Reports Jan 17, 2021 | 8:41 AMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel 1: Carlsen gambles to beat Firouzja

Magnus Carlsen took down Alireza Firouzja in a spectacular game where he first gave up two pawns and then a knight to crash home when the 17-year-old went astray in time trouble. Magnus is joined in the early lead of the Tata Steel Masters by Anish Giri, who outprepared and then outplayed Aryan Tari in a razor-sharp Anti-Berlin, and Nils Grandelius, who got the better of late replacement Alexander Donchenko in a rook endgame. The other games were drawn, though Fabiano Caruana (vs. Jorden van Foreest) and Harikrishna (vs. MVL) came close to drawing blood.

Beat them when they're young! Magnus Carlsen now has three wins and one draw in classical chess against Alireza Firouzja | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

You can replay all the games from Wijk aan Zee using the selector below.

And here’s our live commentary from Jan Gustafsson, Peter Leko and Tania Sachdev.

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Against the backdrop of the raging pandemic it was remarkable simply for the 2021 edition of the Tata Steel Masters to start at all, but what we witnessed was all we could ask for from Round 1. As Magnus put it, “at least in this tournament there’s no first few rounds with boring draws like last year – my 7 first games were drawn. I’ll happily take this instead!” Let’s start with that game.

Carlsen 1-0 Firouzja

While Magnus was making those 7 draws in 2020, 16-year-old Alireza Firoujza had taken the sole lead with an amazing 4 wins (and 1 loss). Although he went on to lose consecutive games to the giants Carlsen, Caruana and Anand, his performance had been vastly better than that of 16-year-old Magnus, who in 2007 finished joint last with 4 losses and no wins.

A year later, however, and 17-year-old Magnus was the joint winner of the 2008 event with Levon Aronian, so if Alireza wants to match the Norwegian – and there’s little doubt he does – he’s got a mountain to climb. Starting with Black against Magnus was as tough as it gets, but the youngster seemed to have done everything right in the opening, with the World Champion looking likely to get off to yet another sluggish start.

The natural outcome of the game was perhaps a draw by repetition (23.Re5 Nd7 24.Ra5 Nf6 and so on), but Magnus wanted more.

As he later commented:

I would say already when I played 23.d5 and sac'ed the pawn instead of, for instance, repeating moves, that was already a gamble. I felt like I would have decent compensation, but it was sort of a trend, that I knew in my heart that once I’d taken that decision I wasn’t going to back down later on and look for equality, so I knew at that point that at least mentally I’d already burned some bridges.

Not long after 23.d5!? he threw another pawn on the pyre with 28.e6.

The computer was still on board with that decision, but its intention was merely to grovel for a draw with 30.Bxe4, transposing into a worse but holdable rook endgame. Magnus was more ambitious with 30.f3!? and his choices up to 32.Qe3 got the approval of Peter Leko, who commented, “If we did not have this engine bar with us I would be saying that I just love what Magnus is doing!”

Another former World Championship Challenger echoed those sentiments.

32…a4?! was the move that sowed the seeds of Firouzja’s downfall, at least from a human point of view. “It’s just too naive. I cannot even imagine you how you can play a5-a4”, said Peter, while Magnus himself later commented:

I don’t know if a4 was a huge mistake, but at any event it’s unbelievably impractical and I think that was the problem there, that if there’s something forced there for him then it’s impossible to calculate with so little time, and instead he blundered.

Nevertheless, the game was only ultimately decided on move 35.

After 35…Kh8! 36.Nxh6 Bh5! it turns out it’s even White who has to fight for a draw, but instead in the game 35…Bf7? invited the knockout blow 36.Nxh6+! and after 36…gxh6 37.Qxh6 Qc7 it was already mate-in-6. “I feel like justice exists in chess, because he played a fantastic game and he has to be rewarded!” said Peter as Magnus was crashing through.

Magnus called it, “a typical first-round game, to be fair – thinking too much and miscalculating”, but when talking to Norwegian TV he also noted he was exploiting something he perceives as a weakness of his opponent, at least for now – nerves:

Luckily he became very nervous, just like in Stavanger. That saved me. I'll be very surprised if he wasn't winning at some point. I was not in control of this at all!

For a full account of the game don't miss Jan Gustafsson’s in-depth analysis.

It was the perfect start for Magnus, while Alireza can console himself with the thought that back in 2008 Magnus lost two games – to Vishy Anand and Peter Leko – but still won five to win the event.

