Fabiano Caruana was hit by a Jorden van Foreest novelty in Round 3 of the Tata Steel Masters, but he survived the opening unscathed and later picked up a free pawn to score the day’s only win and join a 5-man leading group. That includes Magnus Carlsen and Ding Liren, whose head-to-head clash soon fizzled out. 6 players lead the Challengers, including Round 3 winners Velimir Ivic, Mustafa Yilmaz and Javokhir Sindarov.
The intensity dropped a notch in Round 3 of the Tata Steel Masters, with only one game ending decisively.
All eyes at the start were on Magnus Carlsen vs. Ding Liren, a clash between the world numbers 1 and 2, and the only players with a 2800 rating.
Magnus revealed an interesting stat in his post-game interview with Fiona Steil-Antoni:
He’s a very strong player. I have never beaten him as White, so I knew it was never going to be easy.
In fact Magnus has only ever beaten Ding Liren once in a classical game, with the black pieces in Croatia in 2019, in 11 attempts. What would he try to inflict some damage in Wijk aan Zee?
The “anti-theory” London System doesn’t have the highest of reputations, with our commentator Peter Svidler remarking, "I definitely toyed with the idea of banning anyone who plays the London against me on stream".
It’s often proved effective, however, with Ding noting that Magnus “wins most of them” when playing games against him in the opening online.
Gata Kamsky was once almost the lone champion of the opening, and the Carlsen-Ding game was following six Kamsky games until Magnus played a novelty on move 10.
What was his goal?
I thought this time I’d try to play very positionally just to see if I could get somewhere with a very, very small edge. Unfortunately to make anything at all of a small edge you have to play precisely, and I missed a couple of his moves and then there was just nothing… These are the positions that are sort of equal, but it’s a little more equal for White, which just means that he has to be a little more careful.
The main miss Magnus pointed to was when he went for 17.Qc7.
That was just a miscalculation, because I didn’t see that 17…Ne8! was protecting the rook on b7. I was just thinking that he had to take, and then I get a very nice position. I was actually thinking during the game that this is too good to be true, that this is just good for me, so I should check it a bit more, and then I thought I checked it a bit more, but I still came to the same conclusion, but immediately after I made the move Qc7 I saw that he had Ne8.
The problem was that after 17…Ne8! 18.Qxd6 Nxd6 it gives nothing to play 19.Rc7 because Black has 19…Rb7, with the rook protected by that knight on d6.
Magnus noted he could also later have prevented 23…a4, a move that liquidated the queenside and led to an easy draw.
So it now looks unlikely that Magnus will beat either of the World Championship contenders in classical chess before the match in April. Who does Magnus think will win out of Ding and Nepomniachtchi?
I think they’re both very strong players, but I’ve generally always thought that Ding is a little bit better and we’ll see if he can prove it, but I’m generally on good terms with both, so I wish them both well.
There were a number of other quiet draws in Round 3, with Gukesh-Abdusattorov seeing Gukesh finally get off the mark after two losses. Rapport-So was tense but ended in a 25-move draw by repetition, while Maghsoodloo-Giri offered little after Parham rightly, it seems, decided not to sacrifice a piece on g5 on move 13.
Anish was looking ahead to his clash with Magnus Carlsen in Round 4.
If one of us is combative, it’s going to be a combat. I think the odds that both of us are non-combative are very low, largely because the odds of him being non-combative are really low!
There were also two 6-hour draws. Vincent Keymer misplayed the opening against Praggnanandhaa and found himself a pawn down, but the advantage all but fizzled out before the time control so that the last 40 moves of the game weren’t high on excitement.
Arjun Ergaisi-Aronian was much more of a nail-biter, with Levon probably winning near the end, but only with very precise play.
Arjun Erigaisi survived, however, so that both players have begun with three draws.
That brings us to the one decisive game of the round, Caruana-Van Foreest, and one which backed up pre-tournament sentiment about Jorden — that we could expect surprising opening ideas, but that he’s not in the best of form.
It was already a surprise when Jorden played the notoriously solid Petroff against Fabi, an absolute master of that opening, but the Dutchman had something less than solid in mind. His 6…Be6!? was unusual, while 7…f5!? was a shocker.
