16-year-old Alireza Firouzja lived up to the hype by getting off to a winning start in his first super-tournament, though his Tata Steel Masters victory owed a lot to Vladislav Kovalev blundering in the opening. Magnus Carlsen described himself as “hugely embarrassed” to spend 20 minutes on a move that overlooked a simple tactic and gave Anish Giri chances, but the World Champion held on to stretch his unbeaten streak to 108 games. The day’s only other winner was bottom seed Jorden van Foreest, who overcame China’s Yu Yangyi.
You can replay all the 2020 Tata Steel Masters games using the selector below:
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Grandmasters Peter Svidler, Jan Gustafsson and Pascal Charbonneau, with the latter set to produce after-shows later in the tournament from his base in Florida:
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The rivalry between frenemies Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri is one of the most enjoyable things in chess, but in Wijk aan Zee it’s been a real chess rivalry as well. In 2018 the players tied for 1st place before Magnus won the playoff, in 2019 Giri was clear second just half a point behind, and in the run-up to the 2020 event Magnus shared his psychological approach when playing Anish:
No top player follows such things more closely than Giri, so it’s no surprise that he took the opportunity after the game to poke some fun at his opponent’s near novelty on move 4:
Magnus was making absolutely no claims about the objective strength of his move, later describing the “sort of playable” position he got as, “the most you can expect when you make a move like 4.Qb3”. It was looking like the kind of somewhat offbeat position the World Champion likes to get against Giri, until he spent almost 23 minutes on 10.h3?! only to plunge into another 15-minute think after 10…Ne4!
He later explained:
What happens is I think 20 minutes about different ideas, I’m deep into thought about Re1 Ng4, all sorts of crazy things, and then my feeling is that h3 is well met by Ne4. So I didn’t really think about that, and then I started to think again, “Why is h3 bad? I can go Ne4 Be3,” and so I didn’t really look at it further and I just instinctively played 10.h3, which was just insane, because after 10…Ne4 11.Be3 he has 11…Ng3!, so after he went Ne4 I’m thinking like well, that’s it, I’m worse after 11 moves as White and with very little counterplay.
Both players agreed afterwards that Black could have posed more problems if he’d followed 11.Nxe4 Rxe4 12.Be3 with 12…Bxd4 rather than the 12…Nxd4 in the game, but Giri had missed the strength of the move Magnus played after 13.Nxd4 Bxd4 14.Bf3 Rh4 15.Bxd4 Rxd4:
Giri initially thought 16.Bxb7! Bxb7 17.Qxb7 Rxc4 was just winning a pawn for Black, but it turned out that after 18.Rac1! White regains the pawn almost by force and the game soon fizzled out into a 25-move draw.
Magnus summed up how playing Giri in the first round had gone:
I definitely liked the idea of playing him as White but, as I said, hugely embarrassed by thinking for 20 minutes and missing a simple tactic and, truth be told, with that in mind I’m happy with the result!
For Anish, meanwhile, a draw with Black against Magnus was clearly not a bad start to the event, though it could have been more. He was on good form afterwards as he explained his motivation:
The moment I read that the streak is in danger against Sergei Tiviakov [who claims a 110-game unbeaten streak] then I realised suddenly my game has a purpose, and I always like when my life has a purpose. My purpose today was to ruin the streak, so it gave me some extra inspiration and some confidence and, as the game proceeded, I thought maybe this is it, maybe this is my moment to ruin his life once and for all! It didn’t work out, but actually the streak was on my mind because it gave me a good feeling and basically more confidence and purpose.
There were heavyweight draws in Caruana-So and Anand-Artemiev, while 19-year-old Jeffery Xiong fell just short of converting an extra pawn against Daniil Dubov. 21-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda needed to perform some acrobatics on the edge of the abyss to escape against Nikita Vitiugov, but it was two of the other young stars who eventually became the heroes of Round 1.
