Reports Jan 22, 2018 | 10:49 AMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel 2018, 8: Carlsen blunders and wins

World Champion Magnus Carlsen simply blundered a piece to Gawain Jones in Round 8 of the Tata Steel Masters, but only a handful of moves later he was back in the game and eventually he eased to a famous victory. There were turnarounds elsewhere as well, with Anish Giri coolly taking down the leader Shakhriyar Mamedyarov so that we now have a 3-way tie for first with Carlsen, Giri and Mameydarov. The Challengers leader Anton Korobov also lost, allowing Vidit to catch him with five rounds to go.

That awkward moment when you're the World Champion, you blunder a piece to a trivial tactic and your colleagues turn up to watch | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

For the fifth time in eight rounds there were three decisive games in the Tata Steel Masters. Replay all the action using the selector below – click a result to open the game with computer analysis or hover over a player’s name to see all his or her results:

Carlsen 1-0 Jones: An extraordinary escape

It all started so well... | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

This is a game both players may want to forget in a hurry, but it was fantastic entertainment for the watching world. Much of the credit has to go to Gawain Jones, for sticking to his guns in Wijk aan Zee and playing his usual aggressive repertoire with Black. That’s meant playing King’s Indian setups against such monsters as Fabiano Caruana, Wei Yi and Vladimir Kramnik, and now the Sicilian Dragon against none other than World Champion Magnus Carlsen.

Magnus began to look uncomfortable in Dragon territory | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

Gawain is no novice when it comes to the opening, though, having published two books called “The Dragon”, which made it somewhat baffling when Magnus commented afterwards, “I hadn’t really expected the Dragon”. Carlsen admitted he wasn’t too happy with his position in the opening, which was also obvious during the game from the 21-minute think he spent on 15.Ne4. That was still following a Leko-Trent game from the 2016 Isle of Man tournament:

Gawain took just 15 seconds to respond with the novelty 15…f5, and after 16.Ng5 Bc8 Magnus shook the chess world by playing the terrible 17.g4??

Gawain must have been stunned, while observers were frantically trying to decide between “blunder” or “insane sacrifice” (Caruana). Carlsen's sister Ellen was in no doubt:

The English grandmaster didn’t wait long before filling his boots with 17…f4!, when White was losing a piece. In fact, Gawain had been here before:

As, in a way, had Magnus. Giri later noted:

It’s obviously a blunder. I already saw before he played g4 that Gawain plays instantly and Magnus is sort of caught off-guard a little bit. I thought that Magnus must be feeling very uncomfortable, and once every ten years in Wijk aan Zee when Magnus feels uncomfortable he blunders a piece. That happened the previous time against me, I don’t know how many years ago, and today was the second time it happened.

Indeed there was a strong similarity with that 2011 game, which saw Anish Giri obtain the plus score against the World Champion that he’d famously retain all the way up to the 2016 Bilbao Masters:

There were many attempts to explain how Magnus had gone wrong this time…

…while Magnus was making no excuses:

It’s a little embarrassing, obviously, more than a little embarrassing to blunder a piece in such a crude way, but obviously I’m happy with the win.

On the other hand, the reason that a commentator such as Ivan Sokolov could initially assume that Magnus must have played a sacrifice was that White did have some compensation. After 18.h4 fxe3 19.Qxe3 he had a pawn for the piece, two excellent minor pieces, control of the light squares and the beginnings of an assault on the black king, while Black’s pawns were scattered and his pieces yet to be fully developed. Wesley So later commented:

When he lost the piece it was a blunder, obviously, but then the position was probably not that bad. He got good compensation and in a practical game anything can happen, and here in Wijk aan Zee things happen. Having a better position or a winning game doesn’t necessarily mean even that you’re going to draw the game!

Even in terms of pure numbers, the Stockfish evaluation on our site was -1.86 at this point, or in words, “Black is much better”. The evaluation would have to climb to -2.25 before Black was assessed as winning, which it never did (at a depth of 20-23).

As an aside, when we originally set up the verbal evaluations we were using Houdini and (arbitrarily) considered +1.5 to be a winning position, while when we switched to Stockfish we found we had to multiply the boundaries by 1.5, since Stockfish gives higher numbers, so that we changed it as follows:

Equal: 0.00-0.25 (Houdini) | 0.00-0.375 (Stockfish)
White is slightly better: 0.25-0.75 | 0.375-1.125
White is much better: 0.75-1.50 | 1.125-2.25
White is winning: 1.5+ | 2.25+

Just after we’d made the change in 2015 Anish Giri was in the office and commented that it would make them all look bad in the next supertournament that we were using Stockfish, since there would be far more cries of “blunder” after small changes. Looking back now, though, it’s perhaps the case that chess players themselves have internalised the more excitable Stockfish evaluations and are more likely to play for a win with smaller advantages.

