With three rounds to go, three players are tied for first and two others are within a half point of the lead.

With three rounds to go, first place in the Challengers group of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament is still up for grabs. At stake, in addition to prize money, is the chance to move up to the top group in next year’s tournament.

The top three seeds — Markus Ragger of Austria, Ilia Smirin of Israel, and Jeffery Xiong of the United States – are tied for first with 7 out of 10, and two players – Eric Hansen of Canada and Gawain Jones of England —- are only half a point behind.

Hansen is the lowest-rated of the group by a wide margin – 62 points – but after a slow start (two draws followed by a loss to Ragger in Round 3) he has come on strong with four wins, including a victory over Xiong in Round 6. His win in Round 10, with Black against Lu Shanglei of China, was especially impressive:

Lu, Shanglei vs. Hansen, Eric
79th Tata Steel GpB | Wijk aan Zee NED | Round 10.2 | 25 Jan 2017 | ECO: A00 | 0-1
1. Nc3 The Dunst is a rare guest in tournament play of any sort, never mind grandmaster chess. On the other hand, it can often transpose to more mainstream openings, so a player could adopt it with those transpositional possibilities in mind.
1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ exf6 6. c3 Bd6 7. Bd3 O-O 8. Ne2 Re8 is a well-known theoretical position which is very similar to what arises in the game after White's 8.Ne2. If Black were to play ...c6 there it would transpose to this exact position, but Black was able to do better by playing ...c5 instead. Even so, the family resemblance was not obliterated, and the play there was very much in keeping with the play here. White's main move here is
9. Qc2 and now
9... g6 10. h4 Be6 or
...  11. h5 f5 is common and strongly reminiscent of the game.  )
1... d5 2. e4 Now play has transposed to a Scandinavian with 2. Nc3.
2... dxe4
2... d4 is the more principled choice, but Hansen's move is fine and leads to a more open battle.  )
3. Nxe4 Nf6 Now the position becomes a lot like the Classical Caro-Kann with 4...Nf6 - see the note with 1.e4.
4. Nxf6+ exf6 5. d4 Bd6 6. Bd3 O-O 7. c3
7. Ne2 is the most common move, maintaining the option of castling kingside. This was played in a very high-level blitz game about 2 1/2 years ago:
7... Nc6 8. c3 f5 9. Qc2 Qf6 10. Bd2 h6 11. O-O-O a5 12. Ng3 Ne7 13. f3 a4 1/2-1/2 (46) Topalov,V (2772) -Kramnik,V (2783) Flor & Fjaere 2014  )
7... Re8+ 8. Ne2 c5 A good move, taking advantage of the fact that this isn't exactly a Caro-Kann. If White wants to castle queenside, Black will be ready with his counterattack.
9. Be3 Nd7
9... cxd4 10. Nxd4 Bf4 was a good alternative.  )
10. Qc2 g6 It was also possible to play ...h6, but this is at least as good. Black, correctly, is unafraid of h4-h5.
11. O-O-O Qc7 This is not a purely innocent developing move; White must now attend to the possibility of ...c4.
12. Qd2?!
12. b3 weakens White's queenside a little, but it may still be the best move.  )
12... c4! It's possible that White underestimated this move, perhaps considering that it would make it harder for Black to open lines against White king. It turns out that Black's inability to open the c-file is more than compensated by two gains: a fantastic outpost on d5, and the chance to keep attacking with ...b7-b5-b4.
13. Bb1 With the benefit of hindsight we may conclude that
13. Bc2 was more accurate, but it's easy to think that Bb1 is better, so that White can defend b2 laterally if he has to.  )
13... Nb6?! The immediate
13... b5 at least looks more natural, not only for the sake of the coming ...b4 advance but to develop the bishop on b7 as well.  )
14. h4?
14. d5! was necessary to minimize the damage. After missing this chance, White's position quickly deteriorates.  )
14... Nd5 /-+
15. h5 Bg4! 16. Rh4
16. Rde1 was better, but White's plight remains dire after
16... b5 , with an attack that practically plays itself.  )
16... f5 17. Rdh1 It looks like White is attacking, but he is in fact in huge trouble. White's minor pieces on the e-file are vulnerable to ideas like ...Bxe2 Qxe2 f4, or even to an immediate ...f4 (excepting worries about Rxg4 in reply). Black is already winning.
17... Re7 A nice move, defending h7 laterally (after hxg6 fxg6) and preparing to double rooks on the e-file.
17... Bxe2? doesn't work, however, because White's counterattack is too strong and too fast:
18. hxg6! fxg6 19. Rxh7 Qxh7 20. Rxh7 Kxh7 21. Qxe2 /+/- and the bad luck for Black is that
21... f4?? loses on the spot to
22. Qh5+  )
18. Bc2 Aimed against the plan of doubling rooks, but Lu is in for a surprise.
18... Rae8! 19. Ba4 Rxe3!
19... Nxe3! was good too:
20. Bxe8 Nxg2 21. hxg6 fxg6 22. Rxg4 fxg4 23. Bxg6 hxg6 24. Qh6 Bf4+  )
20. hxg6
20. fxe3 Rxe3 21. Rxg4 fxg4 22. Kb1 Qe7 23. Nc1 Bf4 leaves Black with only one extra pawn, but his pieces dominate the board to such an extent that he is winning here.  )
20... fxg6
20... Rxe2! was stronger if unnecessarily tricky. Hansen prefers to keep things simpler; an eminently reasonable decision when the simpler method is also clearly winning. Still, this is extremely strong. For example:
21. Bxe8 fxg6 22. Rxh7 Bf4 23. Rxc7 Bxd2+ 24. Kb1 Nxc7  )
20... fxg6 21. fxe3 Rxe3 22. Rxh7 Qxh7 23. Rxh7 Kxh7 24. Bd1 Rxe2 25. Bxe2 Bf4 26. Bxc4 Bxd2+ 27. Kxd2 Nf4 White has only one pawn for the knight, and it's nowhere near enough.  )


Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.