Reports Nov 26, 2019 | 8:25 PMby Colin McGourty

A new Carlsen record: Tata Steel Winners & Losers

Magnus Carlsen beat his own record to win the Tata Steel Chess India title with 27 points, four points clear of second-placed Hikaru Nakamura. It wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds, since the World Champion described the start, when he was suffering from a stomach bug, as “pretty brutal”. It was also a brutal day for Vishy Anand, who lost the battle to qualify for London after blundering against Vidit and losing on time in a better position against Anish Giri. It’s MVL who will now join Magnus, Ding Liren and Levon Aronian in the $350,000 Grand Chess Tour finals next week.

Magnus Carlsen makes the winner's speech as an admirer looks on | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

You can replay all the games from the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz in Kolkata using the selector below:

And here’s the commentary on the final day from Peter Svidler, Jennifer Shahade, Maurice Ashley and Tania Sachdev:

Let’s take a look at the event’s winners and losers:


1. Magnus Carlsen

Even an ill Magnus Carlsen is still Magnus Carlsen | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

On the surface this was just Magnus doing Magnus things. His +2 score on the final day was enough to set a new record for a Grand Chess Tour rapid and blitz event of 27 points out of a possible 36:

It perhaps goes without saying that the record he was beating was his own!

That’s not the whole story, however, as we could guess in the very first round of the day. Magnus offered a shocked Vidit a draw on move 5, and the Indian grandmaster saw no good reason to decline. Magnus told Tania Sachdev when he was first interviewed after the 7th round of the day:

What separates this game at the very least from the previous ones is that I can actually stay at the board, which is kind of good! The start of the day was pretty brutal, because I’ve been really down with some stomach thing. People certainly don’t want the details, but it’s been rough.

He later shared some more details when asked about his plans for celebrating:

To eat something without throwing up!

The second game of the day was perhaps an unfortunate one for Magnus, since he faced his arch-rival Anish Giri, who commented:

I offered him a draw on move 4. He offered Vidit a draw on move 5, so first of all I wanted to beat that, and secondly he acted a bit weird, looked a bit weird, thought about the first move. I thought, let’s see what is going on. He decided to refuse, which I took as a personal insult…

It’s easy to imagine that Magnus felt honour-bound to play on, however painful it was, though the topsy-turvy game eventually ended in a draw. The inevitable tournament victory was later delayed by a loss to Ding Liren, but Magnus switched back to pragmatism for the next game as he sealed 1st place with a 10-move draw against Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Tournaments have been won in more dramatic fashion... | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

With three rounds still to play, Magnus, who was feeling better, decided it was time “to strike back and get a decent result”. He beat Levon Aronian and Vishy Anand and came close to defeating Wesley So in what would have been a crowning achievement:

21…Nf4! ensured that there would be no cruise control for Wesley, who had lost just one game in the last 13. Eight moves later and Black just needed to find a killer blow:

29…Bh3+! forces an exchange of queens (30.Ke2 Bg4!), and after 30.Qxh3 Qxh3+ 31.Rxh3 Rxh3 it turns out Black is winning. 29…Qg5! is even stronger, but instead Magnus opted for 29…Bxd6? when after 30.Bb2+! he was a little fortunate that Wesley accompanied the move with a draw offer, since White is suddenly much better (30...f6? runs into 31.Rb7!).

So it hadn’t been easy, but Magnus had managed to battle through his physical issues and get the job done with a minimum of fuss. He commented afterwards:

It’s obviously a very nice win and, as I said before the tournament, it was a big deal for me to have a good performance here. I haven’t played so well in rapid and blitz lately, but I think with this result I showed I’m still the man to beat!

He said it with a smile, since he knows as well as we do that it wasn’t really in doubt! He’s also the man whose signature you want:

2. Hikaru Nakamura

Nakamura was ok with a dull Berlin draw against Magnus, since neither player was going to be caught | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Magnus threatened to win everything with his late burst, but in the end Hikaru Nakamura, who himself finished a whopping 4.5 points clear of 3rd placed Giri and So, held on to some prizes! He had fewer losses – just one to Magnus in 27 games – tied Magnus for the top performance in blitz and, and this is the source of the most bragging rights, remained the world blitz no. 1.

It was almost a perfect tournament, if it hadn’t been for Magnus.   

3. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

The French no. 1 wasn’t in action in Kolkata, but he got to watch everything go his way as he clinched the 4th spot in the Grand Chess Tour finals in London next week:

Ian Nepomniachtchi and Wesley So’s chances of qualifying had gone after a couple of days, while Vishy Anand never managed to get into a comfortable position. When Maxime phoned into the live show during the final day he commented:

Right after St. Louis I thought my chances of qualifying were 15-20%, now it’s probably over 50%, so it’s all a bonus!

Finally after Maxime’s painful struggle to qualify for the Candidates something had gone the French no. 1’s way when it came to qualification. Of course the Jerusalem Grand Prix later in December will be his main priority, but it’s not going to do any harm that he goes into the London finals as the one player who hasn’t had to fly across half the world to get there! His opponent in the semi-final? Magnus Carlsen.

