Reports Jan 23, 2021 | 10:06 AMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel 6: Magnus miss as Firouzja & Van Foreest strike

Magnus Carlsen made the mistake of rushing in his opponent’s time trouble as he missed a win against Jan-Krzysztof Duda in Round 6 of the Tata Steel Masters. None of the other frontrunners could find a win either, allowing Alireza Firouzja and Jorden van Foreest to join a 6-player chasing pack on +1 with wins over Alexander Donchenko and David Anton respectively. Nils Grandelius remains the sole leader as the tournament crosses the halfway mark after surviving a 6-hour ordeal against Fabiano Caruana.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda couldn't beat Magnus Carlsen with the white pieces for a second classical game in a row, but he did frustrate the World Champion | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

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Magnus misfires, Grandelius leads

Another day, another struggle for the World Champion, though he's still well-placed to fight for an 8th title | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Magnus Carlsen remains on +1 and just half a point off the Tata Steel Masters lead, but his fifth draw in a row must have been one of the most frustrating yet. His opponent, 22-year-old Polish no. 1 Jan-Krzysztof Duda, was the player who ended the World Champion’s 125-game unbeaten streak in Norway Chess last year, but the way the opening went at first didn’t promise a repeat. Jan-Krzysztof fell behind on the clock although until move 16 the Giuoco Piano opening was (with transpositions) following Alekseenko 0-1 Giri from the 2020 Candidates and Grandelius 0-1 Hovhannisyan from the 2019 Reykjavik Open.   

Duda’s 17.Qf3!? rather than 17.Bc2 didn’t look like an improvement over those games, but by the time he played 23.h4 it became clear White also had chances. Magnus, however, found a radical reply: 23…h5!

It wasn’t immediately obvious to our commentators why 24.Qxh5 was impossible, but it seems that after 24…Rd5! 25.g4 White has trapped his own queen, while Black has all kinds of moves such as Qe2, Ne6 and Re8 to up the pressure. The computer claims it’s already game over.

Duda didn’t fall for that, and in fact after 24.Bd2! he went on to demonstrate a brilliancy of his own, meeting 25…f6 with 26.Bh6!

26…gxh6? 27.Qxh5! and the queen and knight combination would overwhelm Black’s defences. Magnus’ 26…Rf7! was an only move, after which Duda very nearly lived to regret taking over 6 minutes of his remaining 10 on 27.Qxh5!. When he exchanged queens with 27…Ne7 28.Nxe7+ Rxe7 29.Qxb5 the position was objectively fine, but he found himself down to under a minute on the clock. It got worse, until 35.Rac1? was played with 2 seconds to spare and 36.Re1? with just one second on the clock.


Magnus here had 32 minutes and a winning position, but it seems he couldn’t resist the temptation to press Duda on the clock by playing 36…Nb4? after just 11 seconds. 37.Rc8+! Kf7 38.Be3! and suddenly White was ok again.

Instead the threat of attacking the d4-bishop was stronger than the execution, and Magnus should first have improved the position of his king with 36…Kf7!. Now Nb4 really does threaten both the bishop and the Nd3 fork, with no Rc8+ to save the day. And after 37.Bc3 or 37.Be3 Black can simply take the bishop to get what looks like a winning rook ending. The computer suggests 37.Re4!? Nb4 38.Be3 as White’s best try, but after 38…f5 it proposes nothing better than giving up the exchange with 39.Rxb4 (39.Re5 Nd3).

That slip-up was perhaps Magnus’ most notable yet in Wijk aan Zee this year, and prompted some discussion, with FIDE Director General Emil Sutovsky weighing in:

After Duda safely made it to move 40 and gained an extra 50 minutes on his clock, he found some very precise moves to neutralise Carlsen’s enduring pressure and secure a draw. The loose play in time trouble notwithstanding, it has to be said that Jan-Krzysztof thoroughly deserved to get a draw out of the game.

18-year-old Andrey Esipenko has now drawn his first six games on his Tata Steel Masters debut | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Once again Magnus’ miss wasn’t particularly costly, since no-one has so far been racking up the high scores the mixed field made us expect before the event began. Esipenko-Giri and Harikrishna-Wojtaszek were carefully played draws ending on move 42 and 43 respectively. Grandelius-Caruana was the key game for the top places, since 2020 Champion Fabiano Caruana would have taken the sole lead with a win. 

