Shakhriyar Mamedyarov keeps on climbing in Wijk aan Zee, grabbing a third win in a row as he beat Wei Yi to take his live rating to 2817.5, almost 20 points above Wesley So in third place. The gap to Magnus Carlsen is now under 18 points, though the World Champion eventually beat Hou Yifan to join Anish Giri, Wesley So and Vladimir Kramnik in 2nd place. Kramnik defeated Vishy Anand to level their lifetime score for the first time since their 2008 match, while Fabiano Caruana’s woes continued as he lost a third game with Black in a row, this time to Sergey Karjakin.
Round 7 of the 2018 Tata Steel Masters saw the most decisive games yet. Replay them using the selector below – click a result to open the game with computer analysis or hover over a player’s name to see all his or her results and pairings:
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov increased his lead to a full point in Round 7 as he followed the longest game of the day on Friday with the fastest on Saturday. The Azeri no. 1 followed his pattern in Wijk aan Zee this year of springing a very early opening surprise, playing the Catalan with 4.g3 for the only time in his life except for a couple of games in Astrakhan in 2010.
Wei Yi didn’t flinch and played the first dozen moves fast, before surprising observers by playing 13…Qxd4, a pawn sac line tried by Rustam Kasimdzhanov. Mamedyarov commented:
He gave me a pawn and maybe it is ok, but after the pawn he needs to play very accurately to draw.
Today I was quite surprised because his opponent is incredibly well-prepared, but he just played a bad line and lost without a fight. I could not imagine this to happen.
To be fair, it seems only 19…Rfc8? (19…g5!) was the point of no return:
It took Mamedyarov a mere two minutes to play 20.Ne4!, while Wei Yi now sank into a half-hour think. The Chinese star probably thought Mamedyarov’s move was impossible due to 20…Bxb2, but that runs into 21.Nd6! Rd8 22.Nxf7!, and if Black captures the knight White wins by exchanging a pair of rooks and then forking the black minor pieces with Qb4. That meant that, as in his last white game against Fabiano Caruana, Shak was soon up a passed a-pawn for no compensation. He finished in style:
29.Rb7! fxe4 30.Bg4! (it wasn’t too late to give up all the advantage with 30.Bxe4? or 30.Rxb4?) Black can’t avoid heavy material losses and resigned.
Mamedyarov’s 2817.5 live rating is a new personal record and puts him a mere 0.3 rating points away from knocking Kramnik out of the Top 10 list of peak live ratings. When asked about that stratospheric rating he commented:
Maybe it’s too much for me. It’s a very big Elo, but ok, why not? I play sometimes good chess and when you win games it’s normal, but it’s not so big a surprise for me and I believed one day maybe my Elo would be like it. I want to continue.
When Fiona Steil-Antoni asked if he was now targeting Magnus Carlsen’s no. 1 spot, he responded that he loses too much to the World Champion (he has 1 classical win to Magnus’s 5):
Normally I think if me and Nakamura, some chess players he beats, if not for me and not Nakamura, Carlsen would never win no. 1 in the world!
The other players were asked about Mamedyarov and although
they pointed out his somewhat fortunate win over Adhiban (“let’s say winning
was not obligatory” – Kramnik, “he took some, you can say risks, or you can say
he played badly, but basically he was rewarded for that either way” – Giri)
they were full of praise, with Giri calling Shak’s performance “out of this
world”. Sergey Karjakin, for whom Mamedyarov worked as a second, joked, “I’m very
proud of him - he’s my student, he’s doing well!”
There should be interesting times ahead, though, since Mamedyarov still has to face the three players in 2nd place, with Giri noting Shak isn’t known for his “waterproof/bulletproof” openings.
For the first time since their World Championship in 2008, Vishy Anand and Vladimir Kramnik are back to an even score, with 91 classical games over the course of their career having failed to produce a winner. In fact, according to the statistics at ChessGames you can even include rapid, blitz and exhibition games and the players are tied after 191 games!
There were a number of years recently when it seemed that Vishy and Vlad had reached some kind of agreement to draw their encounters and save their energy for the youngsters, but luckily for chess fans that’s changed, and we got a full-blooded encounter in Round 7. The surprise, though, was how utterly one-sided it was. Kramnik commented on his win on the black side of the Giuoco Piano, “just I think Vishy confused something in the opening and he got a worse position”, while Anish Giri called Vishy’s 7.Bg5 “a gigantic risk”.
In hindsight Vishy would have been no worse off playing the Evans Gambit on move 4!
Neither side castled, but Kramnik felt Anand had missed the whole concept of putting the black king on g7, when the state of the two armies was very different:
Kramnik felt he could now, “mate him slowly on the queenside”:
I thought the position once I moved my king to g7 was very difficult for him. He was trying to defend, but has too many weaknesses.
