But three players, including Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion, trail by half a point.

The masters section of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament is poised for a very interesting finish. Wesley So of the United States still leads, as he has throughout most of the competition, but there are three players — Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the World Champion, Levon Aronian of Armenia and Wei Yi of China — within half a point heading into the last round. 

So actually faced Wei in Round 12 but couldn’t put much pressure on him. That allowed Carlsen and Aronian to close the gap after both won. 

Carlsen had to really work hard to win with Black against Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine. Throughout much of the game, Carlsen had a rather passive position while Eljanov seemed to be the one exerting pressure. But as he has done so many times, Carlsen kept everything in control and then seized the crucial moment to start turning things around:

Eljanov, Pavel vs. Carlsen, Magnus
79th Tata Steel GpA | Wijk aan Zee NED | Round 12.1 | 28 Jan 2017 | ECO: A90 | 0-1
1. d4 e6 2. c4 f5 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 d5 5. Nf3 Bd6 6. Nc3 c6 7. Bf4 Bxf4 8. gxf4 O-O 9. e3 Bd7 10. Qb3 Qc7 11. O-O Be8 12. Rfc1 Qe7 13. Qa3 Qxa3 14. bxa3 Nbd7 15. Rab1 Rb8 16. a4 a5 17. Rb2 Ne4 18. Nxe4 dxe4 19. Ng5 Rf6 20. f3 h6 21. Nh3 exf3 22. Bxf3 Rf7 23. Nf2 c5 24. Nd3 cxd4 25. exd4 Nf6 26. Nc5 Ne4 27. Nxe6 Bxa4 28. d5 Bd7 29. Bxe4 fxe4 30. Nc5 Bg4! It was natural to expect the bishop to go to f5, so this must have come for a surprise for White.
31. Re1 Rc8!
31... Rxf4 32. Rxe4 Rbf8 33. Rxf4 Rxf4 34. Ne6 Would have quickly led to a drawn endgame.  )
32. Nxe4
32. Nxb7 Rb8 33. Reb1 Rxf4 Would be a very double-edged position. The central pawns look dangerous, but Black has threats as well:
34. c5 Bh3! Black has mating threats!
35. c6 Rbf8 And Rf1 can't be prevented.  )
32... Rxf4 33. Nd6
33. Nd2  )
33... Rcf8 34. Rb3 R8f6 35. Ne4 It might look like White can win both the queenside pawns with
35. Nxb7 but Black can use kingside threats to save the a5 pawn:
35... a4! 36. Rc3 Rg6 37. Rg3 Rxc4 Keeping the pressure on.  )
35... Rg6 36. Rg3 b6 37. d6 An inaccuracy. Perhaps Eljanov became ambitious, or maybe he just didn't sense any danger. He clearly didn't expect Black's reply.
37. h3! Bf5 38. Rxg6 Bxg6 39. Nd6 With one of the rooks off the board, White's defensive job would be much simpler and White should have been able to draw without too much difficulty.  )
37... Kh7! The rook on g6 is defended, so White doesn't have options like h3. It is no longer easy for White to find good moves. Perhaps White could have played a waiting move like Ree3, but that would have been difficult to make that shift psychologically. So Eljanov tries a more extreme approach:
38. Nf2
38. c5 bxc5 39. Nxc5 Rxd6  )
38... Rxc4 39. Nxg4 Rgxg4 40. Rxg4 Rxg4+ 41. Kf2 The conventional wisdom is that rook pawn endgames are often drawish even if material is not equal, so Eljanov's decision makes sense.
41... Rd4 42. Re6 Kg8 43. Ke3 Rd1 44. d7 Rxd7 45. Rxb6 Without the a-pawns, this would be a draw. But in this position, it isn't so clear.
45... Rd5 46. Rb2 The passive setup does not seem to work. Perhaps it was better to sacrifice the h2-pawn for the a-pawn, but I am not sure how that would have fared either. It is very hard to assess these endgames.
46... Kh7 47. Ke4
47. a4!? Would have been an interesting defensive setup. It is very hard to evaluate after
47... Rh5 48. Rb5 Rxh2 49. Rxa5  )
47... Rh5! 48. Kf4 Rh4+ 49. Kg3 g5 Getting the rook to the a-file, which would keep the White rook very passive.
50. Rb7+ Kg6 51. Rb6+ Kh5 52. h3 An interesting defensive idea: White sacrifices the a-pawn and hopes this is a fortress. It almost is!
52. Rb2 Ra4 53. Kg2 Ra3 White continues to suffer, but there is no easy way to win for Black.
54. Rc2 Kh4 55. Rb2 g4 56. Rc2 h5 57. Rd2 a4 58. Rc2 Rd3 59. Re2 a3 60. Rc2 Rd1! The Black rook gets to the second rank and after that it's game over.  )
52. Rb3 Ra4 53. a3 Might have been the best defensive attempt, but I think eventually Black would probably. Having the rook on the third rank is a better defense for White, but it is not quite enough once Black manages to transfer his rook there and starts threatening to enter on the kingside.  )
52... Ra4 53. Rc6 Ra3+ 54. Kg2 Rxa2+ 55. Kg3 The idea is that while the White rook is on the sixth rank, the Black king can't move.
55... a4 56. Ra6 a3 57. Kf3 How will Black improve? The key is that after the White rook is forced to leave the sixth rank, the Black king can go Kh4 and collect the h-pawn.
57... Rb2 58. Kg3 a2 59. Kf3 a1=Q! 60. Rxa1 Kh4 And the h- pawn will fall.

The endgame was particularly instructive. It didn’t seem to be an easy win to me, but Carlsen’s technique was flawless, and I now think that it is very hard to defend that type of endgame.

Aronian also deserved all praise for a pretty victory against Loek Van Wely of the Netherlands — although it wasn’t as hard or impressive as his Round 10 win against Richard Rapport of Hungary. Everything from the following position worked like clockwork:

Aronian, Levon vs. Van Wely, Loek
79th Tata Steel GpA | Wijk aan Zee NED | Round 12.4 | 28 Jan 2017 | ECO: E81 | 1-0
Rb7 It seems like a typical Benoni position. It would appear that Black doesn't have anything particularly to worry about. But Aronian starts weaving his magic:
24. Qf4! After Qh4, it will be impossible for Black to get rid of this pin. Black tries some desperate measures:
24... Qe7 25. Qh4 Qe5 26. Rd2! Taking away the d4 square from the queen.
26. f4 Qd4! The queen would be perfectly placed on d4.  )
26... Bxc4
26... Nd7!? 27. f4 Qg7 Made some sense, if Black wanted to avoid sacrifices. White could now have followed with the thematic sacrifice:
28. e5! dxe5 29. f5 With Ne4 to follow. The Black pieces are very passive and poorly placed.  )
27. f4! Qxe4!? An interesting sacrifice.
27... Qe7 28. bxc4  )
28. Nxe4 Nxe4 29. Re1! This required some very precise calculation by Aronian.
29... Bc3
29... Bb5! Was a much better defensive move, but White would still have had a kingside initiative. At least the two minor pieces would have provided Black with decent compensation.
30. f5! gxf5 31. g4 f4 32. Bxf4  )
30. f5! Bxd2 31. Bxd2 Bxd5 32. Rxe4! Aronian had to have foreseen this when he played Re1!
32... Bxe4
32... Rxe4 33. Qd8+ Kg7 34. f6#  )
33. Qf6! Bxg2+ 34. Kg1 After Bh6, Black's king will be in a mating net.

I was most impressed by the game between Radoslaw Wojtaszek Poland and Dmitry Andreikin of Russia. Neither player has done particularly well in the event, but they do continue to play interesting games. Their game in Round 12 started somewhat slowly, but then Andreikin avoided a drawish line to sacrifice an exchange. The computers disagreed with Andreikin’s plan, but his idea had an aesthetic appeal, which was justified as he walked his king across the board. It was equally impressive to see how Wojtaszek dealt with his problems and found a precise defense at the very end:

Wojtaszek, Radoslaw vs. Andreikin, Dmitry
79th Tata Steel GpA | Wijk aan Zee NED | Round 12.3 | 28 Jan 2017 | ECO: D15 | 1/2-1/2
31. Nd4 Ba6!? 32. Bc6+ Rxc6 33. Nxc6 Rc8 34. Nd4 b4 It is difficult to evaluate the chances in this position. During the game, I felt these two pawns were very dangerous and I think that Wojtaszek must have been very worried.
35. Rab1 c3 36. Nxf5 Bc5 White has a lot of pawns, but they aren't dangerous. Meanwhile, all of Black's pieces are very harmoniously coordinated around his pawns.
37. Nd4 Bxd4! The computers don't like this move and it is not immediately clear why it is good. But if Black did not play this, White could have easily set up a blockade on the queenside by playing Nb3 and it would have been impossible to break. It doesn't look like Black has a way to do so even after Bxd4, but Andreikin had a long-term plan up his sleeve.
37... Bd3 38. Nb3! Bxb1 39. Rxb1  )
38. exd4 Rc4 39. f3 Kd7! The king is coming! It is a very deep idea.
40. Kf2 Kc6 41. Ke3 Kb5 The king is headed to c4. Black's plan looks slow, but he is almost there. If the king gets to c4, then the White rooks will be useless.
42. g4 Rc8!? The pawn on g4 can be ignored, of course.
43. Kd3!
43. gxh5 Kc4! 44. h6 Re8+ 45. Kf2 b3  )
43... Kxa5+ 44. Kc2 The White king is awkwardly placed, but it does the job of keeping the Black pawns in check.
44... Bc4 45. Ra1+ Kb5 46. Ra7! White is in time to find some counterplay of his own.
46. gxh5 Be6 Followed by Kc4. White still has problems.  )
46... Bd5 47. Kd3! Controlling the c4 square, and setting up the net to put the Black king in a perpetual check.
47... b3 48. Rca1! b2 49. R1a5+ Kb6 50. R5a6+ A pretty neat defensive save at the end!
50... Kb5 51. Ra5+ Kb6

