Tata Steel 2016: Round 11, Carlsen With One Hand On Trophy.

Win over Hou puts World Champion almost home. Two-way fight in Challengers Group.

It’s getting down to crunch time in the Tata Steel Chess Tournament of 2016, with round-eleven of thirteen taking place on Friday January 29th. It would indicate that the tournament is Magnus Carlsen’s for the taking, and that Fabiano Caruana is the only player still with a remote chance of spoiling his party.

Earlier in the tournament, Magnus Carlsen received some criticism from you chess public, for quiet play. In fairness, I think the criticism was a little harsh, it can take even the best of the best some time to settle into a tournament. However, I can certainly understand the frustration from spectators, especially because the World Champion has demonstrated time and again, that he is capable of creating winning chances apparently from nowhere. Holding a small edge, or even equality, (and no doubt on occasion being worse), he seems to have this ability of giving his opponent chances to err.

A case of this was seen in his 11th round game against Yifan Hou. Hou once again resorted to her Petrov’s Defence against Carlsen’s 1.e4, and it served her well. She equalised extremely confortably, and gave her opponent no chances. The game was blow-for-blow, nothing in it. For a long time it just seemed absolutely dead drawn. Then came Carlsen’s 44.Qc3, offering the exchange of Queens. The point about this move, is that Carlsen seemed to understand, that though things have been rather even, the potential in the position is not dead. Not for him, anyway. It seemed that Black still had to be extremely precise and could not simply make the exchange of Queens, thinking that this would likely resort in a draw.

It didn’t, and after Hou’s 44…Qxf3? (44…Qe7 maintains the equalibrium it seems) and Carlsen’s 45.Kxf3, White had the initiative. The reason is activity (namely, of the White King) and the flexible nature of the White position. Carlsen simply had more waiting moves than his opponent. From here, it was a demonstration of endgame technique, Carlsen squeezing his opponent, leaving her with only her King to play with, and then manoevering it in to zugzwang. A very nice game, and this would ultimately keep Carlsen in the lead.

Black equalised with zero problems in the Bogo-Indian of Tomashevsky-Ding. Black’s pieces seemed to radiate activity, while White’s had very little scope, especially his knights on c3 and e3 and indeed, Tomaskevsky had to invest some time in order to redevelop. White then allowed Black to obtain a knight on d3, supported by his c-pawn, and exchanged what was probably his best piece, the light-squared bishop, that had been well situated along the h1-a8 diagonal. From here, White took far too much time in order to achieve very little, but this was not punished by Black as well as it could have been, and the position became pretty much even. However, some overly aggressive moves, seemingly in time pressure, proved very costly to White, and his last few moves were, quite frankly, blunders.

The other games were drawn, but Michael Adams and Anish Giri had a good old go at each other. Their Sicilian got all kinds of crazy. Giri deviated from Antipov-Sutovsky 2015, with his 10…Ba6 and this saw White obtaining a very awkward (for Black) pawn on e6. Adams then sacrificed rook for bishop and pawn, and this resulted in an extremely unbalanced position and sharp play.

So sharp, infact, that it seems that Adams missed a chance to deal Giri a big blow, via 23.Rd1! Black’s best would be 23…Qxc5 after which there would follow 24.Rd8+ Kg7 25.Bh6+ Kf6 26. Be3 Qxc4 27.Qxh7 where Black is in all sorts of trouble and 27…Bxe6 is probably forced. Here, with the b8-rook hanging, White must stay focussed, 28.Qh8+! (not 28.Rxb8?=) 28…Rg7 29.Bh6! winning by an absolute mile.

Unfortunately for Adams, he played 23.Be3 which was rather tame by comparison. This led to exchanges, which brought about an endgame where Black was probably slightly better with his rook over White’s bishop, but had very little chance of making it tell. Thus, the players split the point.

