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Saturday, 23 Nov 2019 17:11
Tata Steel Rapid & Blitz: Carlsen pulls away

For the World Champion Magnus Carlsen and India #1 Viswanathan Anand, day two began not on the chessboard, but at Eden Gardens for the Cricket Test Match between India and Bangladesh. They partook in the ceremonial bell ringing to kick off day two of the test match, which has an audience of approximately one billion viewers.

Back on the chessboard, many decisive and exciting games were seen on the second day of Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz. After a strong performance yesterday, Carlsen continued to steal the show with dominating play. 

Round 4

After several lackluster performances (by the World Champion’s standards) Magnus Carlsen seems to be back to his winning ways in Kolkata. In Round 4, he played with his closest pursuer Hikaru Nakamura and won this key game. Nakamura probably mixed something up in the opening as Carlsen got an extremely strong pawn center and a clear advantage. Hikaru defended resourcefully giving up a pawn to stop White’s onslaught but made a crucial misstep with 35…Rb8. After an easy 36.Rc1 White was not only a pawn up, but also much more active. Carlsen converted his advantage comfortably and broke away from the field.

Anand came back after the disaster against Nepo from yesterday. In a very complex Giuoco Piano middle game, Aronian played really well against him, but not quickly enough. Running out of time, the Armenian GM stumbled and gave up a piece. That’s not the kind of advantage you can hand to one of the game’s greatest. After this victory, Anand was on 5 points.

A few days ago Ian Nepomniachtchi convincingly won an online match against Ding, but it looks like both players are far from their best in Kolkata. After an unbelievable mistake in the handbook rook endgame yesterday, Ding Liren lost with white pieces against So. Ding was much better after the opening and was looking for winning chances, but somehow missed an easy pin with an ill-advised Rc8-e8 maneuver. The Chinese GM lost a knight and resigned immediately. The game Harikrishna – Nepomniachtchi saw a remake of Nepo’s yesterday triumph against Anand, but this time Ian was playing a victim. After Harikrishna obtained a dominating position with a strong knight on f5, Russian GM tried to escape in a tactical skirmish. It did not work as the local wild card found an elegant 28.Rc2 and secured his first victory in the event. Giri was trying to play for a win against Vidit with Black, but after a series of exchanges had to agree to a draw.

Round 5

The World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen scored another victory, this time with Black against Anish Girl. With a strong pawn on e6 and the bishop aiming for a cool c5 square, Giri’s position after the opening looked very attractive. Strangely enough, a natural 18.Bc5 was the turning point of the game – Black’s bishops became very active, White had to retreat his pieces, whereas the e6-pawn gradually turned into a weakness. After transposing into a better endgame, Carlsen once again demonstrated his impeccable technique.

Anand recently lost a few games in which his opponents launched a direct attack on his king, and it looks like it was Nakamura’s plan for their Round 5 encounter. This time though Anand wasn’t going down without a fight. His queen returned to the king’s rescue just in time and the game ended with a perpetual.

It is quite a challenge to play Marshall Attack against Levon Aronian, who is indisputably the best expert in this always-popular line. Harikrishna wasn’t up to this challenge today. He had two bishops being a pawn down in the endgame, but Aronian eventually ground him down and finally got his first win in Tata Steel Rapid & Blitz.

Both Nepomniachtchi and Ding have been underperforming in Kolkata so far, and the fifth round Ian’s troubles continued. The Chinese GM was slowly outmaneuvering him in a typical Rui Lopez middle game, but the outcome was still unclear until Nepo just left his rook hanging.

Another Ruy Lopez brought So and Vidit to a queen endgame where the former was looking for the opportunities to play for a win, and the latter was defending. Eventually, Vidit lost the track of the game and threw in the towel.

Round 6

In Round 6, Carlsen faced off against Indian wildcard Vidit Gujrathi. Vidit surprised chess fans by winning a pawn early on and then spent most of the game pressing for a win. However, Carlsen defended his position precisely and held on for a draw. With four victories and two draws so far, the World Champion sits comfortably on top of the leaderboard with 10 points. 

The American grandmasters Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura are tied for second place with 7 points each. After a slow start on the first day, So turned in a fine performance today by defeating Ding and Vidit and drawing with Nepomniachtchi. Nakamura managed to rebound from his Round 4 loss by drawing with Anand in Round 5 and defeating Harikrishna in round 6. With one more day of rapid chess and two days of blitz to go, the tournament is still very much up for grabs. 

Standings after 6 rounds

Photo: Lennart Ootes (Grand Chess Tour)

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