16-year-old Alireza Firouzja hit straight back to join Wesley So in the Tata Steel Masters lead after luring Anish Giri into a lost pawn ending in their first ever classical game. That was Firouzja's third win in this year's event, with Vishy Anand the only other player to pick up a full point as he took down Jeffery Xiong. Magnus Carlsen confessed he had to "grovel" for a draw against Daniil Dubov, while Caruana-Van Foreest and Duda-Artemiev were terrific slugfests that nevertheless ended peacefully.
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And here's the day's live commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson:
It was easy to imagine that Alireza Firouzja’s loss to Wesley So in Round 4 would see the 16-year-old return to earth after a brilliant start, but this kid is in a hurry. We noted earlier that 16-year-old Magnus Carlsen lost 4 games and won 0 when he made his debut in the top group in Wijk aan Zee in 2007, while Firouzja started his debut with a win. Now we can make another (slightly spurious!) comparison: Magnus Carlsen lost his first ever classical game to 16-year-old Anish Giri in Wijk aan Zee in 2011 and didn’t level the score against the Dutchman until the 2016 Bilbao Masters. Firouzja has once again won at his very first attempt!
In the last 6 editions of the Tata Steel Masters from 2014 to 2019 Giri has lost just 4 games out of the 76 he’s played, and he’d also gotten off to a very decent start in this year’s Tata Steel Masters:
The game against Firouzja initially looked to be going well for Giri as well, while Peter Svidler commented of the position after 30…Be3 appeared on the board:
Here we enter a bit of a strange sequence of events, because objectively Black is not worse at all here. There are really no problems for Black to solve in terms of the "mathematical evaluation of the position", but I'm pretty sure that Alireza continued playing this position for a win, and at some point he managed to convince Anish that Anish should play this position passively for a draw.
Giri later exchanged off minor pieces for what appeared to be a simple draw, but it turned out his last two moves before the time control were fatal mistakes, enabling Alireza to force a pawn ending that was winning for White. The 16-year-old himself pinpointed the critical moment:
I think it was winning because of this 46.a4! I played. a4 was a very important move, because I should play active, because if he puts the pawn on a4 it’s equal.
The way Alireza went on to win was “absolutely spotless” (Svidler) but he was keeping his feet firmly on the ground afterwards, commenting, “I’m not really thinking about winning this thing,” and adding:
I think I have the same confidence as at the start of the tournament, so I’m not expecting a lot from myself. I just want to make some good moves and we’ll see.
Don’t miss Peter Svidler’s in-depth analysis of what he calls a “very, very impressive game” by the youngster:
In just five rounds of the Tata Steel Masters we’ve already seen Firouzja, Jorden van Foreest and Vladislav Artemiev bounce back after losses, and now 50-year-old Vishy Anand has become the latest player to hit back, after he lost in Round 2. In the post-game interview he noted that he’d last been in Eindhoven 22 years ago for a training camp with Peter Leko, which is three years before his Round 5 opponent, Jeffery Xiong, was even born.
Jeffery gets full points for bravery after playing the Winawer French against the 5-time World Champion, but Vishy showed that he knew exactly what he was doing:
Vishy went for the most aggressive 17.g4! to break up the black position and retained that initiative, even if afterwards he wasn’t convinced by his own play:
The only moment I was really happy was when I played c4. There I felt that the tactics were all working out for me, but before that I wasn’t sure if I’d lost the plot a little bit or not.
The tactics do indeed work for White. Jeffery picked the best defence, 31…Rg4 32.cxd5 Rxd4+ 33.Bxd4, but the spectacular 33…Qxc2+ 34.Kxc2 Nxd4+ 35.Kd3 Nxe2 36.Kxe2 only left him with a dead-lost rook endgame that Vishy went on to win without any trouble:
Here he is after the game:
Of the remaining games it was only Kovalev-So that ended quickly after bottom-placed Vladislav Kovalev was happy to get an uneventful Berlin draw against the sole leader. Wesley also had no complaints, since he was happy not to wait until 8 in the evening for the 2-hour return journey from the PSV Eindhoven football stadium to Wijk aan Zee. In the post-game interview he demonstrated that football wasn’t exactly his game: “I have no idea what the strategy is to score a goal!”
The other games could easily all have ended decisively. Nikita Vitiugov missed a chance before a 24-move draw against Yu Yangyi, while there was mayhem on the other boards. For instance, Vladislav Artemiev decided to trust his fellow 21-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda’s 24.Rg4!?
In fact Black would be winning after 24…fxg4!, while after 24…Bf6?! 25.Ng5! Duda’s tactics were working and it was White who had any winning chances before the game finally ended in what this time was a drawn pawn ending.
