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Reports Feb 1, 2021 | 10:26 AMby Colin McGourty

Jorden van Foreest wins the Tata Steel Masters

21-year-old Jorden van Foreest is the first Dutch winner of Wijk aan Zee since Jan Timman 36 years ago in 1985. It could have been another Dutchman, Anish Giri, but Jorden won their playoff in Armageddon mayhem on the same day the 11th seed crossed 2700 for the first time. 18-year-old Russian Andrey Esipenko also crossed 2700 as he finished 3rd, on the same score as Fabiano Caruana and 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja, who was furious when the arbiters tried to move his game to another board before the playoff. Magnus Carlsen beat MVL, but still finished in his lowest place since he first played Wijk aged 16.  

Jorden van Foreest becomes the Dutch hero despite Anish Giri having come incredibly close to winning his home super-tournament. Andrey Esipenko finished 3rd | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021 

You can replay all the games from the 2021 Tata Steel Masters using the selector below.

And here’s the final day’s commentary from our team of Peter Leko, Jan Gustafsson and Lawrence Trent.

The final standings look as follows.You can hover over a player's name to see all his results, or click on a result in the crosstable to open that game.

The also-rans

The 2021 Tata Steel Chess tournament has inevitably been very different from previous years due to the pandemic, but few things were more unusual than a last round in which the only two games that were irrelevant to the final standings included Carlsen-MVL, a clash between the World Champion and world no. 1 Magnus Carlsen and the 3rd seed and world no. 5 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

The final round and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Magnus Carlsen had (almost) nothing to play for | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Both players had failed to play at their level during the event and a quick draw looked a real possibility, but that would have been an act of mercy on behalf of Magnus, who had the white pieces and was out to salvage something from the event. Instead we got to witness a classic positional destruction of Maxime’s Grünfeld Defence, with the French no. 1 feeling desperate measures were required by move 20.

He went for the exchange sacrifice 20…Rxe4!? 21.Bd5 Na5 22.Bxe4 Bxe4, but after 23.Rc7! the suffering was only beginning, with Magnus feeling he was “considerably better”. He was pleased with his choice on move 29.

Instead of holding on to the a3-pawn, he played 29.Nd2!, commenting:

I spent a little time there not really figuring out the way, but then I think finally the way I chose with Nd2 was pretty nice, giving up another pawn, but eventually winning based on domination.

What followed was an extremely smooth conversion.

Carlsen did indeed finish in 6th place, the lowest he’d been since he was joint last as a 16-year-old in 2007. In his 12 appearances after that he’d never finished lower than joint 5th in 2009, and had won the event seven times while finishing runner-up on three more occasions. Magnus was understandably unhappy with his start to 2021:

The overall performance was shameful, to be honest. There were really very, very few moments of redemption in the tournament, it was really quite poor and I have to do better in the future. Last year I kind of had a difficult tournament as well and I was really, really hoping to do better, and it just never really got going at all here… The only silver lining for me is that I won two of my last five games, and so at least I salvaged a plus score, but obviously it’s nowhere near good enough.

On the other hand, it can always be worse. MVL, who leads the Candidates and still has a great chance of qualifying to play Magnus in the World Championship match this year, lost four games, won just one and lost 26.3 rating points to drop from world no. 5 to no. 15. Magnus ended:

There was just no flow to the play and way too many blunders, but ok, it’s better to have a terrible tournament and score +2 than what happened to Maxime, for instance, so I shouldn’t stand here and complain too much, but I certainly have a lot to improve on right now.

The other game irrelevant to the battle for first was Duda-Harikrishna, which ended in a draw but only after Jan-Krzysztof for the second day in a row seemed to miss a real chance for more in what on the surface was an equal ending. Overall it was a disappointing event for the Polish no. 1, who failed to win a game, lost two and will perhaps most remember escaping lost positions against the world numbers 1 and 2. Harikrishna had also failed to set the world on fire, but won two games, against Grandelius and Donchenko, to balance his losses and end in clear 7th place.

Firouzja, Caruana and Esipenko miss out on the playoff

The future looks bright for 18-year-old Andrey Esipenko | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

There were five players who went into the final round with a shot at glory, with 18-year-old Russian Andrey Esipenko having the most unlikely path to the title. He needed Giri to lose, Caruana, Firouzja and Van Foreest to fail to win, and to beat Alexander Donchenko himself. The stars didn’t quite align, but Esipenko did his part by seizing the chance to win a pawn and then the game against Donchenko – the last-minute invitation proved a poisoned chalice for the German no. 1, who lost six games and won none.

Andrey’s +3 score included the scalp of Magnus Carlsen and saw him pick up 24.1 rating points to end the event in the 2700 club. The only other teenager in that company is Firouzja, but Andrey isn’t getting carried away.

It’s very nice, but I think it’s just numbers and it’s almost nothing. When I will play good, I will have even more, probably.          

Defending Champion Fabiano Caruana had the black pieces against Aryan Tari, and surprised the Norwegian by playing the French Defence. Aryan commented:

Honestly I never usually play exd5, but it was just that I really didn’t expect the French - my second told me he will never play the French, because he will be afraid of exd5!

