Magnus Carlsen ground out a 71-move, 6.5-hour win over Jan-Krzysztof Duda to take a half-point lead into the last round showdown with Anish Giri. It could have been a full point, but just when Giri was wondering what to say about defeat in the post-game interview Teimour Radjabov offered a draw. Elsewhere Sam Shankland bounced back to beat Ian Nepomniachtchi and Vladimir Kramnik picked up a second win in a row against Vladimir Fedoseev. In the Challengers Vladislav Kovalev remains the heavy favourite after beating Elisabeth Paehtz to take the lead.
The penultimate once again served up a feast of action, and we could easily have got a couple more wins:
Jan and Peter put in another almost 7-hour shift:
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In hindsight, it may not have been a great idea for Jan-Krzysztof Duda to play the Vienna against Magnus Carlsen and follow a line that Fabiano Caruana had played against Levon Aronian in last year’s Norway Chess. It seems he walked straight into some World Championship preparation, with the novelty 10.Rd1 replacing Aronian’s 10.d5:
Duda sank into a 21-minute think, but then seemed to play decent moves until 16…h6?!
Magnus commented afterwards:
I don’t know if it was winning, but it was certainly considerably better. I don’t know if he fell for a trap or what he did, but I think after h6… what happens is forced and then it’s very difficult for him.
The uncertainty over Duda’s approach is because the speed with which he played suggests he’d anticipated 17.Bxh6! gxh6 18.Qd2 Nh7 19.Qxh6, aiming to respond with the counter-sacrifice 19…Bxf2+! 20.Kxf2 Qf6+ 21.Qxf6 Rxb2+ 22.Kg1 Nxf6. It was dramatic and resourceful play, but although Magnus was also burning up time here he had the benefit of knowing his position was good:
You don’t really expect your opponent to fall for the tricks, though, so I didn’t really know the details.
He seemed to work them out over the board, and when the dust had settled Duda was left with just the kind of ending you don’t want to be defending against the current World Champion. The conversion may not have been perfect, but the watching Anish Giri commented:
Usually he converts anyway, because there’s still some pressure on the opponents and the opponents are mentally ready to lose to him most of the time, so I think he will do his thing.
Magnus did eventually do his thing, and Peter Svidler has analysed how:
Magnus had only one regret after the game:
I’m a bit sad that last year’s playoff won’t be repeated, but apart from that I’m happy and it’s always better to be ahead.
Magnus is currently ahead on all counts:
Anish Giri’s first comment in his post-game interview was:
I think the funny thing is that despite getting an extra half point every day I’m probably not even going to be in the lead going into the last round!
Once again the focus was on the final position, as an edgy, unclear struggle against Teimour Radjabov suddenly ended here:
The computer was giving a +1.80 advantage to Radjabov (White)
while Giri had concluded, “I’m just lost”, but Teimour offered a draw. Giri gave
his version of what had happened:
He felt he misplayed a promising middlegame position. He thought there was little left in the endgame. In his head he saw my g and f-pawn marching, but even in my wildest dreams I didn’t see any pawns marching. I myself have seen a lot of ghosts in my life to know that happens.
We also heard directly from Radjabov:
That amnesty means that Giri can become the first Dutchman to win the top event in Wijk aan Zee since Jan Timman in 1985 if he beats Magnus with the White pieces in the final round. Any other result will mean Magnus defends his title and extends his record for the most victories in Wijk to 7. Is it therefore a must-win game?
Why must-win? You assume that I want to win the tournament, for some reason! I think Magnus has also a lot to prove. I’m just going to defend with the white pieces and see what happens.
Sam Shankland scolded himself for his needless resignation
the day before (“I think it was just a lack of chess culture”), but was very
happy to have bounced straight back:
Obviously it feels good to come back from the worst moment of my career with one of the biggest wins of my life. But ok, I’m a big boy, I roll with the punches - that’s how it goes.
But while he felt it showed his “psychological toughness”, he was also deeply puzzled by the way his opponent played. 5…e6?! was already a dubious and highly provocative novelty:
In his post-game interview Sam goes on to list more moves that worsened Black’s position, though some of them seem to have been best play in what was already a dire situation:
The net result was that White simply crashed through Black’s defences:
Nepo made three more moves before resigning. A day earlier he’d said his focus was on “survival”, and this time round he felt he’d finally reached his limit:
Vladimir Kramnik has left it very late, but after beating Vladimir Fedoseev in Round 12 he’s on a run of two wins in a row and is now merely in a tie for last rather than adrift of the field. Peter Svidler felt this game was an example of the real Kramnik, who has a habit of beating you simply by outplaying you from a roughly equal position. Vladimir himself had a similar impression:
Today I played quite decently, I think. I was not expecting this, but it happened!
Kramnik pointed out 31…c5! as a “very good move” that he thought Fedoseev missed:
White can’t take twice on c5 without allowing a double attack on White’s minor pieces, and soon Black was completely on top. Vlad feared the computer would point out mistakes, and it does – both ways for Fedoseev to equalise and faster wins – but overall it was indeed a well-played game by the former World Champion.
Every single game had something to offer. Ding Liren-Anand was a chance for one of the players to fight for tournament victory, but instead it saw a curiosity – the Chinese no. 1 opened with 1.e4. The games he’s done that against the very top Western players are incredibly rare. The last occasion seems to have been on August 9th 2017 against Anish Giri, the game he lost before going on a 100-game unbeaten streak. And before that? November 21st 2002, when he beat a certain Fabiano Caruana in the World Under 10 Championship!
You could forgive him for being a little rusty, therefore, but Ding went on to blitz out the first 25 moves of a Giuoco Piano. Typically for such situations when he did actually start thinking for himself he seems to have gone slightly wrong, but it took a piece of brilliance from Vishy to equalise:
28…Rd6! solved all Black’s issues, based on the little trick 29.Rxd6 Re1+ 30.Kh2 Bc7, regaining the rook. The game was drawn in 40 moves.
Van Foreest-Mamedyarov briefly looked promising for Mamedyarov, but soon it seemed to be Jorden who has having all the fun. He found a flamboyant way to force a draw:
38.Bh7+ Kxh7 39.Qxf7+ Kh8 40.Rb8! Qxb8 and the players agreed a draw. Black can’t escape from checks as if the king tries to run to the queenside White will win the black queen on b8 with a skewer.
While those two games never really left the bounds of equality, Vidit-Rapport for a long time looked like being a third brilliant win in a row for the young Indian. Black’s position was desperate by move 20, but Richard kept coming up with last-ditch resources, until Vidit finally missed a trick in mild time trouble:
30.Qc5!, keeping an eye on the d5-square and threatening Qe5+ is lethal. 30.Qg2!? looked strong as well, but after 30…Rhd4! 31.f6?! Rd1! 32.Qf3 Rxg1+ 33.Rxg1 Qd5! all of White’s advantage had suddenly vanished. Still, it’s turned into a good event for Vidit, and on the final day he can look forward to his first ever classical game against his great compatriot Vishy Anand:
The standings look as follows going into the final round:
Vladislav Kovalev last year qualified for the Dortmund supertournament by winning the Aeroflot Open, and this year he’s on course to earn another supertournament place, this time in the 2020 Tata Steel Masters:
While co-leader Maksim Chigaev could only draw he took a half point lead by beating Elisabeth Paehtz in 30 moves:
White’s position would hold if not for 22…Nxf4!, with the point that 23.Rxf4 runs into 23…Qxe5, and suddenly the rook on f4, knight on e3 and bishop on e2 are all left exposed and undefended. Elisabeth went for 23.Ndc4 instead, but after 23…Bxe5 she was simply two pawns down and still under a fierce attack.
Kovalev has White against joint last Stefan Kuipers in the last round, but in case he slips up 16-year-old Andrey Esipenko is the one other player poised just half a point behind. The young Russian has scored a brilliant unbeaten +5, with all his wins coming with the white pieces. In Round 12 against Dinara Saduakassova he allowed himself a 47-minute think over an unclear piece sacrifice, but still went on win spectacularly in just 24 moves.
The final round of Tata Steel Chess begins 1.5 hours earlier than usual at noon, and needless to say you don’t want to miss Giri-Carlsen. If Anish can win the game he’d not only win the tournament but start February as an official member of the 2800 club. Tune in to live commentary with Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler from about 11:50 onwards!
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