The World Champion won in Round 9, while his closest rival only drew. Carlsen now leads by a full point.

Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian World Champion, put a little more distance between himself and the rest of the field in the Tata Steet Chess tournament by winning his ninth-round game. He increased his lead over his closest rival, Fabiano Caruana of the United States, to a full point. Since they played earlier in the tournament, it is looking more and more like the tournament may be Carlsen’s to lose.

In Round 9, Carlsen faced Michael Adams of England, who has been struggling throughout the tournament and is now in last place. Carlsen, who had White, chose the Italian Opening, which was certainly not very ambitious, but, in his usual style, he was content to achieve an equal position and wait for his opponent to make mistakes. 

Adams held his own for a while, but at some point he started to falter with small errors here and there. The first and perhaps most critical moment was in the following position:

White has a very slight strategic edge because of his better control of the center, and if he can play f4 at some point, he will have a significant edge. I think Adams should have neutralized Carlsen’s center by 19. … Rxe4!? After 20. Rxe4 Nxe4 21. Nxg7! Kxg7 22. Qg4+ Ng5 23. h4 Nc6!, Black should have a fine position. The computers suggest some weird lines that end in equality, but, from a human perspective, I would almost prefer Black. The onus would be on White to show he has enough compensation for being down a pawn and I think the Black king is safe enough.

Instead of taking the pawn, Adams chose 19. … Re5. Even after that move, White had only a very modest advantage that a player of Adams’ class will seldom lose. But Carlsen has made a career out of winning positions like this, and he got to work right away.

The game continued 20. Ng3 Ng6 21. Qc2 c6 22. Rad1 Qc7 23. Ndf5 Rd8 24. Qd2. All of Black’s previous moves had made perfect sense, but somehow they were insufficient because White was able to play the f2-f4 advance on the next move. Though he made a few minor mistakes later in the game that made his life a little harder than it needed to be, Carlsen managed to turn his initiative into a material advantage and ultimately won after 66 moves.

The other decisive game in the elite group was the win of Wei Yi of China over David Navara of the Czech Republic. Wei had been very solid, though not especially dangerous during the tournament — drawing his first eight games.

In general, I don’t consider Wei to be quite at the level of the top guys, but when he wins it always is very convincing. Navara, who had Black, chose the Berlin Defense, which is the most solid opening against 1. e4, and Wei simply demolished it.

In the position above, which has been reached many times, Wei chose an interesting plan with 8. Qe2!? I had never seen the most before. (Interestingly, Caruana played the exact same thing against Sergey Karjakin of Russia during this round, and was significantly better before the game was ultimately drawn.) After 8. … Re8 9. Bd2 Bd6, Wei clearly showed his intentions with 10. h4!? — advertising that he wished to castle long and attack Navara’s king. Navara probably did not take this plan seriously enough, because he could have stopped g4 several times in the next few moves but did not.

The game continued 10. … c5 11. h5 h6 12. 0-0-0 Nb8?! I did not like Black’s play before this move, and I thought White’s position was a little more comfortable, but Black’s 12th move struck me as really provocative. Black could have prevented the g4 break with 12. … Nf6. Instead, after 13. Rdg1! Nc6 14. g4 f6, the game reached the following position:

It only took Wei 5 minutes to correctly decide to sacrifice a piece with 15. g5!, at which point Black is pretty much crushed. The game continued 15. … fxg5 16. Nxg5! Nd4 17. Qd1 fxg5 18. Bxg5 Be7 19. Be3 Bf6 20. h6. At this point, Black was completely helpless.

Navara managed to stave off mate, but he had to throw in the towel just eight moves later as he faced the loss of a piece and a hopeless endgame. It was one of the quickest and most devastating losses I have ever seen Navara suffer and was a very impressive display from Wei.

There were four decisive games in the Challengers group, but one of them was particularly important as it brought the leader of the section back to the pack.

Baskaran Adhiban of India had been leading for several rounds and had played excellently throughout the tournament, but he finally stumbled in Round 9 against a lower ranked opponent.

I’ve been very impressed with Adhiban’s opening preparation — it seems to be a perfect mix of high objectives and practical value, and I very rarely see him caught off-guard. This was one of those rare cases though, as Jorden Van Foreest of the Netherlands clearly caught him in the opening.

In the above position, Van Foreest, who had Black, already looks as if he has a more comfortable position, but White certainly has no real problems. Adhiban, perhaps not sensing that there was any danger, played 15. Bd2?, which lost a pawn to 15. … exf5! Adhiban could not regain it by 16. Nxf5 Bxf5 17. Rxf5 because of 17. … Nxd4!

So Adhiban tried 16. Bd3, but after 16. … g6, he was simply down a pawn. Rather than suffer passively and try to defend a difficult position, Adhiban played 18. Nxf5, perhaps hoping that the exposed nature of Black’s king would give him some practical chances. But White did not have enough compensation for the piece and Van Foreest eventually consolidated his position and won the game.

Adhiban’s loss allowed Eltaj Safarli of Azerbaijan to tie him for first, while Alexey Dreev of Russia is only half a point back, meaning the tournament is anything but decided with four rounds to go.

In Round 10, Carlsen will have Black against Anish Giri of the Netherlands, who is No. 3 in the world. If he does not lose that game, I think he will be a huge favorite to win the event. I am also looking forward to the game between Caruana and Wei, as I think this may be the first time someone really challenges Wei in the opening with White. .


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 7 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 is @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.