Grandelius keeps the lead
So far a plus-two score has been enough to keep the sole lead in Wijk aan Zee. Despite the mixed field, no one has put together a string of wins to get a considerable edge atop the standings table. Instead, we have Nils Grandelius in sole first place chased by no fewer than six players a half point behind.
On Friday, Alireza Firouzja and Jorden van Foreest joined the chasing pack by beating Alexander Donchenko and David Anton respectively. At some point it seemed like defending champion Fabiano Caruana had real chances to beat Grandelius and grab the sole lead, but it was not to be as the Swedish grandmaster kept things under control in an uncomfortable ending. Grandelius explained:
The computer will probably say that it’s equal, but in my opinion it’s much easier to play for black all the game. I felt I was under pressure for most of it.
So Caruana could not leapfrog the leader, but none of the other chasers managed to catch up with him either, with world champion Magnus Carlsen failing to get to plus-two from a winning position against Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
Duda was in deep time trouble while Carlsen had over half an hour on his clock and a clearly better position by move 36. However, instead of spending some time trying to find the most precise move to convert his advantage, the Norwegian played a subpar continuation in a few seconds and gave away the chance to catch the leader. Emil Sutovsky commented on Twitter:
I guess Magnus’ play was impacted by countless rapid and blitz games last year. Even his awesome endgame technique can’t cope with newly acquired urge to make a move quickly. He keeps missing wins/advantages in this haste. Dangerous slope.
— Emilchess (@EmilSutovsky) January 22, 2021
Perhaps Sutovsky is right and Carlsen has been having trouble dealing with the rhythm of play, but there are seven more rounds to go, and he is still well in the fight for first place.
In round 7, Grandelius will face Anish Giri with the black pieces, while Carlsen and Caruana will both have white, against Pentala Harikrishna and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave respectively.
Still in the sole lead — Nils Grandelius | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit
Firouzja prevails in a double-edged struggle
Coming from a series of excellent tournament performances, Alexander Donchenko was invited to the tournament as Daniil Dubov’s late replacement. The German grandmaster had a rough start, losing to Grandelius and Caruana in the first two rounds, but then gained some stability by getting draws in his next three games. Surely, he knew that maintaining the stability was going to be tough in round 7, when he was paired up against Alireza Firouzja.
This was the position after 23 moves:
The imbalances are evident, with each side advancing on opposite flanks of the board. There followed 24.f5 b3 25.Bb1 Raa8 26.e6 Qg3:
This is one of many points in which the engines consider one of the players to have made considerably large mistakes, although calculating everything over the board was of course much more difficult. Donchenko here went for 27.Rf2 — 27.Qe2 is better as the rook will be free to deal with any potential action along the f-file while not chained to the defence of g2.
The players continued to struggle to find the best moves as they were pressed by the clock dangerously ticking down in a sharp position. In the end, Firouzja got to show his excellent tactical eye to win the game:
Already in a winning position, Black found the strong retreat 38…Qb8, winning an exchange by force and, more importantly, leaving the white king defenceless after 39.Qf4 Qb5+ 40.Kd2 Qd4+ 41.Bc3 Qxa3 42.Qxe4:
42…Qc1+ 43.Kd3 Qf1+ and Donchenko resigned.
The playing hall in Wijk aan Zee | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit
Van Foreest beats Anton
Out of a Ruy Lopez, Jorden van Foreest had a comfortable position with the white pieces. Nonetheless, the ever-resourceful David Anton is known for dealing with these positions successfully, either finding a way to get out of trouble or in fact outsmarting his opponents in the complications. This time around, however, he went a bit too far with his 21st move:
After 21…Nh5 22.Nxh5 Rxh5 23.d5 the white rook looks rather misplaced on the h-file:
Van Foreest correctly recognized he had a strategic advantage and went on to show good technique to increase his edge and eventually score the full point.
Jorden van Foreest will face Aryan Tari in round 7 | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit
At some point during the sixth round, it seemed almost certain that Magnus Carlsen would join the leader — either Grandelius or Caruana, who were still battling it out in an imbalanced position — with a victory over Jan-Krzysztof Duda. The world champion had a clear advantage by move 36:
Duda had been playing on increments for a while now and still had four more moves to make before the control. Carlsen, on the other hand, had over half an hour on his clock. In the diagrammed position, the Norwegian would have probably needed no more than 10 minutes to work out the variations and figure out that 36…Kf7 was winning, but instead he opted for the more direct 36…Nb4 after thinking for a few seconds!
It turns out that the knight move gives away a large portion of the advantage after 37.Rc8+ Kf7 38.Be3+ — note that playing …Kf7 first would have prevented White from giving the key intermediate check.
Once time trouble passed, Duda managed to hold the balance and collected a half point. Luckily for Carlsen, the remaining players in the chasing pack also drew their games on Friday.
Magnus Carlsen ready to go | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit
Round 6 results
Standings after Round 6