Fabiano Caruana has won the 2020 Tata Steel Masters with a round to spare after beating Jan-Krzysztof Duda while Magnus Carlsen was held to a draw by Vladislav Artemiev. Fabiano's 1st ever victory in the top event in Wijk aan Zee, and his 1st tournament victory since the 2018 World Championship match, consisted of 6 wins and no losses. The world no. 2's live rating has climbed to 2837.8, heights no-one other than himself, Magnus and Garry Kasparov have ever reached. Meanwhile the Challengers still hangs in the balance after David Antón suffered a shock loss to bottom-placed Max Warmerdam.
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:
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Here's GM Pascal Charbonneau's round-up of the day's action:
World no. 2 Fabiano Caruana had a relatively quiet 2019 as he recovered from the ordeal of the 2018 World Championship match. Not needing to qualify for the next Candidates Tournament, he played fewer events that most of his rivals and managed to keep a low profile, though his results were seldom less than good. He kept on finishing second or third - in the US Championship, GRENKE Chess, the classical portion of Norway Chess and the Grand Swiss, though on the Isle of Man he tied on points for 1st place with Wang Hao.
In the first event of 2020 there was a suspicion that he’d be hiding Candidates preparation and have a poor event as he did in 2018, but instead it’s gone like a dream:
The one really shaky moment was the game he looked set to lose to Vishy Anand, but Fabiano pointed out you can’t avoid such moments:
I don’t know about the best chess of my career, but this is certainly one of the best tournaments I’ve ever played in terms of results, and overall with my play I’m satisfied. There were some rocky moments and I needed some luck, but I think to win a top tournament you always need some luck.
Magnus Carlsen felt the game against Vishy was a turning point:
Fabiano’s just been much better than I have… up to the game he had against Vishy I didn’t think he played particularly well, but I think after that he’s played wonderfully, and credit of his last let’s say 5-6 games in the tournament he certainly deserves to win it.
The curious thing is that Fabiano ended so well despite falling ill:
Honestly I’m not feeling too well physically – I caught a nasty bug the last few days and I’m trying to recover from that, so although I’m extremely happy with the tournament I’m still just trying to recover.
As he added, “sometimes being ill isn’t much of a hindrance to good play,” and there was little to fault Fabiano for in his Round 12 game against Jan-Krzysztof Duda. The Polish star got tangled up against the Catalan, and although Fabi praised his opponent’s “imaginative idea” of playing 18…Rb8 (after 17…Rac8?! the previous move) the computer didn’t approve of that fruit of 41 minutes' thought:
After 19.axb4 Rxb4 it tells you all you need to know that the computer gives 20.Bd2 Rfb8!?, sacrificing an exchange, as Black’s best option, while in the game we saw 20.Be3 Qb7 21.Nd2 Rxb2 22.Qc3 Rb5. Black had temporarily won a pawn, but the pressure against the black queenside was so huge that Caruana gradually picked up both pawns. Duda is an extremely resourceful player, but this time it was all in vain:
42…Nf6!? 43.exf6! Rxd4 and 44.Kxd4? would run into 44…Bxf6+, winning the a1-rook, but after 44.Rc1! Bxf6 Fabiano unleashed the winning move that our commentators had initially failed to spot: 45.Rc7!
There’s no defence against White taking on f7 with the rook and picking up the f6-bishop and h6-pawn for an easily won ending. Needless to say, giving up a piece with 45…Bh8 46.Rc8+ Ke7 47.Rxh8 didn’t improve Duda’s situation and he resigned two moves later.
It meant that Caruana had won the top event in Wijk aan Zee for the first time in his career, and in the process he’d climbed back to 2837.8 on the live rating list.
That's higher than either player had been rated in the 2018 World Championship match and a level that only himself, Magnus and Garry Kasparov have ever reached:
The remaining business for Fabiano in Wijk aan Zee is a game with the black pieces against Vladislav Artemiev, while after that his thoughts will already be turning towards the Candidates Tournament in March. Caruana goes into it reminding us that he’s one of the few players there with a history of regularly winning events of a comparable strength:
For most players +3 in a supertournament is a wonderful result, but it’s below par for Magnus Carlsen in Wijk aan Zee. As he commented:
We’ll see what happens tomorrow, but before the tournament I thought +4 is ok, +5 is good and anything below +4 is pretty bad. Since I started so poorly with 7 draws then I’m quite ok with the way it is now, but I think what’s apparent is that my game has been in a bit of a rut for a while now, for a few months I’ve played fairly poorly in classical with little energy, so I need to take a break and regroup so that I can be back.