Loek van Wely’s Reti really did him no favours — in his game with David Navara, Black equalised instantly and was soon hugely better. The situation became extremely complicated by White’s sacrificing of his Queen in return for bishop, knight, and some activity. This was a very viable undertaking, which left the Dutchman with discoveries, forks, skewers all over the place, which left Black better materially, but having to go to all lengths in order to protect it. For this reason, Navara was unable to take any aggressive actions, and could only consolidate. When van Wely initiated repetition, it was not unwelcome. Interesting draw.

Black got the better of the Alekhin-Alapin Sicilian that Shakhryar Mamedyarov and Fabiano Caruana debated. It was an extremely interesting game, and both players had to be on their toes. Black seemed to be doing very well, then came White’s 41.Rxf8! sacrificing rook for bishop and a chance to queen his advanced passed pawn. This he did and it was Queen and two pawns versus rook and four pawns. Here, Mamedyarov chose to repeat moves, much to the dissent of the spectators. Perhaps he could have tried for more, but it was going to be far from a formality, and if Black wanted to batten down the hatches, then it was doubtful that white could force his way through.

Eljanov-So was a Grunfeld Defence, where the players teased each other a bit before exchanging down. In the endgame, Black had an extra pawn, but not really any chance of making it in to anything and the players called it a day. Likewise in the dranw Open Berlin of Wei-Karjakin, in which the players showed willing for over 70-moves, but it was all very straight-forward stuff.

All of this, then, meant that Magnus Carlsen would lead by a point over Fabiano Caruana. With only two rounds remaining, the question is how much ambition Caruana has left for this year’s tournament.

Standings after Round 11:
Carlsen – 8pts
Caruana – 7pts
Ding – 6.5pts
Giri, So, Eljanov – 6pts
Wei, Mamedyarov – 5.5pts
Navara, Karjakin – 5pts
Van Wely – 4.5pts
Hou, Tomashevsky, Adams – 4pts

Round 12, Saturday 30th January 2016 13:30 local time:
Caruana-Van Wely

In what would prove to be another largely decisive day in the Challengers group, Alexey Dreev joined Adhiban Baskaran at the top of the table, thanks to a defeat of Samuel Sevian. Playing the white side of an Advance Caro, Sevian was doing well, but was punished heavily by Dreev for a couple of inaccuracies. In the end, Black was left with two passed pawns, which came charging down the board, and this ultimately decided the day.

White quickly obtained the advantage in the Giuoco Piano of Admiraal-Haast. The game became unblanced with White giving up his rook, but being left with an awesome bishop pair, which cut across the board and dominated the position. Together with his passed wing pawn, White was sitting pretty and all Black resistance was in vain.

Safarli-van Foreest saw Black doing rather well in the Winawer French. It took some risky play from White, namely a very speculative rook sacrifice, to spice things up enough for his opponent to misjudge things and present an opening. In the end, this boiled down to two immense, unstoppable, passed pawns and they claimed the point for White.

The other decisive result came from Benjamin Bok, who never looked in any danger in his King’s Indian against Wenjun Ju. Infact, it was an extremely dominant game and a lovely finish.

Nisipeanu-Baskaran, Batsiashvili-l’Ami and Abasov-Antipov, were drawn. All this left a two-way fight for the top between Baskaran and Dreev with 8/11.

Standings after Round 11:
Baskaran, Dreev – 8pts
Safarli – 7.5pts
Van Foreest, Sevian – 6pts
Nisipeanu, Bok, Antipov, Abasov – 5.5pts
l’Ami – 5pts
Batsiashvili – 4.5pts
Ju, Admiraal – 4pts
Haast – 2pts

Round 12, Saturday 30th January 2016 13:30 local time:
van Foreest-Ju

About John Lee Shaw 291 Articles
Total chess nut! I enjoy following the chess world and giving my two-penneth. I don't pretend to be an expert, I'm more a knowledgeable enthusiast. My chess writing can also be seen at www.chessimprover.com.