Reports Jan 17, 2017 | 8:39 AMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel 2017, 3: Brilliance and blunders

Wesley So is now world no. 3 and unbeaten in 46 classical games, but it would all have been so different if Richard Rapport hadn’t spoiled a brilliant attacking game with a mystifying meltdown while under no real time pressure. Ian Nepomniachtchi also collapsed with salvation in sight, but it was only fitting that Wei Yi’s scintillating attack was rewarded with a full point. Sergey Karjakin got the day’s third win, punishing Loek van Wely’s decision to give up his queen, while Pavel Eljanov still has the sole lead on 2.5/3. In the Challengers Markus Ragger has raced to 3/3 after all but one game finished decisively.

Tata Steel Chess Masters Round 3 

There’s only one place to start an account of Round 3 of the Tata Steel Masters – with the extraordinary Wesley So vs. Richard Rapport. It was clear that if Wesley hoped not merely to prolong his 45-game unbeaten record but win the tournament in Wijk this was the kind of game in which he needed to push for a full point. 

Up to a point, Rapport was playing one of the games of his career so far... | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

However, Rapport initially surprised chess fans and perhaps Wesley by playing standard chess (“He’s playing mainline theory – I feel betrayed!” - Svidler) and then found a tactical shot out of nowhere:

More inspired chess soon meant that all 20-year-old Richard needed to do to beat the toughest player to beat in world chess was deliver a straightforward final blow. The meltdown that followed rendered our commentary team speechless, though Lawrence Trent later returned to narrate the extraordinary turnaround:

Richard Rapport had suffered a heart-breaking second loss in three games, while Wesley So climbed above Vladimir Kramnik into the no. 3 spot on the live rating list. 

He admitted, though, “I have to learn from this game”:

The other game in which the player with White would clearly push for a win was Sergey Karjakin vs. Loek van Wely, even before Loek added an extra provocation by playing the Pirc Defence.

Loek brought a guest to his battle against Sergey Karjakin | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

In the end perhaps they should have swapped roles!

It was one-way traffic, but things might have gone differently if Loek hadn’t jettisoned his queen:

16…Qe6 is perfectly playable, as Karjakin explained afterwards, but Loek burned his bridges with 16…Nxe5?! 17.Nxe5 Qxd1+ 18.Rxd1 Rxd1+ 19.Kc2 Bxe5, when 20.Bxg6! confounded Black’s hopes of limiting the damage. Computers suggest that when Sergey took under a minute to play 21.Qxg4 (21.Bd3!) it was a serious inaccuracy, but only a brave man would have bet against the Russian’s technique in the play that followed. The win also saw Sergey climb the rating list, moving up to 6th ahead of Nakamura and Anand.

Blockbuster games were interspersed with hard-fought draws | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

The games in which the favourites had Black – Adhiban-Aronian, Wojtaszek-Giri and Andreikin-Carlsen were hard-fought but did all end in draws, although Dmitry Andreikin expressed his surprise that Magnus didn’t continue here:

The game finished with a repetition (24…Ba6 25.Ra3 Bb5 26.Rb3…) but Dmitry suggested playing on with 24…Bd7, while the computer opts for 24…Bc4. Dmitry, starved of supertournaments, doesn’t quite have the English level of his elite colleagues, but that creates some memorable moments – watch him reveal that he likes to walk on water after games!

As if to illustrate why taking the draw might have been the wise choice, Pavel Eljanov rejected a threefold repetition in the remaining draw and simply ended up a pawn down, though he had enough counterplay to hang on against Harikrishna:

That was critical for the tournament standings, since Pavel remains the sole leader on 2.5/3 ahead of a group of five players on 2/3. 

Eljanov - still out in front after three rounds | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

One of those in the chasing pack is 17-year-old Chinese star Wei Yi, who lived up to his reputation in a brilliant win over Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Nepomniachtchi is a fine tactician, but Wei Yi may be even better | photo: Tata Steel Chess Facebook

It has to be said that taking on Wei Yi on the black side of an open Sicilian is asking for trouble, and a sign of what was to come was given when he went for the 6.Bg5 line that did so much damage in the London Chess Classic (Caruana 1-0 Nakamura , Nakamura 1-0 MVL) rather than the 6.a3 line used by Karjakin and Carlsen in earlier rounds:

A handful of moves later, though, and the players were all on their own in a wildly complex position.

Here Wei Yi’s knight has just been captured on f5, but he coolly delayed regaining the material with 14.0-0. Mass exchanges followed, but the menace in the position never went away, and the moment Nepomniachtchi must have thought he’d survived a direct attack by exchanging queens on d7 proved to be his undoing:

26.e6+!!, played almost instantly, meant that Nepo had to give up an exchange to prevent the loss of the e7-bishop – 26…fxe6 27.Rf7 Rg5

It turned out that the resulting position was by no means easy to win, and the Russian player put up strong resistance… up to a point. Just when he’d correctly given up a pawn to exchange rooks and force a tablebase draw he took a fateful decision after only 1 minutes and 17 seconds, when he had over an hour on the clock:

As Peter Svidler explained, it wasn’t trivial to see that 66…Bc1! is the only move that draws, but a little thought would have been enough to conclude that Nepomniachtchi’s 66.Bc3?? was losing on the spot to 67.Rc4! The bishop can’t go to b4 as it would be captured immediately and the a-pawn queens. Ian spent 15 minutes contemplating his doom before playing out 67…Be5, when 68.Rc5 wins the black a-pawn and the game. 

A bitter loss for Nepomniachtchi, but a fine win for Wei Yi, who has now matched his win tally from last year’s Tata Steel Masters. His next game? Black against Magnus Carlsen, who is currently tied with him in 2nd place:

Ragger on a roll

The Challengers provided more of the same, with no less than six of the games ending decisively:

Markus Ragger succeeded where Eljanov failed in extending his winning run to three games with a brutal demolition of Eric Hansen. Ilia Smirin also kept sole second place by punishing Gawain Jones’ failure to take prophylactic measures… it turned out to be a curious two days for the English player!

Lei Tingjie had spent 84 moves in vain trying to survive against Ragger the day before, but in Round 3 she was rewarded with a 65-move win over Jorden van Foreest, when the Dutchman got a little too creative in an offbeat Caro-Kann.

19-year-old Lei Tingjie shows she means business in the Challengers | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook 

The most dramatic moment of the day, though, saw Benjamin Bok lose a rook ending a pawn up against Vladimir Dobrov. Though storm clouds were gathering above the white king, until the very last moment it was still Bok with White who had the better of things!

37.b6? was the losing move, since after 37…Rhh5 38.Re4 Rf2 the threat of …f5# mate couldn’t be stopped – the game ended 39.Rf4 Rg5+ and White resigned rather than play 39.Kxh4 Rxf4#

Instead Benjamin could still have played 37.bxa6! and the big difference is that after 38…Rf2 White has 39.Rb6!, pinning the f5-pawn and winning the game. That took Dobrov into joint 3rd place with Nils Grandelius, despite some wildly erratic chess in his opening games.

Pinning and winning... if Bok had played 37.bxa6!

You can watch the full live commentary on Round 3 below:

In Round 4 Jan Gustafsson is back to partner Peter Svidler for the last round before the first rest day. As we mentioned, the big clash looks likely to be Carlsen-Wei Yi. Don't miss all the action from 13:30 CET on Tuesday. You can also follow the games in our mobile apps:


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