Reports Jan 16, 2023 | 9:46 AMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel Chess 2: Carlsen and Giri strike

Anish Giri went for a stunning sacrificial attack to beat Gukesh while Magnus Carlsen ground out victory over Vincent Keymer to join Ding Liren and Nodirbek Abdusattorov in the lead after Round 2 of the Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee. In the Challengers, Amin Tabatabaei blundered a piece on move 6 of a King’s Gambit but somehow went on to win, while 16-year-old Eline Roebers stunned Dutch Champion Erwin l’Ami.

Giri smiles as he sees Jergus Pechac play the King's Gambit | photo: Lennart Ootes, Tata Steel Chess

Day 2 of the Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee again saw two decisive games, with Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri winning their first games of 2023.

On our live commentary, Peter Svidler and Laurent Fressinet discussed the fact that Anish Giri has a new second in Wijk aan Zee, and while they didn’t exactly name him, they did mention his hair came in for heavy criticism on the latest Chicken Chess Club podcast. Who could it possibly be?

Opening preparation would lay the groundwork for a stunning win by Anish Giri in Round 2, as 16-year-old Gukesh was outprepared in the opening for a second day in a row.

It's been a tough start for 16-year-old Gukesh against Ding Liren and now Giri | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Masters

Anish commented afterwards:

It’s a great feeling to win this way, and I’m also proud to show some preparation, even though now in rapid and blitz it’s less of a thing, but I’m always happy to get preparation, especially when it works out, it looks pretty nice and I think it was a very nice idea. I was very happy with this Rc2 idea, it’s a very cunning one and it’s really not on the surface, and I was really happy not only to show it but that it led to a nice victory.

14.Rc2 was the new move that sent Gukesh into a 26-minute think.

At first glance the idea might seem to be doubling on the c-file, but after 14…Bd7 Giri blitzed out 15.Re2!, and play continued 15…Bc6 16.Qc2 Bb6. Here the computer was giving 17.h4!? as its first line, and the stakes were high.

The Dutch no. 1 now took his first think of the game, but after 25 minutes he doubled rooks on the e-file with 17.Rfe1!

This was no chickening out, and in fact it disguised the lethal trick in the position. Gukesh invited disaster with 17…Kh8?, and suddenly there was a beautiful win available: 18.Neg5! hxg5 19.Rxe6! fxe6 20.Rxe6, which Svidler demonstrated.

After 14 minutes of anticipation, Giri went for it, drawing high praise from the chess world.

Anish himself pointed out that the attack was “very thematic”.

Tal has copyrighted all sacrifices, so as long as you sacrifice something you feel like Tal, but again, in my defence, I prepared these things, and I followed up with the sacrifices that are very thematic in this position, so it’s not like it’s a stroke of genius or anything. The whole position is about Neg5, Rxe6, because he has the bishop pair, he has a better pawn structure, and I’m up in development and have some attacking prospects, so the position demands this kind of play and I was prepared for it. Neg5 I didn’t prepare, because Kh8 is very bad, but maybe just before Kh8 I had this position prepared as well, and then it’s clear Kh8 is screaming for some sort of punishment.

It still wasn’t easy, however, since after 20…Qxe6 21.Bxe6 Bxf3 22.Qf5! Be4! Black, currently with four pieces for the queen, is still in the game.

Giri admitted that if Gukesh had followed 23.Qxe4 with the pinning 23…Re8!, threatening to move the b8-knight and finally complete development, it would still be “very tricky to convert”.

Instead 23…Rxd4? followed, and four moves later Black resigned, after the elegant 27.Bc2! dealt with the problem of back-rank mate.

The threat of checkmate, starting with Qh8+, would force Black to sacrifice, e.g. with 27…Nc6, and the queen becomes too powerful.

That win was matched by World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who against Vincent Keymer sprung a surprise by playing the Grünfeld and then picked a quieter, less-forcing variation with 7…c6, rather than heading for likely draws after 7…c5.

Magnus himself pointed to move 16.

Here Vincent replied 17.d5!?, with Carlsen commenting:

I think d5 was way too ambitious. Often I’ve had those positions with White in the Grünfeld where White can attack, but I feel like here Black was way ahead in the race, and after that I was instantly just better.

