Reports Jan 24, 2020 | 9:02 PMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel 11: Caruana almost uncatchable

Magnus Carlsen said tournament victory was now "out of the question" after he was held to a spectacular draw by Jan-Krzysztof Duda while Fabiano Caruana extended his lead to a full point by beating Vladislav Kovalev. 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja lost to a third monster in a row as Vishy Anand returned to 50%, while Vladislav Artemiev warmed up for playing Carlsen and Caruana in the final two rounds by ending the title hopes of Jorden van Foreest. In the Challengers David Antón won again and is also leading by a full point going into the last two days.

Fabiano Caruana is in with a wonderful chance of winning his first ever Tata Steel Chess Masters | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

You can replay all the games from the Tata Steel Masters by clicking on a result in the selector below:

And here's the Round 11 live commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson:

For an overview of the day's action check out Canadian GM Pascal Charbonneau's recap:

Caruana extends his lead

Magnus checks out his biggest rival | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

Fabiano Caruana got off to a spectacular start in Wijk aan Zee. As a 15-year-old he won the C group with 10/13, two points clear of his nearest rival. A year later he won the B group as well, finishing on 8.5/13, half a point clear of Nigel Short, Alexander Motylev and his current coach Rustam Kasimdzhanov. In his debut in the A group as a 17-year-old, however, he finished only in a respectable 10th place, with three losses and one win. Since then he’d played six more times, finishing 4th twice and posting his best result in 2016, when he finished 2nd, a point behind Magnus. In his last outing in 2018 he finished only 11th, with four losses and one win, though that ended up being almost the only blip in a wonderful year that saw him qualify for the World Championship match in London and almost snatch the world no. 1 spot.

This might be Fabi’s year, at least in Wijk aan Zee, since an unbeaten +5, including four wins in the last five, has taken him a full point clear of Carlsen with just two rounds to go, against Duda (with White) and Artemiev (Black). In Round 11 he faced Vladislav Kovalev, who was having a terrible event but had suffered all of his five losses so far with the black pieces. Kovalev had White against Caruana, who said after the game:

I didn’t think that a draw would be a bad result, but I thought if I get a chance I might as well take it, especially since Magnus has been going on a streak so it would at least be nice to keep some distance with him.

Things went perfectly for Fabi, since his opponent seemed to mix something up in the opening:

Here Kovalev went for 15.f4?! Caruana commented:

He played a line which isn’t considered very good - Re1 in combination with f4. I played this position after Re1 I think 10 years ago against Hou Yifan. I didn’t really remember much, but as far as I knew combining Re1 and f4 rather than Bc2 and f4 is not very good.

Caruana remembered correctly, since Hou Yifan here played 15.Kh1! nine years ago in New Delhi against him, though she went on to lose anyway. In Wijk aan Zee after 15…Nxf4 16.Bxf4 exf4 17.Kh1 Kovalev was soon much worse, and the improvement Fabi suggested afterwards of 22.Nb5!? instead of 22.Nc4 doesn’t help at all, according to the computer. The decisive manoeuvre of the game perhaps began on move 25:

25…Ne5! 26.f3 Nc6!. Fabiano explained that if he could force d5 and get the outpost on e5 his attack would play itself. Instead Kovalev decided simply to give up the d4-pawn, but it was one of those cases where Black had the extra pawn and the compensation, and the rest was very easy for an in-form Caruana. Kovalev resigned on move 36, with threats such as Qb2 and Rxh2+ unstoppable:

Here’s Fabiano after the game:

Magnus Carlsen got off to a very slow start in Wijk aan Zee, but you can’t accuse the World Champion of playing anything less than enterprising chess. He’s now sacrificed a pawn in an amazing seven of his 11 games, against Giri, Xiong, Van Foreest, Dubov, Anand, Kovalev and Duda. 

Jan-Krzysztof Duda tries out his stare on the World Champion | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

Five of those sacrifices were “defensive”, but against Kovalev and now Jan-Krzysztof Duda Magnus was playing for an advantage:

17…g6!? 18.Nxh6+ Kg7 19.Qxf6+ Nxf6 20.Ne4 (“a bit much” according to Magnus) 20…Nh7 21.g4!? (21.h4! had been played before and looks better) 21...f5! 22.gxf5 gxf5 23.Ng3 f4 24.Ngf5+ Kg6!?

A wild position, where Magnus, it seems correctly, decides that the weakness of the white knights means he can boldly step into the X-ray of White’s c2-bishop. Grandmaster Rauf Mamedov, who’s playing in the Challengers, was perhaps not alone in feeling this was like chess from another planet:

Duda is unbeaten in Wijk this year for a reason, and actually spotted something Magnus missed after 25.d4 Ng5 26.Kg2 Bd5+ 27.Kf1 Nf3 28.Rd1 Rad8!? The last move was an inaccuracy in a position where Magnus should probably have forced a draw:

29.Ne7+! Kxh6 30.Nxd5 and now 30…Rxd5 runs into 31.Be4. Magnus instead picked 30…Nfxd4 31.cxd4 Rxd5 32.dxe5 Rxd1+ 33.Bxd1 but it didn’t change the assessment of White being slightly better. Duda may not have agreed, with Magnus commenting:

I think after that he’s a bit better, but for some reason he was still trying to make a draw there.

In the end the young Polish player had to find a key move or two to survive, but he did, leaving Carlsen a point behind Caruana.

Does he think he can catch him?

