“It’s a pity there are no beauty prizes”, said Vishy Anand after ending a sparkling victory over Fabiano Caruana with a move that earned a double exclam and the hashtag #stillgotit from Magnus Carlsen. That win gave Vishy the joint lead alongside Anish Giri on an otherwise quiet day that saw the key encounters end in draws. The other winner was Gawain Jones, who outplayed Adhiban to make it a dream start to his Tata Steel Masters debut. In the Challengers Anton Korobov and Vidit won to lead on 2.5/3.
Once more, for a sense of the atmosphere of Round 3 of the Tata Steel Masters, check out the daily “impressions” video:
Round 3 produced only two wins, but Anand-Caruana was enough for any day:
Anish Giri noted after Round 1 that it’s very important how Vishy Anand starts a tournament. If he gets an early win, and perhaps the first round win over Levon Aronian in the 2014 Candidates Tournament is the best example here, he often goes on to play imperiously, drawing at will and slowly but steadily picking up more wins. It’s looking like that kind of tournament in Wijk aan Zee so far, though the Round 3 win over Fabiano Caruana was a case of it taking two to tango.
Caruana was the man who spoiled Vishy’s last classical tournament, grabbing a win in Round 5 of the London Chess Classic after Vishy had drawn his first four games. Vishy would go on to lose two more and win none, for a miserable -3. He had some much happier memories of games with Caruana, though, since earlier in 2017 he’d scored a convincing win in Altibox Norway Chess and then won a beauty in the Sinquefield Cup:
It was to be more chess to put on cakes in Wijk aan Zee, with the supposedly dull Petrov Defence leading to a fascinating position after Caruana played the novelty 12…Nc7 and then responded to 13.f3, which cost Vishy 27 minutes, with 13…Bg6:
The tactics here for Black are based on the disguised threat of Qxd4+, forking the white king and a1-rook. It was bold play that would soon get bolder, but it turned out Caruana had bitten off more than he could chew.
Jan Gustafsson takes us through a spectacular game:
And here’s Vishy’s own commentary on the game as he talked to Robin van Kampen during the live show:
The final move deserves a diagram all of its own:
Vishy revealed he hadn’t seen Black’s move coming (“for a
minute I was annoyed”), and so it was only after it was played that he spotted the queen sacrifice 42.Rd6!! Magnus Carlsen led the applause:
That game saved what was threatening to be a dull day in the top group, since none of the five draws really got the pulses racing. Wesley So, who’s drawn three games so far, perhaps summed things up when he commented on his clash with Sergey Karjakin:
It’s very difficult in chess to get good fighting positions, because it’s over-scientific and it’s not like the game of Go where you can play originally on the very first move. In chess basically with computers, databases and millions of games and stuff we have to follow theory, and so I think that’s what happened in our game today.
Wesley also had some good comments when asked if he felt under pressure as the defending champion:
I don’t really feel pressure. The good thing about winning a tournament is that you’ve got nothing else to prove. Bent Larsen said you’ve got to win Wijk aan Zee before you die, so I’ve won it once! Of course I want to try and win this tournament again, but for that to happen I’ve got to start winning some games.
There was some competition for the least interesting game, with Mamedyarov-Matlakov a strong contender. Shakhriyar had pulled off opening surprises in both of his first two games, but in this game Maxim surprised him on move 2 with the Slav Defence, which sent White into a 5-minute think. In the end Mamedyarov decided to play safe, exchange pieces and make a 25-move draw, which, given Caruana’s loss, was enough to make him world no. 2.
His post-game interview gave some insight into how he approaches the opening, though perhaps of most interest was his description of the game he’d won the day before against Hou Yifan:
Yesterday I played a very good game – not like Kasparov, not Fischer but like Karpov. Strategically it was a very good game.
The greatest disappointment was Magnus Carlsen’s encounter with Wei Yi. We expected to see the World Champion press with the white pieces, but although Wei Yi confessed to being caught off-guard by the Catalan variation played (“I forgot something, but I tried to remember something”) he handled it well:
10…e5! was a good move that soon saw queens exchanged, and the later well-timed 20…e4! helped ensure that this wasn’t going to be one of those days when Magnus got blood out of a stone. The game went on to move 46, but the fact the World Champion ended with 1 hour and 59 minutes on his clock tells you it wasn’t too taxing. He didn't hang around to answer questions at the end, but did finally give his verdict on Instagram:
That relatively easy draw was good news for Wei Yi after his marathon game with Peter Svidler the day before, while Svidler himself also had a quiet day, though in the end somewhat by accident.
Against Anish Giri’s Berlin Defence he went for the 4.Nc3 Anti-Berlin, and then took a 27-minute think in a position he knew well...