The remaining games, which were all drawn, weren’t as interesting, but there were some moments worth noting in most of them. The game between So and Wei was slightly anti-climatic. Wei chose a slightly unusual and passive variation that has served him well in the past. For some reason, So did not seem to be prepared for that. Essentially, they followed a game Wei had played three years ago, until So deviated with a worse move and let Wei off easy:

So, Wesley vs. Wei Yi
79th Tata Steel GpA | Wijk aan Zee NED | Round 12.5 | 28 Jan 2017 | ECO: D41 | 1/2-1/2
1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. c4 e6 4. Nc3 c5 5. cxd5 The more commonly played moves are Nxd5 or exd5. But Wei chose:
5... cxd4 This is usually considered to lead to slightly worse, or passive endgame for Black. But Wei has successfully drawn in this position as Black in previous games.
6. Qxd4 exd5 7. e4 Nc6 8. Bb5 dxe4 9. Qxd8+ Kxd8 10. Ng5 Be6 All the previous moves have been played before and are well known theory.
11. Bxc6 bxc6 12. Nxe6+ fxe6 13. Ke2 Bb4 14. Na4 Kc7 15. Bf4+ A novelty. Instead of 15. Be3, which was played in Ding Liren vs. Wei Yi in 2014, White is able to force the Black bishop to a poorer position. I think that So had not prepared this move before the game but found it over the board.
15... Bd6 16. Be3 Nd5 17. Rac1 Rhf8 Black seems to have no problems. Everything soon simplified to a very drawish endgame:
18. Nc5 Bxc5 19. Rxc5 Nf4+ 20. Bxf4+ Rxf4 And the players drew soon afterward.

Baskaran Adhiban of India continued his trend of playing slightly off beat lines. In Round 12, he caught Anish Giri of the Netherlands slightly off guard — it seemed that Giri’s position was possibly worse — but Giri had everything under control and used some tactics to save it all:

Adhiban, Baskaran vs. Giri, Anish
79th Tata Steel GpA | Wijk aan Zee NED | Round 12.2 | 28 Jan 2017 | ECO: C24 | 1/2-1/2
14. d4 O-O-O! The move dxe5 is clearly not possible, but Black had to correctly calculate
15. Qa4 a6! Now dxe5 is still not possible.
16. Qb3
16. dxe5 Bc5+ 17. Kh1 fxe5 And Black's position will be very comfortable after he takes the White knight.  )
16... Qxb3 17. axb3 Ng6 With a fairly equal position. After
18. Nxg6 hxg6 19. Bf4 Bxf4 20. Rxf4 Rde8 Only Black could be better, but Giri put less pressure on Adhiban than he could have in the rest of the game and it ended in a draw.

Pentala Harikrishna of India got confused in the opening against Richard Rapport of Hungary and ended up in a worse endgame. Fortunately for him, it was not too hard to defend and he managed to draw. 

Harikrishna, Pentala vs. Rapport, Richard
79th Tata Steel GpA | Wijk aan Zee NED | Round 12.7 | 28 Jan 2017 | ECO: B12 | 1/2-1/2
h5 The Caro-kann lines are confusing because there are so many precise move orders. In this position, Harikrishna became a bit careless:
9. Nd2? Forgetting about a well-known tactic:
9... Ndxe5! 10. dxe5 d4 And Black wins the piece back. Harikrishna finds a good way to minimize the damage by sacrificing a pawn and going into a drawish endgame:
11. Nc4 dxe3 12. Nxe3!? The move fxe3 would have kept material equal and White may even have been fine. But White's pawn structure would clearly leave much to be desired. So Harikrishna chooses to defend a worse endgame instead:
12... Nxe5 13. Nxf5 exf5 14. Nd3 It is hard for Black to avoid the exchanges.
14... Bd6 15. Nxe5 Bxe5 16. Qxd8+ Kxd8 17. c3 The position isn't ideal for White, but it is not too difficult for White to hold it. Rapport tried hard for a long time, but he never came too close to a win.

The other game, between Sergey Karjakin and Ian Nepomniachchi, both of Russia, was not too interesting. Nepomniachtchi, who had Black, seemed to be better prepared and equalized without making much efforts.

So finishes up with Black against Nepomniachtchi. This game could be interesting as Nepomniachtchi is capable of playing explosively. Carlsen has White against Karjakin, his opponent during last year’s World Championship match in New York. Karjakin edged Carlsen out of the World Blitz Championship last month and he no doubt wants to spoil another event for Carlsen, while Carlsen wouldn’t mind getting a little revenge. 

Aronian has Black against Andreikin and Wei has White against Wojtaszek, so there are plenty of interesting games to watch. 


Parimarjan Negi is an Indian grandmaster who is the second-youngest ever to earn the title (at 13 years 4 months and 22 days). Ranked No. 77 in the world, he is a junior at Stanford University. He can be found on Twitter at @parimarjan.