White had a weak king, a bad bishop and Black was ready to infiltrate on the b-file, while in the end the executioner’s blow was about to come from the other side:
37…Qg4 couldn’t be parried and Kramnik had not only levelled the lifetime score against Vishy but snatched the Indian's 2nd place spot in the tournament.
With wins for rivals elsewhere, and Hou Yifan’s four losses in Wijk aan Zee so far, this game with the white pieces looked like a must-win for Magnus. He set about it well, confusing Hou Yifan in the opening (the modest 5.e3 was rare) to get an excellent version of known positions. Then, however, Magnus decided to go for an ending on move 11. Yifan defended well, and after accepting an exchange sacrifice came close to holding a draw. Carlsen commented:
It was a tough game from early on. I think I was slightly better, then I think I was considerably better and then I chose to liquidate into this ending, sacrificing the exchange. Maybe I should have done something quieter, because it wasn’t easy to win after that. I’m sure she could have held a draw there, but it was tricky, and obviously I’m relieved to get a result in the end.
The game turned on move 50, when the commentary team were sure Magnus was already winning, while the tablebase-armed computers were showing a draw. 50…h5? changed all that, and it was a familiar story for the women’s no. 1. Not only could she recall how close she’d come to a draw against Anish Giri in Round 1, she’d also lost with the same move to Magnus a year ago:
Watch Magnus after the game:
The five losses for Hou Yifan are arguably less of a surprise than the three losses, all with the black pieces, that Fabiano Caruana has now racked up in Wijk aan Zee, with the winner of the London Chess Classic in December having the worst possible warm-up for the upcoming Candidates Tournament. He couldn’t be criticised for a lack of ambition, with Sergey Karjakin commenting:
Basically the position was complicated and he went to a complicated line and he wanted to go for a big fight, I guess, but he didn’t manage to keep everything under control and he blundered.
The blunder was 17…Qe7? (Karjakin was still hopeful of his chances after 17…c6! 18.0-0-0, but it would be all to play for)
Of course most players in the world would be terrified to play 18.Bxb7! and pick up a pawn here, fearing that Fabi must have prepared a lethal discovered check as punishment. It turned out, though, that was there was no punishment, and while Sergey had drawn his first six games in Wijk aan Zee he wasn’t going to miss out on this one, eventually winning in 46 moves.
Asked if it would be significant for the upcoming Candidates Tournament, Sergey replied:
It’s always nice to win against such a great player, but basically I don’t think that it will be very important, because we played against Fabiano maybe 20 games already and he was winning against me, I was winning against him, and the game before this one he won with Black against me in the London Chess Classic, so maybe it’s a good revenge for London, but basically I think that in the Candidates it will be a new tournament.
There were just three draws in Round 7, with So-Giri the most significant as it allowed Carlsen and Kramnik to catch the two players in second place. Wesley So was threatening to win three games in a row and Anish Giri admitted he found himself in an unpleasant ending, but…
I basically realised I had to stand on one spot and, as it often is with such positions, when they are so good for White that they look fantastic, if Black actually just stands then whatever White does his advantage only goes down. It’s a strange thing you can also see with the computer. Sometimes the computer will say 0.80 and then you make some kind of plan, and it becomes 0.60, one more plan and it becomes 0.40, and then by the time you’ve achieved all you wanted to achieve it’s already only zeroes. It was a bit similar in the game. In fact, for example, going h4, g5 only helps Black, but on the other hand, if he doesn’t open any files what’s he going to do? This kind of position you can maybe win in correspondence chess, but it’s not going to be easy, because you have to really come up with a plan, and whatever change you do to the position his advantage only becomes smaller, in a way. But maybe there is a plan. I’m sure Magnus would suggest a few interesting things in this position!
In the longest “short” interview of the day Giri also mounted a defence of seemingly unambitious draws:
Meanwhile Matlakov-Adhiban was the longest game of the day, but despite going down a pawn Adhiban managed to stop the bleeding by holding an opposite-coloured bishop ending. Jones-Svidler saw Gawain play the Alapin (2.c3) Sicilian and retain his +1 score with the white pieces and 50% overall. As he put it:
I’m still happy, still on 50% - I’m not the whipping boy yet!
The standings after we crossed the halfway mark in Round 7 are as follows:
The Challengers has surprisingly been calmer than the Masters this year, though that was good news for Anton Korobov in Round 7. He maintained a full-point lead over Vidit after drawing with Michal Krasenkow with Black while top-seed Vidit had White but was held to a draw by Lucas van Foreest. Lucas is another full point behind Vidit in sole third place.
The decisive results were a bad day for the female players, with Harika Dronavalli and Olga Girya in joint last place on 2.5/7 after losing to Aryan Tari and Matthias Bluebaum respectively.
The game to watch in Round 8 may be Giri-Mamedyarov, though we also have Kramnik-So and, as Giri commented, “Magnus is thinking of winning five games in a row too”. Magnus has White vs. Gawain Jones and will no doubt be out for blood.