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Anish Giri, five times the runner-up in Wijk aan Zee, has won the 85th edition of Tata Steel Chess after pouncing on a blunder by Richard Rapport while Jorden van Foreest took down long-term leader Nodirbek Abdusattorov. Magnus Carlsen beat Arjun Erigaisi on demand to catch Nodirbek in a tie for 2nd place, while Wesley So finished 4th.
Nodirbek Abdusattorov led the 2023 Tata Steel Masters after every single round before the last, where he took a half-point lead into a game with White against the lowest-rated player. There was every chance he would wrap up victory with minimal fuss, but instead we got a thriller.
When the dust had settled, Anish Giri had won the trophy without the need for a playoff.
Let’s take a look at how the event went for all 14 of the players.
They say “home advantage” is more likely to be a disadvantage in chess, since crowds can’t cheer but the local media and fans can apply pressure, but that’s never been the case with Dutch no. 1 Anish Giri and his local supertournament in Wijk aan Zee.
His victory over Magnus Carlsen as a 16-year-old announced his arrival on the world stage, and since then he’d posted some of his best results there, finishing 2nd five times. In the past for two of those, in 2018 and 2021, he would have been declared the joint winner. The introduction of a blitz playoff, however, had seen Magnus Carlsen and Jorden van Foreest claim the bragging rights.
In 2023, after Anish barely survived the penultimate round clash with Jorden van Foreest, it seemed a 3rd playoff would be the best he could hope for… but then the stars aligned in his favour.
His advantage seemed to be fading in a game it was assumed he had to win against Richard Rapport, when suddenly 34…Kg6? (34…Kg8 or 34…Kh8 are both fine for Black) lost in one move.
Anish didn’t delay long to play 35.Rxd6!, commenting:
I’m all about cheapos, so I saw this cheapo from a mile away! It’s such a tempting one.
35…Qxd6 36.Qxf5# is checkmate, and while Richard showed an impressive poker face as he blitzed out the move 35…Kg5 as if it was the plan all along, 36.Rd5! left no way back.
That meant all eyes were on Abdusattorov-Van Foreest, where Jorden van Foreest held his Dutch colleague’s fate in his hands. Anish commented:
I felt during the games at some point it was a team match. It reminded me of the Olympiad, when me and Jorden, you have to beat the other team, some strange team that decided to buy Richard and Nodirbek — could be USA in a couple of years, who knows!
Team Netherlands triumphed, and Anish became the champion without the need for a playoff. He’d had a fantastic event, beating the World nos. 1 and 2 and not losing a game.
He’d also finally put to rest any lingering claims that he’d never won a fully-fledged supertournament (despite winning Reggio Emilia 2010/11 and the 2019 Shenzhen Masters). Magnus Carlsen commented:
As for Anish, he broke some records! He won a supertournament, he beat me for the first time in a long time, so huge congrats to him. I guess it was about time. He’s been very close so many times. I guess he was somewhat fortunate today, but on the other hand, looking at the games he had and the positions he had through the tournament, it’s not remotely undeserved that he wins.
Anish noted his focus in 2023 will be classical chess and qualifying for the next Candidates, while he gave credit both to his new second Jan Gustafsson and to some unnamed players he’s been working with over the last two years.
I’ve got to know so many different players, and it was so much easier to prepare, because I learned so many more player types. Before I always thought everybody’s like me, so I was always surprised, why does he do this, why does he do that, you only think about yourself. Then I realised there are so many different ways to play chess, and it helps me to learn new players.
One such new player had to settle for second place.
To many people’s surprise Wijk aan Zee 2023 turned out to be no place for young men, with four teenagers finding themselves on minus scores. The one shining exception was the fifth, 18-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov, who played an almost perfect event.
Nodirbek, seconded by his Uzbekistan countryman Rustam Kasimdzhanov, was described by Giri as “a modern top player” for his ability to take the slightest of chances. Nodirbek raced to a +4 score after seven rounds, including a brilliant win with the black pieces over none other than Magnus Carlsen.
From there on he focused on playing solidly to preserve his lead, and again, he was almost flawless, only getting into serious trouble against Vincent Keymer. He did get some criticism…
…but that was easy to say after the final round had gone so badly wrong. Nodirbek came up against a player in Jorden van Foreest who, to borrow a phrase Short has used before, has a style like a “drunk machine-gunner”. An offbeat opening was combined with the pressure of the situation, with Magnus noting:
I feel bad for Nodirbek. He was leading all the way, basically. It’s really tough, especially the first time you’re in this position, but even when you have a lot of experience, leading such a tournament is really hard. I feel for him.
