After a peaceful outing in the Tata Steel Master's group, today's real action proved to be in the Challenger's group as five of the seven games were decisive with plenty of daring and sacrificial play evinced from both the winning and losing players.
In seems fair to blame the magnificent and tranquil blue skies in Wijk aan Zee today for the soporific spell in the Master's group. After a relatively short round, all seven games were drawn.
Even pre-round, things looked ominous as GM Loek Van Wely and GM Anish Giri were to be found discussing the tournaments limitations on early draws. Tsk tsk
[Edit: this chat actually took place right after the game. Apologies!]
Despite the brevity and indecisiveness of the round, the feature game did not disappoint. World Champion Magnus Carlsen and GM Fabiano Caruana charted a fresh path almost immediately as Carlsen selected the move 1.g3 to open the game.
Carlsen kicks things off against Caruana (All photos courtesy of Alina l'Ami | Tata Steel Chess Tournament)
After a slow start, the game began to heat up as both players initiated complications with their kings conspicuously in the middle. Things looked promising for Carlsen, but after Caruana's 20...Ne5!, the game ended in a sharp perpetual.
Caruana was kind enough to provide extended thoughts to his game with commentator GM Yasser (The Golden Voice) Seirawan.
The other game that drew much of the early attention from the spectators was the sharp Dragon Sicilian between GM Sergey Karjakin and Van Wely. Van Wely reproduced a line recently employed in the US Championships by GM Hikaru Nakamura to crush GM Daniel Naroditsky, but after a 25-minute think, he rejected Nakamura's 14...Rxc3?! and played Kf8.
After 20. Nd5, the prospect of the queens being traded induced the players to agree a draw.
Despite his peaceful inquiries and result, Van Wely selected an aggressive opening.
The longest game of the round was between the top female player in the world GM Hou Yifan and GM Wesley So. After a great starting victory against GM Anish Giri, So came back down to earth in this game where, after over-pressing, he had to hold a pawn down endgame.
That proved doable as in the final position, So just puts all pawns on dark squares when there is no way through.
Hou looks to be in strong form as she has pressed against both of her higher rated opponents in rounds one and two.
The remaining games in the Master's group were all drawn with a minimum of struggle. The main result of note may have been GM David Navara breaking a three-game losing streak against GM Michael Adams.
While the Masters group was inclined to a soporific peace, the Challenger's group was inclined towards quite vicious play.
One should never lose track of the Challenger's group at Wijk aan Zee. Many great players have risen through the Challenger's group to get their first crack at the Master's group. One can point to Carlsen, Giri, Caruana, Wei Yi (last year's victor), and Richard Rapport as winner's of the group in the previous decade.
One upcoming player is GM Benjamin Bok who is coming off of a tremendous 8.0/9 victory at the London Chess Classic FIDE Open.
Today, Bok punished attacking play from GM Erwin L'Ami. The nice 21.Re5!! made clear who owned the kingside and Bok's pieces soon infiltrated. L'Ami fought hard and created chances, but after a final time trouble error, Bok cashed in.
Annotations by GM Dejan Bojkov.
GM Benjamin Bok sharing his thoughts on his start and form.
The move of the day occurred between WGM Anne Haast vs. GM Mikhail Antipov. Antipov, the reigning World Junior Champion, struck with the Black pieces with a thematic sacrifice that seemed to come out of the blue.
A draw that indicated absolutely no lack of fighting spirit was GM Nijat Abasov vs. GM Eltaj Safarli. At every stage of the game, the players demonstrated precision, aggression, and creativity.
In the end, both players managed to promote pawns in a race, but Safarli's new queen was able to give a perpetual check to close things out.
Abasov and Safarli each went for the jugular.
Finally, the game between GM Alexei Dreev and GM Ju Wenjun was a positional bruiser. Dreev gave a master class demonstration of how to exploit a superior pawn structure and a superior minor piece.
The Tata Steel Chess Tournament takes place in Wijk aan Zee the 16th through the 31st of January. You can watch live streaming commentary daily at tatasteelchess.com/live with GM Yasser Seirawan and guests.