After 17…Bg4 18.Bd2?! e6! the computer agrees, and it looked as though the game might not last long.

Magnus went for 28…Nxe4! 29.Ne7+ Rxe7 30.Bxe7 Nxc3, explaining:

It wasn’t much of a sac of an exchange, really. It’s two pawns and also his pieces aren’t coordinating so well, so after that it should have been a matter of technique.

Everything went like clockwork until the 40th move, when Magnus suddenly decided to exchange queens, which cut the advantage being shown in his favour on the chess24 broadcast, but looked as though it might be a triumph of endgame intuition.

This position did arise on the board, but Magnus confessed he changed his mind about the assessment. Was he confident he’d win it?

I was at first, but then my confidence sort of waned the more I looked at it, and eventually I thought it was pretty close to a draw. My previous play was based on thinking that this rook ending was easy, and when it wasn’t, it was at best not a good way to convert, and maybe also I just threw it away, but fortunately I managed to get there in the end.

It took 65 moves, but despite some wrong turns it doesn’t look as though Magnus ever let his advantage slip, and as he summed up, “I think I calculated it nicely that these three scattered pawns are winning”.

The 2nd h-pawn on h6 had proved vital in preventing any defence by giving a check from h8.

Fabiano Caruana admitted his first two games have been rocky | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Masters

Those wins for Giri and Carlsen gave them a share of the lead on 1.5/2, since the two leaders at the start of the day were held to draws. Nodirbek Abdusattorov surprised Fabiano Caruana with the novelty 10.Be2 and soon had a risk-free advantage.

Fabi admitted to being worried, but ultimately held a 4 vs. 3 pawns rook endgame where the doubled f-pawns made the draw easier.

Ding Liren couldn't find a win against Parham Maghsoodloo | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Masters

Ding Liren also failed to beat Parham Maghsoodloo, but only after an epic 79-move, 6.5-hour encounter. It got off to an interesting start as Ding opened 1.e4, a rare move for him and perhaps a shot across Ian Nepomniachtchi’s bows before their match.

Initially Parham, who had noted his preparation with Black is much better than with White, was on top, despite seemingly inviting trouble.

Parham had looked at all this at home, as far as 19…Ba7.

He told Fiona Steil-Antoni:

I’m a bit upset, because I think it was very nice preparation by me, I knew to Ba7, and I also knew what was the best move for White.

It seems that move was 20.Bxf7+!, not Ding’s 20.fxg7?!, which after 20…Qf6! saw Black seize the advantage.

It wouldn’t last long, however, since Parham reacted badly to the later pawn break 24.e5 and suddenly found himself in a very tricky but clearly inferior endgame.

What perhaps saved him was that Ding invested a huge 50 minutes on move 42 to try and calculate a win, leaving himself with too little time when wins were within his grasp.

49.Rd8+ then Rc8, or 49.Rc7 immediately, both seem to be winning, but Ding, down to under 4 minutes, spent a little over a minute on 49.Rd3?!, which ran into 49…Rf7+! 50.Kg6 Rg7+ 51.Kh6 Rc7! and a fortress which essentially held until the end of the game. Parham had pulled off a brilliant escape.

Elsewhere Aronian-Praggnanandhaa was the first game to finish, with Levon taking a quick draw in a position where our commentators felt he might still have tried to push a little.

When 5-time World Champion Vishy Anand joins your post-mortem | photo: Lennart Ootes, Tata Steel Chess

Richard Rapport got some pressure against Jorden van Foreest, but the Dutch star once again defended well when he needed to.

Arjun Erigaisi also got into real trouble, but impressed Wesley So by his resourcefulness.

18…g5! 19.Rf3 Qe5! 20.Bxc6+ Ke7 21.Ba4 h5! and White’s advantage soon fizzled out to nothing. Wesley commented:

In the game he found this fantastic idea g5 and then Qe5. If he doesn’t play g5, Black is simply losing a pawn. I think Arjun is such a dynamic player. Many other players would never have played g5 in that kind of position, but he found that, and I thought I was still in total control, but then he played h5 and I realised that his counterplay is faster than I thought it would be.