Peter was wrestling with demons:
Treating openings like I treat openings with White occasionally is not really advisable, and basically I spent 40 minutes to get a position where I think I’m the one trying to equalise, which is annoying, but I think I solved most of my problems. I was balancing two desires today. After yesterday, obviously, I’m… well, half-dead is an optimistic way of describing the way I feel today! I was trying to combine this feeling that something less strenuous today wouldn’t be bad with the idea that I have a limited amount of white games in this tournament and I might want to try something. In particular after 6.d3 d6 there’s all kinds of ways of playing a boring game, but after 7.Na4 it might not be boring but it might also not be very good for me and I thought for like half an hour and I still couldn’t make myself play h3 and just play a completely dead position…
7.Na4 won the day, with Giri later commenting:
I expected him to play solid after yesterday. He did not really play solid. He never likes to play miserably with White…
Giri himself sank into a 26-minute thought on move 11, when he could have played 11…Ba5!? and invited 12.Qb5+ and an unusual sequence where White picks up three pawns on c6, d5 and e5 in exchange for the knight on a4:
Neither player was too sure how to assess that position, while in the game after 11...Qd7 things fizzled out quickly, with Anish explaining that his draw offer was intended to clarify who was playing for what:
If he’s not playing for a win and I’m not playing for a win, then what the hell are we doing there in that room?
Needless to say, the post-game interviews are worth a watch, with Giri ending, “Also tomorrow is my striking day, so I have to preserve some energy!” (he has White against Magnus Carlsen):
Peter managed to drop the term “topographical cretinism” into the conversation, which deserves some sort of prize:
That leaves just one draw, Kramnik-Hou Yifan, which looked like a missed opportunity for the 14th World Champion. First there seems to have been a tactical shot on move 16:
The tricky 16.e6! cuts off the defence of the c6-knight and is likely to cost Black the exchange, but, whether Vladimir missed that or decided the ensuing positions were more drawish than he liked, he continued with 16.h4 instead. Hou Yifan admitted to having an uncomfortable passive position, but when Kramnik responded to 25…c5! with 26.dxc5?! she was able to demonstrate a surprising escape:
26…Nc4! 27.Qxe4 (Kramnik spent 18 minutes concluding he had nothing better) 27…Nd2! 28.Qf4 (the g4-pawn was hanging) 28…bxc5 and it turns out the black knight is a monster in the heart of White’s position. With Qd5 and Nf3+ threatened Kramnik was satisfied simply to take a draw by repetition.
Afterwards Hou Yifan talked about her tournament but also, for instance, about taking up a scholarship to study at Oxford later this year, which she felt might be a turning point in her life – at one point she utters the phrase, “life without any limitations”.
When Gawain Jones looked at the daunting pairings for this tournament he must have felt that White in Round 3 against the lowest rated player other than himself, Adhiban, was one of his best chances to do more than try and survive. Adhiban, who finished 3rd in 2017, is of course no pushover, but he’s also a somewhat unstable player and was coming off the back of a painful defeat to Magnus Carlsen. Once again, it wasn’t going to be his day.
Adhiban played the French Defence, to which Gawain Jones replied with the Tarrasch Variation (3.Nd2), an opening covered here on chess24 by Gawain’s countryman Lawrence Trent. Gawain commented:
I think I had basically nothing out of the opening, but he put his rooks on the wrong squares in this French Tarrasch, with d8 and c8, and that allowed me some Ba6 trick and suddenly his pawn on a7 is unable to be defended.
Play continued 20…Bxa6 (20…Nc5 may be a better try) 21.Qxa6 Nc5 22.Rxd8+ Rxd8 23.Qxa7. Adhiban tried to complicate matters, but although Gawain commented, “I’m not sure an engine will approve of the game, but of course I’m very happy,” he in fact conducted the rest of the game almost flawlessly.
The critical moment was perhaps after 38...Qb8:
39.Qxf6! Qxa7 40.Qh4+ Kg8 41.Qd8+ Kf7 42.Qxd3 and White had won back the piece with two extra pawns in a queen ending. That proved enough for victory, and with 2/3 Gawain is up in shared third place with Mamedyarov and Carlsen and can be very satisfied with his play so far:
The standings look as follows, with Anand and Giri out in front:
In the Challengers there were nice wins for Vidit against Bassem Amin and Anton Korobov against Benjamin Bok to take them into the joint lead on 2.5/3.
Olga Girya managed to hold a rook ending two pawns down against Jeffery Xiong, but perhaps the most dramatic game of the day saw Matthias Bluebaum finally get on the scoreboard after two defeats by beating Jorden van Foreest.
Both players burned up over an hour on moves 13-15 and the time trouble that followed perhaps explained the disaster that struck on move 31, when Jorden played the natural 31.Rd5?? (he needed to give up the knight but attack Black’s bishop with 31.Ke3! instead, and the game goes on)
White is threatening to take on f6 and the knight seems safe for now, but 31…Bf3! was the fly in the ointment. There’s nothing White can do, as e.g. 32.Rd6 can be met by 32…Ke7, among other moves. In the game 32.Nxf6 Bxd5 33.Nxd5 limited the damage to an exchange, but that was enough for Bluebaum to bounce back with a win after two losses.
Round 4 of the Tata Steel Masters sees the much anticipated trash-talk battle Giri-Carlsen. Will Giri manage to “strike” as he’s promised? Other questions include, how many moves or minutes will it take friends and seconds Karjakin and Mamedyarov to draw, and will Svidler be able to improve on his Wijk aan Zee record against Kramnik with Black? He alluded to that in his post-game interview, but the losses were all the way back in 2004 and 2005!