Richard Rapport kept his cool to score a sensational win over Magnus Carlsen in Round 8 of the Tata Steel Masters. The World Champion overpressed following the missed win against Anish Giri the day before, while the Dutchman also went down in flames after running into some devilish home preparation from Levon Aronian. The final winner of the day was Adhiban, who’s on an incredible 3.5/4 run and ended Dmitry Andreikin’s sequence of seven draws in a row. Wesley So drew to remain sole leader when Pavel Eljanov fell just short.
It had seemed impossible for Sunday’s round to match Saturday’s excitement, but once again we got a spectacular day’s chess:
The one clear exception was Karjakin-So, where the players brought out their armies but then agreed a draw on move 22 in a balanced position – taking Wesley’s unbeaten run to 51 classical games. Harikrishna-Wei Yi also lasted only to move 27, but was a slow moving and puzzling encounter. Hari summed it up:
All the other games were a treat!
Magnus Carlsen lost only three classical games in 2016 (to Aronian in Norway Chess, Nakamura in Bilbao and of course Karjakin in New York), but he’s already suffered his first loss of 2017. The identity of his opponent is a surprise, but not a huge one, since Richard Rapport’s obvious talent and flair have made him a player to watch.
In an interview with Dorsa Derakhshani during last year’s Olympiad he talked about the title:
Do you consider yourself to be a World Championship challenger?
Actually that’s an interesting question! Because honestly, at some point some time ago, I was thinking I could be, but so much is going on in our lives and so many things are not happening for my chess that I don’t really think about it anymore. To be a player with a certain claim to the throne you have to be playing with certain opponents and be steadier, but I play more normal opponents in normal tournaments. I don’t really have the chance to play at a higher level against higher-rated players, plus I don’t have a coach and I work all by myself, so I don’t really have any support! Even if I am considered to be more talented than other players, they have some crucial advantages besides chess, so I don’t consider myself a World Championship challenger.
As Richard readily admitted himself, his play in Tata Steel up to this point (3 losses, 4 draws) hadn’t furthered his claim to be taken seriously, but his first encounter with Magnus Carlsen couldn’t have gone any better.
Richard teased the chess world by starting with the “standard” 1.Nf3, before meeting 1…d5 with 2.b3, the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack. As he’d done against Wesley So, though, he continued to play solidly until, on move 21, Magnus was faced with a dilemma:
As Richard noted afterwards, 21…dxc4 was very likely to end in a quick draw, and would indeed have followed Magnus’ approach with Black in his games so far, when he was always willing to take a quiet draw by around move 30. Perhaps spurred on by the missed win the day before, however, Magnus decided to push for more.
After 21…d4!? 22.Bh3 d3?! 23.e3 White was suddenly close to strategically winning, with Fabiano Caruana lamenting the fate of the h7-bishop:
After 24…Rc8 Richard didn’t hesitate long before playing the most natural expansion in the world:
25.f4! Neg4 26.e4 Re8!? 27.e5 Nxe5 28.fxe5 Rxe5
Only inaccuracies could save Magnus now, but Richard was ruthless… and fast, with the final moves blitzed out by both players: 29.Rb6! Qe7 30.Rb8+! Ne8 31.Bc6! Re1+ 32.Qxe1 Qxe1+ 33.Nf1
Magnus resigned. It’s curious to note that if his bishop had gone to g6 not h7 on move 11 Black would be better in this position.
Richard was keeping his feet firmly on the ground afterwards, admitting he’d hardly expected to win a game in Wijk given the way he’d been playing:
For Magnus it means an unaccustomed reason to look over his shoulder, since he’s now only 8.6 rating points clear of Fabiano Caruana in 2nd place:
Fabi starts in Gibraltar on Tuesday and could begin February as world no. 1 depending on how events develop in Wijk and Gib.
If there was any crumb of comfort for Magnus it was that the player he’d been locked in a 123-move battle with the day before also crashed to a remarkably fast loss.
Levon Aronian commented on his loss to Sergey Karjakin in Round 7:
A friend of mine, Gabriel Sargissian, once told me he had this dream that he wakes up and he just forgot how to play chess. This was yesterday the case.
In Round 8, though, things went like a dream for the Armenian no. 1, who followed an early novelty with an exchange sacrifice and a conversion that was like a hot knife cutting through butter.
Or to put it another way:
We’re lucky to have Jan Gustafsson to take us through the encounter:
Watch Levon’s comments on the game:
The third win came for Adhiban, who has simply been on fire since he decided to trust his instincts and play his own brand of aggressive chess against the world’s very best players. Once again he sprung something of an opening surprise by playing the Vienna (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3) against Dmitry Andreikin. It wasn’t quite for the first time in his life, for a change, but it worked to perfection.
By move 17 he’d built up a battery against the black king, and when he added reinforcements by transferring the queenside knight towards the kingside the black position collapsed like a house of cards:
Here Adhiban unleashed a rare double exchange sac: 21.Rxf5! Nxf5 22.Rxf5! The second rook couldn’t be taken since after more exchanges on f5, Nf6+ would end the game. Instead Andreikin managed to soldier on and preserve chances of maintaining his 100% drawing record, but Adhiban was just too sharp:
40.Nc2! After 40...Rxc2 the a-pawn obviously wins the game, while any hopes Dmitry had linked to 40…g4+ were soon dashed. The h-pawn queened second, and it was a simple job for Adhiban to launch a mating attack and force resignation. A stunning performance from the Indian qualifier, who joined previous winners Aronian, Karjakin and Carlsen on 4.5/8. He’s hoping for more of the same after the rest day:
We could have had two more wins. Pavel Eljanov came close to joining Wesley So in the lead in a razor-sharp Najdorf Sicilian battle which ended up looking like the King’s Indian Defence. Eljanov was strategically winning on the queenside, but Radek Wojtaszek also had every reason to hope his kingside attack would crash home.
The culmination came on the time control move:
40.Qf3! was winning for Eljanov, but he must have seen some ghosts, since he opted for 40.b6. Radek played the saving 40…e4! 41.Qxe4 f3! and lived to fight another day.
Van Wely-Nepomniachtchi, meanwhile, was something of a late night bar brawl between two tournament strugglers. Nepo was applying the pressure until he stumbled on the time control move and was then forced to dig in and defend until move 74.
Round 8 left the standings looking as follows going into the second rest day. Magnus’ current position catches the eye, but so does Wei Yi’s 2nd place – could the Chinese 17-year-old make a big statement by winning his first supertournament?
Just as the day before, the Challengers was an unlikely refuge from the sound and fury of the Masters. A quirk of the pairings meant the players were balanced on almost every board, with Jorden van Foreest’s struggles in Wijk making his draw with Sopiko less of a surprise than it might otherwise have been:
The one decisive result saw mystery man Vladimir Dobrov spring a trap:
26.Bc4! took a divide and conquer approach to the rooks, with Lei Tingjie struggling on to move 39 before accepting a 6th defeat of the event.
After a well-deserved rest day on Monday, Round 9 is again full of intriguing pairings: So-Aronian, Wei Yi-Adhiban, Giri-Rapport and Carlsen-Van Wely. It’s fair to assume Magnus will be out to steady the boat by beating his old friend Loek!
You can replay the Round 8 commentary in full below:
Lawrence Trent and Jan Gustafsson will be back from 13:30 CET on Tuesday. You can also follow the games in our mobile apps: