World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen has beaten Alireza Firouzja with the black pieces to join the 16-year-old on 5.5/9, just half a point behind the new sole leader Fabiano Caruana. The Tata Steel Masters showdown saw Magnus give a strategic masterclass, perfectly demonstrating the Attacking without Sacrificing theme of his recently-released chess24 video series, with just one blemish at the very end. Elsewhere all the games were drawn in the Masters, with Jorden van Foreest missing a gilt-edged chance to join Fabi in the lead.
You can replay all the games from the Tata Steel Masters by clicking on a result in the selector below:
And here's the day's live commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson:
“I can't remember the last time I was more excited to watch a game I wasn't playing”, said 8-time Champion Peter Svidler before Firouzja-Carlsen began, and the game didn’t disappoint, except perhaps Alireza Firouzja’s many fans. Even though the 16-year-old Iranian was well-beaten, Peter didn’t see that as a reason to revise his opinion of the prodigy:
[There have been] some cries of “over-hyped”, “wake me up when he actually wins something”, which is a sort of grumpiness which I generally, as a grumpy old man by this point, kind of endorse, but I think it’s very, very difficult not to get over-hyped about Firouzja, because he is, I think quite clearly, the most rounded prodigy to appear on the scene. Compared to somebody like Wei Yi, who at that age would absolutely destroy people if he was given a chance to give a mating attack but if you decided to play a boring endgame against him would actually quite visibly not like it very much, I think Alireza by 16 is a much more well-rounded player, and it is very, very difficult not to be excited when watching him play.
Don’t miss Peter Svidler’s wonderful in-depth analysis of the game:
For those who don’t have time to watch just yet, let’s take a quick look at some of the key moments. First there was the opening, where Magnus pulled a surprise by meeting 1.e4 not just with 1…e5 , but the Berlin Defence, 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6. Was Magnus afraid of the youngster and playing the most solid opening possible? Unlikely. It was more that he trusted Alireza to decline the Berlin endgame with 4.d3, when he could then keep things as strategically complex as possible with 4…d6:
I was happy to see d3. That’s what I was sort of hoping for, just to get some position with a bunch of pieces on the board.
The game in fact transposed into the 6.d3 Spanish, which is one reason why Svidler was the perfect person to analyse it:
From there it again transposed into the Zaitsev Variation of the Ruy Lopez, an opening whose theory stretches back to the 1970s and where Magnus had hugely more experience than his young opponent. Sure enough, the inaccuracies followed, with Svidler pointing out 13.a3?!, 14.d5?! (instead of 13.d5! immediately) as a mistake, while by move 20 it had become critical:
Here Firouzja played 20.Nf1?!, with Svidler commenting:
The most natural move in the position, seemingly, but after that, with precise play, it’s possible to make the argument that the game is beyond salvation, in particular against Magnus on a good day.
The better try was to play 20.Nb1!, 21.Na3 and hope to shore up the defences on the queenside. Instead in the game, despite no flashy tactics and almost all the pieces remaining on the board, computers were soon signalling that White was dead lost.
It was a perfect example of “Attacking without Sacrificing”, the theme of Carlsen’s first ever video series, released (coincidentally) on the morning of the game (you can watch that series and Peter’s if you Go Premium – the TATA2020 voucher code is still valid to get 30% off, but hurry, as prices are set to rise next week!):
Magnus says in the intro that he was a little surprised when the theme was suggested to him for a series since, “attacking without giving up major material, that sounded to me like that’s just what everybody wants – that’s the dream!” As he also realised, however, it’s much easier said than done.
Magnus had also done it the day before against Nikita Vitiugov, but there was another curious parallel between the two games. Nikita’s resignation looked premature, given material was still level and there was no immediate knockout blow. Alireza’s resignation was more understandable, since in deep time trouble he was finally about to lose a piece:
40.Nxf1 of course loses to the fork 40…Nxe4+, but as Svidler points out, “this is arguably by far the best position [Firouzja] has had in the last 10 moves”. After 40.Kxf1! Bxd2 41.Bxe5! the pin of the f6-knight is unpleasant. Magnus would have nothing better than 41…Bc3 42.Rc1 Bxe5 43.Rxc8 and suddenly there’s a rook vs. knight + bishop ending that Black should win but, as Peter commented, “every now and again these positions get saved by the player with the rook”. He summed up:
With this slight blemish it is still a positional masterpiece, but knowing how much of a perfectionist he is he will be somewhat upset that he did not finish the game off in style.
