Report of round 9

In round 9 of the 75th Tata Steel Chess Tournament the world number one Magnus Carlsen increased his lead to a full point. Although the top seed quickly gained the upper hand with black against the bottom seed, Hou Yifan (see picture), the former Women's World Champion put up a fierce fight and only threw in the towel deep in a queen endgame. Viswanathan Anand, in second place at 6 out of 9, surprised Peter Leko with a Najdorf Sicilian, and a novelty. It did not give him more than equality and the game was drawn in 25 moves.

On paper, Hikaru Nakamura seemed to have good chances to join Anand in 2nd place, playing White against Anish Giri (see picture). Since 2012 Tata, the American had played the Dutchman six (!) times, winning two games and losing none. However, as in Nakamura's previous encounters with the Dutch in this tournament, he again needed his Houdini-like qualities to escape from a lost position. In time trouble Giri lost control over a strategically dominating position with a pair of bishops and strong pawn center (see diagram), and eventually had to force a repetition of moves when the time scramble was over. Levon Aronian was as fortunate as Nakamura and still shares 3rd place with the American. The Armenian Grandmaster had barely started the game when he overplayed his hand, pushing his h-pawn for an attack on Erwin l'Ami's king that never materialized. In the counter attack on the other side of the board the Dutchman was careless for one moment with (see diagram) 18.Qc2?! allowing Black to activate his h8-rook with a pawn sacrifice after 18...Rxc4 19.Qxc4 Ng4! 20.Bxg7 Kxg7 21.Qd4 Nf6 22.Qxa7 Rc8. Instead, Aronian would have been in serious trouble after 18.Rxc8 Qxc8 19.Qa1! followed by Rc1.

Also drawn were the games Karjakin-Harikrishna and Wang Hao-Caruana, although the latter game contained a highly entertaining tactical sequence: (see diagram) Black has just played e6-e5 and White now trapped his own bishop with 17.Ne2!?. After 17...e4 18.Bxa6 Na7! 19.Ng3! Bxg3 20.fxg3 bxa6 21.Rc7 Rd7 22.Bb4 Rxc7! 23.Bxe7 Rxe7 24.Qb3 Rc8 25.Rxc8 Nxc8 the smoke cleared, revealing a highly irregular position in which Caruana eventually managed to block Wang Hao's queen and queenside pawns. In a last-ditch effort the Chinese Grandmaster gave back his queen to clear a path for his passed a-pawn, but Black countered by giving up his last knight to force a self-stalemate with (see diagram) 53...Ne6! 54.a7 Nc7 55.g4 Na8 56.Kb7 Kd7 57.Kxa8 Kc8.

The only other decisive result of the round was produced by the all-Dutch encounter between Ivan Sokolov and Loek van Wely. The latter surprised his opponent by playing the Nimzo-Indian, as Sokolov is known as a leading expert of this opening, being the author of The Strategic Nimzo-Indian published last year. The game proved to be a rollercoaster ride that was decided in time trouble when, instead of (see diagram) 31.Qf4 Nxh5 32.Qxh4 Nxg7 33.Re5 with an overwhelming positional advantage, Sokolov played 31.Nf4? Nf7! and all of a sudden White is in tremendous trouble due to the potential pins along the c1-h6 and h2-b8 diagonals. Sokolov was unable to parry all the threats and resigned on move 39. Van Wely continues to be the best Dutchman in A at 4,5 out of 9.

In Grandmaster Group B Sergei Movsesian, one of the pre-tournament favorites, is in a clear lead for the first time. The Aremenian surprised his opponent Maxim Turov with a devastating attack along the h-file immediately following the first time control. The Dutch fans had high hopes that Jan Timman would win his fourth game in a row, this time with Black against top seed Arkadij Naiditsch. To their disappointment, the Dutchman first squandered his endgame advantage, and then blundered, handing the point to the Germany's number one who now shares 2nd place with Hungary's Richard Rapport at 6 out of 9.

As in Group B, Group C witnessed a blood bath today with decisive results in 5 of the 7 games. Among the winners was Sabino Brunello who now leads at 7,5 out of 9, half a point ahead of Fernando Peralta. 3rd Placed David Klein needed to beat 13rd seed Miguoel Admiraal (see picture) for a GM norm, but was checkmated brutally after a very nice display by Admiraal worthy of a brilliancy prize.