Anish Giri won his first ever classical game against Vladimir Kramnik to take the sole lead with a perfect score after two rounds of the 2018 Tata Steel Masters. The trash-talking has already begun, with Magnus Carlsen clarifying that “perfect” didn’t mean two draws this time for Anish, while the World Champion got his first win of 2018 with a seemingly effortless endgame victory over Adhiban. The day’s other winner was Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who condemned Hou Yifan to a 0/2 start, while Gawain Jones and Peter Svidler held 69 and 124-move draws against Fabiano Caruana and Wei Yi.
Round 2 of the Tata Steel chess tournament again took place in front of a packed weekend audience:
Once again there were three decisive games, but the pattern was reversed from Round 1 – those games finished relatively quickly (Hou Yifan-Mamedyarov was over long before resignation finally came) while the long games ended in draws:
Winning in Wijk aan Zee would be like Andy Murray winning Wimbledon for Anish Giri, who has been competing in the tournament ever since he moved to the Netherlands as a child. It would also be his first supertournament victory since the 2011/2 Reggio Emilia tournament. We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves with 11 rounds to go, of course, but things couldn’t be going better so far. First Hou Yifan cracked in a drawn ending in Round 1, and then none other than Vladimir Kramnik also cracked in a tricky position in Round 2.
Playing Kramnik has never been easy for Giri, who had a 0:7 record of classical wins before Sunday. He was asked by Chess-News.ru why he had such a bad record against the former World Champion:
Firstly, he’s very tall! His height really scares me. Secondly, when we started to compete I was very small (not only in terms of height), and he dominated in all the components, from the opening to the endgame. Now I’m catching up, it seems, but nevertheless childhood trauma makes itself known. It’s a well-known phenomenon: when you start to play in strong tournaments very early on it’s natural that a couple of people come along and constantly beat you, and then it takes years to recover from those complexes.
All that’s left now is to beat Levon, and all will be well. He may not be tall, but he has other tricks, all these shirts, moving here and there… (moves his arms in a parody of Aronian)
Curiously Giri also has a 0:7 record against Aronian, but his score against Kramnik is now 1:7. He called himself “very lucky” that Vladimir decided not to stick to his repertoire with the black pieces and instead go for 1.c4 e6 2.Nc3 Bb4, a move he’d tried against Giri in a rapid game last year in Leuven. Instead of 3.Qc2 there Anish went for 3.Qb3, and after 3…Ba5 the players were already in a very rare sideline. Giri admitted things didn’t go entirely his own way in the opening and he would have been happy with a draw at some point, but he felt that after Kramnik played 13…Qe7 instead of 13…Qc7, White’s plan of pushing and exchanging the a-pawn left him with a position where he could press with no risk. Soon things were getting very concrete for Kramnik in time trouble, with the complexity illustrated by the position after 23.Qa8+:
Here Kramnik surprised Giri with 23…Kf7! – a move Anish called a “brilliant trick”, since it allowed a fork with 24.Qxb7?!, with the point that after 24...Qxb7 25.Nd6+ Ke7 26.Nxb7 Rc7! the knight is trapped. Giri’s own trick had been to meet 23…Nd8 with 24.Bxf6 Qxf6 25.Rxd5! when after 25…exd5 26.Qxd5+ White picks up the rook on c4 with a much better position.
In the game Kramnik continued to walk a tightrope, but it seems he went astray when he grabbed a pawn on move 26, and then two moves later another potentially brilliant idea proved merely to be a blunder – 28…Nd7?
Exchanging queens when a pawn down is seldom a good idea, but here there’s a lethal sting in the tail: 29.Bxe7! Nxb8 30.Bb4! and surprisingly the rook is trapped and it was game over, though Vladimir stumbled on for a few moves by inertia.
In his post-game interview Giri said he’d try and get back to his old habits of drawing every game, “except round 4, round 4 I’m going to strike!”
The interviewer wondered who the opponent was in Round 4, since Loek van Wely wasn’t playing in the tournament. Anish wouldn’t tell, but, as you might have guessed, it’s a certain Magnus Carlsen!
Magnus Carlsen had managed to outplay but not beat Fabiano Caruana from a completely innocuous position in Round 1, but against Adhiban in Round 2 he did get the full point. He commented afterwards:
He played an opening line that’s known for being very drawish, and it probably was, but then it got unexpectedly complicated and fortunately for me he collapsed pretty quickly.
The biggest impression was perhaps made by Magnus following 22…c4! with the classy 23…a4!
