Back to business as usual!
Leading a tournament is always slightly more stressful than trailing (if I’m not trailing too far behind of course). After 10 rounds I had 7 points and was sole leader while Caruana at 6.5 and theoretically the guys at 5.5 could still catch me. For me round 11 against the best female player in the world Hou Yifan became pretty decisive. As black she had held quite comfortably against Caruana with the Russian defense. I allowed her to play the same opening variation as I had some ideas on how to improve whites play. Her position was passive in the early middle game. She could hardly move, but the plan she found of moving the queen from d7 to f8 seemed good. At the critical junctions I probably played slightly inaccurate and she defended well. I had to exchange most pieces without significant progress. The queen endgame is better for white but I could not find a way to make further progress and allowed the exchange of queens with 44.Qc3. She thought for quite some time and did exchange queens followed by h5. Playing 45…. a5 instead would have drawn and during the game I was quite surprised by her mistake. When it happened it seemed quite obvious to me that a5 would hold. Well, it turns out that a5 indeed would have held, but not at all as easily as I had thought. White can still push and in many variations the correct defense (and triangulation) black needs to find to stop white from entering either on the queenside or in the middle is very difficult to find. In the game after h5 I could just move my king to b6, play b4, b5 etc. In the end she loses the d-pawn and the game.
With a one-point lead I was satisfied with a short draw as black against Wesley So in round 12 and to enter a slightly better rook and bishop ending against Ding Liren in the last round. Caruana had won round 12 and could still catch me even if I drew, but after he made a mistake in the opening his opponent Tomashevsky played maybe his best game in the event and won quite convincingly. Ding managed to hold the rook against rook and bishop endgame and the draw left me with 9 points in total (+5) and clear first one point ahead of Caruana and Ding. It is my fifth tournament victory in the A-group in Wijk aan Zee and I’m especially satisfied with having won the last three editions I’ve participated in (2013/15/16).
I’d like to thank Tata Steel management, the organizers and all the volunteers for keeping this great tradition alive and kicking. As last year people from Wijk had gathered on the main square after the last round and they greeted me with speeches and songs before we went to the closing ceremony over at Tata Steel.
I’m still in Wijk aan Zee and today I went for a swim in the inviting but pretty cold sea followed by a simultaneous display in the Dutch parliament in Den Haag! Tomorrow I’m flying to Los Angeles for an event and a week overseas.