Magnus Carlsen summed up Round 10 of the Tata Steel Masters in Groningen as, “really a bloody day today - everybody except Anish won!” That’s a slight exaggeration – three games were drawn - but the clashes featuring the title contenders were decisive. Carlsen outclassed So in a 75-move game, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Vishy Anand caught Peter Svidler and Gawain Jones out in the opening with Black, while Vladimir Kramnik’s sheer will to win eventually triumphed against his countryman Maxim Matlakov. Giri, Carlsen and Mamedyarov now lead going into the final weekend.
After a quiet Round 9 we got an explosive Round 10, which took place in the University of Groningen in front of a large live audience:
Anish Giri was impressed as he watched the World Champion show a new opening idea on moves 10 and 11 and then follow it up with trademark technique. He felt we were witnessing a masterpiece, and said that in such cases it was best simply to avoid any trash-talk on social media - so far he seems to have kept to his word, with the only reference to the GOAT a photo with his coach Vladimir Chuchelov:
Others agreed about the game:
Magnus himself wasn’t so effusive:
I think it was certainly not that, but a nice hard-fought game that I’m very happy with.
The opening surprise came on move 10, when instead of closing the centre with 10.c5, as Wesley had himself as White against Radek Wojtaszek in Shamkir in 2017, Magnus blew open the position with 10.cxd5!? exd5 11.e4!?:
Magnus felt his opponent played “a little passively” in the subsequent play, though Wesley later played a huge part in the game becoming a fight when he found some tactical counterplay in the ending.
40...g4+ 41.Bxg4 hxg4+ Kxg4 left White with three pawns for the bishop, and although it later became four Magnus felt for a long time it was anything but a trivial win. In fact, it was still drawn until move 49, but it helped to be a tablebase-armed supercomputer to realise that!
When Magnus was shown 49...a4! he asked what was wrong with 50.Rb4, and after eventually finding 50...Bg1 51.Rxa4 Re3! commented: "5 pawns down and making a draw - that’s messed up!" There were no more twists in the game, which ended on move 75:
Carlsen's classical score against So is now 4 wins, 0 losses and 8 draws. Afterwards he gave a short interview to Fiona Steil-Antoni...
...but he also went through the game in detail on the live show with Eric Hansen on a day when chess fans were spoiled with similar appearances by Anish Giri, Vishy Anand and Vladimir Kramnik:
That game saw Magnus catch Anish Giri in the lead, after Giri and Sergey Karjakin exchanged queens on move 9 for a drawn ending both were familiar with, although Anish suspected his opponent mixed up the move order at some point (15…Rd8?!) and prolonged the game for a while longer than strictly necessary:
That’s now draws in 36, 31, 46, 35, 16, 32, 43, 36 and 26 moves for Karjakin, with his one win coming after Fabiano Caruana blundered a pawn on move 17. Norwegian GM Jonathan Tisdall was perhaps being polite when he wrote:
There were also draws among the players having a tough tournament. Wei Yi-Caruana was a Four Knights’ Variation that ended in a drawn rook ending by move 28, while Hou Yifan-Adhiban was the longest game of the day but left both players winless after Adhiban spent 102 moves failing to make a material advantage count.
There was no lack of decisive action, though:
The players have mentioned in the past that the “on tour” days wreak havoc with their usual preparation for the games, with coach journeys and museum tours occupying the time that might otherwise be used for some last-minute preparation.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason that two of the players in Groningen on Wednesday suffered brutal defeats with the white pieces after they failed to make it out of the opening alive.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov already called Peter Svidler’s 7.Qa4+ “a very bad move”, and it was clear something had gone wrong after Shak was able to play in his style with 9…g5!
That was followed up by 10.Be3 f5! 11.Bg2 f4! and White was already on the edge of the precipice, before 15.Qb3? saw him topple in:
The move wasn’t just bad (Giri called it “insane”), but the fruit of a 35-minute think:
Simply 15…Na5! 16.Qc2 Nc4 left Black completely dominant, while after 17.Rd1 Rg8 18.Ne5 Nxe5 19.Bxe4 Shak was able to do what he does best with the crunching blow 19…Qg5!
Peter stumbled over move 20 with 20.Bxf4 Qxf4 21.Bxd5 Bf5! but then had to call it a day.
Mamedyarov was happy to get back to playing his own brand of chess after his effort against Giri, which he summed up as, “very boring, and then you lose”. In fact he revealed that his loss there had been the result of matching Giri’s fast play in the opening and playing so fast that he failed to spot Giri had made a different move than the one he expected!
