29 January 2016

Like Lionel Messi at Camp Nou

The middlegame of the Wijk aan Zee tournament in the review of grandmaster Vladimir Dobrov.

While Amsterdam and Wijk are slightly over 30km from each other, it takes half an hour by train and another fifteen-twenty minutes by bus. It was getting dark. I was feeling relaxed looking out the window observing the last remnants of light being displaced by the shades of night with what felt like a phenomenal speed. All of a sudden this picture was momentarily distorted by a chessboard flying across it…

"This is an after-math of the daily routine with my students!” I caught myself thinking, “what I need is rebooting myself without further delay." However, what I believed to be a distortion turned out to be a typical scene for Wijk. Chess is everywhere, in each public place, starting from the Aunt Tamara’s bakery and ending with a mega-super-turbo-fodder for horses, which are loitering around on the lawn some three hundred yards away from the tournament venue. A good old Soviet anecdote about industrial machines on the beach would spring up in my mind. The idea of rebooting had to be packed away for another appropriate occasion.

I managed to have a quick word with David Navarra as he was one of the first players to finish his game. 

“I fear that I have so far failed to make my fans happy,” was remarked by the Czech grandmaster with a sad note in his voice, “But I will do my best!”

(And, jumping ahead of myself, I want to highlight his first-rate efforts in round eight game against Caruana, in which David outperformed his opponent in an incongruous-looking ending!)

“David, we wish you every success! Could I take a picture of you and my “slow-witted” students together?” I asked politely, while looking menacingly at my students who at the moment were busy absorbing their ice creams just a meter away from the Maitre.

“Sure, I’ll do it with pleasure!” responded grandmaster, smiling.

The boys were quite happy to put aside their ice-creams for a time being. Having taken three camera pictures, we thanked arguably the most tactful grandmaster of the nowadays world.

The most tactful world’s grandmaster David Navara

I met Andrei Deviatkin - a fellow-student of mine from the glorious times of University. It feels as though it was only recently that we used to play together in the Chigorin Memorial in St. Petersburg, one of the strongest open tournaments of those years, the event coinciding in time with the Kasparov – Kramnik match that was underway then... I recall sleeping no more than four hours a day while spending endless ours analyzing games, preparing for upcoming rounds with the aid of tournament printouts and chess bulletins, participating in blitz-tournaments at everyone’s favourite “Yantar”, reading on Daniil Kharms, devouring ravioli, and, needless to say, never failing to keep regular sleeping hours. Life was booming! Numerous scalps of solid grandmasters were taken during the tournament. The quality of the games shows us playing with a good measure of talent! The match between two "K" added to the desire to win... It is a little something to enjoy remembering! The St. Petersburg unique blend of Andrei’s "Prima" cigarettes still keeps being a good source of laugh whenever I happen to remember it.

...So, here's another day with its new expectations. It goes without saying that the level of tournament organization is absolutely beyond any praise. Firstly, it’s about the playhall. The interior decoration alone is enough to impress! It goes in contrast to standard Dutch Open tournament venues, which feature basketball courts converted for the occasion. The standard arrangement would be quite simple: seating leaders in close proximity to the three-point circle line, while ordinary amateurs would be placed directly under backboards. Here everything is organized on a qualitatively different level. The seawave dark blue, or maybe even the seawave turquoise color is a distinctive and very pleasing shade of the hall. A White Gull, standing for flexibility of human thinking, is a brilliant catch of the organizers. A TATA Steel symbol is everywhere in view and everyone has a personal label of his/her own. Each player was presented with a notepad, a pen and a booklet. The event really enjoys a full breathe of life! Bravo to the organizers of the event!

Let’s go back to Bent Larsen’s words as they need special attention.

Normal people have to see Naples before they die... But a chess Grandmaster have to win Wijk aan Zee first.

Bent Larsen (1935-2010). Picture taken by Scanpix

Here it feels surprisingly comfortable, as if living out those moments of life in a perfect harmony with chess. 

The distance separating the "mass" from the A/B events is only five to seven meters, no more than that. However, the compact space is enclosed from spectators, which amount to quite a number here. By my most conservative estimates, the snack bars with beverage and snack counters installed in the playhall and in the game analysis room bring profits to these institutions in amounts that could be envied even by our most experienced flower vendors on the day of March 8. The munching individuals start increasing in numbers after completion of their game openings, a famous pea soup is in demand mainly towards middlegames  after the second hour of play, whereas, wine and other strong drinks flow like water from the game analysis room bar (!) right after the end of the game adventures. If you happen to see an uncle with a glass of wine after the end of the opening part of his game, it is a good idea to refrain from asking him how he fared. He just came here to enjoy a game of chess!

During one of the rounds I was approached by an unknown person who asked me some question.

“Sorry, Sir, can you repeat, please?” the author of these lines asked again.

“Would you like something to drink?” needs no translation, I believe... People like us are recognizable from afar, even though I had put on my jacket for a respectable appearance!… Two associations popped up in my mind immediately, the first being a phrase from the famous Soviet film “Afonya” - “Will you crack a bottle with the two of us?”, the second being a well-known Russian anecdote about will power – “As much as I didn’t want to hit the bottle, I still did it after all!” Let each reader, upon thorough consideration of the increasing exchange rate of Euro to Ruble, come up with a suitable answer to this tempting question himself.

Let’s switch to the competition of the “heavyweights”, after all. The tournament has really witnessed unique events taking place (at the moment I am probably a record holder among reporters of any super-tournament in terms of the number of "unseen Berlin" games for a duration of three rounds already)! and I think this record will remain unbroken until some very distant date in future.

An incredibly tense game between Ding Liren and our Sergey Karjakin did happen just as was predicted. The Chinese virtuoso was playing in the red corner...

Ding Liren – Karjakin

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Ba6 5.b3 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Be7 7.Nc3 

This is one of the most trendy lines of the nowadays chess theory. 


Another plan would be 7...0–0 8.e4 d5. 

8.e4 d5 9.Bd3 dxe4 10.Nxe4 Bb7 11.Qe2 Nbd7 


Honestly speaking, when I saw this move on the board, I could not believe my eyes that it could be made by the Chinese player. With the pawn already on b3 this move looks so anti-positional and risky that there is no point discussing it any further. However, it turns out that Ding just knew all the arising positions! The Chinese magician caught the Firebird that day...


Sergey chooses the easiest, but not the strongest continuation. Any blitz player will produce 12...a5 and after 13.Neg5!? or 13.g4!? will sink into deep thinking; a deeper player will go for 12...b5 and after 13.c5 and will also lose himself in thought; however, an ordinary Siberian lad chooses 12...0-0.

13.Bxe4 Nf6 14.Bc2 a5 15.Rhe1 

A void-free manner of piece arrangement is quite in agreement with the teachings of the Chinese chess schools! 

15...b5 16.c5 b4 

It reminded me of the Gavrila poem from the "The Twelve Chairs" movie. One day there comes Trubetskoi to the editorial office of the youth magazine to offer one of his famous poems for publishing. In response to that a lady, who listened to him attentively, remarked as follows: "In general, it is good on the one hand, but no so good from the other!" So is here as well: it is as though everything is OK, but everything is still wrong all the same, and it is almost by force that Sergei gets under the drum of a Chinese vibratory roller.

17.g4 Ba6 18.Qe5! 0–0 19.g5 Nh5 20.Qe4 g6 21.Qxc6 Ra7 22.Be4 

22.Qb6! would lead to an unpleasant for Black position after 22...Qxb6 23.cxb6 Rb7 24.Be3. 

22...Bb7 23.Qb6 Qxb6 24.cxb6 Bxe4 25.Rxe4 Rb7 26.Be3 


26...Bd8! would have afforded reasonable chances of achieving equality: 27.d5 exd5 28.Rxd5 Bxb6 29.Bxb6 Rxb6 30.Rxa5 f6. 

27.Kb1 Rxb6 28.d5 Rd6 29.Rd2! Kf8 30.dxe6 Rxe6 31.Rxe6 fxe6 

An unpleasant for Black ending arises, in which the Chinese doesn’t fail to convert his advantage. 

32.Rc2! Rd8 33.Nd4 Ng7 34.Nc6 Rd1+ 35.Rc1 Rd5 36.Nxe7 Kxe7 37.Rc7+ Kf8 38.Rc5 

The engine recommends 38.Bc5+ Ke8 39.Ba7! Nf5 40.Rxh7, gradually proving that Black still has problems despite the seemingly robust defensive ramparts. 

38...Ke7 39.Rxd5 exd5 40.Bb6 


Following this move Black's position can no longer be held together, which the Chinese athlete went on to demonstrate. In order to find out whether 40...Ne6! 41.Bxa5 Nxg5 42.Bxb4+ Kd7 is hopeless, an additional analysis is required. The reader has something to invest his time into.

41.Bxa5 Kc5 42.Bd8 Nf5 43.Kc2 Nd4+ 44.Kd3 Nf5 45.Bc7 Kc6 46.Bf4 Kc5 47.Be3+ Kb5 48.Ke2 Nh4 49.Bd2 Nf5 50.Kf3 Nd4+ 51.Kf4 Nc6 52.Be3 Ka6 53.Bc5 Kb5 54.Bd6 Ka5 55.Ke3! Black resigns as there is no defense against the plan of kingside pawns rolling.

Tomashevsky started exerting unpleasant pressure out of the opening, and it felt like he was bound to eventually break through somewhere, but it was rather judged by eyeballing the position without giving it a good measure of evaluation. Pavel gradually went on to equalize the game.

Tomashevsky – Eljanov

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 Bb4+ 4.Nd2 c5 5.a3 Bxd2+ 6.Qxd2 cxd4 7.Nf3 b6 8.Bg2 Bb7 9.0–0 Bxf3 10.Bxf3 Nc6 11.b3 0–0 12.Bb2 Rc8 13.Bxd4 Nxd4 14.Qxd4 Rc5 

From the onlooker’s point of view this setup seemed quite promising for White. 

15.b4 Rc7 16.e4 d6 17.Rfd1 e5 18.Qd3 Qc8 19.Be2 

19.Qxd6!? Re8 20.Qd2 Rxc4 21.Rac1 with a definite amount of pressure from the first player. 

19...Rd8 20.Qe3 g6 


21.Rd2 Kg7 22.Rad1 Qe6 23.Kg2 h6 24.f3 Rdd7 25.Bf1 

25.a4!?, continuing to grab space on the queenside. 

25...Qe7 26.Kg1 Qe6 27.Kg2 Qe7 28.Kg1 Qe6 29.Re1 Rd8 30.Qf2 Kh7 31.Ra1 Qe7 32.Re1 Qe6 33.Ra1 Qe7 34.Qe3 Rc6 35.Rad1 Rcc8 36.Qf2 Kg7 37.Qe3 Nh7 38.Rd5 Draw. 

As predicted, the vehemence of youth had the upper hand in the following game. 

Mamedyarov – Adams

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nf3 b6 5.Bd2!? 

The move, being not devoid of meaning, has scored rather modestly. Instead, it has a higher probability of throwing your opponent off the beaten tracks. I was immediately reminded of one of my old games played some 20 years ago in the Central Chess Club against a man of years - I was a first category player then. After 5.Bd2 the old man graced me with a look of comprehension, whereas after the game he did praise me altogether, saying that I was an attaboy by not allowing him to double up my pawns!

5...0–0 6.Rc1 c5 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.g3 Bb7 9.Bg2 Ne4 10.0–0 Nxd2 11.Qxd2 

Following a series of noncommittal moves by Adams White got what they wanted - a new position, which even now requires Black coming up with an enormous amount of precision in the defense. Michael’s position is enough unpleasant already with lengthy torments in store for him as White's pressure is beyond any doubt. Playing with the white pieces is both easy and simple.

11...Qe7 12.a3 a5 13.Rfd1 Rd8 14.Na4 d6 15.Nd4 Bxg2 16.Kxg2 Qb7+ 17.f3 d5 



Surprisingly enough, but this obvious chain of moves proves inaccurate! Serious attention should have been paid to 18.Qc2!? Na6 19.cxd5 exd5 (19...Rxd5 20.Qe4! with unpleasant threats) 20.Qb3 with an unpleasant position for White.

18...Bf8 19.Qd4 b5 20.Nac5?! 

20.Nbc5 Qc6 21.cxb5 Qxb5, and Black is very close to equality after 22.Qd3. 


From now on it is already Black who takes over in this position. 

21.cxb5 a4 22.Na1 Qb6 23.Nxa4 Qxb5 

Black has emerged with an excellent type of active play.

24.Nc5 Nc6? 

The reason of Black’s turning down on 24...Bxc5! 25.Qxc5 Qxb2 has remained an unsolved puzzle until this moment. 

25.Qf2 Ne5 26.Nd3 Nxd3 27.exd3 g6 28.Rc3 Rdb8 29.Rd2 Qa4 30.Rcc2 Bh6 31.f4 e5 32.Qf3 exf4 33.Rf2 Qd4 34.Rce2 

Extensive maneuvering is followed up by Black’s committing an error. 


The preventive 34...Qf6 would have preserved a state of extreme tension in the position. From now on, however, the advantage is gradually passing over into the hands of White.

35.Nc2 Qc5 36.Nb4 Rd6 37.gxf4 Bg7 38.f5 Rbd8 39.Rc2 Qb5 40.fxg6 Rxg6+ 41.Kh1 Qd7 42.Rg2 Re8 43.Rce2 


By making virtually no other but the strongest moves only, Adams succeeded in equalizing the position. However, now he commits a bad blunder.


43...Rxe2 44.Rxe2 (44.Qxe2 Bd4!, and, despite being down a pawn, Black should hold a draw with precise defense) 44...Bd4 45.Re1 Qe6! would have maintained balance in the position. Now it is all over. 

44.Qxd5! Rd8 45.Qxd7 Rxd7 46.Nc6 Bf6 47.d4 Rd6 48.Rc2 Kf8 49.Rxg6 hxg6 50.Rc4 Black resigns. 

Magnus has once again caught the Dutch bull by the horns in the way that has reminded one of his trademark victories: exposing himself to some of it in order to go on taking all of it! There are at least three similar games against Van Wely that are known to have followed a similar scenario: in all games Magnus would at a certain moment invariably start off from a somewhat inferior position, upon which Loek, having reached a promising-looking setup, starts burning up his time reserves while calculating unnecessary complicated lines to end up being in time trouble, in which Magnus would bring the point home by "pouring oil on flames" and taking the upper hand in the subsequent tactical aftermath. Here we have a classical example of the above-said.

Van Wely – Carlsen

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bf4 Bg7 5.e3 0–0 6.Rc1 Be6! 7.cxd5 

The line 7.Qb3 c5 8.Qxb7 Qb6 9.Qxb6 axb6 has become a threadbare story by now.

7...Nxd5 8.Nxd5 Bxd5 9.Bxc7 Qd7 10.Bg3 



This move needs no comments - you can only applaud! Already here Van Wely plunged into thinking. 10...Nc6 11.Ne2 e5 12.dxe5 Nxe5 13.Nc3 Rac8 14.e4 Be6 15.Qxd7 Nxd7 16.Be2 Nc5 17.0–0 Bxc3 18.Rxc3 Nxe4 19.Rxc8 Rxc8 20.Bf4 Bxa2 21.Ra1 Bc4 22.Bxc4 Rxc4 23.Rxa7 Nc5 24.Be3 Kg7 25.h3 h5 26.Ra5 Ne6 27.Rb5 Rc7 28.g4 hxg4 29.hxg4 Rd7 30.Kg2 Nd4 31.Rb6 Nc6 32.Kg3 f6 33.g5 fxg5 34.Bxg5 Kf7 35.b4 Ne7 36.Bxe7 Rxe7 37.Kf4 Kg7 38.Kg5 Re5+ 39.Kg4 Re7 40.f4 Rd7 41.Kf3 Re7 42.Kg4 Rd7 43.Kf3 Re7 44.Kg4 Rd7. Draw, as in Sjugirov – Navara, Jerusalem 2015. 


This is perhaps the most principled approach. 11.Nf3 would be the alternative continuation. 

11...Bd5 12.Nc3 Bc6 


13.f3!? was worth paying serious attention to, followed by Bc4 – in this line White also enjoys a very pleasant initiative. 

13...Rd8 14.Qb3!? 

14.h5!? deserved consideration.

The following Magnus’s move might take more than five tries to guess. 



It remains unclear as to what symbol is to be awarded to this move. Magnus is already like a worm in the commentators’ heads, which, while "reasoning" a game to the logical canons, supply their evaluations and question marks to the moves that fall outside of the top three options of a popular computer program. And then all of their preceding work has to be reduced to a common denominator - to that of Magnus’s. And it would turn out that it was him, the young little devil, who has established his case after all! It otherwise means drawing a strikethrough line across all previous statements and other question marks and exclamation points... In the end, I am inclined to consider  this move as one of the most brilliant moves ever made by Magnus, which, on top of that, also fits perfectly well  into the concept of challenging the thinking players – therefore I put the "!!" A cluster of moves Bxa2- d5-c6, Rd8 and Qf5 is an indication of profound understanding of these types of positions; at this moment only a few players, if any at all, could measure up against Magnus in terms of the game dynamics.

15.h5 e6 

This move, although as if retrieved from the category “We don’t care”, is no less provocative for that matter. Black should have opted for 15...a5, maintaining high tension in the position.

16.hxg6 hxg6 17.Qd1 

Out of harm's way. Only I still fail to fathom what Loek’s idea was all about after all. Perhaps his plan was to prepare f3!? If my guess is correct, I would like to note that it was possible to bring it into action without any further delay: 17.f3 Bxf3 18.Bxb8 Raxb8 19.gxf3 Qxf3 20.Rh3. 

17...Nd7 18.Bd3 Qa5 19.Kf1 Nf6!? 

Magnus keeps following his line of arrogance. The 19...e5 20.d5 Nc5 21.Be2 continuation looked less provocative. 

20.Be5 Rac8 

Black has finished his development. Summarizing, we can say that everything is calm in Baghdad. Loek has not checkmated his opponent, and Black can safely continue pursuing his time pressure strategy.

21.Qd2 Ng4!? 22.Bxg7 Kxg7 23.f3 



Here it is, a rampage on the chess board! What is he up to anyway?... The crowd gasped: has Magnus really committed a blunder?! At this moment, I took notice of a pretty well tanked up gray-haired man wearing a hat and nesting a glass of Burgundy in his hands - he sobered up all of a sudden and, rubbing his glasses fogged up with stale alcohol vapors, mewed in pleasure, “This is Magnus!” Having said that, he directed his steps towards what I believe to be a source of additional shots... So much for the chances in a game of chess; they act like this to make their opponents blunder, passing through precarious, sometimes even lost positions. Shifting the onus of calculating lines and taking responsibility for choosing next move onto your opponent is one of the possible patterns of behavior when participating in the open tournament. Loek must have been very much surprised...

24.fxg4 Rxd4 25.Ke1 



25...Rxg4 26.Ne4 Qe7 27.Rc4!? with completely unclear position and compensation for the missing material after 27...Rd8. 

26.Ne2! Rxg4 27.e4! 

Magnus continues his play with edge-tools and goes all-in. It was still not too late to come to senses and cover up the breach with Rg5.

27...Rxg2 28.Qh6+ Kf6 



A tough decision would be 29.Qh4+! g5 30.Qh3 Rxe2+ 31.Bxe2 Rd8 and, despite being up a rook, the “chess wood chopper” evaluates the position to +1.5 pawns... Now the struggle flares up with renewed force. 

29...Rd8 30.Qh3 Qg5 31.Rf1+ Kg7 32.Qf3 Rd7 

A series of Loek’s imprecise moves allowed Magnus consolidating his position, affording Black full control of the situation. Moreover, given Van Wely’s being in severe lack of time problems, White’s case produced quite a grim impression altogether...

33.Rf2 Rg4 34.Nf4 Qh4 35.Be2 Rg1+ 36.Bf1 Kg8 37.Ne2 Rxf1+ 38.Kxf1 Rd1+ 39.Kg2 Bxe4 White resigns. Despite the abundance of imprecise moves, the game proved one of the most vivid in the middle of the tournament race. Magnus won by making use of an ingenious strategy, which is worth a standing ovation. Bravo!

We can nickname Carlsen anyway we like, someone still calling him The Kid Carlsen, yet others sticking to the Norwegian Viking, but the truth is that he sometimes masterly, and sometimes brutally pulls off things on the chessboard that can only be compared to the best performances of Lionel Messi at Camp Nou. 

Magnus Carlsen playing football in Wijk aan Zee

Speaking about persons

Now let’s talk about each player separately. First I took time watching the players in action, weighting my thoughts. I refrained from jumping at early conclusions and thought everything over again.

In order to avoid running into any kind of mystical coincidences, picking up bad karma and inviting curses against myself, I have made up my mind to sort everyone in alphabetical order (Cyrillic alphabet, in case you wonder - editor).

Adams. Michael’s manner of walking is rather a distinguished one as if he keeps running along the ski-track sporting the classical Soviet wooden skis! In any case, there forms an impression of an interesting type of a jiggling motion that resembles a dinosaur treading! He has turned grey, keeps true to his trademark style of play, works hard and is honored by everyone around. He is an intellectual with a capital “I”.

Van Wely. "Taking Giri down by move 20." These words (without any smiles) describe Loek’s tournament goal as he outlined it in front of the Dutch pressmen! Loek is known to be a great joker. Are there any potential daredevils who want to make a 1000/1 bet on him!? Van Wely has so far demonstrated his ferociously active manner of play - typical of his style. Not everything and not always comes out the way he plans, but he is capable of striking out ever so often! This tall guy would land heavy blows - just look the way he put away Hou yesterday. He is a formidable fellow, yet a smiling one.

Wei Yi. Sitting here is a lad wearing a China-made jacket and firing out his Grunfeld moves with a speed of lightning. This is my evaluation of Yi’s performance over the board. He plays solid chess, but does not stand out of the crowd, neither creating masterpieces nor sticking out his neck, trailing patiently in a group of pursuers. Many people have started advertising and singing praises of him on every street corner, having put him down as a main crown candidate, but I dare assure them: it is early, folks, much too early. Sergey Karjakin, for that matter, performed by no means weaker when at the same years of age. All of it is very relative indeed. Here and now I have seen absolutely nothing too special in his actions. He is a top ten player, but no more than that. He will never become a classical World Champion in chess, the same being true for any other Chinese player for that matter as well.

Giri. Anish has geared up following his bad start. He is pulled together, self-motivated, dressed immaculately. We managed to get as near his table as possible to take a closer look. You cannot but feel him booming with energy. Vladimir Tukmakov has obviously come into possession of the proper training techniques. The state of emptiness for both at the same time means the internal dialogue is switched off completely; people who know will understand what I am talking about. I have seen a real "instructor-student" tandem in action.

Ding Liren. Compared to Wei Yi he has undoubtedly grown into a full-fledged wolf by now. He demonstrates a more stable chess performance and a surprisingly tenacious one at that. However, I followed on his game against Caruana, in which Ding was down a pawn in a heavy-piece ending by move 20. There is only one thing to add here - the Chinese just rattled off his moves within some 5 minutes, this being already after his losing a pawn, a whole clean pawn! The essence of what happened is known to none but the Shaolin monks alone.

Carlsen. It is as though a dream book about the famous Soviet movie personage Miller can be applied to him as well. When sitting means he is working. His frowning means he is playing to the cameramen. When circling around the playhall in a crow-like manner - he is getting better or is about to overtake initiative. And he has started circling way too often lately. Casting glances over at the “B” tournament Magnus’s face would crack into mocking smiles every so often, however, once realizing that he is being watched, he immediately puts his usual mask back on. A second or two without any paparazzi taking picture of him makes him really surprised. He wears short socks. His manner of walking is not without some clubfootedness in it. Nowadays he is seen wearing a small black beard... I feel a disaster coming, folks, nothing good will come of it for us indeed. Well, you never know what other players are up to, but whatever Magnus has up his sleeve for this occasion seems unknown even to the Almighty. Let's see what is about to happen towards the end of the tournament. However, statistics speaks for itself - he will not fail to reap his reward. He is breaking away from the rest of the field. May it be that Magnus’s goal for this leap year is to clear the 2900 bar!?

Caruana. This is yet another occasion when I failed to comprehend this guy. It comes to nothing in terms of making up a puzzle, whichever combination of its pieces I try to come up with. A Dutch concert would be arguably the best definition if we try to summarize what’s going on for him here. Phenomenal technical performances are periodically intermittent with inexplicable errors, sometimes even quite uncharacteristic for his super-level mastery. The middle of the tournament didn’t go well for him. Getting at the secret of this "contrast shower" is anything but easy. The secret is known only to a few. He looks physically tired, appears to be closed in on himself, never changes his suit - is it about being superstitious!? He seems to be consistently shying away from cameras and stoops like most other players. Let's see how the decisive stage of the tournament is going to pan out for him - whether he will opt for forcing solutions or seeking more complex type of positions. Nevertheless, the fact that the latest games have seen Caruana committing one blunder after another is, perhaps, bearing evidence about his being not in the best of shapes. On the other hand, how come, then, that he has managed to collect as many points as that already!? There is a lot of mystery about this man.

Karjakin. I will refrain from any comments as Sergey is clearly unwilling to play his trump cards just yet; I am sure that the main emphasis is being placed on the Candidates Tournament, although I may be wrong, of course.

Mamedyarov. Although he delivered a vigorous and quick defeated to Adams, he failed to cope with Giri afterwards. Shakhriyar is clearly seen to have a lot of ideas, and he would always get into offbeat positions full of play. Anyway, he would play for a win with any color. His play has become more prudent. Perhaps Sher Khan will wake up and make a powerful dash somewhat closer to the tournament finish.

Navara. He shows up for the game ahead of anyone else and is an amazing man. His creative fervor gave way to more accurate and rational technical performance, resulting in an amazing victory against Caruana. We believe that David has finally found the thread of his game and will please us with some more of his trademark creative achievements.

So. Wesley is in an excellent mood. He enjoys being photographed - especially in the company of young talents, his face exploding in a huge smile. He is a strong fighter. His support group consists of a woman; I am not in possession of any more detailed information, but saw her not departing from the bar counter throughout the whole game, while doing some crossword puzzles, or some sort of Philippine Sudoku. What it was exactly remains unknown, although it would be very interesting to find out. I met Wesley at the “Millionaire Chess” in Vegas and I managed to keep up a fair share of communication with him here as well. "He is a positive guy," would be my brief testimonial of the grandmaster.

Tomashevsky. This tournament has given a hard time to Evgeny so far; as they say in tennis - a lot of unforced errors, and not enough of net approaches. But it is clear that Evgeny puts in a lot of effort, trying to squeeze the last drop out of himself. Such efforts should be rewarded, no doubt about that.
Hou Yifan. This modest girl stayed confident until the arrival of ... Judith Polgar! The latter struck the gong, which is traditionally used to indicate the start of the round. At the beginning of round seven she struck it so that Hou appears to have this singing still in her ears. Rounds seven and eight saw Yifan performing simply poorly. Something has dramatically changed in her game... The actual reason behind it is difficult to explain.
I promised to write separately about the Chinese phenomenon in chess as a whole. Well, there will be time for it later.

Eljanov. I was able to talk to Pasha on the eve of his game against Magnus, as well as on the morning following it. "Magnus is playing in his league," that's the verdict of the elite grandmaster. We refreshed our memories about the mega-training session under the guidance of Mark Izrailevich Dvoretsky, which took place15 years ago in Kolontaevo. The lineup was one of a kind then: Eljanov, Moiseenko, Inarkiev, Potkin, Grigoriants, Belov and many other current grandmasters. He improved significantly, but there is much undeveloped potential yet – his game against Magnus was arguably the main 'thriller" of the past rounds. Yesterday at dinner he laughed at my joke about the Berlin, about my hopes of not seeing any more of it. However, he went on to employ it in his game against Adams, breaking my heartfelt dreams. Meanwhile, the game proved complex and exciting indeed.

The tournament middlegame has come to an end. There yet remain as many as 5 games to show your worth. The tournament is gradually entering the home stretch.

Will anyone provide keen and tough competition to the Champion, maybe all the more so to the degree of creating a sensation? Has anyone saved on the miraculous “berserk” pill for the final rounds? Can anyone make Magnus go into the pit-stop and keep the suspense until the end of the tournament?

Will anyone opt for disclosing his know-how immediately in advance of the Candidates Tournament? In less than a week we will come to know the name of this fantastic tournament’s main hero. Prior to the start of decisive battles the marathoners are to travel to yet another Dutch city Utrecht.
The overall results will be summed up upon completion of the event. We wish good luck to our athletes Sergey and Evgeny!

Briefly about the Challengers

In round 7 there took place a conceptually brutal game of two main candidates for qualification into the main event of 2017: Adhiban - Dreev. Not so long ago the mention of the Adhiban name would invariably raise giggling fits among students because of associations with the nickname “zhban” (a dork), the all-time favorite of every young Russian player. So this Adhiban, or, as I have labeled him, "an athlete from the slums", could go equally well in for running short distances, almost certainly in for high jumping the bar, or soaring record heights in pole vaulting, let alone marathon running. Thus, following the end of his game against Dreev, Baskaran Adhiban, as if he were a young deer, flew with some incredible speed out of the playhall and straight into the press center and, with a glint in his eyes, started bulleting lines at Yasser Seirawan and the online audience, mesmerized in front of their screens, trying to disorient them. Here it was not clear, and there it was clear neither... Oh, Baskaran, your "not clear" was taught to us as far back as in the first grade of the elementary school! Lack of the Soviet type of education cannot be helped!

Baskaran Adhiban

Much to his own grief, Aleksey has fallen victim to his opponent’s home preparation, although he is likely to have his homework done as well, just failing to fetch it to the forefront of his memory and ending up to pay very costly for that. Baskaran surged ahead and now, unless he decides to slow down, will not miss on an opportunity to drive his success home. Being in close proximity is an experienced and talented Azeri grandmaster Eltaj Safarli, who is not going to give up. Nisipeanu seems to have fallen behind the field with no hope of a return. This is obviously not one of his tournaments. Misha Antipov continues playing with a lot of imagination, although the results are unfortunately lagging behind his creativity. They have a scheduled day off today.

Speaking of weather

Local weather is of that quite pesky nature that would be more peculiar to London. The mornings featured no visibility whatsoever.

What is the hourly rate of a weatherman in Holland, I wonder!? Although they forecasted +8 degree and a sunshiny weather, it is in fact cold, coupled with that lousy drizzle and zero-visibility among other things… However, it’s time we started for the next round, while nothing is likely to change in terms of weather conditions.

The anticipation of a miracle is driving us to the playhall, so that even a nasty rain with associated bone-chilling north wind will stop neither me nor my students as each one of us is a true miracle believer! And it is bound to happen for it is not for nothing that we have made all the way here, isn’t it?!