Wesley So has started 2017 in the same form he ended 2016, beating Harikrishna to take over the sole lead in the Tata Steel Masters. It was all change as the tournament moved from Wijk to Rotterdam, with three players scoring their first wins. Levon Aronian beat the previous leader Pavel Eljanov, Radek Wojtaszek compounded Loek van Wely’s misery and Adhiban scored a sensational win with the black pieces over Sergey Karjakin. Even the draws were good, with White pushing hard in Nepo-Carlsen and Andreikin-Rapport, while Anish Giri was thwarted again by brilliant play from Wei Yi.
Wednesday was a rest day in Wijk aan Zee, but some intrepid players braved the icy conditions to play a little football:
Team Magnus beat Team Loek, with the Dutchman apparently struggling on and off the chessboard.
Then the football theme continued on Thursday, when the players were bussed…
…to the Feyenoord Stadium in Rotterdam. The following may or may not have happened:
Magnus Carlsen again got to show his skills on the pitch, trading passes with a former Feyenoord player Ben Wijnstekers:
It was a day of different heroes on the chessboard, though:
We wrote in our preview:
If Wesley aspires to being Magnus’ equal he’ll have to show he can rack up a big score in a varied field like the Tata Steel Masters rather than "just" drawing and taking his chances in events with no underdogs.
Why did we ever doubt him? Admittedly there was than a hint of good fortune in So’s win over Rapport, but he’s now gone on to make it three in a row by beating Loek van Wely and Harikrishna to move to +3 after only five rounds.
The game against Harikrishna had a puzzling opening, with Hari slipping fast into a clearly worse position. We say fast, but one of the most peculiar things is that the players reached the position after 14.Bf4 only after both had spent over an hour on their clocks:
White is much better, just as Vladimir Kramnik was against Ian Nepomniachtchi in Dortmund 2015! Nepomniachtchi played 14...Ne8, while Harikrishna went for 14...d5, and while in both games Black came close to drawing the pressure eventually told. A less than obvious mistake on move 28 condemned Hari to a hopeless endgame against a player with Wesley’s technique.
Afterwards Wesley, unusually early in a tournament, was thanking God:
First of all I’d like to thank the Lord very much for letting me win today, for giving me the wisdom and the strength for such a tough battle.
He had reason to be thankful, though, since he’d not only taken over the lead in the Tata Steel Masters but moved to 2819.4 on the live rating list, within 8 points of Fabiano Caruana in 2nd place and the 7th highest rating ever recorded:
Hari, meanwhile, is hoping to bounce back fast:
The day’s other big hero was Adhiban, who managed to do what Magnus Carlsen had failed to do in six classical games in New York – beat Sergey Karjakin with the black pieces. He started with what he called the “nice surprise” of playing the French Defence for the first time in his life, and it worked like a dream, since he blitzed out all his moves up to the dramatic 16…g5! instantly:
Our commentary team felt Karjakin was unused to people playing aggressively to beat him with the black pieces, and reacted badly. After 17.0-0-0 gxf4 18.Kb1 f3 Sergey launched his g-pawn all the way up the board to g6, but without ever gaining the attack that could justify it.
end Adhiban took a tactical approach to converting his extra material:
The computer claims this is White’s best position for 10 moves and after 31.dxe4 Qxd4 32.Rxg6+ Kf7 33.h5 he can struggle on (though it looks grim), but instead Karjakin thought for 7 minutes before playing 31.Rxg6?, then resigned after the almost immediately played refutation 31…Bxd3+! It just wasn’t Sergey’s day. He tweeted in Russian:
Once again I lost the round on tour. My opponent played well, and I played terribly. I hope to perform better in my native Wijk
Perhaps it was the fault of the football Gods, since he’d earlier tweeted from the Feyenoord pitch:
There’s no better team in the world than Spartak!
For Adhiban, meanwhile, it was a chance to bask in some deserved glory after the biggest scalp of his career so far:
Adhiban was joined in getting his first win by Polish no. 1 Radek Wojtaszek, who applied pressure to Loek van Wely for 33 moves until the Dutchman once again cracked in a tricky position. That brought Radek back to 50% while it was a fourth loss in a row for Loek after his draw in Round 1.
4-time tournament winner Levon Aronian is the surprising last name on the list of players scoring their first win only now, and it had huge significance. We mentioned in our previous report that Pavel Eljanov had faced relatively easy opposition on his way to 3.5/4 and that was about to change, but that he had the advantage of the white pieces against Aronian and then Karjakin. Alas, it didn’t help him in Round 5.
Levon said he thought both players were over-estimating their chances in what was probably an equal position, but that Pavel’s 25.Rc4?! instead of 25.Bf1 tipped the game in Black’s favour. The black knights took over the board and it was only fitting that a knight won the game after Pavel played 37.Rc1? in serious time trouble:
37…Nd4! set up a family fork that wasn’t family viewing.
Levon was upbeat after his first win, claiming, “in a long tournament it doesn’t really matter how you start – you can always come back!”
Pavel Eljanov is now in second place with Magnus Carlsen, who was unable to improve his 3 losses, 0 wins record against Ian Nepomniachtchi. In fact it could have got worse, since a curious opening gave Nepo what he initially thought was simply a “healthy extra pawn”. Subsequent play made him change that assessment:
And then that brings us to what Peter Svidler describes as, “the most interesting and action-packed game of the day”: Wei Yi-Giri.
It might seem at first glance that the 17-year-old Chinese wunderkind was trolling Anish, giving up first one, then two, then three pawns and even throwing in a rook at the end, for a game that of course finished in a draw – Giri’s 14th in a row if you count the London Chess Classic. Actually, though, it seems to have been a calculated gamble from Wei Yi to rely on his superb tactical ability rather than continue down a line his opponent had clearly fully prepared. Don’t miss Peter Svidler’s analysis:
Giri does at least still have some company on five draws out of five, since Dmitry Andreikin couldn’t quite prove the power of the two bishops in his encounter with Richard Rapport.
That left the standings shaken up after five rounds:
Meanwhile, back in Wijk aan Zee for the Challengers… Markus Ragger looked on course to score a fifth win in a row when Lu Shanglei played the Najdorf and got tangled up:
As you can see, Markus spent 15 minutes before going for 20.Bxd5, when things soon fizzled out into a draw. Instead 20.Bxf6 or the flashier immediate 20.Nh6+, with a later bishop sacrifice on g7, seem to retain a healthy advantage for White.
The good news for Ragger was that Ilya Smirin was held to a draw by Nils Grandelius and remains in second place, though Jeffery Xiong and Gawain Jones both took advantage to move closer in 3rd.
You can replay the full commentary on Round 5 from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson below:
For Round 6 all the players will be back in Wijk aan Zee and there’s a lot to look forward to. Aronian-Carlsen is a classic, Rapport-Wei Yi pairs the two young stars who recently played a match in China, Adhiban-So may be a chance for Wesley to climb even higher, while Eljanov-Karjakin will be all about who can bounce back from defeat fastest.
Don't miss all the action with Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson from 13:30 CET on Friday. You can also follow the games in our mobile apps: