On another action-packed day, the biggest surprise was the quick loss by the reigning World Champion.

Wesley So is not running away from the field in the Tata Steel Chess Tournament, but he is doing enough to stay in first by himself.

In Round 8 on Sunday, So, who plays for the United States, drew easily with Black against Sergey Karjakin of Russia. Heading into the second break, he now has 5.5 points, a half point ahead of Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine and Wei Yi of China. 

The surprise of the round was undoubtedly the loss of Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian World Champion, to Richard Rapport of Hungary.

I was curious to see how Carlsen would react after missing a mate in three in Round 7 against Anish Giri of the Netherlands. Carlsen had Black against Rapport, who had been struggling all tournament and who sometimes plays very erratically. So it seemed that Carlsen might have a chance to win. But it was not to be and I almost wondered if colors had been reversed when I watched the game — instead of playing one of his unusual openings, Rapport played solidly and patiently and was rewarded with a rather quick and fairly easy win.

Rapport, Richard vs. Carlsen, Magnus
Tata Steel Masters | Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands | Round 8 | 22 Jan 2017 | 1-0
e5 This is one of the most standard looking positions I have ever seen Rapport play. While he clearly enjoys playing unusual openings, this game showed that he can play fairly standard positions very well, too!
19. d4!? exd4
19... e4 20. Ne5 This position looks unpleasant for Black.  )
20. Nxd4 c5 21. N4b3 d4 White's pawn structure is not the best but his pieces are very active after
22. Bh3! Black should not be too ambitious. Instead, Carlsen tried decided to go for broke.
22... d3?
22... Rb8 After this move, Black would probably be fine. He needed to play simply and solidly.  )
23. e3! It turns out the pawn on d3 is more of a weakness than a strength.
23... Ne5 24. Bg2! Now Black cannot play Ne4, so it will be very hard to break the blockade of his d-pawn. Meanwhile White is ready play Qa5 and Qc7, targeting the pawn on c5.
24... Rc8 25. f4! Neg4 26. e4! White's center is rolling and he already has a sizeable edge.
26... Re8 A desparate attempt to shake things up.
27. e5! Rapport calls Black's bluff.
27... Nxe5 28. fxe5 Rxe5 29. Rb6 The simplest win. White forces trades after which he material advantage will be overwhelming.
29... Qe7
29... Qc7 30. Rc6 Qb8 31. Rc8+  )
30. Rb8+ Ne8 31. Bc6! Re1+ 32. Qxe1 Qxe1+ 33. Nf1 Black loses his queen after the coming trades on e8 and will just be down a lot of material, so he threw in the towel.

The loss dropped Carlsen into a tie for fourth.

The upsets continued as Baskaran Adhiban of India, the lowest-ranked player in the field, won his second game in a row, this time beating Dmitry Andreikin of Russia. Adhiban is now tied with Carlsen, Karjakin and Levon Aronian of Armenia, all at a score of +1. This is really impressive considering that Adhiban lost two of his first four games.

Adhiban, Baskaran vs. Andreikin, Dmitry
Tata Steel Masters | Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands | Round 8 | 22 Jan 2017 | 1-0
O-O White has is slightly better because he was able to play f4, but he needs to play accurately to parlay that into any sort of real advantage.
11. Nh4! I like this move. White clearly is interested in playing f5.
11... exf4
11... f5 12. h3 Bh5 13. exf5 And b7 is attacked.  )
12. Bxf4 Qd7 13. Rf2 Rae8?
13... f6 Black's position would have been reasonably solid after this move, though it still would have been more pleasant for White.  )
14. Bh6! Bxh6?
14... f6 Again, this move would have been better.
15. Raf1 White is a bit better but it's hard to make further progress.  )
15. Qxh6 b5 16. h3! Adhiban is very tactically aware. The Black bishop is forced back.
16... Be6
16... Bxh3? 17. Nf3! Nxf3+ 18. Bxf3 With the big threat of Rh2.  )
17. Raf1 Qd8 18. Nb1! Another move that I really like. White improves his worst-placed piece, and he has the simple and very effective plan of c3, Nd2-f3-g5.
18... d5 19. Nd2! dxe4
19... Nxc2 20. Ndf3 And White would win a piece because Black cannot deal with the threats of both Rxc2 and Ng5.  )
20. Nxe4 White threatens Nf6+ and then mate. Black stops it for a moment with
20... Nef5 But this does not save his skin.
20... f5 21. Ng5  )
21. Rxf5! Well calculated.
21. Nxf5 Nxf5 22. Rxf5 Bxf5 23. Rxf5 Rxe4! 24. Bxe4 gxf5 25. Bxf5 Qd4+ 26. Kg2 Qg7 And Black would survive.  )
21... Nxf5 22. Rxf5! Now Black cannot play Rxe4, since
22... Qd4+
22... Bxf5 23. Nxf5 Rxe4 Fails to
24. Qg7#  )
23. Rf2 White has two pieces for a rook and the better position. Black's position is effectively in shambles. Though it took another 22 moves, the result was not really in doubt.
23... f5 24. Ng5 Qg7 25. Qxg7+ Kxg7 26. Bc6 h6 27. Nxe6+ Rxe6 28. Bxb5 Rb8 29. a4 a6 30. Bc4 Re1+ 31. Kg2 Rxb2 32. Bxa6 Rc1 33. Bc4 Rcxc2 34. Rxc2 Rxc2+ 35. Kf3 Kf6 36. a5 g5 37. a6 Rc1 38. Ng2 Ke5 39. Ne3 h5 40. Nc2 g4+ 41. Ke3 gxh3 42. a7 h2 43. a8=Q h1=Q 44. Qb8+ Kf6 45. Qf8+ Kg6 46. Bf7+ IT is mate in a couple of moves.

Aronian got to +1 by beating Giri. It was one of the most aesthetically pleasing games I have ever seen as Aronian sacrificed an exchange for long-term compensation and then played brilliantly to convert his edge into a victory.

Aronian, Levon vs. Giri, Anish
Tata Steel Masters | Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands | Round 8 | 22 Jan 2017 | 1-0
c6 8. Na3!? A very unusual move in a well-known position.
8... Nbd7 9. Rc1 Ne4
9... b6 I'm not sure what Aronian had in mind if Black simply continued to develop.  )
10. Be3 Bxa3?! Tempting but poor.
10... b6 Again, I like this move.  )
11. bxa3 Nd6 It looks like Black will be able to place a knight on c4, but Aronian has a surprising idea:
12. c5! Nc4 13. Rxc4! dxc4 14. Qc2 An ingenious exchange sacrifice. White will have an extra pawn, a big center and excellent control of the dark squares, while Black is saddled with a passive bishop on c8.
14... h6 Black prepares to get the bishop out.
14... b6? 15. Ng5! g6 16. Bxc6  )
15. Qxc4 b6 16. Bf4! The d6 square is beckoning for White's pieces
16... Re8 17. Bd6 Bb7 18. Ne5 This seems a little impatient to me, but White definitely has an edge.
18. Rb1 If I was White I would choose to activate my last relatively passive piece.  )
18... bxc5 19. dxc5 Nxe5 20. Bxe5 a5 21. Rb1 Ra7
21... Ba6 22. Qg4 And Black would have trouble defending both g7 and c6.  )
22. Qc3! Provoking weaknesses in Black's position.
22... f6 23. Bd6 The doubled a-pawns barely count as an extra pawn, but White's two bishops and rook are clearly better than Black's two rooks and a bishop! The difference in piece activity is staggering.
23... Ba8 This is not the happiest bishop I have ever seen.
24. Be4 f5 25. Bc2 Rb7 26. Rd1! White naturally avoids a trade as it would relieve some of the pressure on Black's position.
26... Rd7 27. e4! White opens lines to the kingside.
27... Qf6 28. Qc4
28. Qxa5 Going pawn grabbing also looks good to me.  )
28. Qxf6 gxf6 29. exf5 Also should be enough for White to win.  )
28... Kh8 29. Re1 Qf7 30. Qd3 f4 An unfortunate necessity for Black. He loses a central/kingside pawn for absolutely nothing, but what else could he do about the threat of exf5?
31. gxf4 e5 32. Qh3! Rxd6 33. cxd6 Qg6+ 34. Qg3 Qxd6 35. Rd1! Accurate to the end. White invades Black's position with decisive effect.
35... Qc5
35... Qe7 This would have stopped Rd7, but it would not have changed the result.
36. fxe5 c5 37. f4  )
36. Rd7 Rg8 37. Bb3 The rest was easy for Aronian.
37... exf4 38. Qg6 f3 39. h4 Qc3 40. Bxg8 Qe1+ 41. Kh2 Qxf2+ 42. Kh3 Qf1+ 43. Kg4

There is a rest day on Monday and the tournament resumes on Tuesday. So sits in a great position because he will have two Whites in a row after the rest day and I could see him running away with the tournament.


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.