Magnus Carlsen made it three wins in a row after what he called a "pretty easy day" against Vladislav Kovalev, but Fabiano Caruana remains the sole leader after inflicting a second defeat in a row on 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja. The day's only other winner in the Tata Steel Masters was Jeffery Xiong, who ground down Vladislav Artemiev in a tricky ending. Meanwhile in the Challengers, 24-year-old Spanish GM David Antón crossed 2700 for the first time as he beat Pavel Eljanov to take pole position in the race to qualify for next year's Masters.
You can replay all the games from the Tata Steel Masters by clicking on a result in the selector below:
And here's the day's live commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson:
For a recap of all the Round 10 action from Wijk aan Zee check out Canadian Grandmaster Pascal Charbonneau’s Tata Steel After Show:
World Champion Magnus Carlsen is now unbeaten in 117 games of classical chess, but arguably the closest he came to losing in that sequence was after 93 games, when he played Vladislav Kovalev in Round 4 of the Grand Swiss on the Isle of Man. The Belarusian grandmaster had White and ended up in a crushing position, but Magnus managed to wriggle out of it in time trouble:
Would we get a repeat situation in Wijk aan Zee? The short answer was no.
This time Kovalev had Black and he came into the game having lost five and won one of his games with the black pieces in the tournament, though even in the win he’d emerged from the opening with a lost position. With Magnus suddenly having woken up the omens were bad for Kovalev, and everything began to go wrong when Magnus met 6...h6 with the rare 7.Bf4 (7.Bh4 is by far the most common move, followed by 7.Bxf6):
He said afterwards:
It’s just a slightly different line. In some lines it’s an advantage to have the pawn on h6, in some lines it’s a disadvantage, but it forces him to think on his own and I think it served its purpose quite nicely.
Vladislav thought for 12 minutes over 7…c5 and later with 10…Nh5!? (instead of e.g. 10…Qa5 played by Nodirbek Abdusattorov against Carlsen’s second Daniil Dubov in last year’s Aeroflot Open) seemed to commit a serious inaccuracy. Soon Kovalev was forced to take drastic measures to block White’s bishop plus queen battery (15…f5!?) and storm clouds were gathering over the black position:
The last two games had seemed almost as if Magnus was playing to promote his new video series…
…and for a third game in a row it was a perfect example of how to build up an overwhelming position without needing to take risks or make dramatic concessions. As Magnus explains in the series, a pawn or two doesn’t count when it comes to sacrifices, and here 18.e4! was offering a pawn. Vladislav took it with 18…Bxc3 19.bxc3! Qxa3!?, which was objectively a weak move but got Peter Svidler’s stamp of approval – if you’re going to play such an awful position as Black you might as well do it for something in return!
Nevertheless, after 20.exf5 exf5 21.Rfe1 Magnus was right to assume he was “completely winning”, and what he described as a “prosaic” way to win with 23.Nh4 may have been the best option in the position, while the possible improvement 24.Ng6!? he suggested after the game wasn’t an improvement. Peter Svidler also wasn’t entirely wrong about the following position, though!
Various moves including 27.Qe4 were even stronger than taking on f6, but Magnus had in mind a forced sequence that simply won a piece. You could sense at the end that after Vitiugov and Firouzja had resigned prematurely against Magnus in previous games Kovalev was very keen not to make the same mistake, but this time there really was no point in playing on a piece down against the World Champion!
So that 3rd win in a row means that Magnus is suddenly back to a healthy +3, more or less “par for the course” for him in Wijk aan Zee going into the last weekend. He described it as “a pretty easy day, to be honest”:
That proved only enough for clear 2nd place, however, since world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana made it a tough two days for 16-year-old prodigy Alireza Firouzja.
Some players go into damage control mode after a painful defeat, but future champions tend to come out punching again. That was the case with Firouzja, who not only played the King’s Indian Defence but picked a provocative line with 6…Nc6!?. It soon had Fabiano worried:
I’m very happy with the game, how it all turned out today. He surprised me and he was playing very quickly in the opening with the King’s Indian. He knew the position for sure better than I did. I was completely unfamiliar with Nc6 and I didn’t like my position very much.
But the likes of Carlsen and Caruana have experienced every situation in chess, and Fabiano went for a decision that would eventually be richly rewarded, as he pushed 14.g5!
