The World Champion’s opponent blundered, giving him a full point, while his closest pursuer only drew. Carlsen now leads by a point with two rounds to play.

The 2016 Tata Steel Chess tournament is not over, but time is rapidly running out if any of Magnus Carlsen’s rivals are to stop him from collecting a fifth title.

Round 11 on Friday was eventful, primarily because of the large number of errors and missed opportunities. It shows that tournaments that are longer than the more traditional nine rounds are hard to play, even with rest days, and that fitness and energy levels are as much a part of chess as mating attacks and rook endings.

The most important game of the round was undoubtedly Carlsen’s win over Hou Yifan of China, the No. 1 ranked woman player in the world. 

When people talk about missed opportunities, it is usually because someone squandered a win and settled for a draw. For Hou, a player with a rating under 2700 player, holding a draw with Black against the World Champion would have been a great result. But she missed her chance.

She reached a difficult queen endgame which was always equal, but also always a little more difficult for Black to play. She defended well, however, until the game reached the following position: 

All she had to do to secure the draw was play 45. … a5, locking out the White king and it would be time to agree to a draw and shake hands. Instead, Hou quickly played 45. … h5??, despite having 24 minutes on her clock, and after 46. Kb4, Black can already resign because she can no longer stop the White king from invading her position.

This was a tough loss for Hou, who now has scored only a half point in her last five games after a magnificent start.

The loss also a significant blow to Carlsen’s closest rivals in the fight for first place, Fabiano Caruana of the United States and Ding Liren of China.

While Caruana only drew in Round 11, Ding at least managed to keep pace by winning a brilliant game against the uber-solid Evgeny Tomashevsky of Russia. And Ding had Black. 

Ding began to take control of the game in the following position:

White is down a pawn but has clear compensation with his large center, and is threatening to restore the material balance with Nxc4. Ding played energetically from this point to secure a large advantage. The game continued 16. … e5! 17. dxe5 Nxe5. White cannot allow the knight to d3, so there followed 18. Bxe5 Rxe5 19. f4 Re8 20. e5.

I now thought White looked quite a bit better, but the young Chinese star found a bunch of strong moves and the game went 20. … Qe6! 21. Kh1 Nd7 22. Nc2 Nc5! 23. Nd4 Qc8 24. Bxc6 Nd3!, offering to give up an exchange, which Tomashevsky did not accept. The knight that had been chased around was now beautifully posted on d3, and Black’s pieces soon sprung to life.

Tomashevsky defended very well for a long time, but Ding finally found a way to break down White’s defenses.

Ding now played 49. … Qb5 and after 50. Nd4 Qb4 51. Qe4 Rb2 52. f6 Qd6 53. Qe5 Rb1!, Tomashevsky resigned as he had to lose at least a piece. The win brought Ding to a very good score of plus 2 for the tournament.

As I mentioned earlier, there were plenty of missed opportunities in Round 11. The biggest was David Navara of the Czech Republic failing to take advantage against Loek van Wely of the Netherlands after achieving a huge edge with Black just after the opening.

In the above position, Black has no shortage of strong moves. My preference would be simply 16. … Nxf2, grabbing a key pawn and leaving Black with connected central passed pawns that should be enough to win the game.

Instead, Navara chose 16. … Bxb2? I can understand the move — he wanted to win an exchange, castle long and call it a day, but he must have missed the strong response 17. Nbd2!, the idea of which is to sacrifice the trapped queen after 17. … Nc3 18. Nxc4! Nxd1 19. Raxd1. At this point, White has two pieces for the queen, but the b2 bishop and Nxd6+ are both threatened, so White’s counter play is significant. From a human perspective, I don’t think White is worse. Indeed, the game eventually ended in a draw.

Another missed chance was in the game between Michael Adams of England and Anish Giri of the Netherlands. It was much harder to find than what Navara’s missed, so hopefully the Englishman will not lose any sleep.

In the above position, Adams, who was White, had a forced win with 23. Rd1! Qxc5 24. Rd8+ Kg7 (of course not 24. … Rf8 25. Rxf8+ Kxf8 26. Qf7 mate) 25. Bh6+! Kf6 (if 25. … Rxh6 then 26. Qf7 is mate) and now I’m guessing Adams missed the silent but devastating 26. Be3!!, gaining a key tempo on the queen. After 26. … Qxc4 27. Qxh7!, it would be all over. Instead Adams chose 23. Be3, and the game later ended in a draw.

Carlsen’s chances of winning the tournament improved greatly after Round 11, but it’s still not locked up as he has to play Ding (who I think is the biggest threat to his World Championship crown in the coming years). If Ding can win in Round 12 while Carlsen draws or loses, then the stakes in the final round encounter will be rather high. 

While Carlsen clearly has the best chance to win the top section, the Challenger’s group is still wide open. Baskaran Adhiban of India, who was in first place by himself after Round 10, nearly lost to the top-seeded Liviu Nisipeanu of Romania. But Adhiban managed a miracle save in the rook ending to secure half a point.

In the sixth hour of the Round 11, Nisipeanu’s fatigue caught up with him and he played 55. f4?, and after 55. … Rd5! 56. Rd1 Rd8! 57. g7 Rd3!, White had no good alternatives. On 58. Kh7, there would follow 58. … Rh3 59. Kg8 Rg3, with an easy draw. Or 58. Rb5 Rh3 59. Rh5 Rg3 60. Rg5 Rh3, with a perpetual.

Nisipeanu tried underpromoting with 58. g8/N, but Adhiban was soon able to win the remaining White pawn, after which followed a rook and knight vs. rook endgame. Nisipeanu continued to press, but Adhiban’s technique was good enough and the players drew after 111 moves.

In the above position, if Nisipeanu had played 55. Rd4!, Black would have been in zugzwang (55. … Rf3 56 Rd6 Ke7 57. Rb6, etc.). 

Adhiban’s draw allowed his nearest rivals to catch up. Alexey Dreev of Russia won his game and is now tied for first, and Eltaj Safarli of Azerbaijan also won and is just half a point back. Since nothing is settled, the rest of the Challengers tournament should be exciting.  


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.