The exchange variation of the French is notoriously hard for Black to play for a win, but Fabiano felt only his “very careless move” 11…Ng6 spoilt things, after which he said in normal circumstances he would have gone for mass exchanges and a draw, but instead he chose the “really crazy move” 12…f5, which led by force to a position where he had tripled g-pawns.

Fabi explained:

I thought I should at least try, take some risks probably, and then I got semi-optimistic with my tripled g-pawns. They look very funny, but they control a lot of squares, and I have the e4-square, the c4-square, a lot of potential if White goes wrong.

Aryan made no mistake, however, and was happy with his mid-table 6/13 score after his first super-tournament, last year’s Altibox Norway Chess, had seen him score just 1.5/10. Fabi said his +3 was “by no means bad”, though he was disappointed to miss chances at the start and felt he’d run out of energy by the end. “I guess it just took too much out of me,” he commented of the Round 11 rollercoaster against Firouzja.

Alireza Firoujza was a whisker away from matching Magnus by tying for first in Wijk aan Zee as a 17-year-old | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

That brings us to the case of Alireza Firouzja. The hugely ambitious 17-year-old had the white pieces against the struggling Radek Wojtaszek and was obviously out for blood. By move 4 the game had left known theory and the kid was soon torturing his experienced opponent, who like his Polish colleague Duda didn’t win a game in Wijk aan Zee and lost three. There was fire on board by move 15.

The players had needed to think from the very start and were short on time, and what followed featured mistakes by both sides, though it was always Firouzja pressing for the win. He faced a problem outside of his control, however, which was that the regulations allowed for only a 2-player playoff for the title. If more players were tied for first then head-to-head and then the Sonneborn-Berger tiebreaker would be used to determine which two players get that chance – and it was already clear that Firouzja would miss out in any 3 or 4-way tie on 8.5 points.

Missing out due to a mathematical tiebreaker was already a bitter pill to swallow, but it got worse when Anish Giri and Jorden van Foreest were confirmed in the playoff while Firouzja’s game was still ongoing, and the arbiters tried to move that game to another board further away from the playoff board. Alireza, whose Kasparov-like temper we’ve already seen for instance in the 2019 World Blitz Championship game against Carlsen, was understandably upset.

It was an unfortunate moment in an event which was otherwise impeccably organised during a pandemic, with the sense of grievance increased when Alireza finally let any advantage slip and a draw was agreed. It was by no means clear the disturbance had changed the outcome of the game, however, with both players already having gone astray previously in a complicated position. A win for Alireza would have seen him finish clear 3rd, while instead he finished tied for 3rd, and 5th behind Esipenko and Caruana on tiebreaks.

Making Dutch chess history

Jorden and his second Max Warmerdam had cooked up a nasty surprise for Nils Grandelius | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

That brings us to the main actors of the day, Dutch no. 1 Anish Giri and no. 2 Jorden van Foreest, who found themselves on opposite sides of Najdorf novelties. Jorden got his game off to a perfect start by playing the same 6.Qd3 that Magnus had against Nils Grandelius, and then unleashing a new idea with a pawn sacrifice. Jorden was full of praise for his second Max Warmerdam for not only suggesting the idea but guessing how Nils would react, all the way up to 17.c4.

I have to give a big shout-out to my second Max Warmerdam. We had this position on the board this morning and he kind of said, 13…Bd7 is the human move, and then we played around a bit and we got to this position with 16…Qb8 and he played 17.c4 and he said it’s slightly better for White according to the engines, but I didn’t know the follow-up. In general it’s a very risky line for White. I believe Black is better if he knows, but I think in this situation the line is very well-suited for this game, because I wanted to win and it’s really not easy for Black to find his way out of this maze of complications. 

For an in-depth look at the game don't miss Jan Gustafsson’s analysis below:

The star move came after 17…bxc3 18.bxc3 Ra7 19.Rfb1 Qc8 20.c4 Nf6, when Jorden unleashed the piece sacrifice 21.Nb5!

You wouldn’t want to be Nils…

…but Jorden also admitted he was partly playing fast because of nerves. Both sides found brilliant moves but also missed more prosaic chances until it was clear Jorden was going to take home the full point. The way he did it was still fantastic, however, even if he confessed his king walk was accidental and somewhat lucky, since he’d missed the 44…g5+ move that forced his king to advance all the way to h6, recalling another famous game.

Jorden’s win meant he’d picked up an extraordinary 30.2 rating points to enter the 2700 club.

He commented:

I didn’t expect that at all. Really it’s been a long goal of mine to get there, and suddenly I gain 30 points in one tournament, that’s just crazy and amazing!

Fabiano Caruana, who did note things might have been different if he’d beaten Jorden in the first round of the tournament, was full of praise:

Jorden I think played amazingly well, it was super-impressive. He was well-prepared, he was playing very well, I think he showed a super-high quality throughout and it was a very deserved +4. I feel like this might correspond to his strength - it didn’t feel like a fluke or anything. It feels like he’s just a very strong player and this is a result that he’s capable of and everything went very well for him.

