After an eventful fifth round, there are now two co-leaders and four other players within a half point.

After five rounds, the leaderboard in the top section of the Tata Steel tournament has suddenly become crowded, with two co-leaders – Fabiano Caruana of the United States and Ding Liren of China – and four other players, including Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the World Champion, only a half point back.

After a rest day on Wednesday, the players seem to back refreshed and you could almost feel the energy in their play. Once again, as has happened many times before, Carlsen launched his comeback after a slow start with a win against the very experienced Dutch grandmaster Loek Van Wely. But this time, it wasn’t the error-free game one usually expects from him – instead, he was extremely lucky to not lose.

Caruana, the sole leader after Rounds 3 and 4, could not achieve anything against Hou Yifan of China, and had to settle for a draw, while Hou’s countryman, Liren, caught Caruana after winning an uncharacteristically aggressive game against Sergey Karjakin of Russia.

Despite being the lowest rated player, Van Wely has been playing quite well for most of the tournament. But at 43 years old, he is showing the effects of age, and Round 5 was the second consecutive game he got lost in a tactical mess.

Carlsen, who was Black, played the Grunfeld Defense, no doubt looking for an unbalanced and complicated position. The Dutch player played a solid line, but he didn’t try to safe but boring chess. Instead, he chose the enterprising plan h4-h5. But he seemed to take too much time on his clock, which probably bolstered Carlsen’s confidence, and the Norwegian couldn’t resist playing a beautiful tactical idea:

Though Carlsen won the game, it was a little unusual to see him play so wildly. In the past, his strength has largely been that he avoids giving his opponents any chance of winning - and slowly strangles their positions. After his rampage at the Qatar Masters Open last month, perhaps the World Champion is consciously trying to play more aggressively.

Ding, the top Chinese player in the world rankings, is another player who is usually known for his solid chess. But in Round 5, he shocked everyone — particularly Karjakin, his opponent — by castling long in a typical 1.d4 position. It wasn’t exactly wild chess, even though his play looked very aggressive, because Ding showed impressive control throughout the game, and never allowed Black enough counterplay. But the shock effect of 0-0-0 was almost certainly a factor in the result as Karjakin wasn’t quite his usual pragmatic self in the game:

In the last decisive game of the day, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, the top Azeri player, found his knight unable to leave the ugly square a1 after a brilliant pawn sacrifice by Michael Adams, the the 44-year-old British grandmaster.

For a long time, the knight remained stuck on a1 as Adams dominated the game with his typical charismatic and smooth play. It always becomes hard to stay tactically alert as you get older, however, and in the following position, Adams made the fatal error of forgetting that the knight could still move:

Hou, the best woman player in the world, who had Black in her game, neutralized Caruana by switching to the super solid Petroff Defense. For a while, Caruana was able to exert pressure because of the typical advantage White has in the Petroff, but at a crucial point, Hou found the best defense to liquidate into an equal endgame:

Nothing very exciting happened in the other games in the top section. Wei Yi, the Chinese wunderkind, tried to play an unusually solid game against the Najdorf Defense used by the top Dutch player, Anish Giri, but Wei never got much of an edge, and Giri easily parried all threats.

In the other two games, between Evgeny Tomashevsky of Russia and Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine, and David Navara of the Czech Republic and Wesley So of the United States, the players with White took few risks and they never made serious inroads. The plyers with Black, particularly Eljanov, showed very good defensive technique to keep everything under control and give the impression that White never really had a chance.

In the Challengers group, which actually played the day before, America’s Samuel Sevian recovered nicely from a quick loss in Round 4 to win a classy endgame arising out of a Berlin Defense against the passive play of Nijat Abasov of Azerbaijan.

The leader of the section, Alexey Dreev of Russia, finally did not win. In Round 5, his best move was definitely his draw offer to Jorden van Foreest, the young Dutch prodigy, in the following position:

As I can attest from personal experience, draw offers from intimidating and higher ranked opponents (Dreev had a perfect score going into Round 5) can be hard to refuse and van Foreest agreed to the draw despite having a better position.

This allowed Baskaran Adhiban of India to join the lead by efficiently dispatching Anne Haast of the Dutch Women Champion, who has had a very rough tournament having failed to even record a draw so far.

The other women in the section did somewhat better. Nino Batsiashvili of Georgia, who is now known as the woman who drew Carlsen in the first round of the Qatar Masters, re-affirmed that she isn’t just a one game wonder. She won her second game in a row with a nice, controlled technical performance against the young Dutch player, Miguoel Admiraal. And Ju Wenjun, the best Chinese woman player after Hou, didn’t face too many problems holding a draw against Eltaj Safarli a higher ranked player from Azerbaijan.

The most exciting game in the B-group was undoubtedly between the solid Dutch grandmaster Erwin L’Ami and the enterprising World Junior Champion, Mikhail Antipov of Russia. Black had a typical kingside initiative before he went in for some insane complications with a piece sacrifice:

Now that neither section has a sole leader, the action could heat up even more in the next rounds.  


Parimarjan Negi is an Indian grandmaster who is the second-youngest ever to earn the title (at 13 years 4 months and 22 days). Ranked No. 83 in the world, he is currently a sophmore at Stanford University.