Table after 9 rounds:
Komodo is still dominating at +5. Houdini is a surprise for me in second place, it wasn't performing so well in the last two seasons. Perhaps the return of its developer (R. Houdart) has given it a new strength, perhaps it likes the new TCEC hardware. Stockfish is continuing to disappoint, only at +2 after 9 rounds. Other than these three, only Jonny and Fire are still unbeaten in the stage.
Some of the game highlights
Chiron - Raptor got into a more or less static position, with many pawns and pieces on the board. After a few exchanges the position opened up, with only QRR vs QRR left. Chiron was up by two pawns but the evals favored Raptor. Suddenly Raptor saw something and its eval jumped to near 6. After a series of checks and forced moves Raptor was able to force an exchange of a rook for the white queen, winning the game. Surprising how Chiron didn't see this coming, well done Raptor.
Protector had very little room to move playing black, and Hannibal took advantage of the situation to get a favorable QN vs QB ending. After queens were exchanged Hannibal was a pawn up with an advanced passer winning the game.
Gull - Naum got into a blocked center position, with Gull a pawn ahead. Gull's pieces had more room to move and its knight was better than a bishop in tight spaces. The knight was exchanged for a bishop and another pawn, and when a third pawn was captured the game was won for Gull. There were still many pieces on the board but Naum couldn't avoid material loss.
Jonny thought it had a big advantage against Houdini. After a series of of exchanges Jonny had a BN for R imbalance with an advanced passer, and its eval was climbing while Houdini remained indifferent. After exchanging pieces to get rid of the passer the only piece left was Jonny's knight, but it couldn't control all of Houdini's pawns and defend its own, leading to a draw.
Houdini had a better position against Nirvana, but Nirvana managed to hold the line for a long while, hiding its king behind a white pawn. At some point Houdini won a rook for a knight and the evals jumped, but still Nirvana fought to stay in the game. After about 30 moves Houdini found a way to break the line, exchange queens and win. Did Nirvana blunder in the end?
Ginkgo - Jonny was over after 18 moves with repetition. They really didn't want to play...
In Komodo - Gull it looked like Gull was doing fine for 30 moves. Then Komodo started to gain eval gradually, advancing pawns on the king side where it had a 4-3 advantage. When two pawns reached the 6th rank Gull had very little room to move. Together with a rook and support from behind Komodo started winning material and the game was over.
Hannibal - Raptor reached a QRB vs QRR position where white had three pawns on the queen side. Hannibal steadily moved them forward, supporting with the king and its pieces. Raptor could not stop them all, the game was over quickly.
Andscacs was up a rook to bishop exchange early in the game against Chiron. When the position opened up a little Andscacs had a strong attack on the black king and the advantage became apparent. After queen exchange a white rook infiltrated the black defense attacking pawns from behind, and the game was over.
After a series of exchanges in the opening of Gull - Protector white was a bishop up for three pawns. Before long the only pieces left were BB vs B, and the bishop pair was stronger than the extra pawns. An easy win for Gull.
Jonny won a pawn right from the start against Naum. Many exchanges later Naum was able to get the pawn back, but in the rook ending it had a weak pawn structure which turned into a 6-man winning position for white.
Vajolet2 was ahead on eval for a long time against Houdini, even though Houdini was a pawn up from the opening. Vajolet2 didn't make anything out of its advantage, and after 30 moves Houdini started to dominate. It was not clear how Houdini could improve its position, but its eval suddenly jumped (Vajolet2 blunder?). The black rook and queen found a way behind the white pawns, and after the queens were exchanged white's position collapsed.
Featured game:Stockfish - Vajolet2
Stage 2, round 8
Link to game on TCEC
After 27 moves Stockfish was ahead on eval, a pawn up, and Vajolet2's king was a little exposed. With the way Stockfish has performed so far it was not clear whether this was enough for a win.
Then Stockfish sacrificed a knight, we haven't seen this for a while. The black king became even more exposed but the evals didn't jump immediately. It did a few moves later when Stockfish concentrated forces on the king side, and Vajolet2 was a bit careless defending.
A few moves later there were just too many threats on the king for Vajolet2 to defend. It was still up a piece but had too many of its pieces on the wrong side of the board and unable to help.
The game was over soon, Vajolet2 had to give material to get out of the immediate dangers, the PVs show that it was about to be down a full rook. Stockfish still 'has it' if you get it in the right mood, just hasn't happened a lot this stage.