Reports Jan 28, 2018 | 8:04 AMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel 2018 12: Carlsen & Giri lead title fight

Magnus Carlsen ground Maxim Matlakov down in an ending and Anish Giri bamboozled Adhiban as they enter the final round of the 2018 Tata Steel Masters locked together on 8.5/12. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov would have joined them if he’d beaten Gawain Jones, but instead he took a 12-move draw by repetition that saw the players vie to apportion blame afterwards. Vladimir Kramnik still has a very slim chance of first after beating Fabiano Caruana, while in the Challengers Vidit leads a two-horse race after overcoming Olga Girya while Lucas van Foreest held Anton Korobov.

Anish Giri limbers up before beating Adhiban to move to +5 | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

For a second day in a row there were three wins for White in the Tata Steel Masters:

The blame game

Magnus couldn't conceal a smirk after seeing Jones-Mamedyarov | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

The penultimate round of the 2018 Tata Steel Masters had barely begun when co-leader Shakhriyar Mamedyarov played the rare 7…g6 in a Petrov Defence:


Gawain Jones, who had lost three of his last four games, was caught off-guard and thought for 7 minutes before playing the natural 8.Bg5. Shak relatively quickly responded 8…Be7, and after some more thought Gawain went for 9.Bh6. Two more minutes and 9…Bf8 followed, before Gawain moved his bishop back to g5 and, before we knew it, the game was ending in a draw by repetition of moves. It had all been seen before.

The quick draw broke no rules, but was of the kind the organisers were known to frown upon, and it was also puzzling, since Mamedyarov was locked in a 3-way battle for the title. He came out throwing punches in his interview with Tom Bottema, explaining that he was given no choice:

I don’t want it, but ok, what to do, when the opponent doesn’t want to play with White?… Normally I don’t understand him. He plays maybe one time a year in a super-tournament – he needs to play…

Gawain hit back almost immediately:

Well, I was stunned that he repeated as well. I didn’t understand why he chose the Petrov. I was expecting him to play some double-edged opening and we’d get some fight, but then he played this line. I’ve played c4 before, so I’ve had this position until g6 before, and then ok, I thought I’d play Bg5, he’ll play some unbalanced thing there and we’ll get an interesting game, but I’m not just going to continue the game in an equal position where I’m just going to drift. I expected him to take some risks and thought he had to beat me to win the tournament, and I was looking forward to that, but as you were saying yesterday about my collapse, which I don’t think is a collapse, I’m not going to decline draws in equal positions against the no. 2 in the world.

The controversy more than made up for any entertainment we lost due to the short game, with other players soon chiming in with their opinions. Anish Giri, as so often, had the best lines as he discussed Mamedyarov’s choice:

His sort of main strength is that he dares to go all-out when it’s needed, and how to explain that he didn’t go all-out today? It’s completely insane – it doesn’t fit into my world view. I would bet my small apartment that he would play for a win today… It’s absolutely weird what he’s done. I would have done that very likely in his position, but that’s why I am myself and he is him!


Giri and Carlsen seize their chance

Adhiban remains irreppresibly positive, despite failing to match the heroics of a year ago | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

Anish Giri himself, meanwhile, faced none of the same issues when it came to getting a fight. His opponent, Adhiban, had the exact opposite record in the tournament (4 losses, 7 draws, 0 wins before their game), but he wasn’t going to stop fighting and played a risky Benoni-type structure. Giri summed up the opening stages as, “The way he played the opening is very bad, and what I did was extremely stupid, I think, in hindsight”. But while it’s true that 11…c4! equalised for Black, Adhiban was later tempted into some murky tactics with 17…Qb6?! 18.Be3 Ng4!?:


It looks dynamic and fun for Black, but after 19.Qe4! White took full control, holding the centre together while also threatening Qe8+. Black had nothing better than the sad retreat 19…Nf6, when after 20.Qe7! Nbd7 21.Nb5! White was simply winning a pawn. The game after that point looked likely to be an exhibition of technique, but Adhiban’s aggressive attempts to whip up counterplay instead led to a fiery death.

