Reports Jan 24, 2021 | 9:47 AMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel 7: Fabi, Alireza, Anish & Jorden lead

Fabiano Caruana, Alireza Firouzja, Anish Giri and Jorden van Foreest all won to lead the 2021 Tata Steel Chess Masters in Wijk aan Zee after an explosive 7th round that also saw 18-year-old Andrey Esipenko beat Radek Wojtaszek with the black pieces. The only game where the balance was never upset saw Harikrishna vary from his Chessable course on move 7 to frustrate Magnus Carlsen again. The leader before the round, Nils Grandelius, followed recommendations from his opponent Anish Giri’s Najdorf Chessable repertoire for an astonishing 25 moves only to lose a tricky ending.

Nils Grandelius lost the lead after playing Anish Giri's novelty against the man himself backfired! | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021 

You can replay all the games from Wijk aan Zee using the selector below.

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

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Peter Leko introduced Round 7 of the Tata Steel Masters by suggesting we could be in for seven game of the days, and, though not everyone could quite summon up the same enthusiasm…

…he wasn’t far wrong!

Before we look at the five decisive games, let’s first check out the two draws. Anton-Donchenko was a bottom of the table clash where the status quo was ultimately undisturbed, though the computer at one point assessed White’s space advantage as being worth up to two pawns.

Magnus Carlsen drew his first 7 games in a row last year, before winning 3 in a row, so you could say he's still ahead of schedule... | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Carlsen-Harikrishna was the latest chance for the World Champion to escape the doldrums he’d been in since beating Alireza Firouzja in Round 1, but Hari was rock solid. On move 7 he decided to sidestep any targeted preparation Magnus had done against his Lifetime Repertoires: Taimanov Sicilian Chessable course by playing 7…bxc6 instead of his recommended 7…Qxc6. The key moment was then move 13, when Magnus played 13.Rae1 (13.f5 was the computer’s suggestion, though it claimed no more than a small advantage for White):

Here Hari went for 13…c4! and later commented:

I do not know if this c4 is the right way, but I believe that it should be equal, because almost any rook endgame one pawn down should be not so difficult to hold. I had to calculate just one trick, which actually happened in the game, so I was not really worried when I managed to get this position, because the e6-pawn looks nice, but it’s not going anywhere.

The trick was presumably that after 14.bxc4 dxe4 15.Nxe4 Nxe4 16.Bxe4 Bxe4 17.Qxe4 Rc8 White plays 18.f5!, which Hari met with 18…Qxc4 19.fxe6 f6:

In Hari’s case f6 was a strong move and he comfortably held a draw, the World Champion’s 6th in a row. That tweet was a sneak preview of our next game, where Black was in altogether more trouble!

Caruana 1-0 MVL

Fabiano Caruana was the second player to catch MVL out in the Poisoned Pawn Variation | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

This match-up is one we’re going to see immediately whenever the Candidates Tournament resumes, and if we get the same result Fabiano Caruana will have caught Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, the current leader. There was less at stake in Wijk aan Zee, but it was another opening disaster in the Poisoned Pawn Variation of the Najdorf for the French no. 1, who had gone down in flames two rounds earlier against Nils Grandelius.

Maxime had no doubt fixed what went wrong there, but he didn’t get the chance to demonstrate it, since Fabiano played not 10.f5 like Nils but the old line 10.Be2!?

The chess24 database, when sorted to show the highest rated players to have the position with White, gave you an idea why it could catch Maxime off-guard:

Fabiano commented:

I think Maxime was just not really familiar with this old line, Be2, or maybe he had something prepared because this is his main opening, but he couldn’t recall it at the board, and things went wrong for him quite quickly.

It took Maxime 20 minutes to play 10…Nc6!? and after 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.e5 Nd5 13.Nxd5 he already went badly astray with 13…exd5? instead of the essential 13…cxd5. Computers were screaming out the winning move for White, which Peter Leko also spotted in a second or two when challenged.

Fabiano took a while to get there and check it all out, as he thought for almost 34 minutes before unleashing 14.e6!

He commented:

After 13…exd5 it was very important to find 14.e6, I think this was a really strong move. First I was looking at 14.0-0, various moves like that, and Black was sort of holding on, but after I saw e6 I started to feel like maybe Black is just losing.

It was hard not to think of the also winning 16.Ne6!, which Fabi played after 44 minutes in the earlier game against Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Back then the world no. 2 ultimately let the win slip away, but this time, although Fabi felt he “should have cleaned it up earlier”, he made no mistake. Check out Jan Gustafsson’s full analysis of a spectacular game.

That win was enough to take 2020 Tata Steel Masters Champion Caruana into the lead in 2021, after Anish Giri took down the leader Nils Grandelius.

Giri 1-0 Grandelius

In hindsight Nils might wish he'd never looked at Giri's Chessable course! | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

This was an extraordinary game that at first only seemed to illustrate the perils of top grandmasters publishing serious opening analysis while still active players. On move 16, Nils played what Giri had labelled an “important novelty” in his Lifetime Repertoires: Najdorf Sicilian, the winner of the Chessable Course of the Year 2020 award.