Although Magnus Carlsen dazzled in the C and B groups in Wijk aan Zee his debut in the top group as a 16-year-old in 2007 didn’t go entirely to plan – he scored no wins, 4 losses and finished joint last with Alexei Shirov. The postscript to that story is that a year later he came back and won the event for the first time, but 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja lost no time in claiming his first win in Wijk aan Zee. He was honest enough afterwards to admit that it had been “a very strange game”, since his opponent went completely astray in the following Ruy Lopez position:
Overwhelmingly the main move here is 16…Nd7, with Anatoly Karpov having played it six times against Garry Kasparov alone. Instead qualifier Vladislav Kovalev went badly wrong with 16…c4? and compounded that error by following 17.Nd4! with 17…Nd7? a move later. Peter Svidler felt something like 17…Qb6 at least had to be tried, while Alireza himself described what followed, when he was soon two pawns up, as a “technical win”. He also commented of the opening disaster, “I think he has to play Nd7 - this is the main line. It’s a very old line, so I think he forgot it”.
Firouzja could have been forgiven for “forgetting” theory that was developed decades before he was even born, but he seems to have few problems with memory or confidence. He didn’t put a foot wrong as he went on to win in 36 moves:
Afterwards he was asked if he feared his opponents in Wijk aan Zee:
I played almost all of them so I’m experienced and we will see.
The most impressive win of the day was for 20-year-old Dutch star Jorden van Foreest, who on paper, with a 2644 rating, is the weak link of the tournament.
On the other hand, Jorden had dropped below 2600 briefly last year and has been on the rise since, with his 11 draws in the Grand Swiss on the Isle of Man highlighting his improved solidity. In Round 1 in Wijk aan Zee he managed to reach the following ending against Yu Yangyi after playing 3.c3 in the Sicilian:
As Nigel Short likes to point out, islands are great for tourism but much less appealing in chess. Black’s four pawn islands here (and doubled f-pawns) gave White a clear edge and, though mistakes were made and Jorden commented that “it got completely out of hand”, he managed to convert the advantage into a situation where he had a queen against Yu Yangyi’s rook. The game dragged on, giving Peter Svidler time to tell a story about a Komodo dragon that you really don’t want to miss (even if it may have almost the worst punch-line ever!)… but eventually Yu Yangyi, who flirted with the world’s Top 10 in 2019, had to admit defeat.
“I should fight for first place now, right?” is how Jorden ends his post-game interview:
That means that Alireza Firouzja and Jorden van Foreest are the early leaders of the Tata Steel Masters on 1/1, while of course Yu Yangyi and Kovalev are bottom with everyone else on 50%.
Meanwhile in the Challengers group the only wins were scored by experienced campaigners:
It could have been different, since 15-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov briefly had top seed David Antón on the ropes, while fellow 15-year-old Nihal Sarin got to test Nils Grandelius in the Rook + Bishop vs. Rook ending. The Swedish no. 1 passed the test with flying colours for a 103-move draw. Meanwhile Jan Smeets failed to convert an extra pawn against Lucas van Foreest.
In the decisive games 15-year-old (yes, there are a lot of them!) German Vincent Keymer was eventually ground down in an ending by Pavel Eljanov, while Ganguly scored a convincing attacking win over the lowest rated player, 19-year-old Dutch IM Max Warmerdam.
The game of the day, however, was Erwin l’Ami’s victory over 18-year-old Australian GM Anton Smirnov. As Erwin said afterwards, “I got to sacrifice two exchanges - it doesn’t happen every day!” He described the first as “risk-free”:
15.Rxa6! bxa6 16.dxc5 Rfc8 and after 17.b4 White had a stable advantage. Erwin felt the next wasn’t necessarily the best move in the position, but as he explained, “I couldn’t resist - I got a bit carried away there, but I still don’t regret giving the second exchange!”
34.Rd6! (34.Rb7 may be easier) is a move it was hard to argue with, since after 34…Bxd6 35.exd6 the white pawns and minor pieces did indeed go on to totally dominate the black rooks.
The most enticing game in Round 2 of the Tata Steel Masters is perhaps Duda-Firouzja, with both young players very happy to play with fire. Apart from that we have the heavyweight struggles So-Anand and Giri-Caruana, while Magnus has a chance to take on a wounded Yu Yangyi, though he does do it with the black pieces.
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