Magnus Carlsen finally won a game in 2020, beating Nikita Vitiugov to move within a point of Alireza Firouzja before they meet in Round 9 of the Tata Steel Masters on Tuesday. Alireza drew against Jorden van Foreest and was caught in the lead by Fabiano Caruana, who managed to win a lost position against Vishy Anand. Vladislav Kovalev pulled off a similar trick against Jeffery Xiong, while Jan-Krzysztof Duda completed the day's action by fashioning a win out of nowhere against Yu Yangyi.
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And here's the day's live commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson:
It took eight rounds, but World Champion Magnus Carlsen has finally won a game at the 2020 Tata Steel Chess Masters. He commented after beating Nikita Vitiugov:
It’s the first chance I’ve actually had in the tournament and it ends in a win, so obviously that’s huge for me. It means that I can still sort of hope for something and obviously coming into the rest day it’s a massive boost.
The opening saw Magnus go for the rare but fashionable 8.Bd2!? sideline in the Ruy Lopez, with Magnus calling the plan Nikita adopted with 13…Ne7 and 14…g5 “very interesting.” He felt his opponent played “a bit too passively” after that, but even after 29.Qh1 the game still hung in the balance:
Magnus commented, “I think it was more of an optical advantage for White than a real one. I’m a bit better, but in reality I have only one square on f5 and otherwise it’s not so much”. Here White is of course threatening to take on h6, but the real killer is if he can follow up with Bxe6 and Bxg5. That’s why 29…Kh7?? loses on the spot, but 29…c4! or the 29…Nd4! suggested by Magnus keep the game going. After the knight move there are also interesting tactical possibilities with Nf3+.
Instead Nikita played 29…f6?, when after 30.Nxh6+ Black would have lost a pawn but the game goes on. Instead Magnus quickly played the much more sadistic 30.Bd5!
And here, somewhat surprisingly, Nikita resigned. Magnus commented, “when he resigned at the end I think he was just fed up”. That’s an understandable emotion, since Black is almost in zugzwang, and after one of the few sensible replies, 30…Qh7, one simple plan is to play 31.Qf3 (targeting the new weakness on f6), Kg2 and Rh1 and only then pick up material. The computer gives White a more than +2 advantage and playing the position against Magnus is something you might not wish on your worst enemy.
The win couldn’t have been timed better for Magnus, however, since it turned out it was enough for him to move within a point of Alireza Firouzja before they meet for the first time in classical chess on Tuesday.
The key match-up at the top on Sunday saw second-placed Jorden van Foreest take on sole leader Alireza Firouzja, and it didn’t disappoint. On move 6 against the Najdorf, Jorden came up with something not quite as outlandish as the 6.Bd2 tried by his brother Lucas, but 6.Rg1!? is the 11th most popular move in the position:
“Of course it was a surprise!” commented Alireza, who spent 8 minutes on his reply 6…Nc6:
The moment things really got extravagant was when Jorden avoided a royal fork with 11.Kd1!, a move that the impressively prepared Dutchman blitzed out instantly:
Once again Alireza plunged into thought, no doubt trying to assess the consequences of 11…Nf3 12.Qxh8 Nxg1. Initial computer analysis suggests the move he chose, 11…Rg8!, was better, and for the first time in the game Jorden began to think as well.
As our commentators and others noted, it soon became an example of Kramnik’s no-castling chess, but as in the game with Black against Yu Yangyi, Alireza went on to play extremely precisely, so that the white edge gradually dropped until the game ended in a logical draw. Neither player had any complaints about the outcome:
Anish Giri and Vladislav Artemiev were both somewhat disappointed with their draw in the Cambridge Springs variation, but despite Vladislav getting into time trouble at the end neither player went too badly astray.
You could say the same about Daniil Dubov and Wesley So, though there wasn’t time to go far wrong as they finished in under 30 minutes and 15 moves, without playing a single new move. There are no anti-draw regulations in Wijk aan Zee but, as Peter Svidler explained, the organisers do make it clear to the players that fighting spirit will be taken into account for future invitations.
That brings us to three dramatic games, all featuring surprising reversals of fortune:
Let’s start with the mildest example. Jan-Krzysztof Duda commented after his win over Yu Yangyi:
It’s kind of surprising because obviously I wanted a draw, but it sometimes happens. When you’re in bad form you’re just losing completely needlessly!
When queens were exchanged on move 16 only Yu Yangyi could be better, but Duda felt his Chinese opponent already went astray when he allowed 17…e5 and 19…Be6. Then on move 24 Yu began to lose the plot completely:
Jan and Peter were of the same opinion as Duda that all White needed to do here was push his kingside pawns, do nothing on the queenside, and wait. Instead 24.b4?! was already a big step towards the precipice. White came under real pressure and cracked with 37.Ke4?
The forced sequence 37.f5+! 38.Kd5 Rd7+ 39.Kc4 Rxb4+! 40.Kxb4 Rxd4+ won a pawn, and Duda didn’t release his grip on the position until he’d joined Magnus in scoring a first win after 7 draws.
