instead after 27…f5?! 28.e7! it was White who was marginally better.
The ever modest Navara felt his opponent was “probably tired” and played “uncharacteristically inaccurately”, but Peter Svidler described what followed as one of the most impressive displays of endgame technique he’d witnessed in a long time. The final stages were beautiful after Caruana made the last mistake with 49…Rxg3?
There now followed three pawn breaks in a row! 50.a5! bxa5 51.c5! Kd8 52.h5!!, crucially taking away the g6-square from the rook. The position was gone and Fabiano resigned three moves later with mate-in-5 on the board. The curse of reaching 2800, or in this case 2799.9 (!), had struck again.
Don’t miss Navara’s own account of the game:
The other decisive game was a classic Sicilian Najdorf with unalloyed attacking play by both sides. Hou Yifan went astray, though, when she failed to follow up her sacrifice of the g4-pawn with 15.e5! (“you have to play it, come what may” – Svidler) and then in time trouble missed a chance to put her mistake right:
26.e5! dxe5 27.Nc5!!, relying on the fact that the queen will give check on d7 and the f6-bishop will fall. Hou Yifan missed one more spectacular escape (27.Bxe6!!) before it was Loek van Wely having all the fun as he flung his pieces at the white king and took home the full point.
Loek talked about the game, and when trash-talking backfires, in his post-game interview:
Elsewhere there were three more draws, one of them relatively quick – Wesley So sacrificed a knight against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, safe in the knowledge he could force at least perpetual check. Alas, it was at most perpetual check as well, and after winning in Round 1 So now has seven draws in a row.
The other two draws were much, much longer, with Anish Giri hunting for a third win in a row for 57 moves but failing to break open a closed position against Evgeny Tomashevsky. Pavel Eljanov, meanwhile, wasn’t too downhearted after his loss to Magnus Carlsen and put in epic efforts to beat Michael Adams, despite starting with what Jan Gustafsson described as “a quiet branch of the Berlin Defence”.
It looked for a long time as though a draw would ensue, despite Eljanov getting enough play to consider himself the “moral” victor. Who wants to be a moral victor when you can actually win, though? Pavel showed huge determination to gradually chip away at White’s queenside pawns until he had a 4 vs. 1 majority that he set about mobilising.
The defining moment came on move 63:
Now the move was 63…Rxh7!, since if you take the bishop the black pawns prove unstoppable. Instead Eljanov played the natural move 63…Bf5?!, but suddenly a brilliant sequence starting with 64.Nd5+! saw White pick up the a and b-pawns, leaving only the crippled doubled c-pawns. Perhaps Eljanov still had chances to inflict a fourth loss on the English no. 1, but the draw that followed was a fitting outcome for a wonderfully played game by both players. Not bad for the first Berlin Wall of the event
The net result was that an uneventful draw was all Carlsen needed to take the sole lead in Wijk aan Zee, with the finish line now “only” five games away:
The Challengers was relatively quiet with only two decisive results. Erwin l’Ami could have shaken up the standings if he’d beaten leader Adhiban, but he remained three points off the lead after missing a chance to press (but great choice of chess app ):
Anne Haast won her second game in a row, this time crushing Nino Batsiashvili, but another game from a different event caught our attention...
Monday is a rest day, but fear not! Both our star commentators
will be playing Banter Blitz against chess24 Premium Members, with the 3+ hours
of chess open to all to watch:
Adams will no doubt be hoping to get a lot of rest on the rest day since he has Black vs. Magnus Carlsen on Tuesday, while Caruana-Karjakin is a clash of the candidates. Tune in for live commentary with Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson from 13:30 CET onwards!
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