Just one of the leading pairings ended decisively in the ninth and penultimate round of the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters on Wednesday 31 January, so the traffic jam at the top has grown to five players on 7 out of 9 – top three seeds Aronian, Vachier-Lagrave and Nakamura, plus Rapport and Dubov, with no fewer than 14 more stacked up on the next score group. Four women players now have 6 points: Nino Batsiashvili, Ju Wenjun, Valentina Gunina and Pia Cramling.
Hikaru Nakamura is still amongst the five leaders despite a third successive draw, this time to Richard Rapport of Hungary. It had its moments of interest and imbalance but still ended peaceably on move 33. Nakamura's reward (if that is the right word) is a last round pairing of Black against Levon Aronian, who already has 4½/5 with White so far in this competition and has the huge boost of a sixth white, so only the American's very best form will keep his hopes of a fourth consecutive success alive.
Dubov and MVL managed three fewer moves on top board. The game followed an ancient encounter between Flotys and Pirc from 1950 for a while, so not exactly latest theory. The even pawn structure suggested not too much was to be expected by way of imbalance and so it proved. In the tenth round MVL, like Aronian, receives a sixth White and plays Richard Rapport, while Dubov will be Black against the upfloated Le Quang Liem who took advantage of an unfortunate blunder by the Russian prodigy Andrey Esipenko in the ninth round, the youngster's consolation being a GM norm for just turning up.