By Tatev Abrahamyan
After more than six hours of play, it seemed that the round would end with all peaceful results, but a dramatic finish left Topalov at the top of the leaderboard. The start of the round was very promising as several of the games were very complicated. Both Caruana – Vachier-Lagrave and Svidler - Nakamura were double-edged, but after some good defensive ideas, the matches ended in a draws. Ding Liren sacrificed a pawn in the opening, but after hours of play, it looked like the game was going to end in a draw like the others. The Chinese grandmaster’s nerves must have given out, as he found himself in a mating net after being so close to a draw. Going into the day off, Veselin Topalov is now leading the tournament with 3.5/5. The players also took the time to talk about fitness and maintaining good health during the tournament. As it turns out, most of them are fitness enthusiasts and actually find the time to exercise either at the gym or outdoors. Anish Giri also joked that chess players like the idea of the general public thinking that chess players are enthusiastic about the game more than actually being enthusiastic about it. Tomorrow is a day off, so the fans are hoping for fireworks as the players have a full day to recuperate.
Viswanathan Anand – Wesley So ½ - ½
Wesley So had a very interesting line prepared sacrificing a pawn that he was planning to play against Anish Giri in Bilbao last month, but was finally able to utilize it today. Anand called the pawn “half a pawn,” because black had the pair of bishops and a lot of compensation for it. Anand was never able to find any advantage and the game resulted in an opposite color bishop endgame that was completely drawn. In the postgame interview, Anand did not seem to be bothered about being over-prepared and said it was only a matter of time before it happened. Wesley So was once again all smiles after the round and called the upcoming day off “a blessing.”
Anish Giri – Levon Aronian ½ - ½
The Armenian seemed to have recovered from his illness yesterday and came to fight today. He was able to get a slight edge but did not play the critical move to get the advantage because, as he put it, he did not believe it as it allowed the enemy queen into his camp. He seemed regretful in the postgame interview, though, as he admitted to not spending enough time on the move and realized that it would have given him an advantage. Giri felt lucky that he drew the game because he missed his opponent’s idea that would have given Levon the advantage, but he realized it when it was too late. Fortunately for him, Aronian went for the line that was drawn. The Armenian grandmaster joked that he has a lot of energy reserved as most of his games were quick and he is now ready to fight.
Peter Svidler – Hikaru Nakamura ½ - ½
It was clear that this game was going to be very complicated when Nakamura chose to play the King’s Indian, one of the sharpest openings in chess. Svidler chose one of the quietest lines but the resulting position was very messy, with the computers not understanding what was going on, as well as the players. Svidler had an advantage but went for a position that he thought would keep his advantage, only to realize that it was actually dangerous for him. A few moves later, he missed a tactical shot that gave Nakamura the opportunity to draw the game easily.
Fabiano Caruana – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave ½ - ½
This game was also complicated with white having the advantage most of the game. Both players made some unorthodox decisions in the opening, such as playing Kf1-g2 instead of castling. After several exchanges, the players found themselves in an opposite color bishop position. Interestingly enough, in the endgame, having the opposite colored bishops means that the game will most likely end in a draw; however, in the middle game, they can be quite dangerous, especially in attacking positions. Vachier-Lagrave should have given up a pawn, but instead he opened up the h-file, letting Caruana’s rook attack his king. Unfortunately, the U.S. champion did not play energetically enough letting his advantage slip away after the queens were traded off. The resulting endgame was no trouble for the Frenchman.
Veselin Topalov – Ding Liren 1-0
This was a 6.5 hour titanic battle. In the opening, Ding sacrificed a pawn that many of the players and the commentators were baffled by. Topalov won another pawn, but black had good drawing chances throughout. At the 6th hour, black managed to win one of the pawns back and exchanged a pair of minor pieces. The game was headed toward a draw when Ding made a critical error allowing white a winning attack in the endgame – a truly rare occurrence! Even more shockingly, Topalov failed to spot the right continuation and started repeating the position. After two repetitions, just one more before the game would be drawn by the rules of chess, Topalov checked from the different square allowing Ding to go back to the position where Topalov had the winning continuation. The Chinese Grandmaster failed to find the correct move and blundered yet again. This time, Topalov played the correct continuation and the game was over soon after. Ding Liren’s heartbreak was palpable as he realized the cost of his mistake. Topalov is now leading the tournament but still seems unhappy about the level of his play.