In round eight, the sole leader, David Anton Guijjaro had a draw against Li Chao. The game was a Petroff, so was never really looking hopeful as of move two, to be perfectly honest. It was not a feeble affair, the players did show willing, but there was just nothing in the position for either to work with, and they soon repeated and split the point.
This result gave the people just off the lead to play catch up and get on his pace of 6.5/8. With just two rounds left, the tournament was still very much wide open. Three players would take their opportunities with both hands.
The first was Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who got the better of a debate in the Open Berlin, with Lazaro Bruzon-Batista. The game was absolutely tit-for-tat, and looking like another Berlin stalemate, but White was just that little bit more active. Very small differences can often prove decisive in chess, and here it was in this case. White was able to claim a couple of pawns, and the mood of the game changed. With a passed pawn having to be kept under control on the Kingside, Black was unable to compete with the active nature of White’s King on the Queenside, where White also had a pawn majority. The diagram, below, shows the position after Black’s 47…f5. Vachier-Lagrave had already been in a winning position, but here, finished the game powerfully, with: 48.Rg5+ Kh6 49.Rb6! and about to lose even more material, Bruzon-Batista resigned.
Pentala Harikrishna must have had a little mixed feelings about his Gibraltar campaign of 2016. On the one hand, he would also be joining the lead – but, on the other, he was having to beat up some of his countrymen in order to do it. In round eight, he would play his fourth Indian opponent. And, he would win – as he had against all but one of his previous Indian opponents.
In this instance, Harikrishna as white, employed the simple but solid London System, against Santosh Gujrathi Vidit. I am not sure whether I would say that Harikrishna had a ‘good’ opening, but it was a successful one. It certainly mixed things up enough to cause his opponent enough confusion and gain the upper hand. White very much focussed on the Kingside, while Black attempted to hold things in the centre and counter on the Queenside. Unfortunately, Vidit would take his eye off of his King, and allow White to swamp his position. The game was decided rather quickly in the end.
Another rather quick result was Etienne Bacrot, who outplayed Aryan Tari in a Caro-Kann. Playing White, Bacrot played a confident and aggressive game. There were a few mistakes, but this is par for the course in human chess. In any case, they were not capitalised upon by his opponent. Tari would also allow his Kings to become dislodged, and forced to run to the Queenside, where it would virtually corner itself. This allowed White to seize a very commanding edge, which Black was unable to resist.
Elsewhere, tournament favourite, Hikaru Nakamura, ground out a win against Sergey Grigoriants, to keep himself in contention just a half point off the lead. A bit of a contrast to this stage at last year’s tournament, when he was sole leader on 7.5/8.
And with that, the penultimate round calls.