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Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, and Fabiano Caruana helped their teams (the Norway Gnomes, the Montreal ChessBrahs, and the St. Louis Arch Bishops) into the final four of the PRO Chess League. The Stockholm Snowballs are the final team to join the final four after they beat Marseille Migraines (top board MVL). The Championship Weekend takes place March 25th-26th. Semi-final matches (Norway Gnomes beat Stockholm Snowballs vs and St. Louis Arch Bishops beat the Montreal ChessBrahs,on Saturday (both after blitz tie-breaks) setting up a Norway Gnomes (top board Carlsen) vs St. Louis Arch Bishops (top board So) on Sunday, The St. Louis Arch Bishops won the final 9-7. Magnus Carlsen managed a 4-0 score in the final including a win against Wesley So but it wasn't enough. A huge turn around to win for Ben Finegold vs Sebastian Mihajlov in the third set of games was a huge moment in the match.
Players: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian, Hikaru Nakamura, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Ding Liren, Pavel Eljanov, Michael Adams, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alexander Grischuk, Li Chao, Evgeny Tomashevsky, Dmitry Jakovenko, Francisco Vallejo Pons, Richard Rapport, Alexander Riazantsev, Saleh Salem, Hou Yifan and Jon-Ludvig Hammer play in this the first of four Grand Prix to decided two Candidates places.
Each Grand Prix is an 18 player 9 round Swiss and players will each appear in three of the four tournaments. Organised by AGON for FIDE.
The remaining players who appear later in the series are: Peter Svidler, Anish Giri, Harikrishna Pentala, Boris Gelfand, Teimour Radjabov and Ernesto Inarkiev.
Alexander Grischuk, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov shared first place after all scored 5.5/9. Although the Grand Prix points (140) and money ($15,667) were the same, chess.com reports medals were awarded to the players by the local organisers in the order I give above.
Magnus Carlsen was allowed to play a very dangerous known sacrifice of a piece on g5 in a Giuoco Piano but he didn't make the best of it and was even in some danger around first time control. This was not one of Carlsen's best events and just as in the World Championship in New York he was derailed by a game not going his way, having missed mate against Giri he then played awfully the following day against Rapport and really pushed his luck for the rest of the event. Something he can surely address with a sports psychologist. Sergey Karjakin didn't like his play at all in Wijk aan Zee saying he was still tired from New York and he was looking forward to a rest.
Magnus Carlsen took second place as his rivals lost Wei Yi pushed too hard against Wojtaszek and Dmitry Andreikin beat Levon Aronian.
Baskaran Adhiban has been the surprise of the tournament with interesting games every day and he finished off with a win against Richard Rapport. Adhiban's +2 score was good enough for shared third and I imagine some more invitations. Loek van Wely finished a miserable tournament with a win against Pentala Harikrishna. Harikrishna needs to work better on his openings as he had far too many awful positions after a few moves. He didn't fight his way out of trouble this time. Anish Giri pressed against Pavel Eljanov but the game was drawn. Eljanov will reflect on the number of close to winning positions he didn't convert. More than eonugh to win the tournament in fact.
English chess supporters were put through the ringer by Gawain Jones as he fought for a very long time in a worse, but very difficult endgame, to save his game against Lu Shanglei. Jones' reward was to qualify for the Masters group in 2017. Markus Ragger missed out as although he scored the same as Jones he lost to him in their individual encounter.
Final Round 13 Standings: 1st Wesley So 9pts, 2nd Carlsen 8pts, 3rd= Adhiban, Aronian, Wei Yi 7.5pts, 6th= Karjakin, Eljanov 7pts, 8th Giri 6.5pts, 9th= Harikrishna, Andreikin, Wojtaszek, Radoslaw 6pts, 12th Nepomniachtchi 5pts, 13th Rapport 4.5pts 14th Van Wely 3.5pts
Magnus Carlsen took is lifetime score to 5-0 with no draws against Pavel Eljanov and one can't help wondering if this psychological advantage played a part in him winning today from a miserable if not entirely lost position.
"It's amazing considering how poorly I've played in the second half that I'm still in with a chance but I'm happy that I'm and I'll try my best." Carlsen
Levon Aronian played a restrained Saemisch setup against Loek van Wely's King's Indian and then the structure moved to more of a Benoni. Aronian then took advantage of a couple of inaccuracies to launch a mating attack and the game finished on move 34.
The remaining games were drawn. Baskaran Adhiban had a slightly worse endgame against Anish Giri but the fight seems to have gone out of the Dutchman and he allowed a quick draw. Radoslaw Wojtaszek and Dmitry Andreikin drew a Slav where it seemed like black was pressing. Sergey Karjakin got into slight trouble as white against Ian Nepomniachtchi but they both probably want to go home now and agreed a draw on move 21. Pentala Harikrishna has impressed a lot with his fighting play but not with his openings. He lost a pawn directly out of the opening to a simple tactic but his technique let him down badly and he was worse (45.Kb3 instead of the drawing 45.Rxb7?!). Maybe Harikrishna was relieved just to escape.
Leader Jeffery Xiong was beaten in the B-Group and lies tied for 3rd with Ilia Smirin. The leaders half a point in front are Markus Ragger and Gawain Jones. With Masters group qualification for the winner there is sure to be a tense final round.
Round 12 standings: 1st Wesley So 8pts, 2nd= Carlsen, Aronian, Wei Yi 7.5pts, 5th= Adhiban, Karjakin, Eljanov 6.5pts, 8th= Harikrishna, Giri 6pts, 10th= Andreikin, Nepomniachtchi, Wojtaszek 5pts, 13th Rapport 4.5pts 14th Van Wely 2.5pts
Round 13 pairings: Sunday 29th January 11am UK time: Andreikin-Aronian, Wei Yi-Wojtaszek, Nepomniachtchi-So, Carlsen-Karjakin, Giri-Eljanov, Rapport-Adhiban, Van Wely-Harikrishna.
Wei Yi made a very sharp material grab against Sergey Karjakin which isn't supposed to be that threatening but Karjakin quickly went wrong (9...Nf6xe4 seems the more successful move) and Wei Yi was completely winning only a few moves later, finishing in 31 moves, and he moved into clear second half a point behind So. Wesley So has the white pieces in tomorrow's game against Wei Yi.
Defending champion Magnus Carlsen drew with Baskaran Adhiban who is having an excellent tournament. Adhiban continued his policy of well prepared unpredictability when he chose the Centre Counter. Carlsen played quietly initially but when he made a pawn grab a few moves later he had to face very dangerous attacking possibilities and this was at least not better for him. Carlsen's 34.Bd2 tried to keep some chances but if Adhiban had found the strong reply 34...Qg4 he would have had a winning position. He turned it down missing a Rook sacrifice and tried to set up Ne3 with 34...Qc6 but missing 35.Ne2 saving Carlsen. The game finished in a draw in 49 moves.
Anish Giri got a huge opening advantage against Pentala Harikrishna but lost control and in his opponents time trouble even gave him brief winning chances before the game was drawn. Richard Rapport got a very decent advantage with 1.b3 but went astay and was losing in a time scramble on the run up to first time control but the game finished in perpetual check instead. Radoslaw Wojtaszek had the advantage against Levon Aronian but allowed his opponent to escape with a draw. Pavel Eljanov couldn't make anything of an edge with black against Ian Nepomniachtchi.
After a slow start the talented Jeffrey Xiong leads the Challengers Group with 8/11 half a point clear of Markus Ragger and Gawain Jones.
Round 11 Standings: 1st Wesley So 7.5pts, 2nd Wei Yi 7pts, 3rd Aronian, Carlsen, Eljanov 6.5pts, 6th Adhiban, Karjakin 6pts, 8th Harikrishna, Giri 5.5pts, 10th Andreikin, Nepomniachtchi, Wojtaszek 4.5pts, 13th Rapport, 4pts, 14th Van Wely 2.5pts.
Round 12 pairings Saturday 28th January 2017 12:30pm UK time. Aronian- Van Wely, L. Harikrishna- Rapport, R. Adhiban- Giri, A. Eljanov- Carlsen, M. Karjakin- Nepomniachtchi, I. So-Wei Yi, Wojtaszek-Andreikin.
Magnus Carlsen tried to push a little as black against Pentala Harikrishna but it even looked a little risky and the game was drawn after 36 moves. Maybe 20...Kh7 was inaccurate and he should have tried 20...Bxf5.
Levon Aronian blew away Richard Rapport after the latter was somewhat inaccurate in the opening Aronian felt an all out sacrifical assault was called for and he won quickly in 28 moves.
Baskaran Adhiban continued his impressive play and preparation against Ian Nepomniachtchi forcing his opponent to work very hard but in the end had to settle for a draw.
Sergey Karjakin took his time but eventually converted a winning advantage against Dmitry Andreikin to join a big group on 6 points. Pavel Eljanov survived a lost position against Wei Yi (computers suggest 37...f5 followed by f4 opening up his king) to draw in 55 moves. Loek van Wely kept things solid against Anish Giri's Semi-Slav and the game was drawn.
Round 10 standings: 1st Wesley So 7pts 2nd Aronian, Carlsen, Karjakin, Eljanov, Wei Yi 6pts 7th Adhiban 5.5pts 8th Harikrishna, Giri, 5pts 10th Andreikin, Nepomniachtchi, Wojtaszek 4pts 13th Rapport 3.5pts 14th Van Wely 2pts
Rest day Thursday 26th January 2017.
Round 11 pairings Friday 27th January 2017. 12:30pm UK time Wojtaszek-Aronian, Andreikin-So, Wei Yi-Karjakin, Nepomniachtchi-Eljanov, Carlsen-Adhiban, Giri-Harikrishna, Rapport-Van Wely.
Leader Wesley So and Levon Aronian drew rather quickly in a sharp theoretical QGD Ragozin where all the pieces were traded off.
Pavel Eljanov missed yet another opportunity to catch the leader when he lost control of a winning position against Dmitry Andreikin (probably grabbing one exchange too many rather than dealing with white's passed pawns) and in the end the game finished in perpetual check.
Wei Yi pushed hard for a win against Baskaran Adhiban in the final game to finish but failed to convert what surely should have been a winning advantage at some stage.
Radoslaw Wojtaszek was held to a draw rather comfortably by Sergey Karjakin in a Queen's Indian. Likewise Anish Giri didn't get much if anything against Richard Rapport. Ian Nepomniachtchi failed to convert a very advantageous position against Pentala Harikrishna.
Markus Ragger and Ilia Smirin lead the Challengers. Gawain Jones lost to Jeffery Xiong who is a also half a point off the lead and right in contention after a slow start.
Round 9 standings: 1st Wesley So 6pts, 2nd Carlsen, Eljanov, Wei Yi 5.5pts, 5th Aronian, Adhiban, Karjakin 5pts, 8th Harikrishna, Giri 4.5pts, 10th Andreikin, Wojtaszek 4pts, 12th Rapport, Nepomniachtchi 3.5pts, 14th Van Wely 1.5pts
Round 10 pairings: Aronian-Rapport, Van Wely-Giri, Harikrishna-Carlsen, Adhiban-Nepomniachtchi, Eljanov-Wei Yi, Karjakin-Andreikin, So-Wojtaszek.
Magnus Carlsen's failure to win against Giri the day before may have contributed to his complete loss of objectivity against Richard Rapport's 1.Nf3 d5 2.b3 opening. Carlsen had equality after 22 moves but after a long thought went for the dubious 22...d3 presumably a winning attempt and move by move his position went downhill until he resigned on move 33. A very strange loss.
There were two fantastic games in the round. Levon Aronian recovered from a poor loss in round 7 with aggression against Anish Giri. He sharpened things up with 8.Na3 in the Catalan, sacrificed the exchange a few moves later and Giri never really escaped the resulting bind. Giri resigned on move 43.
Baskaran Adhiban scored his third win in a row with a fine attacking effort against Dmitry Andreikin. Adhiban continued his policy of playing a new opening with the Vienna Game (which transposed to a Closed Sicilian) and then broke through with a long sustained king-side attack in an impressive manner.
Pentala Harikrishna had an edge against Wei Yi's Petroff Defence but couldn't make anything of it. Pavel Eljanov was winning at various stages against Radoslaw Wojtaszek but it wasn't easy in the face of king-side pressure and the game finished in perpetual check. It seemed like Loek van Wely must beat Ian Nepomniachtchi with the advantage he had after first time control but it was not at all easy and the game was drawn.
Markus Ragger and Gawain Jones continue to lead the Challengers Group with 6/8.
Round 8 standings: 1st Wesley So 5.5pts 2nd Eljanov, Wei Yi 5pts 4th Aronian, Carlsen, Adhiban, Karjakin 4.5pts 8th Harikrishna, Giri 4pts 10th Andreikin, Wojtaszek 3.5pts 12th Rapport, Nepomniachtchi 3pts 14th Van Wely 1.5pts
Rest day Monday 23rd January 2017.
Round 9 Tuesday 24th January 2017 12:30pm So-Aronian, Wojtaszek-Karjakin, Andreikin-Eljanov, Wei Yi-Adhiban, Nepomniachtchi-Harikrishna, Carlsen-Van Wely, Giri-Rapport
Sergey Karjakin will be relieved to have won a long grind against Levon Aronian but only after failing to exploit an extraordinary lapse from his opponent in the opening that should have cost a piece. 10...f6? 11.c4 would have forced something like 11...Bxf2+ but it would not have been enough compensation.
Magnus Carlsen played the Colle System and allowed his opponent Anish Giri to reach complete equality. Then Carlsen started to outplay his opponent and 56.Rc8+ would have forced mate in 3 or a decisive material advantage. Instead Carlsen played another continuation which also looked to be winning but turned out not to be and Giri escaped with a draw.
Wei Yi played a very sharp variation of the Najdorf against Loek van Wely and quickly set problems his opponent couldn't handle. 13...Nc5 was already losing for black and although after some inaccuracies Van Wely had some reasonable drawing chances he couldn't hold.
Baskaran Adhiban won his second game in a row with black beating Radoslaw Wojtaszek in a fluctuating struggle where he had the advantage, then was in a losing position before finally getting a decisive edge in the end.
Dmitry Andreikin tried 1.c3 but only ended up in an inferior Exchange Queen's Gambit for his troubles against Harikrishna. Game drawn after 43 moves. Ian Nepomniachtchi is far, far from his best and after being too crudely aggressive with white in the opening was worse for most of the rest of the game against Richard Rapport before the game was drawn.
Gawain Jones and Markus Ragger lead the Challengers with 5.5/7 half a point clear of Ilia Smirin.
Round 7 Standings: 1st Wesley So 5pts 2nd Carlsen, Eljanov, Wei Yi 4.5pts 5th Giri, Karjakin 4pts 7th Aronian, Harikrishna, Adhiban, Andreikin 3.5pts 11th Wojtaszek 3pts 12th Nepomniachtchi 2.5pts 13th Rapport 2pts 14th Van Wely 1pt
Round 8 Sunday 22nd January 2017 at 12:30pm UK time: Aronian-Giri, Rapport-Carlsen, Van Wely-Nepomniachtchi, Harikrishna-Wei Yi, Adhiban-Andreikin, Eljanov-Wojtaszek, Karjakin-So.
Anish Giri won his first game of the event after finding two shock bishop pawn captures 17.Bxh6 won a pawn after Ian Nepomniachtchi missed a relatively straightforward tactic but in spite of this winning the game was problematic until Nepomniachtchi allowed 32.Bxa6 which decided the game.
Wei Yi beat Richard Rapport with the black pieces in an out and out tactical battle. 19.Nxg4 was recommended as keeping white's advantage, the played 19.Nc7 and 20.Bxb7 left Wei Yi with a winning position which he converted.
World Champion Magnus Carlsen again had to be accurate with the black pieces to hold an inferior position, this time against Levon Aronian. The draw hasn't been kind to Carlsen so far with tough opposition and 4 out of 6 games with black. The remainder of the event he will have more games with white than black and will play more of the tail-enders. He's still in good shape for a successful event.
Loek van Wely put an end to his four game losing run but in spite of a nearly winning opening advantage a series of errors left him struggling for the draw against Dmitry Andreikin but he fought well to hold. Pentala Harikrishna was winning against Radoslaw Wojtaszek but a series of errors left him even having to be accurate to hold the draw. Pavel Eljanov and Sergey Karjakin drew an interesting game where black had some advantage.
Round 6 standings: 1st Wesley So 4.5pts 2nd Carlsen, Eljanov 4pts 4th Aronian, Giri, Wei Yi 3.5pts 7th Harikrishna, Andreikin, Karjakin, Wojtaszek 3pts 11th Adhiban 2.5pts 12th Nepomniachtchi 2pts 13th Rapport 1.5pts 14th Van Wely 1pt
Round 7 pairings Saturday 21st January 2017 12:30pm UK time: Karjakin- Aronian, L. So-Eljanov, Wojtaszek-Adhiban, Andreikin-Harikrishna, Wei Yi-Van Wely, Nepomniachtchi-Rapport, Carlsen-Giri.
Leader Pavel Eljanov seemed to overestimate his position and from around move 25 Levon Aronian gradually took over control and forced resignation on move 37.
Magnus Carlsen was given a hard time by Ian Nepomniachtchi in an English Opening after the world champion was forced to give up a pawn. However Carlsen played accurately to hold the draw leaving Nepomniachtchi slightly disappointed after the game.
Sergey Karjakin played one of his worst games in a while with white against Baskaran Adhiban who played the French for the first time. Very well prepared and bold play from Adhiban won a pawn and Karjakin gave up another before his position collapsed. Loek van Wely was left adrift at the bottom of the field after another loss, this time against Radoslaw Wojtaszek. Anish Giri was given a pawn by Wei Yi and looked to be pressing for a win but the Chinese player handled the complications extremely well to hold a draw. Almost certainly Dmitry Andreikin missed a win against Richard Rapport after obtaining a nice enduring advantage from the opening but he could not convert.
Round 5 Standings: 1st Wesley So 4pts, 2nd Carlsen, Eljanov 3.5pts, 4th Aronian, 3pts, 5th Giri, Harikrishna, Andreikin, Wei Yi, Karjakin, Wojtaszek 2.5pts, 11th Nepomniachtchi, Adhiban 2pts, 13th Rapport 1.5pts, 14th Van Wely 0.5pts
Round 6 pairings 12:30pm UK time Friday 20th January 2016: Aronian-Carlsen, M. Giri-Nepomniachtchi, I. Rapport-Wei Yi, Van Wely-Andreikin, Harikrishna-Wojtaszek, Adhiban-So, Eljanov-Karjakin.
Carlsen beat Wei Yi from a level position in a Bishops opening. 18...exd4 was criticised by Carlsen who then increased the pressure and in a difficult position and time trouble Wei Yi's position just collapsed. Wesley Wesley So enjoyed some advantage against Loek van Wely with black out of the opening but the result remained in the balance until time trouble intervened in So's favour.
The remaining games were drawn but Anish Giri missed a couple of wins against Dmitry Andreikin (who resisted well in a miserable position). Harikrishna-Karjakin was a fairly uneventful draw. Aronian-Nepomniachtchi was a sharp Benoni style position which finished with a repetition and both players had chances at various points in Rapport-Wojtaszek before the game was drawn.
Round 4 standings: 1st Eljanov 3.5pts 2nd Carlsen, So 3pts 4th Harikrishna, Karjakin 2.5pts 6th Giri, Andreikin, Aronian, Wei Yi 2pts 10th Nepomniachtchi, Wojtaszek 1.5pts 12th Rapport, Adhiban 1pt 14th Van Wely 0.5pts
Rest Day Wednesday 18th January 2017.
Round 5 pairings Thursday 19th January 2017:
Eljanov- Aronian, Karjakin- Adhiban, So-Harikrishna, Wojtaszek- Van Wely, Andreikin- Rapport, Wei Yi- Giri, Nepomniachtchi-Carlsen