The tension is rising as two players have separated themselves from the pack of leaders. Ding Liren defeated his immediate rival Fabiano Caruana in a well played game and was joined on top of the leaderboard by Ian Nepomniachtchi who won against Wesley So with the black pieces. The two grandmasters are now half a point ahead of Viswanathan Anand and Sergey Karjakin, both of whom drew their games today. As the tournament enters the penultimate round tomorrow, the pressure is mounting with only two rounds left in the tournament.
Standings after round 9
Ding Liren vs Fabiano Caruana 1-0
This was a crucial win for the Chinese player, as he was tied for first with Caruana going into the round. The game itself was a great example of putting pressure on the opponent until they crack. Ding’s position always looked slightly better out of the opening but he felt it became unclear after his 31.f4 as his king became weaker, allowing some attacking chances for his opponent. Caruana had a way of tactically exchanging pieces, initially heading into an equal endgame but ultimately found himself under a huge attack after a few reckless moves. The combination of the queen and the knight is known to be deadly in chess, as Ding masterfully demonstrated in this game.
Wesley So vs Ian Nepomniachtchi 0-1
In a theoretical Symmetrical English line, So made a positional long term pawn sacrifice. In return, he had the better minor piece, initiative and superior pawn structure. Nepomniachtchi happy return his back in order to finish his development and enter a queen endgame, which he thought would end in a draw. The American blundered a pawn the following move but still maintained good drawing chances. Unfortunately, his mistakes started accumulating as he became very low on time. Nepomniachtchi’s king traveled from g7 to c8 to g4 then back to the queenside again, escaping his opponent’s checks. The marathon game ended in 132 moves after So could no longer stop his opponent’s passed pawn from queening.
Viswanathan Anand vs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov ½ - ½
This was yet another disappointing draw for the former World Champion. Anand improved on the Giuoco Piano line played between Vachier-Lagrave and Mamedyarov from round 7 of this tournament, getting the advantage with a dangerous initiative in the opening. Much to his credit, Mamedyarov found creative counterplay by sacrificing a pawn in order to avoid getting suffocated in the normal course of action. Anand was up a pawn but the nature of the position changed to where Mamedyarov had active play. Anand couldn’t keep control of the position and after allowing his opponent’s rooks penetrate the second rank, he had to force a perpetual.
Anish Giri vs Sergey Karjakin ½ - ½
The English Opening has become one of the most popular guests at the top level, with Giri essaying it in this game. An interesting imbalance occurred with Giri having the central pawns while Karjakin had the queenside majority. The Dutchman always had the advantage but Karjakin demonstrated once again why he has earned the nickname of the “minister of defense.” Patiently, he found the most accurate moves, at times putting his pieces in their original positions thus slowly bringing the equilibrium as Giri’s advantage fizzled out. The game ended in an opposite colored bishop endgame.
Levon Aronian vs Magnus Carlsen ½ - ½
The World Champion came very close to scoring the full point he’s been searching for this whole tournament. After a 30 minute think in a balanced position, Aronian played an enterprising move, giving up his central pawn in order to collect his opponent’s queenside pawns. Quickly after he made the move, he realized that the resulting position would be very difficult for him to defend, finding the line that the engines were suggesting. Fortunately for him, the idea did not occur to Carlsen at all. Once the critical moment passed, the game petered out to a draw quickly as the pieces came off the board.
The pregame handshake
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs Hikaru Nakamura ½ - ½
Nakamura’s Caro-Kann quickly turned into a French structure which looked favorable for White. The position looked extremely dangerous for Nakamura after Vachier-Lagrave’s 9.fxg3 recapture, breaking known chess principles of capturing towards the center but opening the “f” file for his rook, aiming at his opponent’s king. Nakamura’s main mistake was on move 19, when he played the f6 pawn break fearing the impending doom on his kingside. Instead of taking the time to calculate the sharp lines that would have given Vachier-Lagrave a winning attack, he played too quickly, finally trading into an endgame. The Frenchman still had the advantage as the resulting endgame was a classical example of a good knight versus a bad bishop but Nakamura was able to find enough counterplay to pull the game into a drawn territory.