Reports Jan 24, 2021 | 11:51 PMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel 8: Esipenko crushes Carlsen | Firouzja top

“I think it’s one of the best days in my life,” said Russian Grandmaster Andrey Esipenko after playing a near flawless game to defeat World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen. In one of the biggest shocks in Wijk aan Zee since 16-year-old Anish Giri beat Magnus in 22 moves in 2011, the 18-year-old met Carlsen’s Najdorf with controlled aggression and was completely winning in 17 moves. 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja completed a triumph of youth by winning his 4th game to take the sole lead with five rounds to go.

Andrey Esipenko on the way to beating Magnus Carlsen in their first ever classical game | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/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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Esipenko defeats the World Champion at his 1st attempt

Andrey Esipenko's smile after beating the World Champion could be use to power towns | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Andrey Esipenko said earlier in the tournament that Magnus Carlsen was his idol and he couldn’t wait for their game, but he could hardly have dreamt it would go this well. Magnus played the Najdorf and varied with 6…e6 from the 6…e5 Nils Grandelius had used to get a good position against Andrey earlier in the tournament. The Russian didn’t blink and two moves later quickly went for 8.g4.

Asked about that aggressive move, Esipenko explained:

I think it was his choice to beat me, probably, with this opening, and I just played very logical, g4, g5, it’s the most aggressive way I think, yeah. Before the game I wanted to play solid...

The first sign that it might be a tough day at the office for Magnus was that he now sank into a 12-minute think before replying with 8…b5, while Andrey kept blitzing 9.g5 Nfd7 10.a3. When Magnus now grabbed a pawn with 10…Bxg5!? 11.Qd2! Bxe3 12.Qxe3 and followed up with 12…Qh4?! it became clear that we might get to see a sensation.

Andrey began to think, but the only question now was whether he had even better options in the play that followed. 13.0-0-0 might have been an improvement on 13.Rg1, while after 13…g6!? 14.0-0-0 Qe7 (a sad retreat) the immediate 15.e5! looks to be crushing. In any case, the game was essentially over after 15.f4 Bb7 16.Kb1 Nc6? (16…Nc5 is perhaps the best try in a tough position).

A sacrifice on b5 had been hanging in the air, but the g6 push and the undefended rook on h8 meant there was a surprisingly clean knockout blow: 17.Ncxb5! axb5 18.Nxc6 Bxc6 19.Qc3!, hitting the bishop on c6 and the rook on h8. In less than 5 minutes, Esipenko played it, and Carlsen’s fate was all but sealed.

In an online rapid event furniture might have been smashed followed by a quick resignation, but over-the-board Magnus put on his best poker face with just a quick shudder of recognition while Andrey jumped briefly in his chair.

What followed was perhaps more about Magnus coming to terms with defeat than chess, but if the World Champion wanted to test the nerves of his young opponent, Andrey passed with flying colours. He didn’t stumble once as he played sharp, convincing chess to reel in the full point. Jan Gustafsson takes us through the game move-by-move.

The moment of resignation may be an interesting inflexion point in the history of chess, depending where Esipenko goes from here.

For Magnus, of course, this isn’t something which he has to deal with often.

At least he was able to find some gallows humour in the situation!

Today is about Esipenko, however, with the young Russian climbing to an unbeaten +2 in the tournament, and a 2696 rating, after beating his hero not so long after he was a cute kid getting photographed with the soon-to-be World Champion.

Esipenko’s start and end to his post-game interview with Fiona Steil-Antoni were perhaps the best:

I think it’s one of the best days in my life. I feel very great and I have nothing to say…

I don’t know how I will celebrate, but I will sleep very well today!

It was almost a day exclusively about Esipenko, but an even younger player, 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja, stole some of the limelight!

Harikrishna 0-1 Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja's combination of tactical wizardry and long grinds is already a potent force | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Firouzja started this year’s tournament with a loss to Magnus Carlsen and was balancing on the edge of the abyss against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in Round 2, but he’s now won four games, more than any other player, to climb into the sole lead on +3. That’s the same score with which 17-year-old Magnus won the event in 2008 after scoring 5 wins and 2 losses.