Fabi had mixed feelings.
It looks very strange, but of course when someone has prepared something these days even if it’s a bit dubious you know that it’s still backed by very serious analytical work. I can’t say it was a pleasant surprise, but I was happy to get a game. I figured even if I go wrong, we’ll still get a fight, but I was also kind of worried, because your opponent starts blitzing out f5 and you get a little bit scared.
He replied modestly, but didn’t avoid falling deeper into Jorden’s web of preparation.
12.dxe4? fxe4 would likely end badly for White, especially if you try to hold on to the extra piece, since Black can launch a kingside attack before White manages to develop his queenside pieces.
Caruana correctly went for 12.Bf4 instead, however, and objectively it seems it was soon time for Jorden to play for equality with well-timed exchanges. He didn’t appear to be in the mood for that, however, and continued to play expansively on both sides of the board.
Fabiano felt he was taking over, but summed things up:
It’s the kind of advantage where you can easily imagine losing it if you make one inaccuracy, and then he blundered the g-pawn — that was basically the entire game. The position was unclear, maybe I was a bit better, and then he just blundered g4.
Just as he’d done in the first round against Wesley So, Jorden blundered a straightforward tactic, with 25…h4? this time the culprit. It invited Fabi to grab the pawn on g4.
26…fxg4?? runs into 27.Qg6+ Qg7 28.Qxg7#
Jorden very quickly tried to play on, as though nothing had happened, with 26…Bd5, but the clock wouldn’t save him. Caruana made no mistake as he went on to smoothly convert his advantage.
That meant Fabi joined Carlsen, Ding, Giri and Abdusattorov in a 5-player leading pack, with all five having won one game and drawn two.
The Challengers saw more decisive action, with the three winners all joining a 6-player leading pack.
Mustafa Yilmaz seemed to react badly to Erwin l’Ami’s 9.g4!? novelty, but his extra experience in the Najdorf told as he went on to win anyway.
17-year-old Javokhir Sindarov exploited essentially one mistake by Vaishali and in an interview afterwards confirmed his ambition to play in the Masters next year.
Late replacement Velimir Ivic handed a first loss to Abhimanyu Mishra, with a nice breakthrough on move 33.
33…Nc5! is in some ways obvious, but the key point is that after 34.Bxg7 Rxg7 35.dxc5 Black has 35…d4!, and the queen can’t take since 36.Qxd4? Qg4+! is mate-in-7.
Jergus Pechac, after two potentially soul-destroying defeats in the first two rounds, may not have been thrilled to see the Evans Gambit from his opponent Thomas Beerdsen, and some of his later decisions were inviting disaster.
It turns out 22.Bxd6!! soon after would have been winning for White, while we got an amazing situation a few moves later.
The winning move was to start with 25.a5!! Bxa5, but to see why, you need to look forward six moves to the position Thomas got in the game: 25.Bxd6 cxd6 26.Nf7+! Qxf7 27.Qxd6+ Qd7 28.Rxe8+ Kxe8 29.Qxb8 Kd8 30.Qf4 Qf5.
If the bishop was on a5 (after 25.a5!! Bxa5), White now wins simply with 31.Qxf5 Bxf5 and 32.Rc5, a double attack on the two bishops. As it was, the game was only a draw, which is the least Jergus Pechac deserves for the entertainment he’s provided in Wijk aan Zee this year. Thomas summed up:
During the game I had no clue what was going on, and during the analysis it was the same!
He needn’t feel too bad about the missed wins.
Another hero of the event has been 16-year-old Eline Roebers, who had Max Warmerdam on the ropes a day after beating Erwin l’Ami. It was the last game to finish in the top two sections.
What made it more tense was how unclear it was who was playing for what in the final stages.
I thought I was playing for the win all the time, but then he had a repetition of moves and he decided to continue, so it was like, ok, maybe I’m not playing for a win, maybe he is!
That left a 6-way tie for 1st place.
Round 4 will be the last before a rest day for the Masters (the Challengers play another round before their first rest day), and it’s hard to look beyond Giri-Carlsen, though we also have potential classics such as Ding-Pragg and Rapport-Caruana.
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