Reports Jan 15, 2019 | 12:04 PMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel 2019, 3: Nepo beats Kramnik to lead

Ian Nepomniachtchi is now the sole leader of the 2019 Tata Steel Masters after taking full advantage of another meltdown by former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik. The day’s other winners were Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who bounced back to beat Vladimir Fedoseev, and Ding Liren, who unleashed some powerful preparation on Jorden van Foreest. The other games were drawn, including a 20th classical draw in a row for Magnus Carlsen, who spent 131 moves and 6.5 hours trying to grind down Vidit. Up next for the World Champion? White against Kramnik!

Ian Nepomniachtchi would have the last laugh | photo: Alina l'Ami, official website

After two rounds of just two decisive games we got three in Round 3 – you can replay them all with computer analysis (and check out the pairings for future rounds) using the selector below:

This time none other than Magnus Carlsen was to blame for another 7-hour show for our dynamic duo of Jan Gustasfsson and Peter Svidler!

Go Premium to watch Jan and Peter live for all 13 rounds of Tata Steel. Now’s a great time to try it out as the voucher code TATA2019 will give you 30% off all subscriptions!

Nepo’s nightmare start goes like a dream

Ian Nepomniachtchi was upset when he first saw his pairings for the Tata Steel Masters – Black in two of the first three games, against the players who tied for first last year, Giri and Carlsen, then White against former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik. It couldn’t have gone better, though, with Ian now the sole leader of the tournament on 2.5/3 and up to world no. 8.

Tough times for the king! Kramnik is now out of the Top 10 | photo: Alina l'Ami, official website

It was hard to predict that outcome when he began his third round game by playing the infamously drawish Re1 Berlin against the man who popularised the opening at the top level. Nepo had a subtle new idea, though, and that proved enough to get Kramnik burning up time, before his self-destructive urges took over. Peter Svidler takes us through the game:

Kramnik has had a lost position in terrible time trouble in all three games so far in Wijk aan Zee this year, escaping only against Teimour Radjabov. Nepo commented afterwards, “the time trouble stole all the show at some point”:

Ding Liren learns from his (very few) mistakes

It was a day when Lucas van Foreest would do better than his brother Jorden | photo: Alina l'Ami, official website

Chinese no. 1 Ding Liren is within 0.3 rating points of the world no. 3 spot currently occupied by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and he’s clearly come well-armed for the first tournament of the year. For a second day in a row he sprang an opening novelty, and this time, against Jorden van Foreest, it came in a notable position:


Here against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on November 11th last year in the Shenzhen Masters Ding Liren played 10…Ba7 (then 11…Nh7) and went on to lose the game that ended his 100-game unbeaten streak. It might have been unwise for Jorden to choose this as his hunting ground, however, since Ding said afterwards he’d done some “deep preparation” to repair the variation. He went for the immediate 10…Nh7 and soon the board was on fire:

The young Dutchman’s 19.e5!? had the virtue of getting Ding Liren thinking at the board, but the Chinese star has few rivals when it comes to calculating messy positions and looked close to pulling off a miniature win. In following what he called “a very clear plan”, however, he overlooked some knockout blows, so that as late as move 39 White was still alive and kicking:


39.a4! and the game goes on, but after 39.b4? a4! all Black’s pawns were safe on light squares while Liren methodically picked off the white pawns and claimed victory. He talked about the game afterwards:

Duda is another comeback king

Duda renewed his battle for the world no. 19 spot with Peter Svidler | photo: Alina l'Ami, official website

After both players who lost in Round 1 won in Round 2 it was Jan-Krzysztof Duda’s turn to make a comeback in Round 3. The seeds of his success were sown in the opening, where Vladimir Fedoseev spent 11 minutes on move 7 before going for a dubious pawn capture, only to then take half an hour on his 9th move. By move 10, probably with a heavy heart, he’d taken the decision to play 10.Na4!? even though it ran into 10…Qa5+!

11.Bd2 would be hit by 11…Bxf2+!, winning a pawn and leaving the white king position in tatters. Instead of that Fedoseev went for 11.Kf1!?, the alternative to which was to admit that his last move had been unwise and reverse it with 11.Nc3. This was the subject of “Story time with Peter Svidler”!

