The rapid portion of the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid and Blitz concluded on day 3 with reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen extending his lead even further over the competition. The National Library of Kolkata filled up with chess fans this Sunday afternoon as the day commenced with Magnus Carlsen squaring off against Viswanathan Anand. This was their first encounter on Indian soil since the 2013 World Championship Match, in which the Carlsen dismantled Anand for the coveted world title.
The battle of champions between Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand became a jewel of the 7th round. Somewhat unexpectedly, Anand opted for a very sharp line and tried to fight for the initiative from the very start. He sacrificed his h6-pawn then an exchange to keep the white king in the center. It is unclear whether this plan could have worked or not but 19...Re8, allowing the king to escape through f2 was definitely a mistake. Carlsen counterattacked in the center, activated his queen and won quite quickly increasing the gap from the whole crew to 4 points.
Ian Nepomniachtchi chose the Scotch versus Vidit Gujharhi trying to turn the tide in a yet disastrous tournament. Once again, the Indian wild card was doing fine until the complex endgame. Even after winning a pawn Ian wasn't in full command as Black queen was active and dangerous. Unluckily for Vidit, he completely missed Nepo's idea of returning a pawn to force the queen's exchange and secure a dominating c5-position for his knight. Commentators immediately pointed out that this endgame was hopeless for Black, and the course of the game proved that they were right. Nepomniachtchi won but remained at the bottom of the leaderboard.
Aronian – So and Nakamura - Ding Liren were two Ruy Lopez games (the first one actually was Berlin Defense) where Black eventually equalized and forced massive exchanges. Anish Giri had an overwhelming advantage in the form of two extra pawns the endgame against Pentala Harikrishna but somehow let a victory slip away.
Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So began the day tied for second place and faced off in Round 8. The all-American matchup produced the only victory of the round as Nakamura displayed some brilliant technique. So misplayed an opening a bit and despite having white pieces immediately got a slightly worse ending. It looked like he never was in real danger, but these pesky bishops kept putting So under pressure. Finally, he made a few mistakes and fell apart. This result seriously damages So's chances of qualifying for the GCT Finals in London.
Harikrishna and Carlsen played a very interesting game in the Exchange variation of Slav Defense. In the position with highly unorthodox pawn structure Carlsen once again gradually outplayed his opponent and transposed into a rook endgame that was winning for Black. Harikrishna kept looking for chances and his efforts eventually paid off. The World Champion finally made a few human moves that were not that precise and allowed Harikrishna to escape. The outcome of the game looked like a miracle at this stage of the tournament.
Right from the opening Ding Liren - Giri game went into an endgame slightly better for White. Ding seemingly had some possibilities to strive for more, but a draw was definitely a logical outcome. An all-Indian duel Vidit - Anand was an uneventful draw, but it was still much longer game then Nepo - Aronian in which the Russian GM didn't get anything going and offered a draw on move 13.
The ninth and final rapid round saw a lot of fighting chess. Magnus Carlsen delivered yet another win, taking down Ding Liren. Levon Aronian defeated Vidit and increased his already great chances of qualifying for the GCT Finals in London. Meanwhile, Anand hiccupped as he failed to convert a winning position against one of two local wildcards Harikrishna. In order to qualify for the GCT Finals Anand needs to finish in clear 6th place or better to overtake Maxime Vachier Lagrave in the overall GCT standings.
Play will resume tomorrow at 2 PM Kolkata time (GMT +5:30) with the first 9 games of blitz.
Standings after Round 9
Photo: Lennart Ootes (Grand Chess Tour)