Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri caught Alireza Firouzja in the Tata Steel Masters lead after beating Radek Wojtaszek and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave respectively in Round 9. While Fabi won in unconventional but convincing style, Anish admitted he was just hanging on in the middlegame, but a 3rd Najdorf loss in the row for Maxime saw the Frenchman bottom of the table and out of the world top 10. Magnus Carlsen bounced straight back from the loss to Andrey Esipenko to defeat Nils Grandelius and move within a point of the lead.
You can replay all the games from Round 9 of the Tata Steel Chess Masters using the selector below.
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Peter Leko, Jan Gustasfson and now Lawrence Trent.
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7…Bg4!?, only the 9th most popular move in the position, was a sign that world no. 2 and defending champion Fabiano Caruana had come prepared to treat the King’s Indian Defence he played against Radek Wojtaszek a little differently.
That was nothing compared to what he did with the other bishop, however, giving up the supposedly critical g7-bishop for the knight on c3. Seasoned grandmasters were shocked...
...as was Radek.
Fabiano was asked if Ivan did need to go on a refresher course on how to play chess.
I think that these positions are sort of a bit different than we knew in the past. The whole King’s Indian has a lot of potential that we didn’t realise, and I didn’t know if Bxc3 was correct in this position exactly, but I’d seen it in some similar positions where White can’t really free himself. If he gets g3, Bg2 basically Black’s position is completely awful, but he never gets it.
A shocked Wojtaszek spent 30 minutes on 15.Qc1!? and met 15…Nc5 with 16.Qb1!?, a queen manoeuvre that Fabiano felt couldn’t be the correct way to play. Black soon seized the initiative and crashed through as the time control approached, with Radek’s decision to accept a piece sacrifice looking suicidal.
Perhaps he wanted to get things over with quickly, and if so it was a wish Fabi granted.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had lost his last two games with Black after playing the Najdorf, but he wasn’t going to back down and chose his beloved opening again. At first that decision looked to be vindicated, as despite Anish Giri pushing an early g4-g5 it was Black who emerged on top. Then Maxime couldn’t resist a thematic exchange sacrifice:
20…Rxc3!? 21.bxc3 d5 22.exd5?! left White an exchange and a pawn up, but after 22…Bf5! 23.Qd2 Bd6 Peter Leko stopped sitting on the fence and felt it had to be Black who had all the chances.
Anish didn’t disagree.
I think he played very well at some point and sacrificed an exchange and got beautiful positional compensation for the exchange and the pawn, and I was just trying to hold on, I was just trying to defend at some point. I don’t think White can ever be better with such a horrible king, and I was just hoping that I’m not going to get mated right away.
It just hasn’t been Maxime’s tournament, however, and a couple of inaccuracies in a row suddenly saw him in deep trouble, with 40…Rd8 coming at just the wrong moment.
With 50 minutes added to his clock, Giri could take a leisurely 17 minutes before deciding to go for the ending after 41.Rxd6! Qxd6 42.Qxf7+ Kh8 43.Qf6+! Qxf6 44.gxf6. Anish said that he felt it should still be a draw, but computers disagree, and the way the Dutch no. 1 went on to convert his advantage seemed close to flawless.
Giri is up to world no. 7 and, as co-leader, in with a real chance of winning his first Masters in Wijk aan Zee, while Maxime has gone the other way. The Candidates Tournament leader has now plummeted out of the Top 10 and, as you can see, could easily drop further still.
Another player who was suffering was World Champion Magnus Carlsen, but after seven games without a win he finally struck back in Round 9.
“Probably more interesting than good”, is how Magnus described this game, with the curiosities beginning with 6.Qd3!?, the 17th most popular 6th move against the Najdorf.
Nils Grandelius thought 13 minutes on his reply, and soon seemed on the ropes, but as the game wore on the Swedish no. 1 came within a whisker of equalising completely. He never quite got there, but then 30.f4?! by Magnus could have let him off the hook.
With just over a minute left on his clock, Nils spent 22 seconds before playing the compliant 30…Qd8?, when after 31.Rxe5 Rxb2 32.Rxc5 he was simply a pawn down in a heavy piece ending.
Magnus’ trick is of course that 30…exf4 runs into mate with 31.Re8#, but Nils could have met that with 30…c4!, and after 31.Qxc4 it is possible to play 31…exf4 now that the king can escape to h7 after 32.Re8+.
“I managed to pull myself together at the end and finish it off quite nicely”, said Magnus, and although the conversion dragged on long enough for Peter Leko to spend 10 minutes demonstrating a staggering knowledge of 90s WWF…
…it was a study-like end:
59.Kh5! Qxh3+ 60.Kg6 established complete control at the cost of a mere pawn, with the game lasting just five more moves.
Afterwards Magnus felt Esipenko had played well in the game he lost to him, while it was only the failure to beat Duda that he felt was “inexcusable”.
The remaining games were all drawn, with frontrunner Jorden van Foreest frustrated to get nothing against bottom-placed Alexander Donchenko, while Tari-Duda was an uneventful draw between two players with little to play for.
The other key game of the round was the first meeting between Alireza Firouzja and Andrey Esipenko, which was tense but never caught fire. One of the moments when it might have done was after 15.b4.
15…g5!? would force White to sacrifice a piece on g5, but that might just have played into Alireza’s hands. As he commented afterwards:
I think it’s a very dangerous line. The computer gives a plus for Black but it’s a very dangerous line in a practical game.
Anton-Harikrishna was another game without too much at stake, but it featured a very memorable position.
It’s not often you see a king coming out to support a piece so early in the game and with danger all around, but David Anton had it all calculated.
It’s a bit strange, but actually I think it’s very safe. Black doesn’t have any ideas against the king.
In the end, however, he was unable to convert his advantage and is still hunting a first win.
That means we have three leaders, two players just half a point off the pace, and Magnus only a point back, with four rounds still to go.
In Wednesday’s Round 10, the day before the final rest day, we have the most anticipated match-up in chess, between world no. 1 Carlsen and no. 2 Caruana. In this case there’s even more at stake than usual, with Magnus knowing a win would suddenly make a huge difference to his tournament situation.
Firouzja will also no doubt go all-out to win with Black vs. Grandelius, while Giri has White vs. a struggling Wojtaszek. You don’t want to miss this.
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