Caught by surprise in the opening, Wesley So managed to draw in Round 6, which was enough to hold onto the lead as his closest rivals also drew.
It has been 50 games and many months since Wesley So lost a game at a classical time control. Friday, in Round 6 of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament, he was in real trouble, but he survived and drew. That allowed him to keep the lead of the elite tournament.
So now has 4.5 points, followed by Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the World Champion, and Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine, who each have 4 points.
Tata Steel Chess
Wesley So, left, and Baskaran Adhiban during their Round 6 game. In the background is Anish Giri, who seems as surprised as So at Adhiban's opening choice.
There were plenty of interesting games in the round. Amongst the most interesting was So’s game against Baskaran Adhiban of India, mostly because of Adhiban’s opening choice. Adhiban, who had White, played the King’s Gambit, which must have been quite a shock to So! The aggressive choice nearly paid off, but So managed to equalize after Adhiban made a couple of inaccurate moves.
Adhiban, Baskaran vs. So, Wesley
Tata Steel Masters |Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands |Round 6 |20 Jan 2017 |ECO: C33 |1/2-1/2
1. e4e52. f4!?The Kings Gambit does not have the best reputation, but it can be used as a surprise weapon from time to time. 2... exf43. Bc4
( 3. Nf3This is the old mainline, but Adhiban has other ideas. )
3... d5Not my favorite move.
( 3... Nf64. Nc3c6I was never sure if White could equalize in this line. )
4. Bxd5Nf65. Nc3Nxd56. Nxd5Bd67. Nf3O-O?!This is the first mistake. Now Black loses the pawn on f4.
( 7... c68. Nc3O-O9. d4f6This way Black can hold on to the pawn and he is not worse in this complicated position. )
8. d4Re89. e5Now Black is losing the pawn on f4. White's center is a little loose and he is underdeveloped, but if he can consolidate he will be much better. 9... c6?A bad move
( 9... Bf8!10. Nxf4c5!Black is still okay. 11. c3cxd412. cxd4Bb4+13. Bd2Bxd2+14. Qxd2Bg4And after Black plays Nc6, he will have enough compensation. )
10. Nxf4f611. Nd3?
( 11. Qd3!This move was much stronger; Black would have been in big trouble. For example: 11... fxe512. dxe5Bb4+13. Bd2Bxd2+14. Kxd2Black is clearly worse. )
11... fxe512. dxe5Qb6!Now White cannot castle. 13. Qe2Bf514. Be3Qa5+!An accurate move. Black lures the c-pawn forward before moving to a6. 15. c3Bc716. O-O
( 16. Nc5This was the last chance White had for an edge. Still, after 16... Qb5!17. Qxb5cxb518. Nxb7Nc619. O-OBd320. Rfe1Nxe5I believe Black would still have had good drawing chances, with good compensation for his pawn deficit. )
16... Qa617. Rad1Nd7Now the pawn on e5 falls and Black is fine. The rest of the game featured a bunch of exchanges, after which the players agreed to a draw. 18. Bd4c519. Bf2Nxe520. Nfxe5Bxe521. Qf3Be422. Qh3Bxd323. Qxd3Qxa224. Bxc5Qxb225. Bxa7Bxc326. Bf2Be527. Rb1Qa228. Rxb7Rf829. Qb3+Qxb330. Rxb3Ra231. Rf3Rxf332. gxf3Kf733. Bg3Bd4+34. Kh1Rd235. Bf4Re236. Rd1Bc337. Rd3Bb438. Rd4Bc539. Rd2
The other games at the top of the standings were drawn as well. Eljanov made no headway against Sergey Karjakin of Russia, who played the Berlin Defense, while Carlsen drew easily with Black against Levon Aronian of Armenia. The interesting fights came on the other boards.
The wildest game of the day was between Richard Rapport of Hungary and Wei Yi of China, who recently contested a match in China. Rapport just barely won that match in an Armageddon tiebreaker game. In Round 6, Wei got his revenge.
Rapport, Richard vs. Wei Yi
Tata Steel Masters |Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands |Round 6 |20 Jan 2017 |0-1
15. h4g5!?Objectively this is not a great move, but it is very energetic and forces White to play extremely precisely to maintain an edge. 16. b6
( 16. hxg5This move was fine, too, but there was no reason not to play b6. )
( 19. Nxg4!This move was necessary. There is nothing to fear after: 19... Bxd520. Nf6Bxg2!21. Nxd7!Nf3+22. Qxf3!Bxf323. Bb2!And as scary as the White king position looks, there is no mate. White has a big edge. )
19... h3!Black's attack is incredibly fast. 20. Bxb7+?Tempting, but poor.
