Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana drew their 19th consecutive game of classical chess as the World Champion's frustrating start to the 2020 Tata Steel Chess Masters continues. Wesley So and Alireza Firouzja also drew and continue to lead after Round 6, while the day's winners were Anish Giri, who hit back straight away to beat Vladislav Kovalev, and Daniil Dubov, who impressively dismantled Vladislav Artemiev's Caro-Kann. In the Challengers Lucas van Foreest showed that even 6.Bd2 is playable in the Najdorf, although it didn't end well for him.
You can replay all the games and check out the pairings for the Tata Steel Masters using the selector below:
And here's the day's live commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson:
When Magnus Carlsen was asked about his now having broken Sergei Tiviakov’s 110-game unbeaten streak even if you don’t count the two games against much weaker opposition in the Norwegian League, he responded, “I’m just hoping that my drawing streak will not be 100 anytime soon!”
It’s six and counting in this year's Tata Steel Masters, while this was the 19th straight classical game that had ended in a draw against his 2018 challenger Fabiano Caruana. To be fair, many of those draws have been fantastic fights, but this wasn’t one of them. Fabiano commented, "We’ve had a lot of draws and this was one of the less interesting ones."
The Queen’s Gambit Declined position reached by move 13 had occurred in the first Karpov-Kasparov World Championship match back in 1984 and in Korchnoi-Short two years later, both times ending in quick draws. Caruana explained that little had changed:
With 11.Rc1 he transposed to a very theoretical line, but the theory was kind of resolved decades ago – 30 or 40 years ago – and not much has happened since then. I felt like he had some slight pressure, but I never felt like I was in serious danger.
Magnus had summed up:
I tried a fairly safe approach trying to get some small advantage, and probably later on my approach was a bit too concrete. If there was something in the position it was probably slower, since after what happened it just petered out.
Caruana’s 21…Qe5! signalled the start of the liquidation:
22.exf5 Qxe2 23.Nd4 Qe5 24.fxe6 Qxd4 25.exd7 and a draw was agreed shortly afterwards. At least this time Magnus hadn't suffered for his half point.
While some of the other draws were more interesting there was none of the pure chaos and risk-taking we saw in Eindhoven the day before. The leaders both drew, with Wesley So squeezing Jan-Krzysztof Duda but never getting anything tangible, while Alireza Firouzja was on the wrong side of a squeeze. He played the Najdorf against Yu Yangyi but only found himself with a very cramped position due to the Chinese player’s “bathtub” pawn formation on the queenside:
He could very easily have sunk to defeat, but 16-year-old Alireza here went on to play the next 12 moves strictly according to the first line of the Stockfish chess engine, beginning with 19…Ng4. Alireza felt his opponent could have done more, but it’s hard to counter such precision:
Elsewhere there was similar pressure but no cutting edge for Jeffery Xiong against Nikita Vitiugov and Vishy Anand against Jorden van Foreest. Afterwards Vishy described Jorden as “extremely well-prepared”:
White has scored an extraordinary 15 wins compared to 0 for Black in the Tata Steel Masters this year, and Vladislav Artemiev has done more than most to contribute to those statistics. He’s won two games with the white pieces and now lost two games with Black, both after playing the Caro-Kann. Against Daniil Dubov it seemed as though he had the kind of unpleasant but holdable position so many players had in Round 6, but 26…Ra6?! was the start of what proved to be a fatal misplacement of an essential defender. With Vladislav down to under three minutes on his clock, Daniil switched to kill-mode:
27.g4! Qh8 28.Qf3 Rb6? 29.gxh5 Qxh5? 30.Qf6+ Kg8:
31.Ra5! was pretty, if not the hardest move to find! 31…Nxa5 32.Rc8+ is mate-in-2, while 31…Ra6 simply drops the c6-knight to 32.Rxa6 bxa6 33.Rxc6. The game ended 31…Qg4+ 32.Kf1 Nd8 33.Ra8 and it was mate-in-8. Once again, the stranded rook on b6 had a lot to answer for.
The day’s other win came for Anish Giri, who inflicted a fourth defeat in four games with the black pieces for last year’s Challengers winner Vladislav Kovalev.
