Reports Jan 20, 2021 | 12:10 AMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel 4: All draws, despite some great battles

Magnus Carlsen regretted an endgame blunder meant he didn’t "get to torture" Jorden van Foreest, but he remained in the 5-player leading pack as no-one managed to break through. The 7 draws in Round 4 of the Tata Steel Masters weren’t for the want of trying, with Nils Grandelius (against Andrey Esipenko) and Alireza Firouzja (against Aryan Tari) coming very close to picking up a full point. MVL tortured David Anton for over 6 hours in a Marshall until the celebration of the day came from Peter Leko when that game finally ended.

A frustrating 3 draws in a row against 2600 opponents for Magnus, but he's still in the leading pack | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

You can replay all the 2021 Tata Steel Masters games using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Peter Leko, Tania Sachdev and Jan Gustafsson.

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Tari-Firouzja was literally edge-of-your-seat stuff! | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021 

If you wanted to pick out one game likely to end decisively in Round 4 of the Tata Steel Masters it was Tari-Firouzja. 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja had won both of their previous games in Norway Chess and, after beating David Anton in Round 3, had just got the taste for blood. Sure enough, despite having the black pieces, he went all-out to provoke Aryan Tari from the very start, with 8…h5?! shocking our commentators.

They felt 9.Nc2 would almost be winning for White, but although 9.Be3 was more modest, a few moves later Tari had picked up the pawn on h5 and faced a choice after 11…fxe5.

Aryan later commented:

I played 12.g4!?, I went for a crazy game! I should just take on e5. I was slightly better there, but the problem was I couldn’t refute g4 and couldn’t fight my demons.

That led to the mayhem of 12…Rxh5 13.gxh5 Nf4 and much more lamenting of life choices:

It’s actually the most stupid thing you can do against Firouzja, to get a tactical, crazy position. That’s what he eats for breakfast! Maybe he’s as good as Magnus in those positions.

Or to sum it all up:

This was just an insane game, it was so crazy, it was just like mental torture from the start. You have to think about so much and it’s just so much to calculate all the time, so it’s definitely my most difficult game here so far.

Aryan has also played Black against Magnus in Wijk aan Zee, so those weren’t words to take lightly.

Both players sank into time trouble and let’s just look at two positions to illustrate how wild it became (check out move 19 for another example).

Alireza has just played 27…Bg5, targeting the queen on e3 (the threat is Nh3+ and Bxe3), with the tactical point that 28.Nxg5 runs into Qg2 mate. Computers claim that the move is a blunder, however, but only if you can find 28.Kh1!!, calmly stepping the king out of the knight checks but leaving the f3-knight pinned by the queen on c6.

Aryan instead went for the objectively losing 28.Rxc5? Qxc5 29.Nxg5.

Again a crazy position, and with 2 minutes on his clock the move Alireza needed to find was 29…Be2!!, with the main threat Rd1 and picking up the undefended queen on e3. Some of the geometry is beautiful, however! For instance, 30.Re1 Rd1!! 31.Qxc5 Rxe1+ 32.Kf2 Nd3+ and Black picks up the queen with an easy win.

In the game, 29…Ne2+ was an amnesty, since after 30.Kg2 it turned out there was no killer blow and White could even dream of exploiting his extra pawn. That didn’t happen, however, since the players suddenly agreed to an absolutely understandable draw. As Aryan put it:

The main reason is because I thought I was lost just 3 moves before, so I was just so happy to get half a point. I was sure I was going to lose at some point.

For the first time in Wijk aan Zee 18-year-old Esipenko got into real trouble, but he escaped with some help from his opponent! | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

The other games couldn’t quite match that tension, but Nils Grandelius missed a great chance to get back into the sole lead. He played the Najdorf against Andrey Esipenko and managed to seize the initiative with the classic d5-break. Nils had a winning position, but only 34 seconds on the clock when he spoilt it all on move 40, the final move before he would have gained an extra 50 minutes.

Many moves preserve a big advantage, but best is to pick up a pawn with 40…Rxb2!, since it turns out White has no real threat. Instead Nils played 40…Kh8? and after 41.Nh4! most of the advantage had gone. He allowed a draw by repetition a few moves later, before going on to explain:

I was trying to repeat the position once, and then on move 41 consider whether I should pick up the pawns or make the draw, but he didn’t have to repeat, and on move 41 he played another move and secured the draw. That was very, very stupid! Had I had a couple more minutes I would just have picked up some pawns and I don’t know if I would win, but very good chances at least.

Not all the draws were so exciting. Duda-Giri soon fizzled out into a draw after the players first reeled off 20 moves of Grünfeld theory.

Anish Giri said afterwards that he was unsure if he had enough compensation for a pawn and ultimately decided to exchange off queens and play for a draw | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Harikrishna-Caruana saw Fabi pressing until Hari spotted a tactic with capturing on g6. It looked as though that might have been a trap when 38…c3! appeared on the board:

The passed pawn is so fast that White had to give up the knight to stop it – 39.Rxc3 fxg6 – but Harikrishna had things under control, since 40.Rc6! Kf7 41.Rxa6, with two connected passed pawns, gave White full compensation.

Afterwards Fabi talked about his draw against Duda the day before:

I think it was close to being one of the best games I’ve ever played, but not quite - you also have to finish the game off!

Van Foreest-Carlsen saw Jorden shock our commentators with the seemingly out-of-place 12.Bg5!? in the opening, but the purpose soon became clear as the 21-year-old went on to force exchanges to enter a slightly worse endgame he felt he should draw. It had the potential to get unpleasant.

In the end, however, the game was abruptly cut short.

Magnus putting the rook on d2 would prove unfortunate, since Jorden could now play 49.Rxh6! Kg7 50.Rxg6+ Kh7 and Black would be winning if not for the trick 51.Nf3!, hitting the rook. All the material was soon exchanged off for a draw, meaning the World Champion’s fast start had stalled.

He commented of the draws:

It’s a little bit frustrating. I think the annoying thing for me is I feel like I made some crucial little mistakes in each of the three games right at the end. I’ve not been able to put maximum pressure right at the end in any of the games. Having said that, I don’t think I had any objective winning chances in any of these three games, so in that sense three draws is an absolutely normal result, but as I said, I feel like if I’d been a little bit more precise in those games I might have broken through in one of them.

Magnus also credited his opponents for good defence, and we’ve seen a lot of that in Wijk aan Zee, with players putting the long time control to good use.

Donchenko-Wojtaszek saw the 22-year-old German get to play a novelty against one of the best prepared players in world chess.

Whatever the objective evaluation of the move, it worked, with Radek burning a lot of time and eventually ending up in an ending a pawn down. He defended excellently, however, and might even have been tempted to play for a win at the very end. That could have backfired, however, with Peter Leko showing us an extraordinary line that demonstrates the richness of chess.

When that game was drawn we were left with only MVL-Anton. David Anton played the Marshall Gambit, then regained the pawn, and seemed to get an excellent position. Later, however, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave took over, winning another pawn and earning the right to torture his opponent in the endgame. As the game stretched over six hours it was also torture for the commentators, so that when it finally ended we got the rare sight of Peter Leko celebrating the end of a game of chess!

That means the standings haven’t changed except for the addition of half a point all round.

The players now have the chance to charge their batteries on the first rest day before they return to action on Thursday. It’s unlikely we’ll get another day of draws, given clear favourites Carlsen, Firouzja, Giri and Caruana all have the white pieces, while another curiosity will be the Polish derby Wojtaszek-Duda.

You can follow all the action live here on chess24 from 14:00 CET!

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