I think tournament victory is out of the question now. Still, I’ll try my best in the last two rounds to fight and we’ll see what happens, but obviously now tournament victory is pretty much over.

One player whose chances of tournament victory really are over is Jorden van Foreest, after his aggressive pawn pushing with the black pieces backfired when Vladislav Artemiev exchanged off queens and went on to show that the resulting middlegame was anything but drawish:

24.Bc4+! Kh8 25.Be6! and it turns out Black is hopelessly tangled up. For instance, 25…Bxe6? 26.Nxe6 Rxd2 27.Rxd2 leaves Black unable to defend against the threats of Rd8+, Bxf6+, Nxf8 and Nxg5. Jorden stumbled on with 25…Be5?!, after a 21-minute think, but all he could reach was a position a pawn down with a much worse structure. Artemiev went on to win and return to 50% before he gets a chance to have a huge impact on the outcome of the tournament – he plays Carlsen with Black in Round 12 and Caruana with White in the last round.

It feels as though this game got a bit more attention that it deserved! | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

When it comes to tournament victory the only player other than Carlsen and Caruana still in with an outside chance is Wesley So, who is 1.5 points behind Fabi on an unbeaten +2. It’s been very easy to forget about him, since after beating Firouzja in Round 4 he now has seven draws in a row. The one in Round 11 was perhaps the most puzzling yet, with Wesley taking a draw by repetition against Jeffery Xiong on move 14 of a Sicilian where he’d begun a pawn storm on the kingside.

Vitiugov-Dubov was another quick but this time very sharp draw, making it draws in 15, 19, 22 and 24 moves for Daniil in his last four games. Giri-Yu Yangyi lasted 43 moves, but was a Petroff that fizzled out before it got the chance to heat up. 

Carlsen and Giri check out Firouzja-Anand | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

That leaves Firouzja-Anand, which was another tough game for 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja, who has dropped to 50% but is still performing better than Carlsen and Caruana on their debut in the Wijk aan Zee top group:

Alireza went for the aggressive 4.f3 setup against the Nimzo (check out Sopiko Guramishvili’s video series on the line), but Vishy had expected it:

I did see that he played the f3 Nimzo against Ding and I checked it briefly, though the precise line he played I hadn’t checked, but at least I managed to guess where he would go.

Vishy described his opponent as “very dangerous”, but he took the same approach as Magnus Carlsen of luring his opponent into a structure where his vast experience would be a great asset. Here Vishy played 16…Ne5:

In hindsight Alireza should probably have given up his powerful bishop on b2 with 17.Bxe5, since in the game after 17.0-0-0?! Nxf3 18.gxf3 Vishy fixed the weakness on f3 with 18…Bf4+ and later 22…g5 and was then able to play against that pawn and also the over-extended white pawn chain on the queenside. Firouzja eventually resigned with f3 about to fall:

So the standings look as follows going into the penultimate round:

Anton beats Anton

David Antón became the Spanish no. 1 on the live rating list after beating Australia's Anton | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

We have a similar situation in the Challengers, with David Antón’s fourth win in a row putting him a full point clear before he faces last-placed Max Warmerdam with White in Round 12. Only Erwin l’Ami and 15-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov, who picked up the day’s only other win, are within a point:

The two wins were both memorable. In Romain Édouard’s 10 Must-Know Endgame Principles video series there’s a video entitled "Optical Illusions" and that perhaps applies to the pawn ending Anton Smirnov needlessly got against David Antón after rejecting a draw by repetition:

At a glance you see White has an outside passed pawn and might imagine all the winning chances, but in fact the black king is in time to stop the a2-pawn, while sooner or later Black will be able to create a passed pawn on the queenside and win. After 55…Kf8! 56.g4 it was strictly the only move to play 56…h6!, after which White can’t approach the black pawns and it’s only a matter of time before the black king makes a triumphant return to the kingside after capturing the a-pawn. Anton Smirnov resigned five moves later.

Most of the attention in Wijk aan Zee has been on 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja, but 15-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov is another of those players who might be destined for the very top | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

Meanwhile Lucas van Foreest again played 6.Bd2!? against the Najdorf and again suffered a heavy defeat that wasn’t entirely the opening’s fault. Nodirbek Abdusattorov played the most challenging reply 6…e5 and soon Lucas had sacrificed a piece. The critical position came after 14…Kd7:

You can’t say Lucas didn’t realise the importance of the moment, since he thought for 51 minutes here, but it looks like 15.Qh5! was the move, with the threats of the white bishop pair and queen against the king enough for a draw. Instead after 15.Bf5+?! Kc7 16.Ba5+? b6! White’s attempt to win a miniature only ended in a loss in 20 moves, with the tactics after 17.d6+ simply not working out.

The key games in Round 12 for the standings at the top are Carlsen-Artemiev, Caruana-Duda and Van Foreest-So, with Fabiano having a chance to wrap up tournament victory with a round to spare if he can win. Of course there’s nothing “out of the question” about Fabi losing or drawing in the last two rounds while Magnus wins and forces a playoff or even wins outright. 

Fantasy Chess

The winner of the Fantasy Chess contest for Round 11 was chess24 user AlphaLeonisX, who wins a coveted FFL mug! Why not give it a go for Round 12? Simply answer the questions here.

Follow all the action live here on chess24: Tata Steel Masters | Tata Steel Challengers

You can review and even train yourself on some of the best Tata Steel Chess tactics with the free Chessable Tata Steel Chess 2020 Tactics course

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