According to computers, though, Fedoseev’s 10th and 11th moves were the best he could have gone for in a bad position. Later, when his king got to g2, White’s position resembled normality, but the young Pole decided it was time to launch a second wave of the attack:


22…h5! was soon followed by pushing the pawn to h4, and when Vladimir went astray Duda’s ambition was richly rewarded, even if his opponent was giving nothing away!

I really liked today’s game because Fedoseev was, probably still is, a very hard opponent for me, because he’s super aggressive and besides it he’s got a poker face – no emotions at all. In the end there was a forced checkmate with g5, but he still didn’t show anything.

36...g5+ would be mate-in-4. Watch the interview with Duda:

Carlsen can’t escape another draw

Three of the four draws were relatively short in drama. Anish Giri had been the player to spoil Shakhriyar Mamedyarov’s fine start a year ago when he caught him out in the opening. 

Giri didn't let Carlsen steal all the glory as he also managed to draw in Round 3 | photo: Alina l'Ami, official website

This year the roles were reversed, as Shak played the new move 15…Rb8 in a Grünfeld and took no more than 29 seconds on a move before move 26. The pause came because Giri hadn’t played the best 26.Be5, “a forced line where Black is escaping narrowly”, but 26.Re4, “a line where he escapes less narrowly”. As Giri explained, it made no difference!

Shankland-Anand was a Queen’s Gambit Decline where Sam continued to impress by applying pressure to his formidable opponent, but Vishy safely steered the game towards a draw. Radjabov-Rapport featured a Taimanov Sicilian where Teimour Radjabov carefully ensured Richard Rapport would get no chance to light any fires.

Sam and Vishy discuss their draw | photo: Alina l'Ami, official website

That leaves the epic Vidit-Carlsen, which logically might have finished almost 100 moves earlier if not for 35.g4!?


Both players weighed in on that decision:

Carlsen: I think his move g4 was quite unnecessary… He played g4, which gives me some kind of a target.

Vidit: I knew that if I lose this game I’ll look really retarded, because 35.h4 is a theoretical draw and everyone knows it, but I thought I’m forcing a 3 vs 3, but after 35…f6 I get 4 vs 3… a good version for him. At some point I had to find accurate moves to hold, so it was really unpleasant.

The players may as well get comfortable... | photo: Alina l'Ami, official website

Vidit admitted he thought he was simply losing at some point after that, until he found 48.f3!


Magnus agreed: “if he doesn’t [play 48.f3] I’m in time to play e4, and then it’s very difficult to hold”. The pawn structure then didn’t change until 46 moves later (with a 50-more draw almost claimable) when the World Champion played 89…e4, but the exchange of pawns only brought his Indian opponent a little closer to a draw. There were still more than 40 moves to go, but the biggest suspense remaining was what records might be broken…

Drawing 20 games in a row isn’t familiar territory for Carlsen, and in fact it seems he might be setting an unwelcome record if he doesn’t win (or lose) in Round 4:

The chances of a decisive result are boosted by the fact that his opponent will be none other than bottom-placed Vladimir Kramnik, who despite his disastrous start can still be relied upon going for a fight. Jan had some advice for Magnus at the end of the Round 3 commentary:

Work a little harder tomorrow, don't peter out after 128 moves, push the guy to the bitter end! And the good news is he's playing a guy who usually does the pushing himself - Vladimir Kramnik.

There’s some added spice to the contest, since the three draws so far have also left Magnus within 3.8 points of ending over 7 unbroken years as world no. 1 on the live rating list. If he did lose to Kramnik Fabiano Caruana might be very pleased with his life choices this January!

The standings with 10 (!) rounds to go look as follows:


Six leaders in the Challengers

16-year-old Russian hope Andrey Esipenko got his first win, against a still younger opponent | photo: Alina l'Ami, official website

Meanwhile in the Challengers no less than six players lead on 2/3, after first wins for Andrey Esipenko and Lucas van Foreest (both nice examples of total domination) and a second win in a row for World Junior Champion Parham Maghsoodloo:

Dinara Saduakassova drew against Benjamin Gledura and checked out the game on chess24 afterwards | photo: Alina l'Ami, official website

It’s not just the Carlsen-Kramnik clash we have to look forward to in Round 4, since the player with White in 6 of the 7 games has a rating advantage – usually a recipe for decisive results as they try to make that advantage count. 

Be sure to tune into all the action here on chess24 with Jan and Peter from about 13:20 CET onwards: Tata Steel Masters | Challengers

See also:


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