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Reports Jan 29, 2023 | 8:36 AMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel 12: Abdusattorov on brink as Carlsen misses win

Nodirbek Abdusattorov is a draw against Jorden van Foreest away from at least a playoff for the Tata Steel Masters title after he drew against Wesley So in Round 12. Anish Giri, who could have caught him, survived by the skin of his teeth against Jorden, while Magnus Carlsen called his missed win against Praggnanandhaa a “backbreaker”. Alexander Donchenko will play next year’s Masters after winning the Challengers with a round to spare.

Magnus Carlsen missed a great chance against Praggnanandhaa | photo: Lennart Ootes, Tata Steel Chess

There were ultimately only two wins in Round 12 of the Tata Steel Masters, but our commentators felt it was the most exciting round yet.

18-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov commented after his draw against Wesley So, “I think my character is calm and I don’t express my emotions, so it’s known that I’m very calm and without emotions!”

It helped that in Round 12 Wesley, who could have caught his opponent with a win, stuck to his usual opening repertoire.

In fact, Wesley misplayed the position, but he never got into real trouble. Nodirbek’s suggested improvement with 33…Rc2 might have asked some more questions, but the computer resolutely gives the same 0.00 evaluation. The game ended in a draw in 41 moves.

That result meant that Anish Giri would have caught Nodirbek with a win over Jorden van Foreest, but instead Jorden, who defeated Anish in a playoff for the title in 2021, once again almost ended the hopes of his Dutch colleague.

A tough day at the office for Anish Giri! | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess

Jorden’s 8.h4!? was a bold new move, with the follow-up 9.e3! setting fire to the position.

What looks like a modest move was inviting what happened in the game, 9…Nxc3, 10.bxc3 Ba3 and White is committed to giving up the exchange, here a rook for a bishop, as Jorden did with 11.Rb1 Bxb1 12.Qxb1.

Anish lamented afterwards:

I know this idea exists, but I thought that White doesn’t equalise. I should have let my comp run more! There are people like Jorden, Dubov and a few people who go for ideas that are riskier than the kind of ideas I go for.

Anish summed up his approach:

It’s probably better for Black, I’ll now concentrate and make a draw! And I did that, and I just played some natural moves and I calculated this line until 18…Nd5, and to me it looked like it must be a draw. I even made some joke with Magnus… I was sure it’s a draw!

19.Qe4+ Ne7 20.Qc2 Nd5 and so on would have been a logical draw by repetition, but Jorden said his opening preparation ended with knowing that the computer gave 19.c4!? as a playable move.

He also knew the evaluation was 0.00, but after 19…Nc3 20.c5! b6 21.Bc4 bxc5 22.0-0 0-0 23.h5! Qb4? 24.Ng5! g6 25.Qd3 it turned out White was completely winning.

There was absolutely nothing easy about the win, however, with the players joking about what followed in the post-game interview.

Jorden: If I start talking, it’s going to take 10 minutes!
Anish: After that, chess spoke for itself!

Giri went for 25…Rb6!, with Jorden commenting, “it was such an ingenious defence that it took 15 minutes to see all the resources, and I still couldn’t find a win.”

It turns out 26.Rc1! was the key move, and after e.g. 26…Na4 27.Qe4! White has an overwhelming superiority for the upcoming kingside attack. Even in the game after 26.dxc5?! Rc6! 27.hxg6 Rxg6 28.f4 Rg7? Jorden was winning if he’d found 29.Nxf7! Rgxf7 30.Kh2!

Black is currently up a rook, but paralysed against the threats of Rf3 and Rg3+, or the awkward to meet a3. White can take on f7 at the most inconvenient time for Black.

Instead in the game after 29.Rc1?! Na4 30.Ne4?! (it wasn’t too late to capture on f7) Giri was suddenly right back in business.

30…Kh8! was a strong option, but Giri’s 30…Nb2! was the most natural move to clarify the situation, with Jorden heading for an endgame with 31.Qb3 Qxb3 32.Bxb3.

