Hikaru Nakamura and R. Praggnanandhaa, the highest and lowest
rated players in the fray, gained the most while Viswanathan Anand scored a hat-trick of wins to stay in the mix at the halfway stage of the blitz games of Tata Steel Chess here on Tuesday.
On an action-filled day that saw 45 games spread over nine rounds producing 25 decisive verdicts, World No. 3 Nakamura stayed ahead with 6.5 points. Wesley So followed at six points, after making a charge with 4.5 points from the last five rounds. Levon Aronian was next at 5.5 points, followed by the Indian duo of Anand and P. Hari Krishna at five.
Nakamura, whose preference for this format is well known, made the most of playing the first two games with white pieces. He brushed aside Surya Shekhar Ganguly and then downed fellow-first round leader Hari to take a half-point lead. Nakamura and World No. 4 Aronian, then played out a draw, before the leader dismissed So and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov to open a one-point lead. But thereafter, he could only draw all four games, including the last one with Praggnanandhaa.
Anand, looking to turn things around after a forgettable outing in the rapid games, started cautiously with draws against So and Mamedyarov. A blunder against Sergey Karjakin ended in defeat but fired up Anand. He recovered brilliantly by beating Ganguly, Vidit and Praggnanandhaa in that order, before holding Nakamura and letting Hari off the hook. However, Aronian pushed Anand to defeat in the day’s final round.
Anand, who rated his game against Vidit as his best of the day, graciously admitted being “outplayed by Praggnanandhaa out of the opening.” This game was a wild and violent one where the 13-year-old forgot the move-order when playing one of the sidelines of Sicilian Najdorf. Thereafter, once Anand sacrificed his rook for a minor piece and gained a firm grip, Praggnanandhaa lost his way and resigned.
Earlier, Praggnanandhaa, rated at a modest 2366 - against Nakamura’s 2893 - made light of a having scored just a draw from the first four rounds. He stunned Karjakin in the match that featured the youngest and the third-youngest Grandmasters of all times, after the Russian blundered a piece. The youngster upstaged Vidit on way to 3.5 points, worth a whopping 50.8 rating points.
Hari, lucky to win against Praggnanandhaa in the opener, was involved in five straight decisive games, including three wins before drawing the last four. Vidit’s lone victory came over Ganguly, who lost six games but scored over Karjakin and Mamedyarov and drew with Aronian.