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Reports Feb 25, 2023 | 10:36 AMby Colin McGourty

WR Chess Masters 8: Keymer ends So's hopes

Vincent Keymer got revenge for his loss to Wesley So in the Tata Steel Masters by beating the 3-time US Champion with the black pieces in Round 8 of the WR Chess Masters in Dusseldorf. The other games were drawn, as Levon Aronian survived an opening disaster to remain co-leader with Gukesh before they clash in the final round. If that game is drawn, Ian Nepomniachtchi can also reach a playoff with a win.

Vincent Keymer was thrilled to have beaten Wesley So | photo: Lennart Ootes

The only decisive result of the penultimate round of the WR Chess Masters was a surprise loss with the white pieces for Wesley So.

Wesley So had gone 13 rounds without defeat in Wijk aan Zee and continued that unbeaten streak for the first seven rounds in Dusseldorf. Vincent Keymer would comment after their game:

In his best shape, I think he’s absolutely one of the best players in the world. He’s on one level with Magnus. You rarely see him lose games, especially with White.

If Wesley had beaten Vincent Keymer with the white pieces, as he did in Wijk aan Zee, he would have gone into the final round tied with the leaders, but this was to be the day of the 18-year-old German star.

Vincent was better prepared for the Giuoco Piano that occurred, while Wesley’s 18.exd5?! looked to be a positional mistake. Shortly afterwards things would get worse for White.

Wesley told his opponent after the game that he’d blundered that 21.Nd6 here runs into 21…Ne8!, though Vincent said he was planning another good move, 21…Qe7. Wesley had to rethink, and had options, including putting a knight on h4 or even sacrificing on h6. His 21.N3d4?! Ree8 22.Nb3, meanwhile, simply seemed to misplace the knight away from the coming kingside storm.

A very tough game for Wesley So | photo: Lennart Ootes

“It’s basically just lost, to be honest”, said Vincent Keymer, though he was self-critical that he didn’t manage to finish things off faster. He confessed, for instance, that he’d overlooked the defence 31.Re3, though it didn’t alter the assessment of the position as winning for Black.

In the end Vincent limited himself to one half-sacrifice on g3 as he found an elegant way to convert by trading down into an endgame with equal material but no chances for White.

The g4-pawn is doomed, and the game ended 47.Ke2 (47.Nc4 may be more resilient, but doesn’t save White) 47…Bxe3 48.Kxe3 Nxg4+ 49.Kf4 Nxf2 50.Ke5 h5!

Black is too fast, and Wesley threw in the towel.

That meant that Vincent caught Wesley on 50% and ended his opponent’s hopes of first place in the tournament. It also took the German star back into the 2700 club on the live rating list, with six juniors currently above 2700.

The remaining games were drawn, but not without drama. Levon Aronian went for an extremely sharp opening which had partly been pioneered by chess legend Boris Gelfand, who, as it happened, was commentating on the game from the venue.

Here Andrey Esipenko’s 17.e4 was the first new move, and although Levon reacted fast and well, up to a point, his 22.Nd4? was an unintentional bluff.

22…Ne7 would have been equal, while after 22…Nd4 23.exd4 exd4 24.Rd3 Levon realised something had gone very wrong.

If you remember something, you normally play it, and then details become evident, but after he played Rd3, it became evident that my memory failed me this time. I felt I had practically no chances. It looked rather lost, so I told myself, it’s just a game! Let’s see how it goes.

There were two pieces of good news for Levon, however. The first was that although the computer was giving a winning advantage, the material balance was roughly equal, so that if White’s coordination could be disturbed the edge would dwindle. The second was that Andrey spent 50 minutes on responding to Levon’s extravagant misremembered move.

Esipenko was low on time and had let a large part of his advantage slip when he was offered a draw on move 36.

Levon explained:

I get the activity and he’s on three minutes for five moves, so I felt it was a practical decision to offer a draw, because I get a lot of activity and he needs not just to find the right move, but also to think about my offer, to understand, to assess the position, so this is not so easy.

How did Levon feel when his offer was accepted?

I am over the moon with joy!

He added, also discussing his loss to Ian Nepomniachtchi the day before, “The closer it gets to the end, the more nervous people become — I’m not an exception!”

Giri & his second Jan Gustafsson were joined by more chess legends, Loek van Wely & Boris Gelfand | photo: Lennart Ootes

Levon will now go into the final round with the white pieces against his co-leader, Gukesh, who drew an interesting game against Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

Gukesh revealed afterwards that this wasn’t exactly preparation, but he remembered it being mentioned in the annotations to a game by Fabiano Caruana — Gukesh was just eight years old when Fabi beat Ruslan Ponomariov back in Dortmund in 2014.

Gukesh's draw means he'll have a chance to play for the €40,000 top prize against Levon Aronian in the final round | photo: Lennart Ootes

In what followed Gukesh got a promising position, but seems to have misevaluated a later c4-break. Jan-Krzysztof Duda, one of the most uncompromising players in top-level chess, has now made seven draws in a row after his first-round loss.

Ian Nepomniachtchi is still in the fight for 1st place after draw against Praggnanandhaa | photo: Lennart Ootes

Ian Nepomniachtchi is the only other player who can now challenge for 1st place, though he trails the leaders by half a point after making a tense draw against Praggnanandhaa. The Indian prodigy looked to be taking over with the black pieces at one point in the middlegame, but then later had to work hard to hold a draw. He summed up:

It would have been nice to win, but I’m also fortunate not to lose today!

The remaining draw was between the two stars of the Tata Steel Masters, both in last place in Dusseldorf, Anish Giri and Nodirbek Abdusattorov.

Nodirbek Abdusattorov's stare was better than his preparation | photo: Lennart Ootes

Nodirbek very nearly lived to regret his decision to play the Classical Sicilian. Anish said he’d predicted that opening, and he tested his young opponent.

Here 15…Nxe4! was the move, but Nodirbek went for 15…Bxe4?! instead. Anish explained:

It looked like he knew what he was doing, because he played 12…Qa5 and 13…exf5 fast, but then, when the important moment came, he made the wrong move, and I thought how I played should be the natural may to punish, but then it petered into a rook endgame which is a pawn up but is a draw.

Giri seemed to rush a bishop capture on f7, but he was also thwarted by some very accurate defence.

Here after 20…Qxb2+ immediately the rook endgame seems to offer White hope, but Abdusattorov correctly went for 20…Ra7! (you can’t capture the rook or the queen will give checkmate on b2) 21.Qb3 Qxb2+ 22.Qxb2 Bxb2 23.Kxb2 Raxf7, and being able to capture with the other rook left Black with a relatively easy draw.

Going into the final round, the standings look as follows.

It’s Aronian-Gukesh in the final round, with a winner of that match-up claiming the title and the €40,000 top prize. If it’s a draw, those players will be on 5.5/9, so that only Ian Nepomniachtchi can still catch them. To do that he must beat Vincent Keymer on demand with the black pieces.

If he doesn’t, Aronian and Gukesh will play a mini match starting with two 10+2 rapid games. If they remain tied, they play two 5+2 games, and if still tied one final Armageddon game, where White has 5 minutes to Black’s 4, but Black has draw odds.

If the top game is a draw and Nepo wins, then we’ll have a double round-robin (the players play each other twice) to decide the winner.

Tune into the action from 14:15 CET (there’s a 15-minute anti-cheating delay) right here on chess24!

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