It was still a phenomenal result, and Nodirbek, who is up to world no. 18, is obviously here to stay.
Magnus Carlsen winning the Tata Steel Masters on the final day was a long shot. He not only had to win himself, but needed the previously unbeaten Abdusattorov to lose his game. Both those events happened, but not the third — Anish Giri had to draw or lose.
Magnus commented afterwards, clearly torn between feeling he shouldn’t be disappointed with his result and nevertheless being disappointed:
+3 when I had -1 after six is obviously not something I can be unhappy with. Looking back, it was tantalisingly close! Just spot a tactic yesterday… also the key result did go in my favour in one game, but in the other it didn’t. But on the other hand, after Round 5 basically I was never closer to the lead than I was after the last round, so I guess I shouldn’t be unhappy.
After losing to Giri and then Abdusattorov in consecutive rounds, Magnus managed to pull himself together and win four games, for a total of five wins, more than anyone else in the Masters. That included, in the final round, beating Arjun Erigaisi based on sheer willpower. He explained:
To be honest, I was so pissed after yesterday I couldn’t really sleep well, so I was not feeling so good today.
He still went for a risky double-fianchetto with Black and, after a tense standoff, sacrificed a piece for two pawns.
It took help from Erigaisi, but Magnus eventually wrapped up a fine win.
He’s not hoping to play more marathon games in the near future, however.
I’ll get some rest, not play classical chess for a little bit, because I’m kind of a little bit sick of it after these few weeks.
Wesley was absolutely in the running for first place going into the final two rounds, but, to no-one’s great surprise, he didn’t push for more either against Abdusattorov in the penultimate round or against Praggnanandhaa in the last. Instead he found himself defending slightly worse positions.
The US star’s class is so high that even while operating in such an energy-saving mode he still manages to finish unbeaten on +2, but it’s hard not to share Peter Svidler’s regret that we don’t see Wesley taking more risks — and almost certainly earning more rewards.
Fabiano Caruana’s result was more puzzling. He went into the second half on +2, but then blundered in one move against Magnus. It proved a turning point, with Fabi describing his tournament:
Pretty forgettable. Not terrible, but extremely mediocre. It started well, I thought I was playing well, and then I had this terrible game that I wasn’t sure would be the end of my tournament, that game against Magnus, but I didn’t manage to create anything after that.
The positive news was that Fabiano also didn’t collapse the way he did after a similar scenario in the 2022 Candidates Tournament.
Parham Maghsoodloo, meanwhile, was a breath of fresh air. He came into the event as a late replacement for Jan-Krzysztof Duda, came out fighting in every game, and finally got the plus result he deserved by beating Praggnanandhaa, Erigaisi and Aronian in the final three rounds.
Only Magnus had as many decisive games, with the former World Junior Champion more than justifying his invitation.
Levon Aronian talked at one point about “channelling his inner Anish Giri”, but this wasn’t the tournament-winning Anish but one happy to make quick draws and enjoy an easy life.
Levon explained he was recovering from a poor run of results and wanted to stabilise, and, when he won a drawish endgame against Vincent Keymer and made 11 draws, everything seemed to be going to plan. Caissa was perhaps not impressed, however, and the effect was spoilt by the final round when Levon, after allowing the notorious Sicilian exchange sacrifice on c3, then decided to jettison a pawn on that square.
It turned out to be a mistake, and Parham was merciless in what followed.
Richard Rapport’s final round spoilt the easy narrative of an impressive comeback. Richard lost to Nodirbek in Round 1 and Magnus in Round 7 and seemed a shadow of his usual self. Then he suddenly went on to win three of the next five games to get back to a plus score. As we’ve seen, however, he crumbled in the final game, helping determine the winner.
If you were going to lose in the 2023 Tata Steel Masters, however, you could pick worse players to lose to than Giri, Abdusattorov and Carlsen.
Praggnanandhaa made only three draws in his debut in the Tata Steel Masters in 2022, so that he knew all about the winning and losing streaks that are possible in such a long event. Even when he scored brilliant wins against Ding Liren in Round 4 and Jorden van Foreest in Round 7 he noted how long the event was and that consistency mattered, but it turned out knowing about dangers doesn’t necessarily help you avoid them.
In Round 8 Pragg could have crossed 2700 for the first time with a win over Richard Rapport, but instead he lost, lost in Rounds 10-11 as well, and slipped to a minus score. Nevertheless, his play for much of the games against Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So in the final two rounds demonstrated that he’s absolutely at home at this level.