Back to the game, though, where Gawain Jones initially reacted well, with only 21…Re6!? potentially a small inaccuracy (pointed out by Gawain himself) until the critical moment arose after 22.h5!

If Gawain had played 22…g5! here (or 22…Bf8 and 23…g5), he’d have had a stable advantage, and although beating the World Champion would have been no walk in the park, he’d have had every reason to face the future with confidence. He would also have avoided some inevitable jokes:

Instead, after five minutes, he rushed to exchange off queens with 22…Qb6?, missing for a moment that Magnus could ignore that threat. After 23.g5! it was suddenly game on! (23…Qxc5? 24.Nxc5 Re7 25.Nxb7 Rxb7 26.Rxd5! cxd5 27.Bxd5+ was one tactical justification of Carlsen’s move)

Giri commented:

Gawain of course had to go g5 after h5, I assume. It’s typical, though, when you play a very strong player, and it’s a bit new to you, the guy makes h5, obviously you have to go g5, but you think that is obvious, so he thought of that, so let me do something else, but obviously Magnus had absolutely nothing – just a full piece down. Sometimes this position occurs with a black pawn on f7 and White having a bishop on c5. This is pretty much theory. Now you took the bishop from c5 and the pawn from f7. This is just a full piece! But as I said, Magnus is a full piece stronger than the rest of us, and maybe he’ll prove that today.

Magnus himself said “I had some hope” after this point in the game, and GM Jon Ludvig Hammer was one of those who could no longer see Gawain winning:

Other Norwegian observers had switched to predicting a win for the champion (position 2 is the game):

The psychological pressure was now all on Gawain, who knew he’d blown a significant advantage and was also growing short on time. He assumed he should still be winning, but it was stunning how fast everything changed. After 23…hxg5 24.Qa3 computers no longer saw an advantage for Black, and after 24…Rb8 25.b3! Qd8?! 26.Qxa7! Magnus was already winning.

It was no longer difficult to believe the computer, since Carlsen was about to have two pawns for the piece (g5 can’t be defended) as well as wonderful pieces and an attack on the black king. If anything, Magnus’s conversion could have been sharper, but it made no difference as he picked up a stunning win:

All's well that ends well! | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

Giri’s thesis had been confirmed:

Caruana commented:

I don’t know how he manages to make even positions a piece down work. It was sort of impressive that he won this pretty much without any effort, but still I guess he was a bit lucky today.

Magnus oscillated between embarrassment, relief and happiness in the post-game interview, and had the day’s best answer to a common question:

Fiona: What will be the winning score this year in Wijk aan Zee?

Magnus: I don’t know – hopefully it will be my score!

The significance of that win for Magnus was increased by Anish Giri living up to his promise to go all-out to beat the leader, a game that featured in the “impressions” video of the round:

Giri 1-0 Mamedyarov: A massive win

After beating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and being asked about the significance of beating the tournament leader Giri joked, with reference to his drawish reputation, “First of all, every victory for me is massive, so let’s not differentiate there!” It was a strange game, since the speed with which Mamedyarov reached the following position could only really be justified by thorough home preparation:

Exchanging queens on b4 would give Black the advantage, but after 10 minutes’ thought Giri played 14.Qc2, and suddenly it’s not clear what the queen is doing on b4. The d4-pawn can’t be taken as 15.a3 or 15.Bd2 would cost Black material, so Giri was able to get down to exploiting the various holes in Black’s position. His technique was more than up to the task:

Fast forward to the end, where material is equal, for now, but Black’s pawns are all there for the taking:  

Giri commented, “He got a very bad position out of the opening”, though he also clarified what he’d meant the day before about Mamedyarov giving his opponent’s chances:

I meant that he doesn’t generally try to force… Some people have an extremely tight repertoire, like Vladimir Kramnik, then you have to think for days, weeks or months or years how to surprise them at all, whereas Shakhriyar creates an interesting position and he’s happy to play it.

Giri’s interviews are always worth a watch:

That win meant Giri and Carlsen both caught Mamedyarov in the lead with five rounds to go, while Vladimir Kramnik and Wesley So find themselves half a point off the pace. 

Kramnik was hell-bent on getting a win, but couldn't quite pull it off | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

That wasn’t down to any lack of ambition, with Wesley noting, “I know that Vladimir plays very risky chess these days”. The former World Champion went for a murky piece sacrifice with 21.Nc5!!?

