Armenian GM Levon Aronian seemed well on his way to win the 10,000-euro first prize in Grandmaster Group A of the 74th annual Tata Steel Tournament at Wijk-aan-Zee on Wednesday. With just three more rounds to go in this, the world’s strongest chess event, he defeated Dutch champion Anish Giri with black to remain on top of the standings, one point ahead of the competition. Of the runners-up sharing second place at the outset of the tenth round, only Vassili Ivanchuk of the Ukraine managed to keep up the pace, winning his game with black against David Navara of the Czech Republic. Azerbaijan’s Teymour Radjabov and Norway’s Magnus Carlsen were both held to a draw and fell back to the third spot.
“It was a very complicated game,” Aronian said about his victory over Giri, which came after 43 moves from a rare line of the Queen’s Gambit and in which preparation played a crucial part. The Armenian knew the line quite well. “Actually, I was the first person to try 7.Be2 dxc4 8.0-0 with white myself and, with black, I now played the new 8…Nb6, which may not have been the best move, but white must know how to play. Anish didn’t quite grasp the position. After 13.Bf3 Rxf3, maybe it was unclear but it was easy for black to play. I had a clear plan and, somehow, Anish began to play very badly. Maybe he was upset it wasn’t what he had prepared for. He committed some inaccuracies and after that it was more or less easy for me.”
Asked whether he felt he was going win the tournament, Aronian smiled and said: “We’ll have to wait and see, don’t we? Anyway, I hope I’ll be able to play the next few games as well as I did today.” Giri, who felt he “was a little bit unlucky, getting these coffee-house positions against coffee-house players” had different hopes for the remainder of the tournament. “Maybe, after three defeats in a row, it is time for a new approach: not to try anything and just play better.”
The ‘Piet Zwart Prize’ – 500 euros set aside for the best game of the day by the municipalities of Velsen and Beverwijk – went to Ivanchuk. GM Ivan Sokolov was impressed by the way ‘Chukie’ handled the modern Ben Oni line, in which black delays castling, changing pieces and freeing his game. “The most interesting aspect was that after move #27, the black knight on g7 turns out to be much stronger than the white bishop on d3, as he demonstrated convincingly,” Sokolov said.
Ivanchuk himself felt that he “was in good shape the last few days” and said that Navara had giving him a helping hand, allowing the devastating 30.Bxf5 Re2. “Before that, I believe the position was maybe about equal.”
Carlsen, the world highest ranked player but still smarting from his defeat at the hands of Russia’s Sergei Karjakin in the previous round, settled for a quiet draw after just 21 moves with black from a semi-Slav Defense against Hikaru Nakamura of the U.S., who said “the opening came as a surprise” for him. “Anyway, I haven’t been feeling too well these last few days, and so,” accepting the peace offer “seemed the practical thing to do. After all, the onus wasn’t on me here. I mean, he’s the stronger player,” Nakamura said.
Radjabov splitting the point with Holland’s Loek van Wely was a comedy of errors caused by the fact that both players were in time trouble. Their game, from a Dutch Defense with the Azeri playing white, was entirely balanced until Radjabov reached the time control with 40.Qf3?? and proposed a draw. With only seconds left on his clock, Van Wely went for the half point – a serious blunder, as 40…Ra2! would at least have earned him a piece.
“It seemed a very reasonable peace offer to me,” said Van Wely, for whom it was his tenth consecutive draw. “Of course, if I’d had a little more time to consider his proposal …”
The draw between World Championship Challenger Boris Gelfand of Israel and Azerbaijan’s Vugar Gashimov, in 25 moves from a Queen’s Indian, was less spectacular with neither player getting any chances or making any serious mistakes.
There were mistakes galore, however, in Karjakin’s Ruy Lopez with white against U.S. champion Gata Kamsky. Karjakin, still in a winning mood after his victory over Carlsen, was too aggressive, Kamsky felt. “It was a very strange game,” he said, in which “I messed up the opening. But then when I played 18…Qc7, he forgot that I had the retreat 19.Qg3 Bd8 after which I equalized because he couldn’t get the two bishops any longer. 22.Nf5 was a mistake, because after 22…Bxf5 23.exf5, he gets no attacking chances and I can just push my pawn and position my rooks.” Karjakin resigned after the time control in a hopeless position.
The final Group-A game of the day also ended in a victory for black, with Italy’s Fabiano Caruano beating Bulgaria’s Veselin Topalov in 39 moves from rare line of the Sicilian Defense.
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