Magnus Carlsen missed a chance to get revenge for last year’s loss to Andrey Esipenko when he took a 21-move draw in Round 1 of the 2022 Tata Steel Masters. Fabiano Caruana and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov also spoilt winning positions against Sergey Karjakin and Daniil Dubov, allowing three players to snatch the early lead. Jan-Krzysztof Duda entered the live Top 10 with a win over Richard Rapport, defending champion Jorden van Foreest beat Nils Grandelius, and Vidit won the day's longest game as he ground down Sam Shankland in a six-hour marathon.
Round 1 of the 2021 edition of the Tata Steel Masters was a story of missed chances, but still saw three decisive games, all going in favour of the players with the white pieces.
Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler were reunited and commentated live for over six hours.
When the drawing of lots took place on Friday…
…the most striking pairing for Round 1 was Esipenko-Carlsen, with World Champion Magnus Carlsen facing the player who inflicted the only defeat on him in last year’s Tata Steel Masters. 19-year-old Andrey Esipenko had the white pieces, but admitted things hadn’t gone to plan.
I didn’t like the way I played, and after the opening I thought it would be a slightly better position for me, but then I realised that it’s not that clear, and maybe I’m just worse somewhere, so it’s quite a good result, I think.
Magnus had a similar impression of the game.
I think it was just a case of pretty forced play, to be honest. I think we were both trying to play, trying to win, but it became clear that although it looked like White has some interesting possibilities and good activity Black could sort of side-step it, and he runs the serious danger of being worse if he’s not careful.
Andrey’s well-timed draw offer was accepted, but computer-armed chess fans were aware of what the players had missed. 16…d4 was good for Magnus, but after 17.Bc3 the idea was even stronger.
17…d4! was close to winning, with the follow-up 18.Ba5 Bxf3! 19.gxf3
19…Ne5! 20.Qe2 Qa8! and Black has powerful play against the white king. The interviews immediately after the games in Wijk are notable for being conducted before the players have checked their games, which means that being confronted with missed tactics can be painful. When the option of playing d4 was mentioned to Magnus he responded with the abrupt, “I didn’t really see that… maybe I could, I don’t know”.
He also talked to Norwegian TV.
Dropping two rating points was not the ideal start to the new goal of crossing the 2900 rating barrier, but Magnus tends to start slowly, and when he didn’t, beating Alireza Firouzja in Round 1 in 2021, he then drew six games in a row… before losing to Esipenko. Magnus reflected, when asked if playing Esipenko was just another game or he was out for revenge:
I wouldn’t say just another game, but he’s a very strong player and not somebody whom I expect to beat every time with Black.
The good news for Magnus is that none of the other top seeds had an easy first day. Anish Giri looked to be on course to make 16-year-old Praggnanandhaa’s supertournament debut a baptism of fire when he came up with a rare idea in the opening and then playing the dramatic 14.e4!
Pragg accepted the pawn sacrifice with 14…Nxc3 15.bxc3 Nxe4, but it turned out that after 16.Re1 f5! (16…Nxc3 17.Rxe7+! is definitely a pawn grab too far) there was no killer blow. Daniil Dubov might have played on as if material was level, but Anish soon traded queens, won back the pawn… and needed to show some care in the endgame not to be worse.
That brings us to the inimitable Daniil Dubov himself, who was very soon a pawn down against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.
Dubov was on Team Magnus, and Peter Svidler noted that his fellow commentator Jan Gustafsson might not be able to go into any details since Daniil was perhaps playing World Championship prep. Jan pleaded ignorance, and the way things went you could believe him!
Daniil, who had taken a puzzling draw in 8 moves with all to play for in the last round of the World Blitz Championship, explained he was happy to be back playing his own brand of chess.
Sometimes your results can be good but you can feel not really comfortable, and sometimes it’s exactly the opposite. Within the last year I was constantly tired, I was playing like a chicken a little, I was playing some solid games and ok, the results were fine, I even increased my rating and stuff, but in general I didn’t feel like it’s me. This time, it’s me! I’m probably far from my best shape, but at least this game you can actually tell who played it as White. Put the bishop on g2, sacrifice pawns for nothing, start playing for tricks… it feels nice to be back, in a way!
At some point Daniil was staring right into the abyss…
…but although Shakhriyar Mamedyarov found all the right moves, up to a point, he eventually lost his way.
26…Be3!, inviting 27.Bxf8 c2! was the path to glory, while after 26…Rd8!? 27.Re2! there was suddenly no edge for Black. Daniil even suspected, wrongly, that he was completely winning, but after 27…f5 28.exf6 c2 29.f7+ Kxf7 30.Rf1 the players agreed a draw without the need for the black c-pawn to choose what piece it wanted, briefly, to be.
Daniil was asked if he felt in danger:
Not really, no. I think I was probably lost, but it’s not about feeling in danger. I felt very comfortable, but was probably lost!
Comfortable in what sense?
Life is good, I don’t know!