( 20. Nxg4This was the lesser evil but it surely was not Rapport's plan when he played 19. Nc7. 20... hxg221. Nxe6Rh1+22. Kxg2Rxe123. Nxd8Qxg424. Bb2Rxa125. Bxa1Kxd826. Bxd4Qxd427. Qf3And White would be fine. )
( 20. Be4h2+21. Kg2Ne5Black now has an overwhelming advantage. )
20... Kxb721. Qxa6+Kc622. Nxg4Bxg423. b7+Kxc7Black is taking all of White's pieces, after which he will be up in material and his king will be safe. 24. Qa5+Kb825. Qa8+Kc726. Qa5+Kd6!Of course Black does not want a draw. 27. Qb6+Kd5The king is very safe on d5, and Black is up two pieces. 28. Re3h2+!29. Kh1Qc6!The simplest way to win. White is unable to avoid an exchange of queens. 30. Rb1
( 30. Qxd8+Kc4+It is Black that will be able to deliver checkmate. 31. f3Qxf3+32. Rxf3Bxf3# )
There was one other decisive result, and it came in the game between Anish Giri of the Netherlands and Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia.
Tata Steel Chess
Anish Giri, left, and Ian Nepomniachtchi during their Round 6 game, which Giri won.
Giri had drawn his last 14 games, which is strange as I don’t understand how such a combative player can make so many draws, particularly because he plays the Najdorf Sicilian and the Grunfeld Defense when he has Black. In Round 6, he had White and he won with a smooth effort.
Giri, Anish vs. Nepomniachtchi, Ian
Tata Steel Masters |Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands |Round 6 |20 Jan 2017 |1-0
15. Re1h6?!White already had a nice position, but this move gives him a nice tactical possibility. 16. Bh3!Rc6
( 16... Rc7In hindsight this move might have been better, but still after 17. Be3!White would have had a very pleasant edge because Nf6 is no longer a good move. )
17. Bxh6!gxh618. Qg4+Bg519. Qxd7Qxd720. Bxd7White has won a pawn but it's not the end of the story. Black is threatening Bd2. However, Giri was ready for it. 20... Rc721. Bf5Bd222. Red1Bxc323. bxc3Rd8
( 23... Rxc324. Rxd6And White remains up a pawn. )
24. Rab1!Even though White has doubled, isolated c-pawns and an isolated a-pawn, Black's pawns are just as weak. 24... Rc6
( 24... Rxc325. Rxb6And White would have a decisive edge. )
25. f4!Opening more lines. 25... exf4
( 25... f6?26. Be6+Kg727. Bd5Rc728. Rxb6And White would win easily. )
26. e5!The point. Black is unable to stop Be4. 26... Bc8
( 26... d527. gxf4Would be a disaster for Black. )
27. Be4Rxc328. Rxd6Rxd629. exd6Material is equal again, but the pawn on b6 is attacked and the White d-pawn is very dangerous. 29... Rc430. Bd3Rc6
( 30... Rxa431. Rxb6Two connected passed pawns should be more than enough to win. )
( 31... Rxd632. Bh7+ )
32. Bxa6!The point. Black's position is hopeless. 32... fxg3
The other games were drawn, but not without one miracle save. Loek van Wely of the Netherlands looked like he was going to lose his fifth game in a row, but just when the finish was in sight for his opponent, Dmitry Andreikin of Russia, Andreikin let him off the hook.
van Wely, Loek vs. Andreikin, Dmitry
Tata Steel Masters |Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands |Round 6 |20 Jan 2017 |1/2-1/2
( 55... Kf2!Would have given Black a decisive advantage. 56. b7f3And there is a weird mutual zugzwang position. Black to move would be a draw, but as it is
White's move the only way to avoid losing the b-pawn is 57. Kd1Which allows 57... Rd2+!58. Kc1Rd7!59. Kc2Rg7!And Black's king can now use the g-file, so Kg2 followed by f2-f1 would win easily. )
56. Rg8+!Kf257. Rb8Kf3
( 57... f358. b7This reaches the same position as the winning line, but with Black to move. He is in zugzwang as well. )
In Round 7, Carlsen will have White against Giri. Carlsen has won both his games with White so far (he has had Black four times), so it will be interesting to see if he can pull off another victory or if Giri can go back to his drawing ways (which against Carlsen, with Black, would not be a bad thing).
Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 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 was also a member of the team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter, has his own site, and is also on Facebook.
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