Levon Aronian’s fifth-round win doesn’t mean a preliminary decision in the WR Chess Masters, but the 40-year-old is now the clear favorite to win the tournament. After his full point against Anish Giri, Aronian leads the standings with four points from five games, one ahead of Wesley So and Gukesh with three each. With his third win in the tournament, Aronian is back in the world’s top 10 (live ranking).
Anish Giri had surprised Aronian in the opening: Berlin Defense instead of the Open Ruy Lopez Aronian had expected. Perhaps it was his four drawn games so far that tempted Giri to push things harder on move 21 instead of simplifying into a hardly dangerous endgame? As a result, the world number five came under pressure and eventually even had to allow Aronian to double two rooks on his seventh rank. That could not end well.
Vincent Keymer was the second winner of the day. After 17 winless supertournament games in Wijk aan Zee and Düsseldorf, he was granted a full point in the 18th. Keymer is no longer at the bottom of the table, at least not on his own. He is now part of a quintet with two points from five games. After 0.5 points from the past three games, Nodirbek Abdusattorov is part of that quintet as well.
In the game between the two best 18-year-olds in the world, Abdusattorov played his part in making it a battle worth watching. Whether his pawn sacrifice in the opening was improvisation or preparation is unclear. “I certainly didn’t believe him,” Keymer recounted after the game.
Despite Keymer’s disbelief, Abdusattorov was to put up strong play against the white kingside. But then he succumbed to the temptation of a pseudo piece sacrifice for further attack, instead of moving the game into calm waters that might even be slightly advantageous for Black. When Abdusattorov finally slammed a rook into the white castling position, Keymer thought it was “almost a miracle that I’m not mated, it looks so dangerous.” All the black pieces were perfectly placed, he said, except that “he has too few of them, unfortunately.”
For Praggnanandhaa, there was a very good reason to end the game early against Jan-Krzysztof Duda. His sister Vaishali was playing for her team “Indian Yogis” against the “Canada Chessbrahs” in the Pro Chess League on Tuesday afternoon. And in their ranks was a certain Magnus Carlsen. Who wouldn’t want to watch his sister play a live match against the World Champion?
Unfortunately, the game seemed to be heading for a heavy-piece endgame, which could have been an opportunity for the Indian to celebrate his love of grinding out small advantages. But it didn’t come to that. A hasty advance by Pragg on the kingside gave Duda the counterplay he needed to keep the game in the balance and force a repetition before move 40.
Pragg now has two reasons to be dissatisfied with his fifth round. Against Duda, he could have pressed longer and possibly got more out of it. And Vaishali vs. Carlsen he still had to watch in the replay.
Aspiring World Championship finalist Ian Nepomniachtchi failed to gain momentum for everything else on Rest Monday. Nepo’s draw streak continued, and he even has to be satisfied with that. With the black pieces, his opponent Gukesh managed to outplay the world number two from a symmetrical, balanced position.
Nepomniachtchi can at least take away from this encounter that he held it. When he found himself in an extremely critical endgame with a minus pawn, Nepomniachtchi rallied to a precise defensive performance and saved at least half a point.
There wasn’t much action between Andrey Esipenko and Wesley So in the fifth round. Esipenko didn’t think he got anything out of it with White, and So thought a draw with Black was a decent result. The two repeated moves, and after 22 moves the game was drawn.