Wesley So still leads the Tata Steel Masters after securing a draw when Adhiban challenged him in the most romantic of all chess openings – the King’s Gambit. The big story of the day, though, was Anish Giri finally ending a sequence of 14 draws by defeating Ian Nepomniachtchi in a game where the Russian grandmaster managed to blunder not just Bxh6 but Bxa6! The only other decisive result was a spectacular win for Wei Yi over Richard Rapport, featuring a fearless king march on a board full of menace.
From the mere results you might assume this was one of the quietest rounds yet, but in this case appearances are deceptive:
The only real exception was Aronian-Carlsen, which ended without adventure in a 30-move draw.
It seems that in the World Championship match Magnus moved away from the approach he was famous for of playing every position for a win and instead grew to like forcing draws with Black with sharp but solid preparation. In Wijk aan Zee he’s now drawn in 33, 27, 28 and 30 moves with the black pieces, while winning his two games with White. The bad news for the rest of the field, of course, is that Magnus will have White more often in the games to come!
Eljanov-Karjakin saw both players stabilise after defeat in the previous round. It looked as though Pavel Eljanov’s slow plan in an Anti-Berlin of moving his queenside knight multiple times in the opening was dangerous, but ultimately Sergey took a draw by repetition on move 35.
And that brings us to Adhiban-So, where the Indian grandmaster once again managed to surprise a chess monster not with a subtle nuance on move 20 but a dramatic choice on move 2.
In Round 5 he played the French Defence for the first time in his life against Sergey Karjakin, while in Round 6 he did the same with the King’s Gambit, against none other than world no. 3 and tournament leader Wesley So!
After 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 Adhiban went not for 3.Nf3 but the much less common 3.Bc4. Wesley chose to give back the pawn immediately with 3…d5 and a few moves later it seemed Adhiban’s bravery had reaped him a rich reward - he was clearly better and had forced So into long thinks. Wesley hasn’t gone unbeaten for so long for nothing, though, and found a way to neutralise all the danger. In fact, it was Adhiban who had to show some ingenuity not to end up seriously worse:
25.Bxa7! ensured a quick draw, since 25…Rxa7 26.Qd5+ Kh8 27.Qxe5! uses Black’s back rank issues to simplify the position. In the game there was no way to prevent Rb1 and picking up the pawn on b7, with a draw reached in 39 moves.
There were two contenders for Game of the Day, with one of them the clear Story of the Day. We refer, of course, to Anish Giri ending another 14-game drought of not winning (or losing) a game of chess.
This time he ended it on a high, after a game that Ian Nepomniachtchi will want to forget in a hurry. In fact, it’s becoming something of a tournament that Ian will want to forget in a hurry, since he’d already suggested it might be good for him to change sport (to football) after the way he lost to Wei Yi in Round 3.
It’s not hard to pick the memorable moments of the encounter, since you can only start with Nepo’s blunder 16…Rc6?
17.Bxh6! followed, and there was nothing better than allowing Giri to demonstrate the point with 17…gxh6 18.Qg4+, picking up the knight on d7 and winning a pawn. Peter Svidler said during our commentary that some players can shrug off such moments, while Nepomniachtchi is unable to avoid “self-deconstruction”. 17…gxh6 cost him 18 minutes’ thought.
From that point on, though, Nepo defended resolutely and it must have crossed Giri’s mind that this might end up as yet another of those games in which he managed to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory. His Russian opponent came to the rescue, though, and proceeded to blunder almost identically on the opposite side of the board:
32.Bxa6! And the damage isn’t just a pawn – Black will need to give up the bishop to prevent the d-pawn queening. Instead Nepomniachtchi captured on g3 and resigned.
Giri had no words of comfort for his opponent afterwards:
The thing is he blundered both Bxh6 and Bxa6 at the end, and probably if he saw at least one of them he would be able to survive, but if you miss both you deserve to lose.