The endgame was no less intense, with Anish commenting afterwards.

In this game I stumbled on an incredible amount of lucky resources. I didn’t see anything in advance, but there were 100 brilliant moves that I made in this game!

It seemed Jorden might still be slightly better, but he was far from sure, for instance after 58…a2.

“I’m also relieved — when he played a2 at some point I thought I might be losing,” said Jorden, and he would in fact be losing if not for the only saving move that he played, 59.e5!

Finally the game did end with Giri forcing a draw by repetition, keeping him half a point behind Abdusattorov before the final round.

One such game would be enough for any round, but Carlsen-Praggnanandhaa was just as dramatic, with Magnus knowing that he needed to beat Pragg to have a decent chance of winning the tournament.

Carlsen-Praggnanandhaa was a huge battle | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess

He came up with an opening novelty.

Magnus explained:

It was an idea that I’d hoped to play also against Abdusattorov, when he played a different line, and I think his response is probably not so good, with Nd5.

11…Ne7 12.h4 h6 13.Bxf6 Bxf6 14.Qd2 Nd5!? allowed 15.h5! g5 and Black had obvious weaknesses, while after 21…Re8?! there was a surprise win in the position, 22.Nxf7!

If you don’t take the knight, it simply goes back to e5 and White has won a pawn for nothing. If you do take it, however, then 22…Kxf7 23.Rf3! is even worse. The f5-bishop can’t be defended, with Qd3 and g4 potential follow-ups.

Magnus played 22.Rfe1 instead, and when Norwegian journalists asked him about the knight move he responded:

That's just insane. That's completely pathetic. I just forgot about it. It's incredible. I don't even know what to say.

That was the kind of accidental chance players often overlook while following a plan, however, and Magnus still had everything under control until 24…Qc7.

Here Magnus went for 25.Nxb6?!. He explained his decision:

When I took on b6 with the knight, that was a pretty basic miscalculation. Actually I was thinking about whether to go Rxb6 or Nxb6, and I was thinking for a bit, and then I thought I’m not going to figure this out, so let me just go for one of them, and they both look ok, and immediately after I went for the move I realised that I was wrong.

What Magnus had missed was that after 25…Rab8 26.Na4 Rxb3 27.Qxb3 Bxe5 he couldn’t play the move he wanted to play.

28.Rxe5 would keep complete control of the position if not for what Magnus had overlooked, 28…Qc1+! 29.Kh2 Qf4+ and the d4-pawn is dropping, with Black no worse.

Magnus therefore had to play 28.dxe5, with both players pointing out that Black had a lot of counterplay. In fact we got to witness some incredible moves, with Praggnanandhaa playing the brilliant 34…c2!!, giving up the e8-rook with check to promote a new queen.

Magnus admitted afterwards that he thought for a while that he’d found a “beautiful win”.

White would indeed be winning after 38…Qc7 39.f6+ Kh7 40.Qf8 if not for an only saving move.

40…Qxe5+! 41.Rxe5 Qf4+ and Pragg was alive.

The Indian prodigy was impressed by his opponent still finding a way to pose questions, but Pragg had answers for them all.

Here he played 62...Qc3+!, when a king move by Magnus would have allowed Pragg to queen his g-pawn and we’d have had four queens on the board.

A clearly frustrated Magnus instead went for the sane choice of 63.Qd4, swapping off one pair of queens, and the game finally fizzled out into a draw. Pragg commented:

I was really hoping that he’d move his king, but I think it was dangerous for him if he had allowed four queens. I knew that he would play Qd4.

Magnus had won their game in Wijk aan Zee in 2022, so that this was Pragg’s first half point against the World Champion in a classical game.

Magnus admired his opponent’s defence but couldn’t hide his disappointment as he now finds himself a full point behind Abdusattorov going into the final round.

I feel like this was a bit of a backbreaker, to be honest. Tournament victory is obviously gone, and we’ll see if I can find some motivation to try tomorrow, but for now it’s disappointing.

