Fabiano Caruana played the game of the day in Round 3 of the Tata Steel Masters but one slip-up and some fantastic defence by Jan-Krzysztof Duda meant the world no. 2 failed to take the sole lead. Instead we have five co-leaders after Harikrishna beat previous sole leader Nils Grandelius with the black pieces. The only other player to win was 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja, who recovered from his first round loss to Magnus Carlsen by winning a fine game against David Anton.
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And here’s the Round 3 live commentary from our team of Peter Leko, Tania Sachdev and Jan Gustafsson.
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There were five draws in Round 3 of the Tata Steel Masters, but Caruana-Duda was worth any number of run-of-the-mill wins. Polish no. 1 Jan-Krzysztof Duda more than played his part, and first of all by his opening choices. He admitted he’d failed to predict the first move:
I expected my opponent to play d4 on the first move, to be honest, and it was obvious when he went for 1.e4 that he had something in store, but still I decided to go for the Petroff, which is very risky, obviously, because it’s the very line that Fabiano prepared against Magnus in their match, but anyway I decided to see what happens!
The Petroff line that followed was in fact the infamous “leak” variation with 9…Nf6 that was clearly visible in a video the Saint Louis Chess Club produced on preparation for the match.
Caruana eventually decided to play the line in the match anyway and lived to tell the tale, but it was arguably an even bolder decision for Jan-Krzysztof to repeat it, especially as he’d already played the same line against Fabi in their Speed Chess match in November.
This time, however, the world no. 2 came prepared with the novelty 11.Rhg1!? and the follow-up 12.g4.
The computer disapproved, at least at a glance, but it was a treacherous position to play, and by move 16 Fabiano had a chance to unleash the dogs of war.
It took him 43 minutes to decide, but he did indeed go for 16.Ne6! Although it’s easy to see that 16…fxe6 17.Bxe6+ and capturing on d5 is very good for White, there was mayhem on the board after 16…Qa5!. Both players found almost all the computer-approved moves as they launched sacrificial attacks on opposite sides of the board.
It was a true thriller, with Peter Leko – who during the show admitted he’s never tasted coffee in his life – even more enthusiastic than usual.
No quick summary can do it justice, so don’t miss in-depth analysis by Jan Gustafsson.
When the dust had settled, however, we got an endgame with rook against knight, where all the deep thinks earlier in the game came back to bite.
The players were forced to play at blitz pace in the run-up to move 40, and here it seems Caruana’s 38.Re1?! let most of the winning chances slip. That move prevented 38…Ke6, but not 38…Ke8!, so that after 39.a4 Kd7 40.axb5 axb5 the black king was in time to defend the b-pawn. After the immediate 38.a4! Fabiano would have won the pawn and perhaps the game.
On the other hand, it felt like a fair outcome, since both players had played their part, as summed up in tweets by Azerbaijan Grandmaster Rauf Mamedov!
It was an example of how much harder it’s become to win in sacrificial style in the modern game.
If anyone can handle that disappointment, however, it’s Caruana.
That turned out to be a missed chance for defending champion Fabiano Caruana to take the sole lead, since Nils Grandelius was brought back down to earth by Harikrishna. It felt like a self-inflicted loss, since Nils unnecessarily tried to complicate matters on move 17 of a French Defence.
Here after exchanging bishops on b4 White would remain better and be “playing without any risk”, according to Harikrishna, but instead Nils decide to preserve the bishop with 17.Bf4?! only to run into 17…Qa5! 18.b3 b5! 19.Nb2 Ba3!, after which the Indian grandmaster felt it’s “pretty easy” for Black. He's dominating on the queenside, while White has no counterplay on the kingside.
Another unfortunate move with the same bishop, this time retreating it to c1 to exchange it off, may have been the last nail in Grandelius’ coffin, as the Indian no. 2 made the rest look very easy.
The loss of the leader also looked like a great chance for Anish Giri and Magnus Carlsen to take the lead, since they had the white pieces against weaker opposition, but both were held to draws. 22-year-old German Grandmaster Alexander Donchenko even had the better of his game against Giri, but he admitted afterwards he was just happy to get off the mark in a tournament he’d only known he was going to play two days before the start, when Daniil Dubov withdrew.