In any case, it had been a dream result for the World Champion, who had not only sent a message to a dangerous rival but caught his opponent in the tournament standings.
Afterwards Magnus commented:
I’m very happy, obviously… as happy as you can be beating a 16-year-old and moving into +2 in Round 9!
It was one of those days on which it almost seemed the other players didn’t want to distract from the main attraction, though some of them tried. Here’s Canadian GM Pascal Charbonneau’s after-show looking at the day’s action as a whole:
Fabiano Caruana was the biggest beneficiary of Carlsen’s win, as he was able to take the sole lead after a quick exchange of opening notes with Nikita Vitiugov.
So-Giri only varied from one of the games of the Kramnik-Anand World Championship match on move 28 and was agreed drawn three moves later, while Anand-Dubov was the shortest game of the day at just 19 moves. Vishy was still reeling from losing a winning position to Caruana and commented:
In general after the previous game it was difficult to play very much. If I’d gotten something more interesting I might have convinced myself, but this was a bit bland.
“Today I tried to prevent myself from laughing,” said Daniil Dubov of once again being tested in the Rossolimo Sicilian and said he switched to Plan A when Vishy repeated the line Caruana had played against him two rounds earlier. He’d chosen Plan B on that occasion as he hadn’t revised his notes before the game and wanted to go for something simpler. Plan A might have backfired, but only if Vishy had had the appetite to play on.
The remaining games were much harder fought and all revolved around the theme of fortresses. Vladislav Artemiev looked on course to beat Yu Yangyi, but missed the moment and could make no progress despite an extra pawn.
Duda-Xiong lasted 79 moves, but again an extra pawn wasn't enough for Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who couldn't continue the pattern of scoring the same result as Magnus each day. That leaves Kovalev-Van Foreest, which was the other Game of the Day in the Masters group:
Jorden said afterwards that he was “improvising” when he came up with this queen sacrifice when responding to the 6.Qe2 Najdorf with 6…g6. His opponent told him afterwards that he remembered that g6 was “very bad” because it allowed the “very strong” 9.e5. Kovalev had been expecting 9…Qa5, which at least explained why he fell into a 29-minute think after 9…dxe5!
It’s likely Vladislav had mixed something up, since in fact Black’s play is fine but White is obliged to follow up by sacrificing his queen either with 10.Ne6 or 10.Nf5, when the dynamic balance is undisturbed. Instead he came up with 10.Nf3?! and was soon significantly worse. Strange events followed, however, and Jorden ended up with a position with rook against bishop:
Despite being an exchange up and going on to win the a-pawns Jorden soon realised his opponent had a fortress, even if the game continued another 36 moves. Afterwards Jorden commented:
My position was very good, probably winning in several ways, but like I said, I forgot about this fortress he had.
The use of “forgot” shows that Jorden remains firmly on the path to becoming a regular super-GM!
It didn’t help with the standings, however, where Jorden was unable to catch Caruana and instead remains in a powerful chasing pack together with Carlsen, So and Firouzja:
Pavel Eljanov’s stay as sole leader ended as he was held to a draw by Dinara Saduakassova, who finally stopped a run of five losses in a row. Eljanov was caught by top seed David Anton, who had a winning position with Black against Nils Grandelius in under 20 moves, and Erwin l’Ami, who scored a crushing win in what had seemed like an innocuous queenless middlegame against Rauf Mamedov.
One of the day’s most memorable games was between Australia’s 18-year-old Anton Smirnov and 15-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov from Uzbekistan. For most of the game it went the way of the player from down under, who was an exchange up and missed numerous wins:
White’s advantage slipped just before move 80, however, and then with move 90 approaching Anton stumbled into a lost position. There was a beautiful tactical detail that you could very easily overlook:
If Black captures on d3 the pawn ending is drawn, but Nodirbek instead blitzed out 89…Ke6!!, that makes all the difference (the queen is going nowhere). Black went on to win in 96 moves, leaving Abdusattorov just one point behind the leaders with four rounds to go.
The big games to watch on Wednesday will be Caruana-Firouzja (no-one said it was going to be easy for Alireza!) and Carlsen-Kovalev, with Magnus unquestionably targeting that game for a 3rd win in a row.
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