Here things got stranger, as now Anish sank into a 38-minute think. “What did I miss?” must have been high on his list of concerns, but there were other thoughts:

Very happy to win, but he was very well-prepared in the opening, obviously he bought the right courses. The only thing I was wondering is if he also bought the video, or just the course, that was my main question during the game!

In the end his 17.c3 did appear on the board, while after 17…Nf6 he played 18.Be3, a move he’d called “clever” in the course.

Suddenly it was Nils’ turn to think for a remarkable 49 minutes over 18…Be4, but in the end the players followed Anish all the way to move 25.

“Black is fine here”, said Anish, and probably he was, but the slow play worked in the Dutchman’s favour. Giri commented, “by the time we started playing it was already like a rapid game, and then with the time pressure it’s difficult for him”. Peter Leko also saw chess issues.

Giri suggested 28…h4! instead of 28…Kf8?!, while 30…Bf6! later also seems to equalise, but in the end White’s queenside pawns proved too strong. When Anish was able to eliminate the black bishop on f6 they could no longer be stopped and Nils resigned.

That win took Giri back into the Top 10 on the live rating list, just 0.5 points behind MVL, but it wasn’t just established Top 10 players who won on Saturday. 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja and 21-year-old Jorden van Foreest both won a 2nd game in a row to join the leaders.

Firouzja 1-0 Duda

Last year Vishy Anand marvelled at Alireza Firouzja's ability to win games, and that's 3 now this year, matched only by Grandelius | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Alireza Firouzja now has a 4 classical wins to 0 record against Jan-Krzysztof Duda, though this game was a real fight. Alireza played the London System and seemed to outplay his Polish opponent, but Duda’s creative defence was later followed by perhaps the move of the game, 29…Bxa3!, sacrificing his bishop for three pawns.

“I saw it, but I didn’t take it too seriously - I don’t think it’s the best move”, said Firouzja afterwards.

It seems it should have been enough, especially when Duda made the time control without any serious blunders, but Alireza is not just a monster in sharp tactical positions but an endgame wizard. He gradually took over until eventually weaving a mating net that made Black’s pawns irrelevant.

56...Ra5+, to stop Rh1 mate, would simply be blocked by 57.Be5, and the renewed threat means Black has to give up his rook. 

Tari 0-1 Van Foreest

Jorden van Foreest finished 4th in 2020 and is co-leader with 6 rounds to go | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Jorden van Foreest had an altogether easier day at the office, despite playing with the black pieces. His provocative opening succeeding in getting Aryan Tari to overextend, allowing Black to hit back. “I thought once I got this 19…f5 in basically all my pieces start working together,” said Jorden afterwards.

The last chance for Aryan seems to have been 20.c5! now, while the black rook has no good square to go to (20...Rc6 21.Ng5! is strong), and White is worse but keeps some control of the position. After 20.Bc2? fxe4 21.Ng5 Nf5! 22.Ngxe4 Nf4 there was nothing to be done against the overwhelming black force aimed at the white king. The best that can be said is that Aryan was able to produce a nice knight square on the board before going down to defeat!

Jorden was understandably happy afterwards.

In a way all of those games could have been predicted on the basis of ratings, who had the white pieces and previous scores between the players (Caruana now has a 7 wins to 4 score against MVL), but one game stood out.

Wojtaszek 0-1 Esipenko

18-year-old Andrey Esipenko goes into his game with White vs. Magnus unbeaten on +1 | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Both these players began the day on 50% after drawing all six of their games, and Radek Wojtaszek’s decision to play 4.f3 in the Nimzo was a clear sign that he was out for blood. Long-time Vishy Anand second Radek is one of the world’s best prepared players, but his 18-year-old opponent hit him with a surprise on move 4.

That got Radek thinking, but later when the Polish player made a move that wasn’t recommended by the computer Andrey sank into thought himself, before going astray. Wojtaszek could have emerged with a comfortable advantage from the opening, but, perhaps unsettled by the previous surprises, he delayed castling for one move too long and got into trouble again.

Nevertheless, it could all have ended peacefully if Radek had shown a little more care on move 25.

The knight on a1 is doomed, but there’s actually no rush to capture it. 25.Rb1! first, and only then 26.b3, and White would have held onto the b5-pawn (the knight doesn't escape with 25...Nc2 due to 26.Rc1! Nb4 27.Qa3! Qxa3 28.bxa3). Instead in the game Radek played 25.b3? and after 25…Nxb3 26.Qxb3 Qxb3 27.Bxb3 Rxb5 he was a passed pawn down and in a battle to survive.

He almost managed, but in the run-up to the time control he overlooked a tactical point and lost his h2-pawn and the game. “I don’t remember when last I won with the black pieces, so I’m very happy!” said Esipenko, who has now caught his idol Magnus Carlsen before they play in Sunday’s Round 8. “I’m looking forward to this game, but I don’t know what to expect, so I just want to play chess and we will see,” said the Russian rising star.

That means that after crossing the halfway point of the tournament with Round 7, we now have no less than four new leaders.

The first Esipenko-Carlsen classical game will be a highlight of Round 8, while MVL-Van Foreest is another first. In fact Caruana-Giri is the one match-up with a long pre-history as well as the only clash of the leaders.

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

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