16-year-old Alireza Firouzja beat Jeffery Xiong in Round 7 to retake the sole lead in the Tata Steel Masters on an incredible 5/7. The Iranian now leads Magnus Carlsen by 1.5 points after the World Champion once more struggled to draw, this time against Vishy Anand. Meanwhile Wesley So has been joined in second place by Jorden van Foreest, whose win over Nikita Vitiugov was the first win for Black in this year's event, and Fabiano Caruana, who ground down Daniil Dubov in 79 moves.
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And here's the day's live commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson:
Magnus Carlsen has often started slowly in Wijk aan Zee only to spark into life in the second half, but it’s hard to remember the last time we saw him end up in so many bad positions in such a short space of time. As he commented after drawing against Vishy Anand in Round 7:
The problem is mostly that I’m playing awful chess! I would be ok with the draws if I was playing ok, but right now I’m mostly concerned about the fact that things are not working so well in my game. At times today I tried to play quickly at some point, and it’s a typical sign of bad form that once you play a couple of quick moves you’ve missed something crucial.
You could perhaps accuse Magnus of playing too safely against Fabiano Caruana in the previous round, but this time he was willing to take risks by playing the Rossolimo Sicilian against the player he took the World Championship from. It could have backfired, since in the position after 25.Rab1 Magnus admitted he’d relied on a tactic that didn’t work:
He played 25…d4?! but after 26.Nxd4 abandoned his original plan of 26…Nxd4? 27.Bxd4 Rxd4? 28.cxd4 Qxc2:
He spotted in time that 29.Qf3! simply wins the game, e.g. 29…Ra7 30.Rec1 Qf5 31.Rb8 and it’s over.
Magnus described the position he got after 26…Bxe5 27.Nb5! as “just awful”, with Vishy later simply a pawn up, but yet again this year in Wijk aan Zee Magnus managed to hold on. He tried to take the positives from the game:
Form is difficult to do anything about but what is ok is that even though I’ve played really, really poorly I’m still on 50% are there are chances to make something of the tournament.
Elsewhere there were solid draws in Artemiev-So, Kovalev-Yu Yangyi and Duda-Giri, with Anish Giri pulling a surprise by playing the Marshall Gambit for the first time in his career. It seems he was inspired by Jan’s 1.e4 e5 Chessable series:
We got three wins in the Masters on Saturday, and they were all games with a lot to admire (we’ll leave the 16-year-old phenomenon to last!):
After 15 wins for White to 0 for Black in the first six rounds of Wijk aan Zee it was 20-year-old Jorden van Foreest who finally broke the spell, though he got a lot of help from his experienced opponent. 10.Bd3? is the kind of blunder you don’t expect Nikita Vitiugov to make against the French Defence:
10…Nxd4! 11.Nxd4 (there are no tricks with 11.b4 as Black has 11…Nxf3+) 11…cxd4 simply left Black a pawn down for no compensation – here 12.b4 Qc7! and the weak c3-point decides matters. Nikita spent 22 minutes on 12.Qh5 but 12…f5! was an entirely adequate way of parrying the threats. It looked smooth sailing for Jorden, but as he commented afterwards:
I don’t know what was going on today. He blundered in the opening, I think, and then I made life extremely hard for myself. I thought I was winning before the time control easily, and then I just made a huge blunder.
To be fair, 37.g4! was a spark of genius by Nikita. It looks like a desperate move in a lost position, but it makes a crucial difference to the position:
After 37…fxg4? White was suddenly able to play 38.Rxc5!!, when after 38…bxc5 39.b6 axb6 40.axb6 most of Black’s advantage has gone:
Why was g4 necessary first? Because before it Ra8! here would threaten mate on the back rank and give Black time to play Ra1+ and Rb1, stopping the b-pawn in its tracks. Jorden realised afterwards that 37…Be8! instead of 37…fxg4? would have avoided this, since he would have Bc6 to stop the pawn. Instead in the game he had to play 40…Rc6 and after 41.Bc7 the only move not to end up worse was to give up his rook for the pawn with 41…Rxb6.
Jorden said this all, “came as a complete shock to me, and then I had to start all over again”. There was a happy ending for the Dutchman, however, since he still had five pawns for a bishop and gradually managed to push them down the board to win in 62 moves.