Jorden van Foreest’s bold opening play has gone well so far in the Tata Steel Masters, but repeating the line that saw Alexander Grischuk get crushed in 24 moves by David Anton in last year’s Grand Swiss backfired.
Jorden must have been ready for Fabiano Caruana to repeat Anton’s 10.d4, but Fabi picked 10.dxe4, with Jorden commenting:
Yeah, actually I knew it existed, I just totally didn’t repeat this variation before the game at all and then over the board it’s very hard to find the correct moves.
Jorden blundered on move 13 and it was already a case of Caruana trying to find a knockout blow, though the hour he spent on moves 15-17 made it clear how tough that was.
The moment things finally slipped away seems to have been on move 19:
That the computer gives Black’s best response to 19.h3! here as 19…Rg8!?, tells you almost everything you need to know about how strong that little pawn move is. Why is it so strong? One reason is that the immediate 19.Qa3 is well met by 19…Qe7!, and Black is better. But after, for instance, 19.h3 Nf6 and now 20.Qa3! Qe7 White is winning with 21.Rc3! and the threat of 22.Re3.
In the game Fabiano instead played 19.Rc4 and after 19…Rg8! 20.Qa3 Black was able to escape with the ugly-looking 20…Kg7! Soon Black had an extra piece for three pawns and, according to the computer, a healthy advantage, but it was understandable that Jorden accepted his opponent’s draw offer.
As he explained:
I was already very happy to get away with a draw, to be honest, after what happened in the opening. Also, I’m not sure how much better I am in the end, but yeah, to be honest I was just very happy not to lose this game.
That leaves Carlsen-Dubov, where the obvious script would have seen Magnus Carlsen return to crushing the Tata Steel Masters field. He was fresh from scoring four goals in an 8:5 win in the rest-day football and was free from the albatross around his neck of the unbeaten streak, so the handbrake could be released.
Whether because the streak was suddenly in doubt again…
…or because he was facing his second Daniil Dubov and had to do some dodging in the opening when they played the Rossolimo Sicilian they’d worked on heavily for the match against Caruana, things didn’t exactly go to plan.
Both players agreed, however, that the real problem was “one extremely bad move” (Carlsen), or as Dubov put it:
Basically we both felt that he played like an idiot, which is probably true!
That move was 17.Nc4?! Magnus explained:
Most of these lines I’m aiming to get the knight to c4 so I played it without thinking much, but clearly it needed to go to f1 in that case, and I think if I do 17.Nf1 I just have a very pleasant position, not much better, but definitely very, very playable and with every chance of winning the game.
After 17.Nc4 Qe6! Magnus sank into thought and, yet again this year, decided to make what he described as not an offensive but a defensive pawn sacrifice: 18.Qb3!? fxe4 19.Nfd2 exd3 20.cxd3 e4! 21.Nxe4 Bxc4 22.Qxc4:
At this point our commentary team felt Daniil was getting a bit too clever when instead of regaining the extra pawn with 22…Qxc4 23.dxc4 Bxb2 he played 22…Qd5, but later Magnus admitted to missing another move (28…Rd5!) and found himself giving up the pawn anyway. The World Champion held on, but it wasn’t pretty: “I had to grovel for a draw, so that was a bit embarrassing again”. He also described his overall play this year as, “massively depressing”, even if being on 50% with 8 rounds to go is a far from desperate situation:
In Round 6 Magnus can try to kick start his tournament with White against a certain Fabiano Caruana, though Daniil had some words of advice for the World Champion’s rivals:
I think in general people tend to overestimate him. He’s probably the best player in history, but still it doesn’t mean you cannot beat him. And all the streaks and everything – he’s obviously a brilliant player, but it’s also related to the fact that not too many people try to beat him, especially when he’s White.
Here are the standings after Round 5, with Alireza Firouzja having caught Wesley So in the lead, a point ahead of Magnus:
While the Masters group was away in Eindhoven the Challengers ensured there was plenty of action back in Wijk aan Zee as only one game was drawn in Round 5:
That game involved the sole leader Surya Ganguly, so that Pavel Eljanov and Erwin l’Ami were able to catch him with wins over Anton Smirnov and Dinara Saduakassova. Special mention goes to Jan Smeets, who picked up his second win of the event by delivering mate on the board against Rauf Mamedov.
The Masters group returns to Wijk aan Zee and the normal starting time of 13:30 CET on Friday and while all eyes will be on Carlsen-Caruana the leaders may fancy their chances of winning again. Firouzja has Black against the struggling Yu Yangyi while So is White against Duda.
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