Four Tied for the Lead of Tata Steel Chess Tournament


Game Replays

No one can seem to wrest control of the top section of the Tata Steel tournament in the Netherlands.

For several rounds, the lead teetered back and forth between Viswanathan Anand of India, the world champion, and Hikaru Nakamura of the United States. Tuesday, they played and neither could make any real headway against the other, so the game ended in a draw. That allowed some of the players who were trailing them to catch up.

One of them was Levon Aronian of Armenia, who is No. 3 in the world and was one of the pre-tournament favorites. On Tuesday, he played Alexei Shirov of Spain, who has really been struggling in the tournament. Shirov seems to have suddenly lost his facility for tactical complications, which has always been his hallmark. In his game against Aronian, Shirov once again went astray.

Shirov was Black against Aronian and played the Cambridge Springs Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined. (The system is named for the tournament that took place in Cambridge Springs, Pa., in 1904. The opening was used several times during the tournament by some of the world’s top players.) Shirov exchanged his dark-squared bishop and then played a couple of inferior moves and Aronian soon had a small edge.

Shirov, who was behind in development, traded a bishop and knight for a rook and pawn, which is usually not a good idea. But he achieved a good enough position and the game should probably have ended in a draw. Though there was no reason to do so, at a critical moment Shirov grabbed a pawn that Aronian had intentionally left unguarded. That initiated a series of exchanges which should still have led to a drawn endgame. But Shirov blundered, sacrificing his queen when it was not necessary, or good, and wound up in a lost position. From there, Aronian just ground him down.

Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, No. 4 in the world, also took advantage of the draw between the leaders. He played Erwin l’Ami of the Netherlands, who is the lowest-ranked competitor in the field. The game was not a close contest as Kramnik simply toyed with l’Ami, attacking his king and chasing it out into the open. Though l’Ami resigned while the material balance on the board was still equal and there were no immediate direct threats against his king, the game was already beyond hope.

Anand, Nakamura, Aronian and Kramnik each have 6 points. The only players within striking distance of them are Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the top seed, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France. They drew with each other on Tuesday in a hard-fought game and now have 5.5 points.

There was a shake-up in the B section of the tournament as Wesley So of the Philippines, the leader after Round 8, lost to Li Chao of China.

So had won four consecutive games and must have been feeling very confident. He also had White. The opening was a Grunfeld and So played a system that he had used in Round 7 to beat David Navara of the Czech Republic. Li was prepared and the game soon turned into a head-spinning tactical slug-fest with a series of improbable moves. Li emerged from the complications with a won position because of So’s exposed king and So soon resigned.

While So was losing, Gabriel Sargissian of Armenia was beating Radek Wojtaszek of Poland, the top seed. The game was one of patient maneuvering with Sargissian, who was White, always having a clear-cut advantage. The end was very subtle as Sargissian retreated his bishop to set up a threat of mate that Wojtaszek could only deflect by giving up a lot of his remaining material, so he resigned.

Luke McShane of England drew against Jon Ludvig Hammer of Norway to join So and Sargissian as co-leaders, each with 6 points. Vladislav Tkachiev of France (who beat Surya Ganguly of India) and Zahar Efimenko of Ukraine (who drew with Friso Nijboer of the Netherlands) are tied for fourth, with 5.5 points each.

The drama is draining out of the C section of the tournament as Daniele Vocaturo of Italy is beginning to pull away. On Tuesday, he won his seventh game, beating Sebastian Siebrecht of Germany. Vocaturo has 7.5 points and is 1.5 points ahead of Kateryna Lahno and Ilya Nyzhnyk, two Ukrainian grandmasters (one a woman and the other 14 years old), who drew with each other on Tuesday.

Nakamura and Anand Again Separate Themselves From the Pack at Tata Steel


Game Replays

After a great day of fighting chess in Round 10 of the Tata Steel chess tournament in the Netherlands, Viswanathan Anand of India, the world champion, and Hikaru Nakamura of the United States are once again tied for the lead in the top section. Anand and Nakamura were also co-leaders after the fourth, sixth and eighth rounds.

Four players were tied for the lead after Round 9. But on Wednesday Nakamura beat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France and Anand beat Alexei Shirov of Spain, while Levon Aronian of Armenia and Vladimir Kramnik of Russia respectively drew with Anish Giri and Jan Smeets, two Dutch grandmasters.

Anand and Nakamura each have 7 points and Aronian and Kramnik are tied for third with 6.5 each.

In the other important game of the day, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, who was tied with Vachier-Lagrave a half point behind the leaders after Round 9, lost to Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia.

Carlsen, Vachier-Lagrave and Nepomniachtchi all have 5.5. points, which probably leaves them too far behind the leaders with three rounds to play to have a chance to still win the tournament.

Anand’s win seemed relatively effortless, which is an indication of how out-of-form Shirov is. To borrow a baseball term, he is usually a hard out. Wednesday, he was Black and obtained a reasonable position out of the opening, though there were some pitfalls he had to avoid. For a player like Shirov, that should have been no problem. But he started floundering just out of the opening, first missing a simple developing move (18 … Rac8) and then blundering by misplacing a rook (23 … Rbd8). Three moves later he resigned, probably as discouraged by his play as by the position on the board.

Shirov is tied for last place with Alexander Grischuk, each with 2.5 points.

Nakamura’s win over Vachier-Lagrave was a bit more difficult than Anand’s was over Shirov, but it was very impressive. Vachier-Lagrave chose the Grunfeld Defense and the game entered one of the most popular and complicated variations of the opening. Vachier-Lagrave allowed Nakamura to create a passed pawn, but it seemed he would no difficulty blockading it and obtaining counter play by opening the king side. When he did so, however, it boomeranged on him as the open position became an avenue of attack for Nakamura’s pieces. The speed with which Nakamura mobilized his pieces was impressive. Within a few moves, Vachier-Lagrave had lost a rook and his king was caught in a mating net, and he resigned.

Carlsen began the day only a half point behind the leaders and he had White, so he probably felt compelled to win. The opening was a Sicilian Defense and Carlsen played a bit speculatively, losing his advantage and allowing Nepomniachtchi to obtain a solid position. Nepomniachtchi tried to force a draw by repeating moves, which Carlsen should have allowed. Instead, he avoided the repetition and pressed ahead, using up more and more of his allotted time. At a critical moment, he overlooked a nice queen move by Nepomniachtchi (25 … Qd7), and suddenly White was a bit worse.

Thrown on to the defensive, Carlsen played carefully and Nepomniachtchi had no clear path to victory. He had an opportunity to force a draw by perpetual check, but since Carlsen’s king was very exposed, he chose to continue. It turned out to be a wise decision as he slowly improved the position of his pieces and Carlsen’s king began to run out of air. In desperation, Carlsen sacrificed an exchange (a rook for a knight) to quell the attack. But Nepomniachtchi was able to force a winning endgame and Carlsen eventually resigned.

Two of three leaders in the B section lost on Wednesday. Gabriel Sargissian of Armenia was beaten by Le Quang Liem of Vietnam in a long maneuvering game in which Le Quang’s knight proved to be better than Sargissian’s bishop in the endgame.

Luke McShane of England lost a fascinating and entertaining game to Zahar Efimenko of Ukraine. At one point, McShane tried to sacrifice his queen and Efimenko had to decline it as accepting it would have led to checkmate.

With the victory, Efimenko is tied for the lead with Wesley So of the Philippines, each with 6.5 points. Sargissian and McShane are tied for third with Vladislav Tkachiev of France (who drew with So on Wednesday) and David Navara of the Czech Republic (who beat Li Chao of China). Each has 6 points.

In the C section, Daniele Vocaturo of Italy lost to Ivan Ivanisevic of Serbia. It was Vocaturo’s second loss of the tournament, but, with 7.5 points, he still has a one point lead over Kateryna Lahno of Ukraine, who drew on Wednesday. Ivanisevic is tied for third with Ilya Nyzhnyk of Ukraine, each with 6 points.

Wednesday, 15 of the 21 games in the three sections ended decisively. The high proportion of decisive results has been the pattern throughout the tournament, which is unusual. Often in elite events, about 30 percent end in victory.

It may be the relatively large fields in the sections — there are 14 players in each — puts more pressure on the competitors to play harder because if they draw too many games, they will have little chance to win the tournament.

It may also be that the organizers invited a good mix of players, like Nakamura and Carlsen, for example, who almost always try to win and usually disdain short draws.

Thursday is a rest day and the tournament resumes on Friday with Round 11.

Nakamura Wins Tata Steel Chess Tournament


Game Replays

Hikaru Nakamura of the United States emerged as the winner of the elite section of the Tata Steel chess tournament in the Netherlands after a spate of draws in the final round on Sunday.