You don’t need to be Anish Giri to love what Jorden did in Wijk aan Zee. Despite a tough start — three losses in the first seven rounds — he kept on fighting, and then declared his intentions for the final two rounds against the tournament leaders.
It wasn’t just words, as he came within a move or two of ruining Giri’s event after unleashing a novelty. Then he tortured Abdusattorov with the most offbeat of Sicilians.
He explained his approach:
I wanted to save my own tournament a bit. Yesterday I tried but failed, today I was, ok, maybe [Nodirbek will] feel some pressure, because in general a draw’s a good result for him, so just play the Sicilian, see how it goes. I might get crushed, but we might also get an interesting game. I guess that’s what happened. I don’t think I had any real chance in this endgame, but he made some at least practically dubious decisions by giving me this e5-square. I think objectively it’s fine, but at least interesting for me as well.
As so often, the cumulative effect of many small errors led to disaster for Nodirbek, before he resigned on move 49.
Jorden also deserves praise for his answer to the question of whether Giri’s win was a good result for himself as a Dutchman.
Not much for me, but I guess I’m happy for him, to finally win the tournament after so many tries. Maybe his 1st real super-tournament victory, if we can call it that!
This was the absolute shocker of the event, with Ding Liren losing three games, dropping 23 rating points and sinking to world no. 3, below his upcoming World Championship opponent Ian Nepomniachtchi. It was all the more surprising as nothing suggested what was to follow after a convincing win against Gukesh in Round 1, a near-miss against Maghsoodloo in Round 2, and a very solid draw against Carlsen in Round 3.
The obvious excuse is that Ding is fully focused on the upcoming match and hiding opening preparation, but while his experimentation with 1.e4 may have been just that, it should at least be noted that Ding himself said he came to play and not for a warm-up.
His final round was an instantly forgettable draw against Caruana.
Fabi felt Ian Nepomniachtchi may be a slight favourite in the match due to his extra experience, but didn’t feel a bad Wijk aan Zee was significant. He’d been there and done that before his match with Magnus.
Of course, it’s not nice to play a bad tournament. I also wasn’t happy. It wasn’t like I was celebrating when I played badly here in 2018. I think also when Sergey won the 2016 Candidates he had a very poor Wijk aan Zee.
The omens may favour Ding.
16-year-old Gukesh getting beaten by Ding, Giri, Caruana and So is perhaps not how mentoring is supposed to work, but a win in a wild clash against Parham Maghsoodloo turned things around for the Indian prodigy. If he’d found a win in the penultimate round against Aronian he could even have dreamed of returning to 50% from -4, but -2 was by no means bad. He commented:
I learned a lot of lessons, for sure. The first seven rounds was really bad, but it’s a good thing that even after such a horrible start I managed to pull myself together and score +2 in the next six games. So that’s a good thing, but I also have to be more consistent.
18-year-old Vincent Keymer’s fine results in the World Rapid and Blitz in Kazakhstan suggested he might be ready to make a big impact in Wijk aan Zee, but in the end three losses in the first six games dashed those hopes.
Nevertheless, if Vincent didn’t quite make a Gukesh-style comeback he did draw his remaining seven games, including two study-like endgames against Jorden van Foreest and Nodirbek Abdusattorov. He was a move or two away from winning both and transforming his result.
Wijk aan Zee giveth, Wijk aan Zee taketh away. In 2022 Arjun Erigaisi won the Challengers with a stunning 10.5/13, winning eight games and losing none.
Fast forward a year, and after a somewhat fortunate starting six draws he went on to lose five games, win none, and finish rock bottom. The one consolation is that despite losing 21 rating points Arjun remains in the 2700 club. That, and that it’s unlikely Arjun will have many such disastrous results in his burgeoning career.
So that’s all for the 2023 Tata Steel Masters. For no less than seven of the players — Anish Giri, Wesley So, Levon Aronian, Gukesh, Nodirbek Abdusattorov, Vincent Keymer and Praggnanandhaa — there’s only two weeks until they’re in classical action again, playing the WR Chess Masters in Dusseldorf alongside Ian Nepomniachtchi, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Andrey Esipenko.
First, however, we’ll have the Airthings Masters, the 1st event of the 2023 Champions Chess Tour. February 3 is the Play-In day, open to all grandmasters, before from February 6-10 the six qualifiers will be joined by Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So for five days of knockout action. We’ll be covering it all right here on chess24!
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