After four rounds, the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters Tournament 2017 was being led by China’s Ju Wenjun and Israel’s Emil Sutovsky. Nine players had led going into the round and would be paired against each other.
The exception to this, was Kacper Piorun, who would face Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who was at the time trailing him by a half point. After their game, Vachier-Lagrave would be half a point ahead. The game was a closed Ruy, with Vachier-Lagrave playing White. Black would get himself into some trouble quite early on, by grabbing a pawn with his knight. This gave some tempi and allowed White some activity, that Vachier-Lagrave used to full effect. Piorun held on, however, at times facing quite some pressure, but managed to survive his opponent’s aggression. That was until the endgame, however, which saw White a couple of pawns to the good. With the Frenchman holding an advanced passed pawn on the Queenside and looking to add another, the writing was on the wall and the Polish GM resigned.
Among the leaders, the winners of the round were Ju Wenjun and Emil Sutovsky. Ju won her game against Samuel Shankland, after the latter blundered badly in a Modern Benoni. Playing Black, Shankland was doing quite well in a game in which mistakes and oversights were exchanged, until he unfortunately made the last major error. In the position, below, he hastily played 36…Rxe4(??) to which White replied 37.Bxd6(!). 37…Qxd6 38.Rxe4 left White up a piece for two pawns and Black never recovered.
Black equalised very nicely in the Breyer Ruy of Sutovsky-Vitiugov and will have been very disappointed to have ended up losing. In an equal position, Black’s 33…Bb2 should have given way to …Rxd5, maintaining the equilibrium. Instead, after 34.Rc5, White obtained a very strong position in which his pieces sprung to life and came into their own. Leaving the d-pawn on the board was a large contributor to Black’s downfall and this ultimately looked like going all the way to the Queening square unless Black accepted heavy losses, so Vitiugov resigned.
On other boards, the other leaders were drawing and this left Wenjun and Sutovsky occupying the top of the standings.
Fabiano Caruana was finding it anything but plain sailing as top seed. Already trailing by half a point, he had another draw in this round, against Daniele Vocaturo. A whole point off the pace, he would have to start scoring some points in order to feature in things at the end of the tournament. The same could be said for defending Champion, Hikaru Nakamura, also on 2.5 points going into this round. The American did improve his situation, however, taking a point at the expense of Benjamin Gledura of Hungary to make his score 3.5/4.
The next round would be the halfway stage in the tournament and would see the two leaders facing each other.