With One Round to Go, Nakamura Holds Lead at Tata Steel


Game Replays

With an easy draw against Vladimir Kramnik of Russia in the penultimate round, Hikaru Nakamura of the United States preserved his lead in the elite section of the Tata Steel chess tournament in the Netherlands. Nakamura has 8.5 points.

Wang Hao of China, Nakamura’s opponent in the final round on Sunday, is all that stands in his way of victory. Though obviously any opponent can be dangerous, Wang will probably not pose the kind of challenge that the top players would. As Nakamura said after his game on Satuday, “At least, he’s not Kramnik. So I’ll have some chances in the final round.”

Viswanathan Anand of India, the world champion, has the best chance to catch Nakamura as he only trails him by half a point, though Anand was a bit lucky that it was not more. He was White on Saturday against Anish Giri of the Netherlands and he was completely outplayed. Though there was never a moment when Giri clearly missed a win, Anand was on the defensive throughout the game. It was only on Giri’s last move, when he blundered and lost his advantage, that Anand felt comfortable and the players agreed to a draw.

Anand said after the game, “I just drifted, making a move according to one plan and then another in line with a different one. I had the feeling I was losing, although there was never anything concrete.”

It was another remarkable performance by Giri, who beat Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the No. 1 player in the world, earlier in the tournament, and also with the Black pieces. At only 16 years old, he is clearly moving up fast.

Anand will have Black against the talented and tough Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia in the last round.

Technically, should Nakamura lose, there are two other players who could catch up to him: Carlsen and Levon Aronian of Armenia, who each have 7.5 points.

Carlsen has had an uneven tournament, but he is coming on strong in the latter stages of it. He won his second consecutive game on Saturday, this time smashing Wang, who was Black and never really got going.

Though Aronian played Erwin l’Ami of the Netherlands, the lowest-ranked player in the field, he struggled as l’Ami, who was White, played well and kept Aronian under pressure. At one point, l’Ami built up a sizable advantage, even winning an exchange (rook for bishop). But he eventually made some inaccurate moves and the game petered out to a draw.

Though it had no bearing on the fight for first, the game between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France and Nepomniachtchi was interesting, partly because both are talented, 20-year-old grandmasters. This time, Vachier-Lagrave got the best of Nepomniachtchi with a brilliant mating attack, but it seems likely that Nepomniachtchi will have many opportunities in the future to get even.

In the B section, two of the four co-leaders after Round 11 won, putting them in the drivers seat going into Sunday.

One of the leaders is Luke McShane of England, who started the tournament with three victories before stumbling with several draws and two losses. Saturday, he won his second consecutive game, beating Wesley So of the Philippines, one of the co-leaders after Round 11. At the end of the game, So was in a difficult position, but then he blundered and promptly resigned.

The other leader is David Navara of the Czech Republic, who started the tournament slowly, but has played better as it has progressed. Saturday, he won his fourth consecutive game (and fifth of his last six) beating Friso Nijboer of the Netherlands. The game was full of tactics, but chances were roughly equal until Nijboer blundered, dropping a piece.

Navara and McShane each have 8 points. In an unusual stroke of fortune, they will play in the final round, so the winner of the section is likely to be decided on the board.

Zahar Efimenko of Ukraine, who was tied with Navara, McShane and So after Round 11, drew with Le Quang Liem of Vietnam, and is in third with 7.5. Le Quang, So, Gabriel Sargissian of Armenia and Vladislav Tkachiev of France are tied for fourth with 7 points each.

The race for first in the C section seemed all but over after Round 11 as Daniele Vocaturo of Italy held a 1.5 point lead. But Saturday he lost to Dariusz Swiercz of Poland, while Ilya Nyzhnyk, a 14-year-old grandmaster from Ukraine, who was in second, beat Robin van Kampen, a Dutch international master. Vocaturo now leads with 8.5 points and Nyzhnyk has 8, while Ivan Ivanisevic of Serbia is in third, with 7.5 points.

As in the B section, the two leaders, Vocaturo and Nyzhnyk, are paired in the last round, so the C section will also be decided over-the-board.

Whatever happens on Sunday, it seems that a new cast of characters is settling in for the long haul at the top of the world rankings. Though Anand and Kramnik and a few others (Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, Vassily Ivanchuk of Ukraine, Boris Gelfand of Israel) are not has-beens, clearly their time as the world’s elite is drawing to a close. On the rise are an incredible group of young, talented players, led by Carlsen, but also including Nakamura (who is only 23); Sergey Karjakin of Russia, who just turned 21; Vachier-Lagrave; Nepomniachtchi; Giri; So (who is 17); Nyzhnyk; and Fabiano Caruana of Italy (18), who is currently playing in the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival; among others. It should be enjoyable to watch as they progress.

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