Reports Jan 12, 2020 | 6:43 PMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel 2: Wesley So beats Anand as five lead

Wesley So took time out to “thank the Lord for an early win” after Vishy Anand’s bishop sacrifice backfired in Round 2 of the Tata Steel Masters. There were also wins for Vladislav Artemiev over Nikita Vitiugov, Daniil Dubov over Vladislav Kovalev and Jeffery Xiong over Day 1 hero Jorden van Foreest, with those four winners catching Alireza Firouzja in the lead after the 16-year-old missed a great chance to beat Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Magnus Carlsen remains on 50% after a 31-move draw against Yu Yangyi that left him just two games short of setting an undisputed unbeaten streak.

Wesley So is hoping his win over Vishy Anand is the start of a good 2020 | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

You can replay all the games and check out the pairings from the Tata Steel Masters using the selector below:

And here’s the day’s commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson:

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Carlsen, Firouzja and Giri thwarted

In Round 2 of the Tata Steel Masters the only complete non-event was the game of World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who played the Najdorf against Yu Yangyi but got absolutely nothing. He commented later that “obviously it’s not inspiring”:

I tried to be clever in the opening and I feel like I just ended up tricking myself and he was a bit better, but he didn’t play the most ambitious way and then it just petered out to a draw.

In a way the 31-move draw suited both players. Yu Yangyi got back on track after losing in Round 1, while Magnus is now just one good result against Jeffery Xiong away from matching Sergei Tiviakov’s claim of a 110-game unbeaten streak.

We can expect many more Duda-Firouzja clashes in the years to come | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

That draw left 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja with an opportunity to move a full point ahead of the World Champion, who seemed to catch Jan-Krzysztof Duda off-guard by playing the Queen’s Gambit Accepted. Duda offered an early queen exchange only to end up worse with White by move 7 and later admitted the best that could be said of his performance was that he’d survived:

It’s kind of a miracle, isn’t it? Today I was basically missing everything. I even missed 23…Nc2! after 23.Kc4?, which is of course kindergarten level, but I was lucky enough to draw.

For a second day in a row Duda was in deep trouble, with the twin threats of Ne3+ and Na3+ hard to parry, but after 24.Rxd8+ Rxd8 25.Rf3 and a few inaccurate moves from Alireza the danger had passed. It was even White who had any winning chances by the time a draw was agreed on move 39.

The longest game of the round saw Anish Giri pressing for a win against Fabiano Caruana in a sharp theoretical line of the Nimzo-Indian Defence that’s covered in Jan Gustafsson’s A Repertoire against 1.d4: Part 3: The Nimzo-Indian Defence:

Here Jan suggests 13…Bxc3 in his repertoire, while Caruana instead went for 13…gxf4. As is often the case in modern chess, all the mayhem ultimately only led to a slightly better endgame for White, though when Giri picked up a pawn he was absolutely within his rights to press until a draw was agreed on move 63. Afterwards Anish mentioned “a very interesting idea” suggested by Fabi for move 23:

23.f4! is a pawn sacrifice to gain complete control in the centre, while after 23.hxg3 Bxe5 24.Rd7 material was equal and White was better, but some of the tension had been released.

Giri-Caruana would become the day's longest game | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

In any case, that meant Anish Giri had started this year’s Wijk aan Zee by getting the better of opening struggles against the world numbers 1 and 2. Anish commented:

That’s good, but it’s early to say. So far the tournament just started and I think the people in the lead are not the ones who are going to eventually win, so basically the standings are irrelevant.

That brings us to the day’s four wins:

White is alright!

Wesley So, Vishy Anand and Magnus Carlsen are the only players in this year's event who know what it feels like to win Wijk aan Zee | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

We mentioned in our preview that you could make a case for Wesley So being Magnus Carlsen’s most likely challenger in Wijk aan Zee, given the US star has won the event before and doesn’t have the distraction some of his rivals have of preparing for the Candidates. That case has been strengthened by Wesley revealing in the post-game interview that he now has a second working for him again, since Wesley’s previous peak coincided with his work with Vladimir Tukmakov. The unnamed second wasn’t the first person Wesley thanked, however:

I’d like to thank the Lord for an early win… Hopefully this will be a better year than last year, because last year around the middle of the year I wasn’t playing very well, but then in December I was playing a bit better, also online I was playing a bit better, and then today I won, so hopefully it’s a good sign that good things are coming to my chess. Also I’d like to thank my second who works with me online, but I can’t name him yet because we didn’t agree on that, but actually this was his idea, this 7.h3, 8.Bb3.

Our commentary team noted that it was an uncommon way to handle the Giuoco Piano position in the game nowadays, and a crisis arose on move 12:

Vishy Anand here thought for almost 12 minutes before going for what Wesley called the “totally unexpected” sacrifice 12…Bxf2+!?. Afterwards Wesley said 12…Qe8 “was the best, when it’s almost totally equal”, while he said that Vishy mentioned the interesting 12…Nd5!? after the game.