Round 2 left four players in the lead, with only Gukesh yet to get off the mark.

The Challengers once again demanded attention, with all three wins notable.

Alexander Donchenko pointed out he’d won a first game in Wijk aan Zee at his 15th attempt after he failed to win a game in 2021 when he scored 3.5/13 in the Masters as a late replacement. He joined a 4-player leading pack by putting pressure on Vaishali, until the Indian star lost on time on move 31 in a position that was difficult to play but far from resignable.

Persistance paid off for Alexander Donchenko | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess

The other games were the showstoppers, however. It would already have been notable that Jergus Pechac shrugged off his loss the day before to play the King’s Gambit against top seed Amin Tabatabaei. Amin described his reaction:

When he played 2.f4, I saw some people like Anish come to my board and they were laughing. The King’s Gambit is such a line that you never expect. I never expect anyone to play the King’s Gambit against me, so I was not really prepared against it. It’s one of those scary lines that you’re like, “ok, come on, nobody’s going to play it against me”.

Seven moves later, however, and Amin was facing a serious dilemma of whether simply to resign!

How had it all gone so wrong? Well, he explained that he’d remember a Carlsen-Ding Liren King’s Gambit from the first Magnus Carlsen Invitational, when Magnus decided to have some fun after both players had already qualified for the quarterfinals.

While 5…Be7 was a good move in that game, his 6…Be7??, after 5.d4 d6 had been included, was a disaster.

The difference was that after 7.exd6! Qxd6 (there’s nothing better) 8.Qb5+ Jergus was simply winning the piece on h5.

“Obviously I didn’t want to resign, but I just went to the bathroom, washed my face,” said Amin, and he also had a glimmer of hope:

I was feeling so embarrassed, in this tournament to blunder in this way. I could remember Magnus’ game against Gawain Jones in the same tournament, so it’s possible to turn a game.

Oops! | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Masters

Magnus had blundered a piece on move 17 in the 2018 Tata Steel Masters but still beat Gawain Jones, and a repeat became possible when instead of playing 10.Nxd4!, Pechac went for 10.Bd3? "If you put your mind to it, you can misplay any position!", as Peter Svidler noted about another game.

Suddenly with 10…g6 11.Qa5 Nxf3+! Black had real compensation.

Ian Nepomniachtchi probably tuned in to watch Ding, but stayed around for the Challengers game…

As Amin noted, all the psychological pressure had switched to his opponent, and what followed was too bitter for Jergus for us to look at in any detail, save to note that by move 45 Amin had ultimately copied Ding and beaten the King’s Gambit to join the leaders.

“I was just so lucky, it’s hard to describe”, said Amin, while the one player to share his sheer joy was 16-year-old Eline Roebers, who took down reigning Dutch Champion Erwin l’Ami. “I'm so happy, it's unbelievable, honestly,“ she said afterwards.

It wasn’t just the win, but the game, which curiously saw her experienced opponent make a serious strategic mistake by closing down the queenside.

Eline then correctly threw everything into a kingside assault, which worked to perfection. It’s not often you get to play a move as spectacular as she did on move 35.

The queen sacrifice 35.Bxe5! gxf4 36.fxe7+ Kg8 37.exf8=Q+ Kxf8 38.Bxd6+ Ke8 39.Bxf4 left White with a rook, two pieces and a pawn for the queen. Erwin had one last chance to escape with a forced line on move 40, but when he missed it, Eline went on to score an absolutely deserved win.

That leaves the Challengers standings looking as follows.

In Round 3 we have world no. 1 Magnus Carlsen vs. world no. 2 Ding Liren, that has added spice since both players are in the leading pack and Ding Liren will also have a chance to become Magnus’ World Championship successor in April. The other clashes of the leaders are Gukesh-Abdusattorov and Maghsoodloo-Giri.

The games kick off at 14:00 CET (8am ET, 18:30 IST), but they'll be visible from 14:15 due to the 15-minute delay: Tata Steel Masters | Tata Steel Challengers

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