White had little choice but to go along with the plan with 24.bxa4, giving Black the b-file and weakening the remaining white pawns. Adhiban had gone 10 games unbeaten in the Tata Steel Masters if you count 2017 as well, but he went down fast, following 24…Bf5 with 25.Bf3?. The dream must have been for a triumphant march of the a-pawn, but it never got beyond a5 and after 25…d4 26.a5?! Bxc2 the connected passed pawns decided the game. Magnus looked nonchalant and somewhat bored as he executed the finish he’d foreseen. Instead, though, 25.c3! looks natural and good, though there would still have been a struggle ahead.
Magnus gently teased Giri after his win, and got a response – that Round 4 clash is warming up nicely!
The third decisive game was yet more evidence that Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has become a serious contender to win the Candidates Tournament and challenge Magnus Carlsen to a match this year. Again he sprung an opening surprise – playing the French Defence for the first time in 7 years – and he went on to quietly but very convincingly outplay Hou Yifan in a game that lasted 48 moves but was essentially over in 30. If Mamedyarov can combine his trademark attacking victories with such displays of technique he’s going to be a very formidable opponent.
Who would finish first in Round 2?
It was a fair bet, but Matlakov-So beat them to it, with Maxim Matlakov probably happy to get off the mark after his loss the day before, and Wesley known for his pragmatism, especially with the black pieces.
Karjakin-Anand only lasted a single move longer, but in fact the players engaged in long thinks, with Sergey surprising Anand by employing the rare 9.Nfd2 that Magnus Carlsen had tried against Harikrishna in the World Blitz Championship after Ding Liren had tried it against the same opponent in the World Mind Games blitz a couple of weeks previously.
Vishy varied on move 11, and a position arose where although temporarily down a pawn Karjakin had more than enough compensation in the form of his bishop pair. It seems he saw no real prospects of more, though, since he soon acquiesced in mass exchanges that led only to a draw.
The remaining two games were anything but dull. Gawain Jones confessed to being surprised by Fabiano Caruana’s first move (1.d4), but stuck to his usual repertoire and played the King’s Indian Defence. Commentator Robin van Kampen, the author of a 34-video almost 7-hour series on the KID here on chess24, approved, though he felt 9…h5!? was a little rash. In the end it was the familiar story that the computer was giving White a big edge, but it was so complicated tactically that both players found themselves in time trouble.
Gawain said he was just trying to survive in the run-up to the time control, and wished he’d had more time here:
He spent 3 minutes trying to calculate the consequences of 32…Qxe4+! immediately, which does seem to equalise completely, but with 10 seconds remaining opted for 32…Rxf8!? 33.Rhg4 Qxe4+, when he ended up being tortured for another hour or two in a rook and pawn endgame a pawn down.
Tablebases say it was never winning for Caruana, but it was certainly no fun to defend.
Peter Svidler, meanwhile, got to play his Grünfeld against Wei Yi, but the Chinese youngster showed his tenacity and ingenuity as he ultimately managed to emerge with an extra pawn which was not only passed but had made it to the 6th rank. A quick collapse of Black’s position looked on the cards, but there were two factors working in Svidler’s favour: 1) The time situation – Wei Yi again took Grischuk-like deep thinks and made the 40-move time control with 2 seconds to spare and the 60-move control with 4, and 2) Peter’s brilliant conjuring up of counterattacking chances. It was an epic game:
Pepe Cuenca takes us through the encounter (there are some audio issues, but hopefully they don’t spoil the enjoyment too much!):
Peter summed up, complete with obligatory cricket reference:
After just two rounds the field is already starting to spread out:
In Round 3 Giri has Black vs. Svidler while Carlsen takes on Wei Yi with White. Kramnik – Hou Yifan is likely to see Big Vlad aiming to bounce back immediately. And talking of bouncing back…
In the Challengers section we also got another three decisive games, with two players immediately hitting back after losses the day before:
We had images of a crushed player sulking in silence after 16-year-old Lucas van Foreest lost to his brother Jorden the day before, but he hit back in style to take down the World Junior Champion Aryan Tari in a fine technical endgame.
Lucas agreed afterwards it was sweeter since he’d lost to Tari at that World Junior Championship, while his brother had also failed to defeat the champ in the final round. The interviewer was unsatisfied with Lucas’ aim “to win as much as possible” and asked for a concrete score he was aiming for. The response:
There are 13 rounds, right? So 12 out of 13 should be a nice aim!
Olga Girya recovered from losing with White the day before to grind down Matthias Bluebaum with Black in Round 2, leaving the young German talent on 0/2. Top seed Vidit is among the leaders on 1.5/2 after a smooth 27-move victory over veteran Michal Krasenkow.