Wesley had looked at the sacrifice in advance until 13.Kxf2 Ng4+ 14.Kg1 Ne3 15.Qe2 Nxc2 16.Rb1, but he said he didn’t look deeply, and this may be one of those cases where deeper analysis was required to accurately assess the position. Wesley “knew” the computer liked his position a lot, but in fact the advantage drains away as you continue the lines, and it was with some justification that he feared a repeat of the 2004 Kramnik-Leko World Championship match. Back then Peter Leko found a hole in Vladimir Kramnik’s preparation at the board and went on to score a win that could have altered chess history. In this case, however, the hole was only that the position seems still to have been completely equal until 22.Qxe5:

Here Black can hold with 22…Nxg2! and is only in trouble after 22…Raf8?!, which Wesley met with 23.Qg3 rather than the computer’s suggested killer, 23…Qg5! Peter Svidler took that as a cue to reflect on the influence of engines on modern chess:

Challenge accepted! In this case the difference seems to be that in the game after 23.Qg3 Black’s best defence is 23…R8f6 with Rg6 next, but after 23.Qg5 h6 24.Qg3 Black no longer has that option, since without a pawn on h7 the rook would be en prise on g6.

That was ultimately academic, since Vishy played 23…Qe2?!, missing Wesley’s devastating reply:

Black would have good chances of survival if not for 24.b4!!, threatening both Rb3 and Bb2. Vishy thought for almost 17 minutes but there was nothing to find, and after 24…Rxg2+ 25.Rxg2 Nxg2 26.Qg4 Black resigned rather than trying to play on in what would have been a hopeless ending.

Daniil Dubov: "I played like an idiot!" | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

There was a pattern in Round 2, with the other three wins for the players with the white pieces also owing a lot to successful opening play. Daniil Dubov played a near novelty with 7.Qf4 and felt he was more or less winning when Vladislav Kovalev played 10…Qxd6!? instead of 10…Bxd6:

Daniil had a 50-minute advantage on the clock by this stage, and although he was kicking himself – “I think in general I played like an idiot!” he begins his post-game interview – the plan he followed gets the computer’s stamp of approval. Kovalev was playing on increments by move 22 while Dubov still had 50 minutes, and the Belarusian duly collapsed under the pressure. Vladislav has therefore started with 0/2.

There was a similar pattern in Xiong-Van Foreest. Jorden, who started the day as co-leader, had blitzed out most of his moves in a 3.Bb5+ Sicilian, but 19…Rc3? was a mistake that saw him respond to 20.Bf2! with an epic 54-minute think. 

Jorden van Foreest's opening mistake was less critical than the mistake of spending too much time trying to fix it | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

That meant that even when he got back in the game later on he was doomed by the clock situation:

30…Kf8! and Black has a playable position, but good luck finding such only moves with under two minutes on your clock. Jorden instead played 30…Bh4? and Jeffery, who still had almost half an hour, replied 31.g3!, when it was game over. Here’s Jeffery talking about the game and his upcoming clash with Magnus Carlsen in Round 3:

We’ve arguably left the day’s most impressive game to last, as 21-year-old Russian Vladislav Artemiev scored a remarkably smooth win over his compatriot Nikita Vitiugov. Artemiev identified the innocuous-looking 12…a5?! as a “big mistake”:

He set about proving that immediately with 13.Nb3! and the later plan of 16.Be3! and 17.Bb6! to target the weakness. It was fitting that the game ended with Vladislav finally putting the pawn out of its misery with 50.Nxa5:

Artemiev had more trouble with everyday matters!

Yes, it’s my first visit in Wijk aan Zee and it’s a new experience for me. Ok, the weather is cold, but I’m from Russia and it’s usual for me. Ok, and one problem is many shops close early, so I cannot go after the round, but still it’s not a big problem. I will have a few free days and I do it here…  Shopping, maybe souvenirs for family and maybe some milks or drinks.

That leaves a 5-way tie for first between Xiong, Dubov, So, Artemiev and Firouzja, though with 11 rounds to go that means almost nothing yet!

Smeets is back

Abdusattorov-Smeets went the way of the "veteran" | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

Once again there were only wins for “veterans” in the Challengers, if you can call 31-year-old Rauf Mamedov and 34-year-old Jan Smeets veterans – and in this field, you probably can!

The win by Smeets over 15-year-old rising star Nodirbek Abdusattorov was particularly impressive given that Jan has essentially quit top-level chess since he last played in Wijk aan Zee in 2013. “I’m glad to be back,” he said, adding, “Of course I want to qualify for the Masters now!” How would he expect playing in the top group to go? “To be frank, I think I would suffer like hell in the Masters group!”

Games to look forward to in Round 3 include Carlsen-Xiong (Magnus won their previous game in the 2017 Isle of Man Open), Anand-Giri and Firouzja-Artemiev. Follow all the action live here on chess24 from 13:30 CET: Tata Steel Masters | Tata Steel Challengers

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