Gawain Jones had some element of surprise on his side when he played the 2.c3 Sicilian against Peter Svidler in Round 7, but in Round 10 against Vishy Anand the tiger was ready and waiting. He did stop to think 12 minutes, though, before deciding to castle queenside rather than play 11…e6 as MVL had done against Hikaru Nakamura in the 2016 Gibraltar playoff. Both sides were struggling to remember their preparation until the game essentially ended when Gawain went for 16.d4?
Vishy said he was on his own here, but when he found 16…exd4! 17.Bg5 Bg7!!, sacrificing the exchange, he called White’s position “almost lost”. White could soon barely move and Vishy’s knights levelled the material balance and covered all the key squares:
Anand didn’t put a foot wrong in the remainder of the game, with Gawain resigning on move 40. Watch Vishy talk about the encounter:
The Vladimir Kramnik of the latter part of his career has been a joy to behold – aggressive, risk-taking, always ready to experiment and always fighting for first, often regardless of his current form. In the 2018 Tata Steel Masters he’s sometimes lacked a little precision, missing wins against Hou Yifan and Gawain Jones and suffering an unnecessary loss to Anish Giri, but he’s still just half a point off the lead and is now up to world no. 3 (even if distant from the rampaging Mamedyarov and even more distant from a Carlsen once again firing on all cylinders):
His game against countryman Maxim Matlakov showcased all the qualities mentioned above. Kramnik joked in his post-game analysis with Eric Hansen that he’d got off to a good start since he had a +0.35 advantage (on the software they were using) before making a move. Vlad’s first move was hard to guess, since he’d started with 1.Nf3, 1.c4 and 1.d4 in the tournament and now switched to 1.e4. He played an Italian with a twist, delaying castling and then castling long – throwing down the gauntlet to his opponent:
Here Kramnik admitted that 18…Bxa2!? “was a move, of course”, though one he felt would be difficult for his opponent to play over the board. The piece doesn’t get trapped after 19.b3, but Kramnik was ready to play 19…a5 20.Kb2 a4 21.bxa4 Be6 22.dxe5 dxe5 23.Rd6, when he felt he had the initiative despite his completely exposed king.
In the game things soon swung in White’s favour, but it was looking like another occasion on which a win might slip away for Kramnik:
Here Kramnik saw 25.Bxe6!, but after 25…fxe6 (25…Rxd6 26.Bxh3!) he considered only 26.Rd7 and the ending after pieces are traded on f3. Instead 26.Rd8! was more or less winning on the spot - pinning the f8-rook prevents a capture on f3 and the white knights are poised to jump.
They could also have jumped a few moves later after 29…Nc8?, when Kramnik was sure there must have been a simple killer blow, but couldn’t find it. In fact 30.Nh4! was the move, with one memorable line going 30…Qxf2 31.Ng4!! Qxe2 (31…hxg4 32.Qxg4 just loses more prosaically) 32.Nh6+ Kh8 33.Nxg6# That would truly have made it the day of the knights in Groningen!
Instead it was “old man chess” for Kramnik, who found some clever waiting moves to keep the pressure firmly on Matlakov. Maxim was in deep time trouble, though he found some last-ditch counterplay and, given Vladimir was also very short on time, the game remained a cliffhanger until Kramnik finally brought it to an end with 39.Rf7!
Kramnik’s plan for the rest day after that drama? “My plan is just to sleep, to spend it mainly in bed!”
Carlsen was planning to go cycling, though at the time of writing only Henrik Carlsen has been spotted on a bike!
That win left Kramnik half a point off the pace, with Giri, Carlsen and Mamedyarov once again tied for first place on an impressive +4:
After the rest day the big clash on Friday will be Mamedyarov-Carlsen, which will be vital both for the tournament and the live ratings. At the moment Carlsen leads their head-to-head encounters by a whopping 5 classical wins to 1, with Mamedyarov’s win coming back in 2008. As he noted, though, Giri had also had a terrible record against Kramnik before beating him earlier in the event, so anything can happen!
In the Challengers the big clash will also come on Friday, as Vidit and Anton Korobov continue to lead after drawing their games in Round 10.
The gap is still 1.5 points ahead of the field, though Dmitry Gordievsky, who beat Benjamin Bok, and slow-starter Matthias Bluebaum, are new members of the chasing pack. Bluebaum brutally prevented Lucas van Foreest from becoming a grandmaster at the second attempt (he’d only needed a draw the day before, but lost, while he needed a win in Round 10):
35.Rxf6! ended the game, as 35…Rxf6 36.Qd7+ is mate-in-3.
Apart from the big clashes already mentioned, Giri and Kramnik face tough games with Black against Caruana and Karjakin, while Anand will no doubt be trying to get back in the race by beating Hou Yifan with the white pieces. Don't miss live commentary from 13:30 CET: Masters | Challengers
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