After enjoyin a free day on Wednesday, the players in the Masters group of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2016, returned to action for their 5th round on Thursday the 21st of January. As part of the event’s ‘chess on tour’ feature, the round would be played away from the De Moriaan Community Centre, and instead be held at Amsterdam’s Science Centre NEMO.
An exciting concept, which has proven popular, all waited to see whether the chess would match.
If Magnus Carlsen ever decided to retire from chess, he may well consider poker as a second career. The World Champion can certainly bluff well enough, and did so in his round-5 game against Loek van Wely. With the latter in heavy time pressure (he had about 10 minutes left at move 22), Carlsen offered a piece in order to open his opponent’s King. Actually, it did him no favours, but would his opponent know that in the time he had left, and would he be able to make it pay? Unfortunately for the Dutchman, the answer was no, and having to make some very quick moves, his advantage steadily decreased until Black took the game over. With the time control looming, the blunder came with 37.Ne2?? (37.Re3=) which allowed the powerful 37…Rxf1+! and White was cooked. There followed 38.Kxf1 Rd1+ 39.Kg2 Bxe4 and with his Queen about to fall, White gave up. Some might call this a bit of a cheeky win from Carlsen, but I highly disagree, and consider it great match play. Having been criticised for playing too quietly in this tournament so far, I feel that he has answered his critics, showing that he is hungry and not shy about taking risks in persuit of a point.
Shakhryar Mamedyarov’s tournament had not had a great start, but rest days can change a lot. All eyes were on him to see how the day off had worked for him. Round 5 saw him with the White pieces against Michael Adams, and it was reasonable to expect that Shakh would want to do something — would need to do something. The Nimzo-Indian was an open game and very topsy-turvy. When Black was able to establish his dark-squared bishop on h6, it cut across the position and allowed him to win a pawn, albeit most likely temporarily. Adams was a little better at this stage, and it was only a slow move, 34…Ra6, (34…Bg7! — 35.Nc2 Qxb2 35.Qxf4 sees Black fine), which allowed White to turn the situation with 35.Nc2, targetting Black’s exposed queen. From here, White’s position became very active indeed. White was soon 3 pawns up, with two connected passers on the Queenside, and when the Queens came off, it was always going to be a tough situation to defend and Adams didn’t try for very long. A nice game from Mamedyarov, and just what he needed. Adams on the other hand continues to have a very difficult tournament, with 3 losses and a couple of draws.
The other win of the round went to Liren Ding against Sergey Karjakin. Black seemed to hand White the advantage on a plate, castling at the wrong time, allowing 19.g5 from his opponent, which seemed no small thing. After 19…Nh5 (19…Nd5 20.h4 sees White with a big initiative) 20.Qe4 g6 21.Qxc6 saw White with an obvious edge. Ding pressed and obtained an advanced passed pawn on the Queenside, but it was his piece quality which really left Black in trouble. The time investment to redeploy the knight on h5, for starters, was significant. Ding showed great technique in the endgame and claimed the point.
Yifan Hou has impressed me ever since I first saw her at Wijk aan Zee in 2008, during which she defeated among others, Nigel Short. Her fearless and positive playing style has always been a delight to observe. And no less in this round, where she faced tournament leader, Fabiano Caruana, with the black pieces. Weilding the Petrov, Hou equalised seemingly effortlessly, and then claimed the initiative. The leader had a fight on his hands. Such is the ebb and flow in chess, together with the human being’s fascinating ability to make mistakes, things can turn on a sixpence, and that is what happened in this game. Black seemed a little unsure of the correct path, and went from having her i’s dotted and t’s crossed, to having a position that was a little dicey. Caruana pounced, had a huge initiative, and a nice Queenside pawn majority. Hou defended valiantly, however, and the position resulted in a technical draw. I think both players will have raw knuckles after this game.
Black had very little problem in equalising in Wei-Giri. The Sicilian Najdorf wasn’t really very eventful, however, with niether player really in any danger or making any threats. They just steadily exchanged pieces and any looming tensiion in the position evaporated. I do wonder if Giri is feeling a little pressure, not only playing the tournament after having such a good 2015, but he is also tournament ambassador. Perhaps he is having one or two distractions, as he is certainly not having the spicy time that I expected him to so far. It should not be forgotten, however, that he is gearing up to play a World Championship Candidates match in March, so will not want to be revealing his main weapons. The same can be said for Caruana and Karjakin.
After his defeat at the hands of Yifan Hou in the previous round, David Navara had what could be described as a safe and consolidatory game against Wesley So. Niether player really looked to do anything and they just gradually exchanged down leaving lone Kings on the board. Evgeny Tomashevsky obtained the advantage over Pavel Eljanov, but black had a solid position and White didn’t seem to want to press his advantage, so they shook hands just before the time control. Tomashevsky will have the Black pieces against Magnus Carlsen in round 6, so may well rue not trying for more in this White game.