Nakamura finished with 9 points, a half point ahead of Viswanathan Anand of India, the world champion. Magnus Carlsen of Norway and Levon Aronian of Armenia tied for third, with 8 points each, while Vladimir Kramnik of Russia and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France were another half point back, tied for fifth.

In the final round, Nakamura had Black against Wang Hao of China. Rather than act like a wallflower and try not to lose, Nakamura played aggressively, even offering to sacrifice an exchange (a rook for a bishop). Wang refused to fully engage, however, and a draw was agreed to rather quickly.

Anand also had Black. His opponent, Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia, gained a bit of a space advantage out of the opening and then did sacrifice an exchange to win a pawn. The resulting position was fairly balanced, however, and the players agreed to a draw after Nepomniachtchi set up a fortress that Anand would not have been able to break. (Interestingly, a computer evaluation of the position showed a clear advantage for Anand, which shows the limitations of computers in some types of positions.)

All-in-all, it was an exceptional performance by Nakamura, who won six games, lost once (to Carlsen), and drew six games. He finished ahead of the four top-ranked players in the world — one of the best results by an American in decades.

Garry Kasparov, the former world champion, was effusive, saying Nakamura’s result was perhaps even better than any tournament performance by Bobby Fischer, the former world champion, and maybe the best in more than 100 years.

Hikaru NakamuraKoen Suyk/European Pressphoto Agency Hikaru Nakamura just after winning the Tata Steel tournament.

In an e-mail, Kasparov said, “Fischer never won a tournament ahead of the world champion. He was second in Santa Monica,” referring to the Second Piatigorsky Cup. “Of course, there were far fewer such events back then, and Fischer had several great tournament results like Stockholm 62,” the interzonal qualifier for the world championship. “Reuben Fine only equaled Keres on points at AVRO in 38.”

Referring to the breakout performance of Frank J. Marshall, the United States Champion from 1909 to 1936, Mr. Kasparov continued, “Then you have Marshall at Cambridge Springs in 1904 ahead of Lasker, though Tarrasch wasn’t there. So unless you include Capablanca as an American player, I think you can go back to Pillsbury at Hastings 1895 for an American tournament victory on par with Nakamura’s.” (Harry Nelson Pillsbury was an American player who died at age 33, never having again equaled his triumph at his first international tournament.)

Kasparov’s analysis is interesting, but he seems to have neglected Gata Kamsky, who won the World Cup in 2007, and beat some outstanding players along the way, including Alexei Shirov, Peter Svidler, Ruslan Ponomariov, and Carlsen. Shirov and Ponomariov also played at Tata Steel. Nakamura beat Shirov and drew with Ponomariov.

Kamsky also played, and lost, a world championship match against Anatoly Karpov in 1996. To qualify, he won a series of matches against top players, including Anand.

In the B section, the co-leaders, Luke McShane of England and David Navara of the Czech Republic, did not play a quick grandmaster draw to split first place. They engaged in a long game of patient maneuvering and Navara, who was White, eventually won a pawn. He was unable to hold on to it, however. They agreed to a draw only after all the pieces were traded off and only pawns that could not move remained.

McShane and Navara tied for first, with 9 points each. Zahar Efimenko of Ukraine, who drew with Gabriel Sargissian of Armenia, was alone in third, with 8.5 points.

The C section was also decided by a clash between the leaders. In this case, Daniele Vocaturo of Italy had a half point lead over Ilya Nyzhnyk, a 14-year-old Ukrainian grandmaster. Vocaturo, who was White, only needed a draw to win the tournament, but it turned out to be no easy matter. Rather than play conservatively, Vocaturo launched an all-out attack against Nyzhnyk’s king. Vocaturo kept hurling pieces at Nyzhnyk, but he defended well. He should have won, as the attack was unsound, but Vocaturo managed to muddy things just enough to force a perpetual check with his lone remaining piece — his queen.

That clinched first place for Vocaturo, who scored 9 points, and second for Nyzhnyk, who finished with 8.5. Kateryna Lahno of Ukraine beat Jan Willem de Jong of the Netherlands to finish third, with 8 points.

In another incredibly entertaining final game, Mark Bluvshtein of Canada wove a mating net around the king of Ivan Ivanisevic of Serbia. They tied for fourth in the C group with Dariusz Swiercz of Poland. Each had 7.5 points.