Fabiano Caruana couldn't quite squeeze out a win against Nils Grandelius | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

He came very close, with Nils Grandelius admitting:

I was surprised - I thought I’d made a couple of natural moves in the opening and I ended up in a very unpleasant position, so something must have gone very wrong!

The ending stretched into the 6th hour of play, with Nils only able to relax a little after he played 55.Ke2!?, choosing not to defend the b2-pawn.


Fabiano grabbed the pawn with 55…Rxb2+, but after 56.Ke3 Bb5 57.Kd4 Nils could breathe a sigh of relief.

Actually it was a huge relief to me when I was able to give the pawn on b2 just to activate my king, because after that with the king active this a-pawn is not so dangerous and I felt it should be a relatively easy draw, but before he took on b2 I was very afraid. It looked incredibly shaky. I don’t know if it was winning at some point for him but it wouldn’t surprise me.

That draw was enough for Nils to retain the sole lead on 4/6, but the chasing pack grew with the addition of a couple of hungry young players.

Firouzja and Van Foreest join the race

One of the reasons 17-year-old Iranian Alireza Firouzja is talked about as a future World Champion is his belief and will to win, and it’s been clear in this year’s Wijk aan Zee as well that his goal is no less than winning the event. To achieve that he’s willing to take risks, especially against the underdogs, and although Alexander Donchenko had stabilised with draws against three top players after a bad start, the German still began the day in clear last place.

Alireza Firouzja is now the only player other than Grandelius to have scored more than one win | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Alireza went for the somewhat out of fashion Noteboom Variation and later commented, “the opening is very double-edged, of course”. He soon got connected passed pawns on the queenside, but Donchenko had the bishop pair and an attack on the other side of the board. At some point both players had lost control, and, to the all-seeing computer eye, were exchanging “blunders” almost every move. For instance, here’s the position after Firouzja’s 27...Qg3:


Donchenko would be doing very well after defending g2 with 27.Qe2!, ready to meet 27…fxe6 with 28.f6!. Instead he played 27.Rf2?, when 28…fxe6! would now be very strong for Black. White’s problem is that the f2-rook can’t move without allowing mate, so it’s not supporting a white pawn or piece on f6 and can easily be pinned. Firouzja missed that moment with 27…f6?!, but overall he was navigating the complications better and, as he summed up, “we were both in time trouble and he made the final mistake”.

After 33.Qxb2? (33.Bxb2!) it looks as though Alireza had it all worked out.


33…Rab8! 34.Qa2 Rb1+ 35.Rf1 Rcb8! 36.Qf2 Rxf1+! 37.Kxf1 Rb1+ 38.Ke2 and here, a crucial resource without which there’s no clear win, 38…Qb8!

After 39.Qf4 Qb5+ 40.Kd2 Qb4+ Firouzja picked up the rook on a3 and also had the white king in a mating net. After the first round loss to Carlsen, Alireza is right back on track and could still imitate 17-year-old Magnus, who lost two games but won five to win the 2008 event with a +3 score.

Local hero Jorden van Foreest picked up his first win | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

21-year-old Jorden van Foreest is also in extremely good shape after the opponents he drew against in the first five rounds included Caruana, Giri, Carlsen and Firouzja. “I will get rid of them early at least”, was how he tried to look on the bright side, while he’s now moved to +1 with victory over Masters debutant David Anton. The Spanish Champion made his life very difficult with 21…Nh5?!, which after 22.Nxh5 Rxh5, and some later pawn moves, left the position on the board resembling a puzzle!

The rook had come from a8 to b8 to b5 to h5, but after 23.d5 c5 it was clearly out of place. That was Jorden’s plan:

I saw this idea of trapping his rook on h5 – it’s really out of the game.

Jorden could have finished things off in real style.

But there was absolutely nothing wrong with what he did in the game, and 36…Bd3? spared him the need to play a potentially tricky rook vs. bishop and knight ending, since 37.Qg3+ simply picked up that bishop on d3 with a double attack.

That means we now have no less than six players just half a point behind leader Nils Grandelius, with 7 rounds still to play.


In Round 7 we see Caruana-MVL, which is a preview of a huge match-up when the Candidates Tournament finally resumes. Fabiano trails Maxime by a point, but could of course cut that gap in an instant with a win – so this is a dress rehearsal. In general, White is the rating favourite in all but one of the games, which typically leads to the shedding of blood!


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