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. 

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. e4 e5 2. f4!? The Kings Gambit does not have the best reputation, but it can be used as a surprise weapon from time to time.
2... exf4 3. Bc4
3. Nf3 This is the old mainline, but Adhiban has other ideas.  )
3... d5 Not my favorite move.
3... Nf6 4. Nc3 c6 I was never sure if White could equalize in this line.  )
4. Bxd5 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nxd5 6. Nxd5 Bd6 7. Nf3 O-O?! This is the first mistake. Now Black loses the pawn on f4.
7... c6 8. Nc3 O-O 9. d4 f6 This way Black can hold on to the pawn and he is not worse in this complicated position.  )
8. d4 Re8 9. e5 Now 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. Nxf4 c5! Black is still okay.
11. c3 cxd4 12. cxd4 Bb4+ 13. Bd2 Bxd2+ 14. Qxd2 Bg4 And after Black plays Nc6, he will have enough compensation.  )
10. Nxf4 f6 11. Nd3?
11. Qd3! This move was much stronger; Black would have been in big trouble. For example:
11... fxe5 12. dxe5 Bb4+ 13. Bd2 Bxd2+ 14. Kxd2 Black is clearly worse.  )
11... fxe5 12. dxe5 Qb6! Now White cannot castle.
13. Qe2 Bf5 14. Be3 Qa5+! An accurate move. Black lures the c-pawn forward before moving to a6.
15. c3 Bc7 16. O-O
16. Nc5 This was the last chance White had for an edge. Still, after
16... Qb5! 17. Qxb5 cxb5 18. Nxb7 Nc6 19. O-O Bd3 20. Rfe1 Nxe5 I believe Black would still have had good drawing chances, with good compensation for his pawn deficit.  )
16... Qa6 17. Rad1 Nd7 Now 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. Bd4 c5 19. Bf2 Nxe5 20. Nfxe5 Bxe5 21. Qf3 Be4 22. Qh3 Bxd3 23. Qxd3 Qxa2 24. Bxc5 Qxb2 25. Bxa7 Bxc3 26. Bf2 Be5 27. Rb1 Qa2 28. Rxb7 Rf8 29. Qb3+ Qxb3 30. Rxb3 Ra2 31. Rf3 Rxf3 32. gxf3 Kf7 33. Bg3 Bd4+ 34. Kh1 Rd2 35. Bf4 Re2 36. Rd1 Bc3 37. Rd3 Bb4 38. Rd4 Bc5 39. 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. h4 g5!? 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. hxg5 This move was fine, too, but there was no reason not to play b6.  )
16... a6 17. hxg5 Ng4 18. Ncxd5! h4 19. Nc7? White falters.
19. Nxg4! This move was necessary. There is nothing to fear after:
19... Bxd5 20. Nf6 Bxg2! 21. Nxd7! Nf3+ 22. Qxf3! Bxf3 23. 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. Nxg4 This was the lesser evil but it surely was not Rapport's plan when he played 19. Nc7.
20... hxg2 21. Nxe6 Rh1+ 22. Kxg2 Rxe1 23. Nxd8 Qxg4 24. Bb2 Rxa1 25. Bxa1 Kxd8 26. Bxd4 Qxd4 27. Qf3 And White would be fine.  )
20. Be4 h2+ 21. Kg2 Ne5 Black now has an overwhelming advantage.  )
20... Kxb7 21. Qxa6+ Kc6 22. Nxg4 Bxg4 23. b7+ Kxc7 Black is taking all of White's pieces, after which he will be up in material and his king will be safe.
24. Qa5+ Kb8 25. Qa8+ Kc7 26. Qa5+ Kd6! Of course Black does not want a draw.
27. Qb6+ Kd5 The king is very safe on d5, and Black is up two pieces.
28. Re3 h2+! 29. Kh1 Qc6! 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. f3 Qxf3+ 32. Rxf3 Bxf3#  )
30... Qxb6 31. Rxb6 Bd6 32. Bb2 Rde8

There was one other decisive result, and it came in the game between Anish Giri of the Netherlands and Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia.

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. Re1 h6?! White already had a nice position, but this move gives him a nice tactical possibility.
16. Bh3! Rc6
16... Rc7 In 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! gxh6 18. Qg4+ Bg5 19. Qxd7 Qxd7 20. Bxd7 White has won a pawn but it's not the end of the story. Black is threatening Bd2. However, Giri was ready for it.
20... Rc7 21. Bf5 Bd2 22. Red1 Bxc3 23. bxc3 Rd8
23... Rxc3 24. Rxd6 And 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... Rxc3 25. Rxb6 And White would have a decisive edge.  )
25. f4! Opening more lines.
25... exf4
25... f6? 26. Be6+ Kg7 27. Bd5 Rc7 28. Rxb6 And White would win easily.  )
26. e5! The point. Black is unable to stop Be4.
26... Bc8
26... d5 27. gxf4 Would be a disaster for Black.  )
27. Be4 Rxc3 28. Rxd6 Rxd6 29. exd6 Material is equal again, but the pawn on b6 is attacked and the White d-pawn is very dangerous.
29... Rc4 30. Bd3 Rc6
30... Rxa4 31. Rxb6 Two connected passed pawns should be more than enough to win.  )
31. Rd1! Kf8
31... Rxd6 32. Bh7+  )
32. Bxa6! The point. Black's position is hopeless.
32... fxg3
32... Bxa6 33. d7  )
33. hxg3

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. Rb8 Kg3?
55... Kf2! Would have given Black a decisive advantage.
56. b7 f3 And 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. Kd1 Which allows
57... Rd2+! 58. Kc1 Rd7! 59. Kc2 Rg7! And Black's king can now use the g-file, so Kg2 followed by f2-f1 would win easily.  )
56. Rg8+! Kf2 57. Rb8 Kf3
57... f3 58. b7 This reaches the same position as the winning line, but with Black to move. He is in zugzwang as well.  )
58. b7 Kf2 59. Rf8 Rxb7 60. Rxf4+ Ke3

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.