David Anton came close to winning his first game of the event, and inflicting a devastated blow on the leader | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

That game came surprisingly close to giving Jorden outright victory, since Anish Giri was struggling from the start against Spanish Champion David Anton. To keep his options open depending on how other games went, Anish played the Najdorf, the topic of his most recent Chessable course.

It backfired, however, since David and his coach IM David Martinez, the head of chess24 Spanish, had found the course extremely interesting but also identified a potential improvement, 17.Qd1 with the idea of 19.a5:

Giri in fact wasn’t completely surprised, but he may have been dismayed to see it on the board!

I knew this brilliant Qd1 a5 idea, it was one of my ideas with White, something that I kept from my course. To be honest, I wanted to play some other line, but I couldn’t remember anything so I followed my stupid course! Black is ok there, of course, but it’s very, very hard to play, because I have so many different plans, I have so many ideas, but when are they good is the question. I have the idea of g5, I have the idea of d5 and the idea of b5, and if you play either one at the wrong moment you’re going to be really busted, so finally you just end up not playing any of them and just getting slowly squeezed.

The game could almost be summed up by the position after 29.b6 Bb8:

David felt he was “almost winning” with Black’s bishop on b8, but Anish saw some hope:

I was slightly relieved after b6, because I can play Bb8, and it looks at first as though my bishop is dead, but there is this potential of it eventually getting to d6.

The bishop did finally make it to d6 and in the end Giri even made a draw from a position of strength, since he could have played on in the final position. It was disappointing for David Anton, who ended the tournament winless, though he saw some positives:

I think I played good games, I played good chess, I had a lot of winning positions, I think I outplayed some of the best players here, so I’m happy with that, but it’s a bit frustrating that every opening position I got I messed it up and couldn’t win any of them.

Jorden wins in Armageddon

So we were guaranteed a first Dutch winner of Wijk since Jan Timman in 1985, but which one would it be? Spoiler alert:

This was Giri’s second playoff in Wijk aan Zee after he lost to Magnus in 2018, and his experience showed as he dominated for most of the games. He missed a very tricky win in the first blitz game.

Then in the second he was soon a pawn up and playing for a win at no risk, but again Jorden managed to hold a draw.

That meant the title would be decided in an Armageddon game, where after a drawing of lots it was Giri who got the white pieces and 5 minutes to Jorden’s 4. Anish had to win on demand or Jorden would be the champion, and that was looking the likely scenario until move 26.

Here it all went wrong for Anish, as he took a very long think for blitz and, instead of moving his queen first, went for the immediate 26.c6? Nxc2 27.cxd7 Nxd4 28.exd4 Bxd7, when he was suddenly down on the clock and a pawn down in an endgame.

There was still room for another twist, however, as Jorden unnecessarily gave up a piece to gain a passed g-pawn. This was then the critical moment:

White has multiple ways to stop the pawn, for instance Bc5, preparing Rxg6 or Rb6-b1, or even queen the a-pawn in some circumstances, but it was an Armageddon time scramble and after 60.Ra7? White was lost. The game ended 60…g2! 61.Ra8+ Kd7 62.Rd8+ Ke7 and, with the pawn unstoppable, Anish half resigned and half just let his clock run out. Jorden had won his first super-tournament and upset what just a day earlier had seemed the certainty of Anish finally winning Wijk aan Zee.

Few could have seen this coming! | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

To spectators online the Armageddon seemed to have descended into pure chaos, since when pieces were sent tumbling on move 58 it stopped the DGT board from transmitting the moves and it looked as though Anish had lost on time in a winning position – just short of move 60 and the addition of an increment each move. One particular spectator couldn’t resist tweeting!

It was a spectacular, and bewildering, finish…

…while Peter Leko commented on chess24, “In my heart they both won the event”.

History will record, however, that it’s Jorden van Foreest who pulled off an immense achievement, winning his first super-tournament and fulfilling a dream.

Praise came from the very top.

Afterwards Jorden was still in shock, describing himself as a “1000:1 dog” before the event and admitting he’d had bad positions in all the playoff games. He praised Anish:

Full credit to him, he played a really good tournament and he really deserved to win it.

How does he feel?

Just on top of the world, I think. I can’t feel any better. A lot of feelings going through my head, but I think it still has to sink in a bit, hit me, and I think that comes when all the interviews and stuff is done and when I’m at night in my bed trying to sleep, something like this…

I really hope the best is yet to come. I really doubt I will ever top this. There is basically a 0% chance that I will do this anytime soon again.

It will be doubly tough for Jorden seeing as the over-the-board calendar is non-existent for the next few months due to the pandemic, but top-level chess will be back in five days on Saturday, February 6th for the Opera Euro Rapid, the 3rd event on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. 

Magnus Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Jan-Krzystof Duda and Anish Giri will be back in action in a 16-player field that includes the likes of Hikaru Nakamura and Daniil Dubov, with all the chess live here on chess24 from 17:00 CET!

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