“I finally feel like I’m playing this tournament,” he commented, adding:
I simply need time to realise from, 'I’m sitting on the couch, I’m not doing anything for the next two or three months', to 'I’m suddenly playing 13 games against very, very strong players'!
Norwegian no. 2 Aryan Tari had lost both games he played against Norwegian and world no. 1 Magnus Carlsen in Norway Chess last year, and his choice of a Semi-Tarrasch in which Magnus had both won and lost against Wesley So in the final of the Skilling Open seemed less than obvious.
Aryan said he thought it was an ideal choice if you’re happy with a draw and have lots of time to think, however, and he justified his decision on the board, even if he admitted there were some “scary moments”.
Magnus has whipped up a storm despite the limited forces, but Aryan felt it was important here to find 29…Kf6! and after 30.fxe6 Kg5 31.Rd5+ Kf6 32.Nf4 Be3! the worst was over, with the game ending in stalemate.
Wojtaszek-Van Foreest followed the same opening, but with Radek going for the sharper 7.Bg5 and ultimately getting what was close to a winning position, though he may have missed a trick when he exchanged off all the rooks rather than occupying the 7th rank.
The remaining draw was spectacular, with 18-year-old Andrey Esipenko taking a fresh approach against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the opening.
The Qf4-Qh4 manoeuvre he then went for was also interesting, but perhaps mistimed.
Best here may have been 13…Bxd5!? 14.exd5 Nxd5 15.b4 Ndxb4 when Black gets up to 4 pawns for a piece. Maxime couldn’t resist a chance to sacrifice his queen instead, however, commenting, “no it wasn’t known, but it was pretty natural to me, actually so natural that I even overlooked maybe other options”.
He went for 13…Nxd5!? 14.exd5 Bxd5 15.b4 Bxf3! (again 15…Nxb4 might have been considered).
After 16.bxa5 Bxe2 17.Rd5 Bxc3 18.Rb1 Nb4 Maxime had excellent compensation with his hyperactive minor pieces terrorising the white rooks.
After 19.Rd4! Maxime admitted he’d missed that his intended 19…Bd3? loses to 20.Rdxb4!, but after 19…Bxd4 he still eventually had the better of a draw.
After doing well to survive against MVL and avoid starting with two losses the day before, 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja got back to doing what he does best – making wins against top-class opponents look almost effortless. David Anton, who himself had survived a first test against Magnus Carlsen the day before, lived to regret a decision he made on move 14.
Here, under no compulsion, David went for an exchange of queens with 14…Qb5!? 15.Qxb5 axb5 and after 16.a3! had a long struggle ahead. As Alireza put it:
Of course after the exchange of queens he accepted to just defend this endgame for 5 hours. He could have gone more active, castle even, anything is possible, and the game is around equal.
Alireza set about establishing a bind on the position and seemed to get a near decisive edge after the last move before the time control. Suddenly all kinds of tactics were in the air.
Peter’s line there can be parried by meeting 45.Nxg7! with 45…f5+!, but another little trick proved decisive. 50…Rg8? was a mistake:
51.Ne7! was the decisive blow, since 51…Kxe7 52.Rxg7+ wins back the piece with the passed h-pawn ready to win the game. David tried to muddy the waters with 51…Ng5+, but after 52.fxg5 Kxe7 53.gxf6+ Kxf6 54.Rg6+ things were crystal clear - Alireza had total positional dominance and a simple winning plan of transferring his knight to e5. The end, including 60.Kg4! to set up a mating net, was one finesse after another, with 61.Rd7! provoking resignation.
The d6-knight is lost, since if it moves Rf7# will be mate.
Firouzja is therefore back to 50% and just half a point behind what is now a 5-player leading pack.
Tuesday’s Round 4, the last before the first rest day, includes the clash of the leaders Harikrishna-Caruana, while Carlsen and Firouzja are likely to be out for blood even with the black pieces in Van Foreest-Carlsen and Tari-Firouzja (Alireza won both their games in Norway Chess).
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