Watch Anish talk about the game:

Judit Polgar and Adhiban stop by to watch Carlsen-Matlakov | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

Anish was a more than interested observer of Magnus Carlsen’s encounter with Maxim Matlakov. It wasn’t just the tournament situation, but that Maxim played a line of the Taimanov Sicilian, meeting 8.f4 with 8…Bb4 9.Bd3 Na5, that could be credited to Giri, who commented:

It seems that (Magnus) found an interesting idea. I think this idea was already found by Vishy once, because he went for this line against Harikrishna a long time ago in the Bundesliga, and I realised that he has something prepared here. It’s a very nice concept…

In that 2016 Bundesliga game Harikrishna played 8…b5 instead, while Giri could in fact have found the line in the video series and eBook on the Taimanov Sicilian published here on chess24 by his friend and sometime second GM Robin van Kampen. You can find it all there, including the novelty 16…Nxc5 that cost Maxim 25 minutes, right up until 21.Rd4:


Storm clouds are gathering for Matlakov, since it was easy to spot the similarity between this opposite-coloured bishop ending and the one Magnus had won a couple of rounds previously against Wesley So. Giri noted the “beautiful” bishop on b6 is “completely identical” to the bishop on g6 in that game. Jon Ludvig Hammer tweeted:

Here Maxim thought for another 8 minutes before playing 21…Re6 22.Rxc4+ Rc6 23.Rxc6+ Bxc6 24.Rd1 and, after another 18 minutes, the committal 24…Bxg2. It was soon a grim struggle to survive:

Robin van Kampen’s plan, though, was to play 21…Bc6!, keeping both pairs of rooks on the board, and if 22.Rxc4 then the black king can immediately become active with 22…Kd7 23.Rd1+ Ke6. Robin gives that as equal, which is a verdict rubberstamped by a 0.00 evaluation from the Norwegian supercomputer Sesse. After 21…Re6 in the game, meanwhile, Magnus is given a nagging edge, and there’s no worse player in the world Maxim could have found himself in that position against.

As we noted previously Robin, who was a commentator on the early rounds of the Tata Steel Chess Festival, had given Bassem Amin a winning novelty from another one of his chess24 series before managing to congratulate the winner on an original idea at breakfast the next day! It was similar this time round:

It seems Robin has solved chess but unfortunately forgotten about it!

We should get back to the game, though, where Magnus was better but felt the most important thing wasn’t the objective evaluation of the position:

The thing is it’s always kind of drawish, but as long as you don’t find a forced draw it’s not so easy. I wasn’t thrilled that we ended up in this line, since although White is slightly better it should be a draw, but then after the time control it was really unpleasant for him since, once again, he cannot force a draw and I can play forever. It should still be much, much closer to a draw than a win for me, but then as happened in the game it can easily go south for him.

The clock situation was that Magnus had around two hours to his opponent’s two minutes at one stage. He explained why he’d played fast (though knowing the line also can’t have hurt):

There wasn’t so much to think about! Obviously if you’re going to play for a win when you don’t have much you need the clock as an ally.

The position after the first time control was as follows:


Magnus had managed to convert his crippled queenside pawn structure into a healthy passed pawn, and although it needed not only some brilliant play but some help from his opponent, by the time Maxim resigned on move 57 the pawn had reached c6 and was slowly but surely going to decide the game.

Kramnik 1-0 Caruana: Heading in opposite directions

As Vladimir Kramnik pointed out, he has a bad score against Fabiano Caruana (2 classical wins to 5 before this game), but this just hasn’t been Fabi’s event. Another loss took the US star back to minus 3, dropping 26 rating points to fall from 2nd place in the world to 8th. Kramnik, despite hiccups against Giri and Karjakin, is heading in the opposite direction on +3 and back at world no. 3 as well. The game illustrated that current balance of power.