Caruana and Ding lead, then, with Hou, So, Carlsen, and Eljanov hot on their heels. Roll on round 6!
Standings after Round 5:
Caruana, Ding — 3.5pts
Hou, So, Carlsen, Eljanov – 3pts
Karjakin, Wei, Mamedyarov – 2.5pts
Giri, Tomashevsky, Navara — 2pts
Van Wely — 1.5pt
Adams – 1pts
Round 6, Friday 22nd January 2016 13:30 local time:
Round 5 in the Challengers section was played a day earlier than the Masters, and again saw the majority of its games decided.
American Grandmaster, Samuel Sevian, came up with the interesting idea of castling Kingside and then throwing his protective pawns forward. Call me old fashioned, but it is not something that I like. However, as Magnus Carlsen also demonstrated, sometimes risks are worth taking. And as it happened, Sevian’s decision would bear fruit. However, I think it is fair to say that this was not without a little help from his opponent, (unintentionally, no doubt), who cooperated slightly with White’s aspirations. Sevian obtained a nice passed pawn, and with well placed pieces, it was not to be stopped and decided the day.
Erwin l’Ami’s tournament took a turn for the worse, when he dropped a bit of a clanger in his Nimzo-Indian against Mikhail Antipov. Playing White, l’Ami allowed Black to become far too agressive on the Kingside. Trouble began with 20…Qf6! when something is already starting to look good in the Black position, then 21.exf5 gxf5! and 22.Qd2? It was actually better to withdraw the misplaced bishop to d2, but that is an acknowledgement that is very hard for a human player to make. Black punished with 22…f4! and although the cut off bishop can exchange itself nicely enough, Black has a good potential towards the camp of the white King.
Black built up nicely, and soon, the White King was almost suffocated by his own pieces, it was only Black’s hesitancy to throw the kitchen sink forward (27…h5!), which gave White some breathing space. Antipov’s 27…Rae8 was a tad slow. Then came the misguided 28…Nxg4? (28…Rg8 was better, increasing the presence along the g-file) and all of a sudden White was doing ok again. However, having been given a lifeline, l’Ami would misjudge his position, allowing Black to regain his piece in return for an advanced pawn which was more of a pretender than any kind of genuine threat. Black dealt with it cooly and calmly, and was then just overwhelmingly better. A nice win for Antipov, and I think a very disappointing showing from Erwin l’Ami, who was not so much outplayed in this game as he was under-erred.
Anne Haast’s tournament continues to be a tough one, as she dropped another point, this time to Adhiban Baskaran. She didn’t really acquit herself very well, playing the black side of a Slav, her King became stuck in the centre, and White obtained a big edge. Black’s position deteriorated steadily, and in the end it was a bit of a rout to be fair.
Nino Batsiashvili converted a nice point against Miguel Admiraal. White quickly got the better of the Queenside play, and two pawns to the good, and knights and queen with the run of the board, completely dominated the position. To add the icing to the cake, he delivered checkmate on move 45.
The Giuico Piano (I don’t think I have ever typed that this many times while reporting on a tournament) didn’t work so well for Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, who approached his game with Benjamin Bok rather unambitiously in my opinion. Black quickly equalised and took the initiative with far better activity, while White didn’t really seem to be playing to an agenda. However, when the material became unbalanced, (White giving his Queen for two rooks), things seemed to even out. Perhaps White could have tried for more with 34.Rd8+ and 35.Rf8 instead of the 34.Rc8+ and 35.Rf8 that Nisipeanu played. The point is that going the first way would have stopped Black’s 35…Qc2, after which he quickly regained the initiative. However, Nisipeanu gritted his teeth and was not going to surrender easily, and in the end did manage to escape.
White quickly obtained an advantage in Safarli-Ju, obtaining a Queenside passed pawn, which looked quite dangerous. However, Black put up a very galant defence in the endgame, with well placed King and active rook, and managed to throw enough spanners in the works to hold. Dreev-van Foreest had an early bath with a 14-move draw.
All this, then, meant that Alexey Dreev was joined in the lead by Adhiban Baskaran, with 4.5/5.
Standings after Round 5:
Dreev, Baskaran – 4.5pts
Safarli – 3.5pts
Nisipeanu, Antipov, Batsiashvili – 3pts
Sevian, van Foreest, l’Ami – 2.5pts
Bok, Ju – 2pts
Admiraal, Abasov – 1pt
Haast – 0pts
Round 6, Friday 22nd January 2016 13:30 local time: