The Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee is the first major of the year, and two of the top achievers of 2016, World Champion Magnus Carlsen and America’s Wesley So, the recent Grand Chess Tour victor, continue their winning ways into the new year with impressive +2 starts - but amazingly, their outstanding performances are being overshadowed by the very unlikely figure of Ukrainian Pavel Eljanov, who seems can’t put a foot wrong with a career-best start of +3 to lead on 3.5/4.
Not many would have given pre-tournament odds that Eljanov would have gotten off to such an explosive start to take the sole lead after four rounds - but in the lead he is, and his score of 3.5/4 not only gives him a half-point lead over Carlsen and So going into Wednesday’s first rest day of the tournament, but also bumps him up three places on the unofficial live ratings list, and potentially on the cusp of a first appearance in the world’s top 10 if he can continue this form.
But can Eljanov maintain the pace? The answer is probably not, as - apart from Pentala Harikrishna - the in-form Ukrainian has so far only played the bottom three players in the tournament, and is yet to face some of the stronger players. But, as they say, a lead is a lead - and a +3 half point lead over Carlsen and So at this stage is nevertheless impressive.
A year ago, there was much ‘hoopla’ as China’s top teenage ace, Wei Yi, held Carlsen to a draw in their first-ever meeting. But in round four, Carlsen seemed to have the measure of his potential title challenger, as he steered the game into an area that his young opponent found uncomfortable, where he inexplicably collapsed in an equal position.
Round 4 standings:
1. Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine) 3.5/4; 2-3. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Wesley So (USA) 3; 4-5. Pentala Harikrishna (India), Sergey Karjakin (Russia) 2.5; 6-9. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Dmitry Andreikin (Russia), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Wei Yi (China) 2; 10-11. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia), Radoslaw Wojtaszek (Poland) 1.5; 12-13. Richard Rapport (Hungary), Baskaran Adhiban (India) 1; 14. Loek Van Wely (Netherlands) 0.5.
GM Magnus Carlsen - GM Wei Yi
79th Tata Steel Masters, (4)
1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 The 'Great Dane', Bent Larsen, is single-handedly responsible for reviving the Bishop's Opening in the 1960s and 1970s at the top level, as it was a long-forgotten system that was first studied in the 16th century by Greco. The Bishop's Opening: And normally, this would not be a bad idea against the world's top-ranked teenager, who has a reputation of being thoroughly 'engined-up' on mainline theory. But Wei Yi also plays the Bishop's Opening himself, and sometimes the reverse psychology of suddenly facing your own favourite line can come as a shock. 2...Nf6 3.d3 c6 4.Nf3 d6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Bb3 0-0 7.c3 Nbd7 8.Re1 Nc5 9.Bc2 Bg4 10.Nbd2 Ne6 11.h3 Bh5 12.Nf1 Nd7 13.g4 Bg6 14.Ng3 Ng5 Exchanges should help ease Black's slight discomfort here - but it is far from being an easy position. 15.Bxg5 Bxg5 16.d4 Bf4 17.Ne2 Qf6 18.Kg2 exd4 According to Carlsen, "this was an absolute gift." And certainly from this moment, the World Champion seems to take control of the game - but it does not look all that bad as what the World Champion suggests. 19.Nfxd4 Rfe8 20.Nxf4 Qxf4 21.f3 Nb6 22.Qc1 Qxc1 Perhaps played by Wei Yi in the belief that this will help ease his position. However, he may well have been better keeping the tension in the position by keeping the queens on the board with 22...Qf6. 23.Raxc1 d5 24.e5! Carlsen was very pleased with this choice, as there was also the tempting consideration of 24.Bb3!? dxe4 25.f4 h6 (Not 25...h5? 26.f5 Bh7 27.g5 g6 28.f6 which would be a more problematic lock-in on h7 for the bishop.) 26.f5 Bh7 with his bishop cut off on h7. But not for long, as Carlsen explains that soon Wei Yi will be playing ...Kf8, ...f6 and ...Bg8 with good chances. 24...Nd7 25.f4 Carlsen commented here that "It's difficult for him, with the style he has, to dig in and defend. The position is difficult to play and perhaps it's also objectively quite a bit better for White." 25...Bxc2 26.Rxc2 Nc5 27.Re3 Rad8 28.Kf3 Not easy to play against the World Champion in such positions when he seems to be almost effortlessly pushing all his pieces and pawns up the board. 28...Ne4 29.b4! Stopping ...c5 and also the knight's retreat to c5 - and now, Wei Yi realises that his knight has no scope and short of squares on e4, and can only look on as White continues with c4, xd5 and Rc7 etc. 29...g5 30.c4 c5? Wei Yi cracks - and at the critical memment. However the problems for Wei Yi becomes clear when you see that 30...gxf4 31.Kxf4 a6 32.cxd5 cxd5 33.Nf5 Rd7 34.a4 and White has a clearly won ending. 31.Nb5! The threat of Nc7 leads to a heavy win of material, failing that, a dangerous central pawn advance. 31...gxf4 32.Kxf4 cxb4 33.cxd5 1-0