Sunday, Wesley So added the Tata Steel Chess Tournament title to his growing collection of championships.
With a win in the last round, So, who now plays for the United States, took first with 9 points, a full point of Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian World Champion, who was clear second. Baskaran Adhiban of India, Levon Aronian of Armenia and Wei Yi of China tied for third, each with 7.5 points.
So’s win, coupled with a loss at the Tradewise Gibraltar tournament by Fabiano Caruana, an American teammate of So’s, also catapulted So to the No. 2 ranking in the world on the Live Chess Ratings list.
The last day of the tournament was action-packed as five of the seven games ended decisively. In addition to So’s win, over Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia, Aronian and Wei, who started the day only a half point behind So, actually lost. Aronian’s loss was to Dmitry Andreikin of Russia — Andreikin’s first win of the tournament. Loek van Wely of the Netherlands, who had had a miserable tournament, losing six games, also picked up his first win, over Pentala Harikrishna of India.
So’s game against Nepomniachtchi was actually the shortest of the day. Nepomniachtchi played the Trompowsky, one of the side lines that has become surprisingly popular in recent years. (Carlsen used it in the first game of his recent World Championship match against Sergey Karjakin of Russia.) The players quickly went off the well known paths and then Nepomniachtchi seemed to lose all sense of danger and chose to make a mysterious pawn sacrifice. It turned out to be a disastrous decision as he overlooked So’s devastating replies:
A surprisingly easy win for So. Perhaps like Carlsen, his opponents are becoming intimidated by his mere presence!
The So-Nepomniachtchi game was not the only one to feature the Trompowsky; it was also in the game between Richard Rapport of Hungary and Adhiban, and Black won there as well.
It was another theoretically unusual game as it ended up in a Sicilian-like position. Rapport, like Nepomniachtchi, played a pawn sacrifice. Though Rapport’s sacrifice made more sense than Nepomniachtchi’s, Adhiban found the antidote:
Over all, it was a stunningly impressive debut by Adhiban in his first elite event. (And, as for the Trompowsky, the two games may serve as warning that it should not be played in elite tournaments.)
Carlsen faced Karjakin, who seemed to be better prepared in the opening. Carlsen may have actually obtained a slight edge, but he never really had a chance to win:
The game between Andreikin and Aronian was dominated by White for most of the game. Andreikin finally broke through with a nice pawn sacrifice:
Andreikin still had a lot of work to do in the endgame until he found a brilliant finesse near the end:
Wei played Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland and outplayed him in the opening. Wojtaszek ended up losing a pawn, but he found a way to complicate the game by giving Wei a choice between two ways to continue, both of which seemed attractive:
In the end, Wei still had good chances for a draw, but he didn’t adjust his ambitions quickly enough and collapsed:
In the game between van Wely and Harikrishna, Harikrishna seemed to go wrong quite early in the game. Perhaps he wanted to play a more ambitious opening as van Wely had had such a terrible tournament and was clearly not in good form. But it didn’t quite work and Harikrishna ended up with a worse position. Van Wely kept up the pressure and played very precisely:
The other game between Anish Giri of the Netherlands and Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine was always close to equal though Giri tried for a long time to create something in a drawish rook endgame. But Eljanov kept it all together and never gave White much of a chance.
Though this was So’s third consecutive victory in an elite tournament, this one was particularly significant as Carlsen had not played in the previous two events. So is beginning to have that aura of invincibility around him that great champions acquire as he has not lost in more than 50 games; he is unbeaten since June of last year. If he manages to become the challenger for the World Championship in 2018, he could be a real threat as he seems to be able to do what Carlsen does best — consistently play good chess and exploit his opponent’s mistakes.
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.
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