The other game was a rip-roaring affair between Richard Rapport and Wei Yi, but it was just the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from them. After all, five of their seven games in their recent match in China were decisive. Back then Rapport won on tiebreaks, but it was Wei Yi’s turn to get some revenge in Wijk aan Zee.
Rapport had the white pieces and played a rare line against Wei Yi’s Petroff, with both players in deep thought from early on. Our commentators expected the “Rapportesque” 8.g4!?, but even after he played 8.g3 he didn’t disappoint, playing the temporary pawn sacrifice 10.b4!? a couple of moves later. There wasn’t long to wait until Wei Yi joined the party with the even more provocative 15…g5!?
Around about here the computers at least claimed an advantage for White, but Richard Rapport couldn’t resist an attack that looked as though it would at least be enough for a perpetual against the black king. Here’s the position after 23.b7+:
After 23…Kxc7 24.Qa5+ Wei Yi briefly retreated with 24…Kb8
(24…Kxb7 loses to 25.Rb1+) but then after 25.Qa8+ Kc7 26.Qa5+ he fearlessly
brought his king to the centre of the board with 26…Kd6! 27.Qb6+ Kd5!
As in the game against Wesley So, Rapport invested his time when it was already too late to alter the outcome of the game after having blitzed out the losing moves. Wei Yi finished things off fast and confidently.
Our commentary team have chosen this game for their highlights videos (to be added later), but for now here’s the final position:
There’s no good way to parry …Bf3+, …Re1+ and …h1=Q mate.
And now here's Peter Svidler to the rescue with full analysis!
We could very easily have had another two decisive games. Harikrishna was pressing from the opening but let a likely win slip on the time control move:
40.Nxg6!? gave Radek Wojtaszek a lifeline when he found 40…Kh7! 41.Qd5 Nc7!, while 40.Ng4! would both have posed much tougher practical problems and objectively kept a bigger advantage against best play. Harikrishna still had chances in the endgame (48.Rb5 “either wins or it doesn’t”, as Svidler gnomically commented) but Radek hung on for a 67-move draw.
Dmitry Andreikin is now the only player to have drawn all his games so far in Wijk, though he’s been close to a win in the last two. Perhaps the ultimate result against Loek van Wely was fair, since the so far luckless Dutchman had been better in the middlegame, but Dmitry was apparently one move away from victory in the endgame:
55…Kf2 puts White in zugzwang, while after 55…Kg3 56.Rg8+ Kf2 57.Rb8 the same position has arisen with White to play and the win is gone – or at the very least, the game was drawn four moves later.
So that left the standings relatively unchanged except for Wei Yi and Giri joining Levon Aronian on +1:
It was all change in the Challengers as the Top 3 all lost.
Eric Hansen put Jeffery Xiong’s Alekhine’s Defence to the sword, Aryan Tari needed only 31 moves to beat Ilia Smirin with Black, while Gawain Jones took down the leader Markus Ragger. He had a new idea in the Scotch that sent Ragger into a 42-minute think on move 16 and eventually led to a last blunder in the run-up to the time control:
37.c6+! was the winning move, with the threat of knight forks winning the rook (e.g. 37…Kxc6 38.Re6+ Kd7 39.Nc5+) forcing the black king onto the back rank, when the bishop needed to walk into a pin on d8 to avoid immediate mate. Gawain eventually liquidated into a rook ending where he was two passed pawns ahead.
You can watch the full live commentary on Round 6 from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson below:
The tournament finally crosses the halfway mark in Round 7 with Carlsen-Giri one of those grudge games that no-one wants to miss. Magnus is a secret fan
In general the favourites have the white pieces, meaning we could expect decisive results even if we didn’t have exciting pairings such as Wei Yi-Van Wely and Nepomniachtchi-Rapport!
Follow the commentary with Peter Svidler joining Jan Gustafsson for the last time before he heads to Gibraltar from 13:30 CET on Saturday. You can also follow the games in our mobile apps: