Tournament leader Levon Aronian, one point free of the pack at the outset of the round, went down with white against David Navara of the Czech Republic, with a tournament record of five draws and an equal number of losses last in the field of fourteen.
Runner-up Vassili Ivanchuk, also playing white, long kept the balance in a quiet Catalan against World Title Challenger Boris Gelfand of Israel but then wasted a pawn and was forced to resign a relatively simple ending.
Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, the world’s highest rated player, meanwhile, surprised friends and enemies alike by messing up his opening with white in a Sicilian against Bulgaria’s Veselin Topalov to end up in a losing position. But Topalov failed to find his way to a win through the minefield of middle-game complications, allowing Carlsen to bounce back and clinch victory after 56 moves.
“It was a crazy game,” agreed Carlsen when facing the press afterwards. “I thought I was better out of the opening but then I blundered. Nevertheless, I saw a great number of attacking possibilities and I felt I was going to create a brilliancy. I realized only too late that I was probably just lost, when he took my rook with 21…Nxd1. After 22.Bxf6 Nxc3 23.Qg4 Bxe4, however, I got some hope. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on precisely, but when he sacrificed his queen with 24.Nxh6 Kh7 25.Bxf7 Qxf7, I knew I had the initiative. At least, I didn’t see a forced win for him any longer. He had excellent drawing chances until late in the game, but somehow I managed to win it.”
“Today seems to be a very strange round,” said former world champion Vladimir Kramnik, who visited the tournament Friday, checking out the tournament arena and the press room. “It feels wonderfully relaxed to be here as a spectator. But I’m not here just to watch the games, exciting though they are. I hope to sign some contracts, too. I prefer to play, of course, and I hope to be here as a player again next year, when the tournament celebrates a jubilee, I think.”
Kramnik seemed most interested in Carlsen’s performance but the 500-euro “Piet Zwart Prize” for the best game of the day in Group A – put up by the municipalities of Velsen and Beverwijk – was awarded to Navara. GM Ivan Sokolov, responsible for picking the prize winners, praised Navara for his technical novelty 11…Na6 and said he “soon had a better ending.” Although “he’s had a miserable tournament so far, Navara showed a nice execution and brought excitement back into the tournament,” Sokolov said.
Navara himself told the press afterwards that “I had a great advantage out of the opening but it was very well defended and it was very difficult to convert the advantage into a win. I’m tired now but so far Levon had a 6-1 score against me. I’m glad I was able to do something about that.”
Aronian blamed his loss to his faulty preparation. “I hadn’t reckoned with 11…Na6 during my preparation and was not at all happy with what I got onto the board. Maybe, at one moment I was about to even out but I guess I missed it.”
Ivanchuk’s loss against Gelfand was due to carelessness, the Israeli GM explained after the game. “It was a simple win. I evened out quickly and the position was drawish. After 22…Ne4 I felt it was still equal but Vassili had to be careful. I thought it was clear he had to play very precisely.” Apparently, “Chukie” didn’t, and Gelfand took the full point in a simple pawn ending after 42 moves.
There were two regional derbies in Friday’s round. The first, between the two highest rated American players ended in a draw after 44 moves in a Sicilian Dragon, with U.S. champion Gata Kamsky playing white and Hikaru Nakamura defending with black. In the other, Azerbaijan’s strongest GM, Teymour Radjabov, defeated his countryman Vugar Gashimov with black in an exciting Sicilian that lasted 53 moves.
For the Dutch contingent in Wijk-aan-Zee the 11th round proved a disaster, with national champion Anish Giri going down in a semi-Slav against Italy’s Fabiano Caruana, and drawing master Loek van Wely suffering his first defeat of the tournament at the hands of Russia’s Sergei Karjakin in an English game.
The 250-euro “Piet Zwart Prize” in Group B went to Holland’s Sipke Ernst for his win in 44 moves with white from a Queen’s Gambit against Group-B leader Pentala Harikrishna of India. With two more rounds to go, Harikrishna remained in first place but saw his lead on the runners-up reduced to just a half point.
Sweden’s Hans Tikkanen was rewarded with the 100-euro daily prize in Group C for his fine win with white in 30 moves from a Slav Defense against India’s Sahaj Grover. The victory brought the Swede back alongside Russia’s Maxim Turov on top of the standings in this division of the tournament.