Round four of the WR Chess Masters 2023 saw all five games end in draws. This leaves GM Levon Aronian in the sole lead on three points after his draw with GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
GM Gukesh D played a stunning pawn sacrifice, and later an exchange sacrifice, against GM Vincent Keymer, but the German talent held his own in the tactical skirmish. GM Wesley So built some pressure against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, but after he chose to trade queens the game steered to peace. Finally, GM Anish Giri grabbed a pawn against GM Andrey Esipenko and had a true advantage, but one subtle mistake allowed equality.
After the rest day, round five begins on Tuesday, February 21, at 5:00 a.m. PT/14:00 CET.
See what happened:
The games of the WR Chess Masters 2023 can be found here.
Tournament leader Aronian showed bulletproof opening preparation in his game against Duda. After the game, the Polish talent said: “It’s difficult to surprise him. I mean, even if I play, you know, c3 on the first move, you know he would play very quickly.”
In the Ragozin Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined, they followed Carlsen-Aronian, Zagreb 2019 for 16 moves until the American grandmaster deviated with 16…Rac8N.
Although the opening was sharp, with White castling long despite limited pawn cover, the players were unable to break the dynamic equilibrium. Duda said: “Of course it’s like nothing when you check with the engine, but I thought it might be good practical chance because I mean position is kind of weird.”
He praised Aronian’s …Nxg4-Qg5 “strong sequence” and admitted he “kind of missed” 24…Re8, “which is embarrassing.”
Gukesh-Keymer featured the Najdorf Sicilian and was among the most exciting games of the round. It featured several sacrifices and a long tactical sequence full of zwischenzugs (in-between moves). The game heated up after the pawn sacrifice 17.b4!, and the fireworks ended with White sacrificing the exchange for several pawns.
Black had enough play against the white king to hold equality. After returning the exchange, the players entered a rook endgame and shook hands with a draw after White’s 40th move.
It is a stable result for Gukesh, who’s half a point behind the tournament leader, and a mixed one for Keymer, who held a difficult game but remains in last place.
This is our Game of the Day, annotated by GM Rafael Leitao.
“He plays every opening one can imagine,” said Nepomniachtchi about preparing before the game for So. However, he also added that the Catalan was hardly a surprise as he remembered losing a game last year (at Superbet Romania 2022) in this same opening.
While Nepomniachtchi went for a sharper line with a trendy pawn sacrifice in the aforementioned game, he chose a solid approach in this one.
The world number-two, who has a world championship to play in under two months, has drawn his first four games in this event. He expressed disappointment amid interspersed jokes in his interview: “If we take away the first round, I had every opportunity to win, but I blew it.”
Giri played the London System against Esipenko, but with a very specific idea in mind: to grab a pawn with 4.dxc5 and hold onto it. They reached a fascinating position that he described as being some kind of reversed Catalan Opening, although he added the dark-squared bishop doesn’t really reach the f4-square in that opening (or f5-square, with colors reversed). Normally, it would go to b2 (or b7, for Black).
The strategy worked. By move 13, Esipenko had 48 minutes remaining, while a well-prepared Giri had more than double that (an hour and 52 minutes).
White’s error came on move 18, after which the correct plan of Rd3-d1-c1 was no longer possible. The fear of counterplay, as well as a miscalculation, prompted the second error, 21.b5, after which the position was equal.
Both players remain in the middle of the pack on two points after this round.
GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov vs. GM R Praggnanandhaa was the last game to end. The Uzbek GM played the Alapin Sicilian with White, an opening seen more often in rapid and blitz than in classical games. A Benko Gambit in the first round, Nimzo-Indian in the second, and Sicilian Dragon in the third—he has shown quite the array of opening variety in this event with both colors.
White won the bishop pair but was left with an isolated pawn in exchange. These factors balanced each other out until the players traded into a rook endgame, which was drawn.
A solid result to “stop the bleeding” for Abdusattorov, who lost yesterday but remains in the top half of the scoreboard, and a humbling one for Praggnanandhaa, who won his last round but remains second to last.
After the game, the now world number-17 said of his opponent: “I’ve also played him in Wijk aan Zee. In that game also nothing much happened, just it was a draw… . He’s very strong player, so yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if we played against each other more often.”
All Games – Round 4
Standings – Round 4
The WR Chess Masters 2023 takes place February 15-26, 2023, at the Hyatt Regency Dusseldorf in Germany. The format is a round-robin with 10 players. The time control is 120 minutes for the first 40 moves followed by 60 minutes for the next 20 moves and 15 minutes for the rest of the game plus a 30-second increment per move starting with move 61. The prize fund is 130,000 Euros.