The remaining games weren’t critical for the fight for the title, but were also jam-packed with incident, with a hard-fought 40-move draw in Caruana-Keymer the quietest encounter.

Gukesh's comeback almost got even better in Round 12 | photo: Lennart Ootes, Tata Steel Chess

Gukesh-Aronian was drawn only after the 16-year-old Indian star missed a chance to pick up his 3rd win after starting with four losses.

The calculation of the win after 60.b4! is the kind of long, linear line that Gukesh would probably have found, if not for the fact he had around a minute on his clock.

Parham Maghsoodloo blitzed out 23 moves of home preparation and went on to pick up a 2nd win in a row, condemning Arjun Erigaisi to a 4th defeat in a row. 29…Qxa2?! was a risky pawn grab, with 30.Rc4! blocking the defence of the f7-square.

Parham here pointed out that 30…f6! 31.Ne4 g5 32.Nxf6+ (32.Qc1!? is a computer suggestion to play on) would have led to a draw by perpetual check, while he said his opponent “blundered very badly” with 30..f5?

There may still have been one chance to escape (35…Qa1+!), but when that was missed Parham went on to score a very convincing win.

The final decisive game was big in the context of the upcoming World Championship match, as Ding Liren slumped to a 3rd defeat, which was a 3rd win in five games for Richard Rapport.

Fortunes have changes completely since Richard Rapport lost in Round 1 while Ding Liren won | photo: Lennart Ootes, Tata Steel Chess

Ding’s 37…Nxh5?, in an already out of control position, was the point of no return.

The discovered check 38.Ng4+! broke the communication between the bishop and the h5-knight, and the white knights are simply too strong. After 38…Kd6 39.Nf5+ Kc7 40.Ne5!, attacking both the black rook and bishop, it was clear it was game over.

That loss for Ding saw him drop below his World Championship opponent Ian Nepomniachtchi into 3rd place on the live rating list.

That leaves the standings as follows going into the final round of the 2023 Tata Steel Masters.

In Sunday's final round:

  • If Abdusattorov wins with White against Van Foreest he wins the title whatever happens elsewhere
  • If he draws, then Giri can force a blitz playoff by beating Rapport with the white pieces
  • If Nodirbek loses, then Carlsen (Black vs. Arjun) and So (Black vs. Praggnanandhaa) could reach a playoff with wins, while Anish could win the title outright with a win

Meanwhile there won’t be any last-minute drama in the Challengers, since Alexander Donchenko has already booked his place in next year’s Tata Steel Masters.

Alexander Donchenko will play the Masters for the 2nd time | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess

Things couldn’t have been easier, as Thomas Beerdsen blundered with 13.Be3?

“Probably it’s confusing calculation and memory,” said Alexander about that “unfortunate move”, and it was remarkable how much better Black was immediately after 13…c5!

The game only stretched to move 22.

Resignation may have been premature, since 23.Nxe6! fxe6 24.Bxe6+ Kh7 25.Rc8! actually gives some drawing chances, even if the endgame is miserable for White. Donchenko talked about his emotions:

I don’t even feel joyful anymore, I just feel exhausted. Of course it will settle in eventually, but at the moment I feel too much internal pressure to actually relax and just enjoy the win, but I hope it will come.

At that point it seemed he might still have work to do on the final day, but one backwards move saw Mustafa Yilmaz’s advantage slip away against Luis Supi, while Javokhir Sindarov never got any chances against Amin Tabatabaei.

Yilmaz could still catch Donchenko, but there’s no playoff in the Challengers, and the first tiebreak is head-to-head encounter, which was won by Donchenko.

The final round of Tata Steel Chess 2023 starts two hours earlier than usual with the games kicking off at 12:00 CET (6am ET, 16:30 IST), but they'll be visible from 12:15 due to the 15-minute delay: Tata Steel Masters | Tata Steel Challengers

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