That third win for Jorden in this year’s event meant he'd caught Wesley So in second place and has now climbed 35 places to world no. 75 with a 2664.7 rating on the live rating list. He was understandably thrilled:
Daniil Dubov has plenty to regret about this game, since he played the same Rossolimo Sicilian as his boss Magnus and could legitimately claim to have emerged much better from the opening. At times he had an equal or even better position, but Fabiano Caruana felt his opponent played too passively, allowing him to get a grip on the position with g5 and putting a rook on a5:
Here Fabi impressively manoeuvred his knight from b4 to d3, c1, b3, a5 (where it supported the advance of White’s c-pawn) and b7. After 49…Nc4 there was a chance to complete the journey in glorious style:
50.Nd8+!! now is winning, but some of the lines are truly spectacular e.g. 50…Ke8 51.Rxe6+ Kd7 52.Rxg6!! Nxd6 53.Rg7+ Ke8 54.Kc5 Ne4+ 55.Kb6 Nd6 56.g6! Bd7 57.Rxd7! Kxd7 58.g7! and the g-pawn wins the game:
After 50.Re1 the g-pawn did eventually win the game anyway, but it was a fantastically complicated and tricky endgame in which Dubov at times came very close to survival. Here’s Fabi afterwards:
And that brings us to…
16-year-old Alireza Firouzja continues to put in a stunning performance in his supertournament debut. The win in Round 7 took him back into the sole lead and also above Veselin Topalov and Hikaru Nakamura to the world no. 19 spot. If he maintains or improves on his live rating he’ll have set a new record for a 16-year-old:
As Firouzja noted, it was hard to say exactly where his opponent Jeffery Xiong went wrong:
It was a tough game today. Overall for the result I’m very happy, but today’s game I don’t know where he made a mistake. I was slightly better from the beginning, but I think it was possible for him to defend better, but it was an unpleasant position for him.
After losing to Vishy Anand with the French in Round 5, Jeffery switched to the Berlin Defence, with Alireza going for the Anti-Berlin 4.d3. Soon White seemed to have an advantage, but Jeffery seized the chance to break with 23…d5! and might have continued in the same fashion after 24.e5!?
24…g5!? would have posed White serious problems, though after 25.Nf3 gxf4 Firouzja’s active pieces and Black’s broken structure would definitely have given him compensation for the pawn. Instead after 24…Be6 25.Ng3 f5 26.Nf3 White could switch to positional chess, with Xiong’s later d4-push only leading to a clearly worse position. The play that followed from Alireza was a masterclass in smooth conversion. For instance:
39.Rd4! Bb3 40.Re3! Ba2 41.e7! Kg8 42.Ra3 Rxd4 43.Nxd4:
Here Xiong had a choice of which pawn to defend and picked 43…Bd5. Firouzja afterwards suggested 43…Bb1 as an improvement, though Black would still have faced a tough fight there.
In the game Firouzja was relentless, perfectly calculating the final stages, when the g-pawn was just too fast:
61.g5! Bh5 62.Rf6+ Kg8 63.g6 Rxh3 64.Ne7+ Kh8 65.Rf8+ Kg7 66.Rf7+ Kh6 67.Rh7+ Kg5 68.g7!
That was Alireza’s 4th win in 4 with the white pieces, and on Tuesday the Iranian plays White against none other than Magnus Carlsen! The World Champion may want to put an end to some memes… (credit/blame to @AntonSquaredMe):
Alireza himself was keeping his feet on the ground:
So far it’s really good but we will see. There are many rounds to go. I have to play two world champions... Of course it’s always very interesting to play two world champions and I will do my best to get a good result.
There’s the small matter of Black against Jorden van Foreest on Sunday first, however! Alireza has scored four more wins than Magnus and two more than anyone else other than Jorden, whose three wins leave him just half a point behind. Their clash could easily be critical for the final tournament standings:
The Challengers continues to be unpredictable, with Round 7 turning into another round of almost all draws:
The exception was Nihal Sarin moving to within a point of the lead by inflicting a 4th defeat in a row on Dinara Saduakassova, but many of the draws were wild. Lucas van Foreest for no burning reason gave up his queen for a rook and a knight against leader Pavel Eljanov, while Rauf Mamedov really should have defeated 2nd placed Ganguly:
With more than 46 seconds on his clock Rauf would no doubt have found the killer 31…Rd3!, when after 32.Qxd3 Qa1+ 33.Kd2 Bc3+! White can resign. Instead after 31…Rcc8? Ganguly seized the chance to exchange queens and finally escape with a draw.
Apart from Van Foreest-Firouzja in Round 8 we also have Caruana-Anand and Carlsen-Vitiugov, which Magnus must be eyeing as a game in which finally to get back on track with a win. Follow all the action live here on chess24: Tata Steel Masters | Tata Steel Challengers
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