4. Ding Liren

Ding Liren is showing he can beat Magnus before a year in which he has a chance to challenge for the World Championship title | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

In some ways Chinese no. 1 and world no. 3 Ding Liren had a disappointing tournament full of missed chances (for instance, he squandered a -14.33 advantage against Nakamura on the final day), but on the other hand, his qualification for London was already all but guaranteed… and he beat Magnus Carlsen twice!

He’s rapidly becoming the World Champion’s nemesis. It was only a few months ago that he beat Magnus in the Sinquefield Cup playoff, while in Kolkata he not only won both blitz games, but won them in style, with Magnus both times resigning when about to get mated.

This time round he got a helping hand when the champion played the Stonewall Dutch, but smoothly outplaying Magnus isn’t something many people are capable of. It’s a good boost for the Chinese player going into London, when he’ll first play Levon Aronian and, if he wins that, Carlsen may well await in the final, with a $150,000 first prize at stake.


1. Vishy Anand

It’s likely that 5-time World Champion Vishy Anand had mixed feelings about playing in Kolkata. On the one hand, who doesn’t want to play in front of an adoring home crowd? But at the same time, as we’ve seen from the Chennai World Championship match and numerous events with Magnus in Norway, the weight of expectation and additional media pressure can make being at home a serious disadvantage in chess.

Vishy still had to face the media after it had all gone wrong | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

As the tournament wore on Vishy may have wished he’d fought a little harder at the very end in Bucharest, since although the 6th place he needed to qualify for London was well within his capabilities, the Kolkata field was one with no weak players. He went into the final day in the right position – just – but the day started badly when he lost a 3rd game in a row to Ian Nepomniachtchi. Excellent wins with Black over Harikrishna and Wesley So gave Indian fans reason to hope, but bitter disappointment would follow. First a one-move blunder against Vidit with 20.Nd2?

20…Qc5! hit both f2 and the bishop on c4, and after 21.Nf3 (21.Re2 Rxd2 22.Rxd2 Qxc4) 21…Qxc4 22.Nxe5 Qc5 23.Nxd7 Nxd7 Hari was well on top and went on to win. Then the lowest moment of the day – a loss on time against Anish Giri in a position that was still much better for Vishy, even if no longer the clear win it had been earlier:

A draw with Nakamura stemmed the bleeding, but before going into final games against Magnus and Ding Liren perhaps the last thing Vishy needed was an interview. His mindset?

I don’t know, I don’t care anymore! That’s all. Just too much has gone wrong.

There was time for something more to go wrong, as Magnus briefly went astray in time trouble to leave one last glimmer of hope:

49…Rxg5! now and Vishy would have been winning – the white king lacks defenders and Magnus would be reduced to a spite check or two. Instead after first giving the check with 49…Qd6+ 50.Kg1 his 50...Rxg5? now ran into the brilliant 51.Ne4!! Black was lost and Vishy resigned.

Results elsewhere meant any mathematical chance of reaching London had gone, so at least he could take things easy and make a 14-move draw against Ding Liren in the final game.

2. Levon Aronian

Levon Aronian follows the clever plan of standing next to the players who did well and hoping no-one checks the final standings! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

We saw Levon win the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz and then finish last in the Sinquefield Cup, so perhaps we shouldn’t have been too surprised, but for the winner of two of this year’s rapid and blitz events to finish dead last after 9 losses in his last 14 games still beggars belief. Levon did indeed achieve the 1 point he needed to qualify for London, but even if he was saving all his openings tricks he may still need to do some mental repair work in the coming week.

3. Sergey Karjakin

The way events went in Kolkata added to the pain of Sergey Karjakin at not winning a won position in his final blitz game against Anton Korobov in Bucharest to take clear first place. At the time it seemed that might be academic since Vishy would get the points he needed anyway, but instead Sergey finished in 5th place, just 0.3 GCT points behind the qualifying Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

4. Sanity

Even in the era of computer engines most of us are still in awe of the ability of the world’s top chess players, but from time to time they do things that make us think it could be one of us up there on the stage. A case in point was the final game between Vidit and Nakamura, when in an already hopeless position the Indian grandmaster came up with an “inspired” move 


Hikaru was bemused, Magnus was amused and Vidit was more than a little embarrassed as he realised his mistake and stopped the clock! Nakamura was given some more time and went on to win after Vidit changed to the more standard 71.Kf3:

That’s all from the Tata Steel India Rapid & Blitz but, as you’ll have spotted, there’s not long to go until the London finals! 

We'll miss the National Library of India venue in Kolkata, but the Olympia Conference Centre in London will look similar next week! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The Aronian-Ding Liren and Carlsen-MVL semi-finals start with classical games next Monday and Tuesday (2-3 December) in London’s Olympia Conference Centre before rapid and blitz on Wednesday. Before that we have a 36-hour Banterthon coming up this weekend. You can find out more during Jan Gustafsson’s Banter Blitz show tomorrow (27 November, 18:00 CET) or here on the news page in the next day or two.

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