He called it “a strange move”, “forcing him to play a very attractive sacrifice”, but Fabiano was right to fear what would happen if he went for a less concrete approach and allowed his opponent to play e6. Alireza seized the chance to play 14…Nfxe4!? 15.Nxe4 Bxd5 16.Nf6+ exf6 17.Qxd5 Re8 18.Nc2 fxg5 19.0-0-0 gxf4 20.Bd4 Bxd4 21.Qxd4:
Now the dust had settled Black had four pawns for the piece, but as Fabiano noted, you could argue that the passed d-pawn is a liability rather than a strength:
The funny thing is that although he has four pawns he would really love to get rid of his d-pawn, because once he gets rid of it he gets the d-file for his rooks, and with the d-pawn on the board it went to d4 later and it got blockaded there. His rooks don’t have anywhere to go, strangely enough.
After that all it took was one slip, 30…Kf8?!, for Black’s position to become critical:
31.h4! was a little prod that toppled the whole edifice of Black’s position. g4 can’t be played (maybe 30…h5! would have been strong on the previous move), while after 31…gxh4 White can choose which of Black’s many weaknesses to target. Firouzja tried to hold things together with 31…h6, but after 32.hxg5 hxg5 33.Rh3! hunting season was suddenly declared on the black king. The king fled to b8 before finally perishing on d6:
Here’s Caruana talking about the game afterwards:
And here's Peter Svidler's recap of the game:
With Carlsen showing his incredible feel for strategic positions and Caruana demonstrating his pure calculation skills you might say that Firouzja had come up against the world numbers 1 and 2 at their very best in consecutive rounds of Wijk aan Zee – a bitter pill to swallow, but also a good learning experience for Alireza, who now knows exactly what he has to aspire to.
The only other decisive game in Round 10 saw Jeffery Xiong recover from a sequence of three losses in five games to convert a seemingly only slightly better ending into victory over Vladislav Artemiev, who has suffered with the black pieces in Wijk aan Zee.
In the day’s quietest draw Wesley So held a somewhat unpleasant Four Knights endgame against Yu Yangyi, with a 6th draw in a row seeing Wesley drop to third place, though as he plays Jorden and Magnus in the last two rounds he could still have a big role to play in how the tournament ends.
Vishy Anand seemed to blunder a pawn but live to tell the tale against Nikita Vitiugov, while Anish Giri tried to “just avoid prep and play safe” against Daniil Dubov only to find himself close to lost after 9.Ndb5!:
Dubov has a reputation for innovation in the opening, and Giri described him as, “a very strange opponent for me, because he is probably the only player who is more dangerous than me in the opening yet a worse player than me…”. Anish added:
After Ndb5 I thought I’m going to lose immediately, so my first challenge was… at some point Vishy Anand walked by and I saw the look on his face, and the only thing that made me happy at that point is that I remember he lost once in six moves with Black, and I thought I’ll lose in a little bit more, but actually, once we got the endgame - ok, at least I’m going to be able to defend a little bit. But in the end he has also quite a big advantage I think still. I don’t know why he offered a draw.
The most dramatic escape of the day, however, came for Jorden van Foreest, who admitted, “positionally speaking I’m basically just busted”.
With 39 seconds on his clock, however, he found 31.Nd4!, which puzzled the watching Peter Svidler, who wondered why Jorden was going for a terrible endgame. Jan-Krzystzof Duda let his time run down to 11 seconds before letting Jorden demonstrate his idea by replying 31…Rxc5 32.Rxc5 Qxc5:
33.Nxe6! was the point, as now 33…Qxe3 runs into 34.Nf8+!. Duda tried to play on with 33…Qd6, but that only allowed the prettier 34.Qd3! Qxd3 35.Nf8+ Kh8 and White draws by perpetual check.
That means Jorden remains tied in 3rd place with Wesley So, while the world numbers 1 and 2 are out in front in a year when we can’t rule out a World Championship rematch!
Anton Smirnov scored a first win and 15-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov scored a second in a row to move within a point of the lead, but the big story of Round 10 was the victory of David “El Niño” Antón defeating long-term leader Pavel Eljanov:
It was an impressive technical game that took David into the sole lead on 7/10, half a point ahead of Erwin l’Ami, and puts the Spaniard in pole position to qualify for next year’s Masters. It wasn’t just that, however – it meant the 24-year-old, who finished 5th in the Grand Swiss last year, had entered the 2700 club for the first time in his career, just behind Spanish no. 1 Paco Vallejo!
Thursday is the last rest day before the fate of the Tata Steel Chess titles will be decided in the final three rounds over the weekend, starting with Kovalev-Caruana and Duda-Carlsen on Friday. Before that we have Banter Blitz with Peter Svidler on Thursday at 16:00 CET.
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