Showdown with Joker: After eight rounds of the WR Chess Masters, the field is set for an exciting final round, in which the two leaders on equal points, Gukesh and Levon Aronian, meet. Half a point behind them lurks Ian Nepomniachtchi, who can still catch up in the event of a draw between the two. To do so, however, he’ll have to beat Vincent Keymer, who is in increasingly good form. Keymer defeated Wesley So in the eighth round. With this loss, the previously undefeated US grandmaster was eliminated early from the fight for the first prize. So versus Keymer was the only decided game of the day.
Keymer, back in the 2700-Elo club, expressed his relief after the game. “Super happy” he was with this victory over one of the very best in world chess. “Wesley So in top form is on a par with Magnus Carlsen, a hugely strong player,” explained Keymer, who has now climbed from “minus 2” to 50 percent. However, if someone were to offer him to play a second round of nine now, given his good results recently, Keymer would hesitate: “Don’t underestimate the energy that such strong competition takes.”
The WR Chess Masters makes very different demands than a “normal” tournament with “normal” opponents, he said. “There is no relaxed moment here.” If the opponents are not world class, “then you just make normal moves, which may not always be precise, and you don’t get punished. It’s very different here.” Speaking to Yasser Seirawan, Keymer recalled his black game against Jan-Krzysztof Duda: “I allowed myself one inaccuracy, and then as punishment I had to sit and defend for 6.5 hours.”
Levon Aronian demonstrated in the eighth round against Andrey Esipenko not his best chess, but his chess psychological extra class. In a game in which he thought he had no chance after an opening mistake, Aronian sent a perfectly timed draw offer across the board – just at the moment when he had built up a little counterplay and Esipenko was threatening to run out of time. Now the 20-year-old had to deal with not only Aronian’s activity during his ticking-down seconds, but also the question: “To accept or not?” Esipenko accepted, and Aronian was happy to have escaped.
Nodirbek Abdusattorov also escaped after an opening mistake, in a classical Sicilian, with which he wanted to surprise Anish Giri. But the latter was prepared. “I can’t explain it exactly, but somehow I guessed what Nodirbek would play,” the world number five said after the game. What happened to Giri was what he believes happens to him too often: After catching his opponent thanks to superior opening preparation, he let him slip into a draw. “That was unfortunate, of course,” Giri said.
Gukesh had his eyes on two boards during his battle with Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Tied with Levon Aronian at the top of the table, “of course I followed how he was doing.” But even when Aronian was supposedly on the losing side, “it didn’t affect my game”. Now Gukesh is looking forward to the showdown in the ninth round. “Levon is a great player, for sure it will be an interesting match. I’m excited about it.”
Praggnanandhaa experienced a déjà vu with the black pieces – almost. Just two weeks ago in Wijk aan Zee he had beaten the World Championship finalist Ding Liren with black in an Italian game. Now he was facing Ian Nepomniachtchi, the other World Championship finalist, in Düsseldorf, and once again the Italian was on the board. However, the game went the other way. Nepomniachtchi, encouraged by his win the day before, put on the pressure to catch up with the two leaders if possible. Pragg, however, defended with precision and came away with a perpetual check and half a point.