The other big miss was for 2020 runaway winner Fabiano Caruana, who faced a fellow ex-World Championship Challenger and Wijk winner, Sergey Karjakin. Fabi sprung a surprise on move 4 by playing a sideline with a reputation as harmless, but within 10 moves he was significantly better, while by move 22 the world no. 4 could have launched a crushing attack… though admittedly one that almost saw Peter fall of his chair when the computer pointed it out!
Fabi’s 22.Nf3!? was not a move likely to feature in a chess remake of Brave Heart, but it could still have worked out until 29…c5?!
Sergey felt after the game that his opponent had blundered in allowing him to play this move, but in fact only 30.dxc5? allowed mass simplifications and a draw. After the precise 30.bxc5! bxc5 31.Nxe6! fxe6 32.f3! Nh6 33.Rxc5! White ends up with a powerful c-pawn and great winning chances.
The misses by the 2770+ players allowed others to take the early lead. 22-year-old Jorden van Foreest is perhaps no-one’s favourite to win this year’s title, but his victory in 2021 means he knows exactly what it takes. He’s also fresh from working on Magnus Carlsen’s World Championship openings, and Jorden credited a good opening for giving him the initiative against Nils Grandelius.
I’m definitely happy with the result, but the game itself was probably rather shaky. I missed a lot of things. But it helped that I think I got a good position out of the opening, so I was never worse, I think.
It was a messy game, with Jorden feeling 30…Bxe3 instead of 30…Rxb2 immediately was a mistake. He may have been right, but only 32…Bc4? instead of 32…Ra8! seemed to see the game escape from the Swedish no. 1.
Jorden switched his focus to the c-file with 33.Rc3! Be2 34.Rac1!, swapped off the active black rook and soon the white pawns were unstoppable, with 44.b7! offering Black a piece and some spite checks, but no way to save the game.
“This year the Candidates will be everything for me,” said 23-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda, but even if other events are mere warm-ups, he looks in good shape. He was one of the few players to fight for medals in both the World Rapid and Blitz Championships, and he began Tata Steel Chess with a stylish, if not flawless, win, sacrificing a pawn for a positional grip that he eventually established.
Duda pointed out at least one good chance for Richard Rapport.
26…f5!, trying to turn the tables by blowing open a path to the white king, looked a very natural reaction.
That was very double-edged, and I actually expected him to play like this, because Richard Rapport is known for such aggressive play. In general I played the London because I was hoping to get a very slow and very boring position and just withstand his stuff, but somehow the game was quite interesting.
It’s a sign of Duda’s growing maturity that in the past such an approach might have been an excellent idea against him. In the game, Richard eventually lost his way trying to defend a miserable position, with 41.f5! the finishing blow.
How bad things are for Black is shown by the fact that after 41…gxf5 it’s even stronger for White to reply 42.exf5, retaining the pressure on f7 and e6, rather than taking the free bishop on h5. The win took Duda into the world Top 10, at least on the live rating list.
The last win of the day, in either section, came for Vidit, who tortured Sam Shankland for six hours. The 2018 US Champion also had the chance to save himself a lot of pain with an f5-break.
29…f5! 30.Rxd5 f4! and Black should hold a draw, but after the passive 29…Rd6?! and a later case of “never play f6”, White was winning, though not trivially. Vidit confessed “it should have been easier”.
The marathon even had an impact on the animal kingdom. Earlier in the day Peter had introduced his new pet dog to Jan’s daughter Nelly...
…then later on it turned out the Vidit game prevented the dog getting out onto the street for the first time.
Vidit never lost his grip, however, and slowly but surely joined Duda and Jorden van Foreest in the early lead.
The Challengers is back this year and featured four decisive games in Round 1.
The oldest player, 38-year-old Surya Ganguly, beat the youngest, 14-year-old Marc Maurizzi, after taking advantage of a time-trouble blunder. It looked like the "veterans" might have it all their own way when Erwin l’Ami started to play for a win in an endgame against 17-year-old Jonas Bjerre, but instead a mistaken pawn push allowed the youngster to take down Anish Giri’s long-time coach.
It was a good day for Russia, with wins for rising stars Volodar Murzin and Polina Shuvalova. Daniel Dardha was down to 14 seconds in the critical position against Murzin.
30.Qc5? Qxb3 gave away the game, as the black queenside pawns were just too strong. In fact the pretty 30.Qxb7! was possible, since after 30…Qd1 White doesn’t resign but wins with 31.Qc8+! Kh7 32.Qc1.
The other Russian win came for 20-year-old Polina Shuvalova, who won a great fighting game against the tournament’s other female participant, 19-year-old Chinese star Zhu Jiner. The attack that won for Black was so tricky that even the best could go astray!
Round 2 of the Tata Steel Masters promises to be great fun. Carlsen-Giri is a traditional Wijk aan Zee classic, but Karjakin-Dubov will be a grudge match after Sergey criticised Daniil for working for Magnus during the match against Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi.
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