Another 12 are only a half point back. So with two rounds to go, nothing is decided.

The leader after seven rounds of the Gibraltar Chess Festival did not lose Tuesday, but he also was not able to protect his lead.

David Anton Guijarro, a Spanish grandmaster, who was the sole leader after Round 7, was held to a draw in Round 8 by the higher rated Li Chao of China (in a game that never strayed too far from equality). That allowed three higher rated and dangerous rivals who won their games — Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Etienne Bacrot of France and Pentala Harikrishna of India — to catch Guijarro. 

All three players won fine games in Round 8. 

The game between Vachier-Lagrave and Lazaro Bruzon Batista of Cuba did not look very thrilling to me as it started with the Berlin Defense, which is notorious for producing draws, and I thought that was where it was leading. But with the clocks running down, Bruzon, who had Black, made a critical error.

Usually if Black manages to reach an opposite-colored bishop position in the Berlin, he is fine. The position above is a slightly different case because the kingside has been opened and White has some direct threats. For example, he is immediately threatening to make some trouble with 27. Bg5. Black should respond to this threat with 26. … Kg6!, when his position seems decent enough to me.

Instead, Bruzon erred with 26. … Rh5?, a very natural move which improved the rook and stopped White’s threat. However, Bruzon probably missed the strong anti-positional response 27. g4!, which forced Black to exchange his weak h4 pawn. After 27. … hxg3 28. Rxg3+ Kh7, Black had an excellent position, according to classical theories, but in concrete terms he was one tempo too slow to consolidate, and under huge pressure after 29. Rd8!

There followed 29. … Bb7, but after 30. Rd7, White was going to win a pawn and had an ongoing attack, plus a large advantage on the clock. Bruzon defended ferociously and found several good defensive resources, but still had to admit defeat on move 49.

Harikrishna’s win over Santosh Gujrathi Vidit, a countryman, is hard for me to write about, simply because I don’t really understand what happened. One moment Vidit looked to have an absolutely fine position, then he played a bunch of decent looking moves, and ended up completely lost. I’ll do my best to explain it, but even I am not sure I can understand the depth of Harikrishna’s thinking.

In the position above, Harikrishna, who had White, forced open the h file with the surprising retreat 10. Ng1!? After 10. … Nxg3 11. hxg3 c5 12. dxc5 dxc5, I thought Black simply had the bishop pair, a lead in development, and a fine position.

But there followed 13. Qe2 Qc7 14. Nh3!, preparing f4, and Vidit could not seem to find a plan. The computer recommends the grotesquely unattractive 14. … e5, but I would be shocked if either player even considered this move.

Instead, after 14. … Rd8 15. f4 Qd6 16. Bc4 Qe7 17. Nf2, Black was already in big trouble.

White was planning e5 and Ng4, closing down the center and breaking through on the h file, and Black could do basically nothing about it. Black soon played e5 himself, but this only made things worse because White kept the center closed by playing f5, gaining more space on the kingside. Vidit resigned on move 33, with mate clearly looming.

Harikrishna has been playing extremely impressively recently, winning game after game against players rated in the mid-2600 range (I was victim myself) and has increased his rating a lot. He is making it look easy, never getting anything out of the opening, and just winning anyway! 

He is up to No. 14 in the world on the live rating list, and I expect him to keep climbing. In fact, after a draw by Viswanathan Anand in Round 8, Harikrishna is just 1.3 points away from becoming India’s top player, an honor Anand has held for more than 25 years.

Anand’s game today was a very lackluster affair. He played against Marc Esserman, an American international master who is known for his love of the Morra Gambit — he even wrote a book about it. Anand, who had Black, must have known the Morra was coming and had all night to prepare for it, surprisingly did not accept the offered pawn and even ended up in a difficult position.

In the above position, Black is under a lot of pressure, and after the move 20. h5!, trying to blast open the kingside, Black would have to play 20. … Bc6. But then after 21. Qe3! Black would face another dilemma.

The move 21. … g5 looks natural to close the kingside, but White could play 22. Nh2! to reroute the knight to the g4 square and prepare the f4 break. No matter what Black did, the kingside would not stay closed for long.

I would recommend 21. … Bxf3, though after 22. Qxf3, the e4 square would become available again and Black would have to allow the queen to h7. The continuation might be 22. … gxh5 23. Qe4 Qg5 24. Re3, and once again Black would be under tremendous pressure.

Fortunately for Anand, none of that happened. Perhaps feeling a little intimidated by his opponent’s rating and accomplishments, Esserman chose 20. Nd4, and after 20. … Nc6 21. Nf3 Na5, they repeated moves and the game ended in a draw. Still, it was another tough result for Anand, who loses a lot more rating points with this game, though it could have been much worse.

One game that really surprised me was between the reigning Women’s World Champion, Mariya Muzychuk of Ukraine, and Richard Rapport of Hungary. Rapport is a very impressive young player, who has a lot of weaknesses in his game. Staying focused and reeling in the full point when he has a winning position is not usually one of them, so I was very surprised to see mess up the following position:

Rapport, who was Black, is completely winning in every way imaginable. Some basic calculation shows that 33. … Qxe4 is more than enough to get the job done. Instead, Rapport played 33. … Qe5? after thinking less than a minute, though he still had 44 minutes on his clock. His move let his opponent fight back with 34. Qxe5! fxe5 35. Ra8.

Now Nd6 was a big threat, which forced 35. … Be7, but after 36. Nxe7 Kxe7 37. axb4, White had a very solid queenside pawn mass and decent counterplay. Indeed, she ended up holding a draw, and Rapport will surely be kicking himself for his carelessness.

In the penultimate round, Vachier-Lagrave will have White against his compatroit, Bacrot, while Guijarro faces Harikrishna. Board 3 will feature the top seed, Hikaru Nakamura of the United States, who is only half a point behind the leaders, against Abhijeet Gupta of India. With five other games of players within a half point of the lead, there is bound to be some exciting chess. 

————————————————————————-

Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 7 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He is @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.