It came after Anish had lost to Firouzja the day before, with the Dutchman crediting a former World Champion for showing him how to react to a loss:
I learnt it from the great Vladimir Kramnik. After losses he just prepares for the next game, and that’s actually the most efficient way, because if you try to forget about your game and try to think about other things it just doesn’t work, you end up going back to chess, so actually I spent a lot of time preparing for this game.
The preparation worked, up to a point, though Giri regretted that he had to spend 21 minutes at the board deciding between 22.Qxf3 or the 22.gxf3 he eventually played in a Giuoco Piano position. Kovalev responded almost instantly with 22…f5!?
Our commentators felt that move, threatening to continue f4 and kill off both the bishop on h2 and the knight on f1, was a strong practical choice, and Peter Svidler went on to show the next 10 moves that occurred in the game.
Giri himself commented, “To be honest just the line in the game was so tempting, it was so long and forced, it looked like the right way to go”, though it turns out that after 23.Ne3! fxe4 24.fxe4 Qg5+ 25.Kh1 Rxf2 the way to keep a big advantage was 26.Bg1! and not the 26.Nf5+ that was played in the game. Nevertheless, the line in the game was also challenging for Black, and left Vladislav needing to make critical decisions with little time on his clock:
The Belarusian grandmaster had six minutes remaining and here spent over five of them before deciding on 34…Nxd5!? instead of the promising 34…Rb8! with the plan of Rb2+ and Rd2. Things became critical before the time control, but although Kovalev managed to prolong the struggle he was always only one inaccuracy away from immediate collapse. Giri went on to win a study-like endgame in 51 moves:
That meant the days of growing anticipation for MrDodgy’s Giri “joke” were finally over…
It also meant Giri was back to 50%, Dubov joins Van Foreest and Caruana just half a point behind the leaders but So and Firouzja are still out in front as we’re about to cross the halfway point of the tournament:
Three wins for Black in Round 6 of the Challengers meant that we’ve now actually had more wins for Black than White there.
It also continues to go well for the experienced players, since although 15-year-old Vincent Keymer picked up his first win the other two wins were for Nils Grandelius and Pavel Eljanov. The latter took the sole lead in the tournament on 4.5/6, but admitted “it’s too easy to be so nice” after his opponent, “just blundered in one move and then it was over already”:
19.Nce2?? was evidence that Max Warmerdam had failed to ask the key question of what Black’s rook coming to c4 on the previous move had changed in the position:
19…Nxe5! was crushing, since of course 20.dxe5 Rxh4# is an immediate mate. Resignation came three moves later.
The Game of the Day in the Challengers, and perhaps anywhere in Wijk aan Zee on Friday, was Lucas van Foreest vs. Nils Grandelius. The Najdorf Sicilian allows White a vast array of options on move 6, but Lucas managed to play one, the 22nd most popular according to the chess24 database, that achieved a popular life goal – breaking Peter Svidler!
The infuriating thing, and a good sign that normal chess is all but inexhaustible, is that 6.Bd2 appears to be a perfectly valid and playable move that gives White a small advantage. In the game, in fact, Lucas went on to sacrifice an exchange for a healthy advantage, until everything came crashing down on move 24:
24.gxf3! or 24.Bxf3 retain an edge for White here, but it was tough to foresee that 24.Bxe6? was a losing blunder! After 24…Qxg2+ 25.Ke1 Qg1+ 26.Kd2 there was a bolt from the blue:
26…Rxd6+!! and if White plays 27.Nxd6 it’s suddenly mate-in-2: 27…Qxf2+ 28.Kd3 (28.Kc1 Qxb2#) 28...Qe2#
There was nothing for it but the sad 27.Bd5, when after 27…Qxf2+ 28.Kc1 Bf4+ (computers suggest even 28…cxd5! 29.Nxe5 Qh2! wins, but there’s no need for such heroics) 29.Kb1 Rd7 Black was completely on top and Nils went on to win more or less smoothly.
The Challengers standings look as follows:
In Saturday’s Round 7 Magnus Carlsen’s quest to win a game doesn’t get any easier as the World Champion has Black against Vishy Anand, while Alireza Firouzja may sense another chance to apply pressure to his older rivals. He has White against Jeffery Xiong, while Wesley So is Black against Vladislav Artemiev.
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