Yu Yangyi is now joint bottom of the table with Vitiugov and Vladislav Kovalev, though it had seemed almost certain that the Belarusian GM would lose a 5th game in a row with the black pieces. His King’s Indian Defence had gone completely wrong, with White getting all the play on the queenside before Black’s kingside counterattack had begun moving:
You could understand Jeffery Xiong’s frustration at not finding a clear way to make progress, however, which saw him go for what looks like an intuitive sacrifice: 28.Nxa7?! At a glance it seems the white passed pawns should be unstoppable, but it turned out that with accurate play Black was always just in time to hold things together.
The game turned on move 41, when Kovalev could simply have claimed a draw by repetition with 41…Qc7, but, after a 35-minute think, he decided to play on with 41…Qf6!:
Jeffery thought for half an hour himself before playing not 42.a7!, when tactics involving queening that pawn are probably enough for a draw, but 42.Rd3? After 42…fxg3 43.hxg3 h4! the tempo White had wasted proved to make all the difference and Kovalev when on to score his first win while Xiong suffered a third loss in four games.
That was a bitter pill for Jeffery to swallow, but it was nothing compared to the drama of Caruana-Anand, which was a fantastic fight between two ferociously good calculators. It inspired Tom Bottema to begin his interview with Fabiano Caruana with the equally memorable question, “Even without the engine you must have realised there was some crazy shit going on there?”
It was a game with so many turning points that Fabi said of Vishy’s 11…a4!? pawn sacrifice, “it already feels like another lifetime”:
Caruana took up the offer with 12.Qxd5 Bxc3+ 13.bxc3 Na5 14.Qe5 Qc6 15.c4 and after 15...Nb3 responded with a sacrifice of his own 16.Qxf5! Nxa1, giving up the exchange.
Fabi felt he got close to winning after that, then lost control, then had chances again, but he admitted to panicking in time trouble after 36…f5:
37.Nf6! and the black king is in danger, but after 37.Qf6+? Qxf6 38.exf6+ Kh7 39.Ne5 Rd6! it became a grim struggle for Fabi to try and survive an exchange down.
44…Nb3! would probably have got the job done for Vishy, but after 44…Kf6 45.Bd7! Ne4+ 46.Nxe4+ the 5-time World Champion perhaps had the clearest chance to avoid the agony that followed:
He could have played 46…Kxf7!, picking up the dangerous f7-pawn, since White can’t avoid losing one of his attacked pieces. Instead he played 46…fxe4!?, which is technically still winning, but after 47.Be8! Black suddenly has a tricky choice to make. It turns out 47…Kg7! leads to victory, but it’s far from obvious at a glance why Vishy’s more natural 47…Ke7? spoils things. The key seems to be that in the line 48.Ke3 Rb8 49.Kxe4 Rc3 50.d5 Rxa3 it makes all the difference in the world that 51.d6+! is now check and one of the pawns queens:
If the king was on g7 Black would have time to manoeuvre the rook to the d-file and it’s Black who wins.
So the advantage had gone, but it was only on move 54 that a draw turned into a win for White:
Here Black needed to play 54…Re1+ 55.Kd4 and only then 55…Rf1, when the king isn’t able to support d6+. Instead in the game Vishy was lost after 54…Rf1? 55.d6+! and Black was soon totally tied down, while the h and g-pawns could march up the board to decide the game:
“This was a miracle!” commented Fabiano. For Vishy you could certainly put it down to fatigue striking a 50-year-old player in the latter stages of a fourth tough game in a row, especially since he was facing the world no. 2 a day after coming close to beating the World Champion. On the other hand, we’ve seen that younger players are no more immune to making mistakes, and it had been an incredibly complex game in which the "blunders" are far from obvious, even with computer help.
That means that Fabiano joins Alireza Firouzja in the lead with five rounds to go, but the tournament is heating up nicely. Jorden van Foreest is showing no signs of slowing down yet, while Wesley So is still lurking – his four draws in a row included three games with the black pieces, and he could easily challenge, especially as he has White against Magnus in the final round. Carlsen is of course now back in the hunt, just a point off the leaders before he plays Alireza Firouzja on Tuesday!
Pavel Eljanov still leads the Challengers after a draw against Nodirbek Abdusattorov, but pre-tournament favourites David Anton and Nils Grandelius moved within half a point with wins over Nihal Sarin and Dinara Saduakassova:
15-year-old Vincent Keymer scored an impressive technical win over Jan Smeets, but one of the most interesting games of the day saw Erwin l’Ami erect one of the ugliest walls you’ll ever see! On the other hand, Ganguly's pawn structure also leaves something to be desired, and White’s failure to make any progress in the position even inspired the move to be played in a World Championship match less than a day later:
Erwin l’Ami is Anish Giri’s second, and Anish wasn’t afraid to take some credit:
While Ganguly made no progress he was never worse, but Goryachkina overpressed with the white pieces and went on to suffer a disastrous loss that leaves her trailing by a point with just two games to go.
Monday is a rest day in Wijk aan Zee, but it’s going to be a bumper afternoon of Banter Blitz action, with two major Banter Blitz Cup matches and two sessions when top players face chess24 Premium users (you can always find all the action on our Shows Page):
The on Tuesday it’s the one we’ve all been waiting for. 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja, who’s won all four of his games with White so far, has the white pieces against World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who trails by a point but has always had a habit of going on winning streaks after scoring his first win in a tournament. You don’t want to miss it!
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