119 games unbeaten isn’t bad for a “rut”, but some of those in Wijk were very shaky and we haven’t seen the same armour-piercing bullets of opening preparation we saw in the first half of 2019. Against Vladislav Artemiev Magnus went for an old and very solid approach against the Grünfeld:
White won a pawn...
...but Artemiev had correctly assessed that the rook ending after 23…e6 24.Rxa5 Bxe5 25.dxe5 Rc3 26.Ke2 Nxe3 27.fxe3 Rb3 was only a draw, given White’s broken pawn structure. The next event for Magnus may be the GRENKE Chess Classic, that starts on April 11th, when he’ll already know his World Championship challenger.
Magnus still has some work to do in Wijk aan Zee, since he plays Black in the final round against Wesley So, who could snatch second place with a win. It’s hard to see Wesley going for it, however, since the US star has drawn eight games in a row after reaching +2 with a win over Alireza Firouzja in Round 2. In Round 12 he held Jorden van Foreest to a draw in the Scotch Four Knights, with Jorden’s thoughts turning to the final round:
Tomorrow is the most important round of the tournament so if I do well there I’ll be satisfied, but I cannot be satisfied until the tournament is over.
Jorden’s opponent in the final round is his compatriot and frenemy Anish Giri, who he leads by half a point, so that bragging rights are well and truly up for grabs...
Anish did everything in his power to beat Jeffery Xiong in the penultimate round, but pushing for 66 moves in a queen ending so that the game lasted 107 moves and 7 hours didn’t make the Dutchman any friends among the commentary team! “I do object strenuously to this being done to us today,” said Peter Svidler:
Another battle is for the less prestigious prize of avoiding last place. Vladislav Kovalev picked up half a point against Vishy Anand as the Indian legend settled for a 20-move draw with the white pieces, which took Vladislav to within half a point of Yu Yangyi, for whom nothing has gone right in Wijk aan Zee. Daniil Dubov won their Round 12 opening battle and later identified 16…Ra7? as a blunder:
After 17.dxc5 Nxc5 18.Qb4! Black can’t hold things together, with 18…Nd7 running into 19.Qd6! and a powerful pin on the d-file. Daniil was worried about blundering himself:
I’ve lost many, many rating points blundering against the Chinese… I think if I wouldn’t play the Chinese I would be like 2750, probably, because I am in a huge minus. Even some average Chinese players with 2500 can beat me normally.
He then suggested the problem might be that he plays them jetlagged in China! In any case, this time he made no mistake as he moved to +1 and joint 4th place.
The day's other result was Alireza Firouzja stopping the bleeding with a draw against Nikita Vitiugov, though for a while it had seemed as though the Russian would pick up his first win of the event. The standings look as follows going into the final round:
In the Challengers David Antón was also favourite to seal 1st place and qualification for next year's Tata Steel Masters, but instead he lost with the white pieces to 19-year-old Dutch IM Max Warmerdam, who had previously scored a winless -6.
David got into trouble in the opening after taking 29 minutes to play a queen move that only worsened his position, but it was full credit to Max that he went on to win:
25…Rxe3! “Going for this exchange sac I just went all-in and hoped it paid off,” said Max afterwards, and he later rejected an opportunity to force a draw. He explained that his problem had been calculating too much and taking too long in previous games, while this time:
For the first time during the tournament I was playing quickly, because in many games I lost because I was in time trouble. I was just playing fast, and also good moves, I think, which helped.
This time it was David who later went astray in time trouble as Max won in 35 moves. Here's Max talking about the game:
That means a spot in next year’s Masters hangs in the balance. Antón still leads by half a point but faces a tricky game with Black against Lucas van Foreest in the final round, while three players are half a point back. Pavel Eljanov and Erwin l’Ami play each other, while 15-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov has the easiest task on paper as he has White against bottom-placed Dinara Saduakassova.
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