Kramnik, on the way to a fifth win, described himself as "pretty happy" with how the tournament has gone | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

Kramnik pinpointed the “strange” 14…Nfg4?! as the root cause of Black’s problems, with Black able to do surprisingly little about an obvious blow that came a few moves later:


19.Bxh7+! Kxh7 20.Bxe5 Bxe5 21.Qh5+ Kg8 22.Rxe5 Rxe5 23.Qxe5 and White was a pawn up in a technical ending. Vladimir felt that Black was “always one tempo not in time to make a draw”, with the position after rooks were exchanged illustrating that point:


Unfortunately for Caruana, the pawn endings after 34…Qxe5 or 34…Qe6 35.Qxe6 are lost for Black, so he had to retreat the queen to d8. It was a very similar game to Vishy Anand’s against Hou Yifan the day before, with White’s basic plan simply to push the pawn under the armed escort of the queen. Kramnik needed to be alert for some tricky attempts to give perpetual check, but he was up to the task and eventually won in 52 moves.

He talked about the game, and the tournament, afterwards:

One point off the lead, Kramnik has a mathematical chance of tying for first place, though it would need Carlsen and Giri to lose and Mamedyarov to do no more than draw. Vishy Anand is in the same position after a curious encounter with Wesley So. For 27 moves the game followed Adams-Giri from Round 1 of the 2017 Shenzhen Masters, on move 28 Vishy varied with the unspectacular 28.Rd1 instead of 28.Ra8, and four moves later the game was agreed a draw.

Vishy Anand is on +3, like Kramnik, but has a tricky test with Black vs. Mamedyarov in the final round | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

Hou Yifan-Wei Yi was a game in which both Chinese players could be forgiven for taking a short draw after bad tournaments, but Hou Yifan pushed for 45 moves as she tried, in vain, to score her first win.

In the end it was just a brief scare for Sergey Karjakin | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

In a sense Svidler-Karjakin is leaving the best for last, since Peter Svidler probably played the move of the day:


19.Rxc5!! Qxc5 20.e4! would be a fitting start to a masterpiece, but alas after 20…Bg6 21.Bb4 White settled for winning back the exchange with a drawish ending. 21.f5! and playing on an exchange down in return for dangerous pawns would have been much more fun, though it was by no means a path to guaranteed success against a defender of Karjakin’s calibre.

The standings with one round to go therefore look as follows:


What makes the final round even more exciting than it might have been is that with the exception of Mamedyarov-Anand the players in contention for first place aren’t facing each other. Carlsen and Giri have tricky tests with the black pieces against Karjakin and Wei Yi, with the scenario where both players draw a strong possibility. In that case the prize money would be shared equally, but the glory would be decided in a blitz playoff (and possibly by mathematical tiebreaks):

Kramnik commented:

I never really cared about these tiebreaks – Sonneborn or something, but it’s modern life. Everybody for some reason wants a sole winner, but I think deciding it by just some Sonneborn-Berger or some blitz tiebreak is really a pity for the one who’ll lose it, if it happens, because you know it’s really just two blitz games or something after a long tournament. You’re exhausted and actually it’s not different to throwing a coin, simply, so to me it’s a pity if say they share first/second  and somebody will be second. I would feel pity for this person.


Vidit on the brink

The situation is more clear-cut in the challengers, where only Vidit and Anton Korobov are in contention. Vidit has the advantage, since he used the Dutch Defence to defeat Olga Girya and must have been thrilled to see that Lucas van Foreest ended a sequence of four losses by holding Korobov to a draw. 

That awkward moment when you see your friend Vidit has played the Dutch Defence in a crucial game against Olga Girya | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

In the final round Vidit has White against the other Van Foreest, Jorden, while Korobov will have to play for a win with Black against Dmitry Gordievsky. At stake is a place in next year’s Masters tournament!

Don’t miss live commentary from 1.5 hours earlier than usual at 12:00 CET: Masters | Challengers 

See also:


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