At first glance it looks nothing special, but then you realise that after 21…Nxc5 White can’t recapture due to 22.dxc5 Rxd1+ 23.Rxd1 Bxc5, hitting f2. In fact Kramnik’s plan was the wild 22.Ne5! Nd7 23.Nxg6, when Black could take the piece, but White gets sufficient compensation after capturing on e6. After 23…Bf6 Kramnik left the piece there for the taking with 24.g4!

Again taking might run into tactics such as 24…fxg6 25.g5! Be7 26.Qxe6+ Kf8 27.Rd3! and Black is in trouble, but Wesley concluded he had nothing and brought the game to an end with 24…c5 25.dxc5 Rxc5 26.Rxc5 Qxc5 27.Rxd7 Qxe3 28.Rxd8+ Bxd8 and a drawn opposite-coloured bishop ending had been reached.

The other draws were far less eventful. Wei Yi-Matlakov followed a known drawish line and ended in 26 moves, Adhiban unsurprisingly failed to win a 3 vs. 2 pawn ending against Sergey Karjakin, and Peter Svidler didn’t push too hard for the first classical win of his career against Vishy Anand, perhaps with one eye on the final day of the Hearthstone World Championship in Amsterdam.

A quiet day for the Indian representatives in the Masters - Vishy Anand and Adhiban | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

That left one clash between players who had suffered so far in Wijk aan Zee this year:

Hou Yifan 0-1 Caruana: Minimising the minus

Caruana and Hou Yifan haven't had much to cheer about so far | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

Hou Yifan entered this game on the back of five losses and two draws, but Fabiano Caruana, who started the event as world no. 2, wasn’t doing much better. In fact, he’d lost the last three games with the black pieces and found himself staring down the barrel of potential defeat once again. It all turned on one moment:


I don’t think it was a very good game. I think she missed a moment where she was close to winning with 33.Rf3! instead of 33.Qd2?. I’d seen this, but I’d kind of thought that I could defend, and then I realised that after Rf3 I’m pretty much just mated. Thankfully she didn’t find it, and after that I think it was pretty much a winning position, but overall not a great game. I thought it was like a tense fight, and then I guess we both blundered this moment, which was not great.

Black would still have chances to defend after 33.Rf3 Qh4! 34.Rxf7+ Kh8!, but in the game after 33.Qd2? Qh4 White went down without a trace – it’s impossible to say “without a fight”, since Hou Yifan played on until move 58, but so far it just hasn’t been the year of the women’s no. 1.

Caruana seemed in good spirits afterwards as he reflected on his overall “atrocious” play and how his dream now was merely to “minimise the minus”:

So the transformed standings after Round 8 look as follows:

Vidit makes it a two-horse race

Vidit has qualifying for the 2019 Masters right back in his own hands | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

The Challengers had been quiet for a few rounds, but suddenly everything exploded in Round 8:

Bassem Amin took down the leader Anton Korobov in a spectacular sacrificial game:

Anton, playing White, is a piece up, but utterly helpless against the twin threats of the b-pawn queening and mate on h2. The game ended 38…b3 39.Qe1 Kf8 40.Bh5 Qe4 White resigned. Amin enjoyed the aesthetics of his use of the g7 and b2-squares (click the tweet to see the images better):

Among the other memorable games was Jorden van Foreest crushing Aryan Tari in 22 moves. That had a backstory, since in the recent World Junior Championship Jorden needed to beat Aryan with White in the final round to win the title. His coach there, Ivan Sokolov, revealed during live commentary in Wijk that they’d considered three openings – the Ruy Lopez, the Italian and the Scotch, eventually opting for the Italian since they considered it possible Magnus might help his countryman Tari in the Scotch, and Ivan wasn’t willing to vouch for his preparation against the World Champion’s! To cut a long story short, Jorden played the Italian back then and fell just short of the title, which was taken by Tari.

A tough day at the office for World Junior Champion Aryan Tari | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

Fast forward to Wijk aan Zee, where Jorden won in the Scotch without, as he admitted, needing to make a single move of his own. Aryan Tari made 19 good moves, but he got nowhere near Smyslov's 40:

The most significant game for the tournament standings was Gordievsky-Vidit, where a strange blunder by Dmitry Gordievsky accelerated Vidit along the path to victory. The young Indian has now caught Korobov on 6/8, with no less than seven players in a group on 4/8, a full two points behind. Vidit will have White against Korobov in Round 11.

Monday is a rest day in Wijk aan Zee, before battle recommences on Tuesday with Anand-Carlsen and Mamedyarov-Kramnik among the games to watch. Don't miss live commentary in English and Spanish from 13:30 CET: Masters | Challengers You can also follow the games in our free apps:


See also:

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