Giri and Grandelius join Magnus in the lead

The most convincing win of the day was scored by Anish Giri against Aryan Tari. The Norwegian did something he hadn’t done in 6 years – play the Berlin – but although Giri was surprised, he merely proved what Jan often says about Anish being able to reproduce his opening theory even if you suddenly wake him up in the middle of the night. He said he recalled “a lot of things” about a super-sharp sacrificial line of the Anti-Berlin.

On move 11 Giri improved on Hikaru Nakamura’s play from last year’s Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge with 11.Kg2 instead of 11.Kh1?!, though it’s notable that although Hikaru got a lost position he actually won that game from the semi-final against Magnus Carlsen and went on to win the tie.

There was soon a wild position on the board.

Computers felt Black’s phalanx of pawns on the kingside should be sufficient for equality or even an advantage, but our commentators pointed out that it was White who had all the chances if those pawns could be safely blockaded. Giri was delighted when he achieved this setup:

I think I got the ideal version, that the king was on g2 and the rook is on h3. It’s even better than the queen on h3, I think, because it’s better to have a rook stuck than a queen, and my queen is free, and he never had any real counterplay so the only question is if he has a fortress.

It seemed it was only a question of time before Anish would play c3 and d4, but in fact, in his own words, he managed “to break through without a breakthrough… I just kept shuffling the bishop around until his position collapsed”. The queen also made full use of its liberty to travel all the way from e1 to e7 before the final blow.

47.Nxf4+! and Black resigned, since after 47…exf4 48.Qf6+ checkmate is imminent after White captures on h4. Anish came very close to winning Wijk aan Zee in both 2018 and 2019, and Jan commented:

Anish is doing his Wijk thing. He doesn’t get enough credit for what a great patzer-killer he is… what a great score he has against slightly weaker opponents, slightly off the top.

Alexander Donchenko may have wondered whether it was such a good idea to accept an invitation at two days' notice! | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

The other win was scored by one of the late replacements, Swedish no. 1 Nils Grandelius, against a much later replacement, Germany’s Alexander Donchenko. On his Masters debut, Donchenko was surprised by his opponent’s modest opening, but looked to have survived some risky middlegame play only to crack in the ending with 36…Rd2?

After 37.Re1+! Kd3 38.Re3+! Black was already in a world of trouble and Nils went on to steer the game towards a winning pawn endgame. He modestly summed up, “Today was not great but definitely not a disaster!”

Four draws, with Caruana and Harikrishna coming close

The other games were drawn, with Esipenko-Duda the only non-event. It fizzled out in 30 moves after 18-year-old Andrey Esipenko, the only remaining Russian player after Ian Nepomniachtchi and Daniil Dubov withdrew, underestimating an idea of his Polish opponent. There are no prizes for guessing Andrey’s favourite player and who he's most anticipating playing in Wijk!

A masked Magnus checks out Wojtaszek-Anton | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Wojtaszek-Anton was tense to the very end, but the Spanish Champion held on and solved his remaining problems with 59…f6!

“A win is not really a given before the game – it also depends on the other player!” noted Radek.

Harikrishna seemed to get a dream position against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s Najdorf, but there was some confusion over whether he’d deliberately allowed 27…Qc5! in order to simplify into a safer but still promising position.

Hari later confessed he’d just missed it.

Jan explained during commentary that this had just been a normal game for Maxime – “the French School of Suffering” as Magnus once described it – and he’d never been in any doubt that the Frenchman would wriggle his way out.

2020 winner Fabiano Caruana missed some chances to get off to a flying start in 2021 | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Caruana-Van Foreest was the most intense of the draws. It looked as though 21-year-old Jorden was doing well in the early middlegame…

…but it was little surprise to anyone that Fabiano Caruana got the better of his opponent in the complications. The world no. 2 may have been winning later in a tricky rook ending, but Jorden survived to tell the tale.

So we have three early leaders of the 2021 Tata Steel Masters.

In Round 2 they all have Black, with David Anton playing his first classical game against Magnus Carlsen, while Anish Giri faces his Dutch rival Jorden van Foreest and Nils Grandelius takes on Jan-Krzysztof Duda. It’s noteworthy that none of the pairings have racked up more than three classical games before now, with MVL-Firouzja perhaps the most exciting first meeting!

You can follow all the action live here on chess24 from 14:00 CET

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