Harikrishna and Firouzja conspired to take the Exchange Slav they played out of theory very early on, and ultimately they got just the kind of murky and double-edged position in which Alireza thrives. The Indian nevertheless seemed to be hanging on until he played 37.Nf4?! with just over 30 seconds on the clock.

Alireza, who was also in deep time trouble, immediately seized the chance to play 37…d3!, freeing the d4-square for his bishop, and after 38.Nxd3 Bd4+! 39.Nf2 Rc2! Black was suddenly completely on top, with the b2-pawn dropping and a powerful bishop pair.

Harikrishna is a great endgame specialist, however, and he came very close to holding the position until Firouzja’s sheer will power eventually proved too much. It was the second d-pawn that would this time prove decisive after 51.Nxb7?!

51…d4+! 52.Kf2 Rb2+! 53.Be2 Kf4 (Alireza isn’t playing for pawns) 54.Nd6 Bd2 55.Kf1 Rb1+ 56.Bd1 d3! An artful final touch to end a powerful game!

Alireza’s rise was perhaps slowed down by the epidemic in 2020, but his trajectory remains that of a Carlsen, Kramnik or Kasparov who could hit the world no. 1 spot in their teens. For now he’s fast approaching the Top 10.

It’s fitting, however, that his next challenge is to face Esipenko with the white pieces in Round 9, after Monday’s rest day. He commented of Andrey:

He’s a very good player, he won against Magnus very convincingly today, and I look forward to the game - I think it will be a very nice game!

Missed chances elsewhere

The last thing you need when you've fallen for a trap as Maxime did is for all your colleagues to pay a visit to your board | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

21-year-old Jorden van Foreest was close to continuing the theme of youngsters terrorizing their experienced colleagues, with his 14…Bh3! embarrassing world no. 5 (but now 10 on the live list) Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

“He fell into one of the traps in this opening and after it Black is immediately doing fine at least,” said Jorden. In fact he might have hoped for more, until he made a slip of his own.

Jorden confessed his original plan here was 23…Rd5?, but he spotted in time that it would have lost to 24.Rxf6!, while after 24…Ne4 24.Qg4! it was Maxime on top, though Jorden comfortably held a draw.

Anish Giri looked in danger for a while against Fabiano Caruana | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Elsewhere Fabiano Caruana played the “Jobava London” (1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bf4) against Anish Giri, commenting, “I thought it might be fun and I felt like maybe I’m freestyling a bit today, but it wasn’t really what I minded!” He was surprised by Giri’s ambitious 3…g6!? and later felt he got chances in his opponent’s time trouble, though the game fizzled out into a draw without Fabiano making any obvious mistakes.

Nils Grandelius felt he could have achieved more against Radek Wojtaszek | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Grandelius-Wojtaszek was similar, with Nils feeling he should have pushed more at the end, though there was nothing clear that he’d missed. Duda-Anton definitely did offer chances for David Anton in the run-up to the time control, but he had so little time that he could only really hope to stumble on the winning path by guesswork or intuition.

Only Donchenko-Tari was a relatively quiet draw, with both players perhaps somewhat bruised by this stage of the event. The standings after Round 8 look as follows.

Going into the rest day it’s Alireza Firouzja leading the race, with Andrey Esipenko joining the 4-player chasing pack. Magnus Carlsen is now 1.5 points adrift on 50% and needs to win at least 3 of his remaining 5 games to have a realistic chance of an 8th title.

The head-to-head scores before Round 9 are as follows.

You wouldn’t want to be Grandelius with Black against a wounded Magnus, while Firouzja-Esipenko (their first classical game) and Giri-MVL are the other games that immediately stand out. For an interesting statistical preview of Round 9 check out Chess by the Numbers, which currently gives Firouzja a 37.7% chance of winning the tournament, compared to 29.1% for Caruana and just 3.5% for Carlsen.

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

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