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Reports Jan 22, 2023 | 10:47 AMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel Chess 7: Abdusattorov extends his lead

18-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov’s reign of terror continued in the Tata Steel Masters as he counterattacked against Arjun Erigaisi to pick up a 4th win in just seven rounds. Magnus Carlsen won a sharp battle against Richard Rapport to get back on track, while Wesley So and Praggnanandhaa also won to join a 4-way tie for 2nd place. Fabiano Caruana missed a win in a 7-hour marathon against Parham Maghsoodloo.

18-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov is a point clear of the field | photo: Lennart Ootes, Tata Steel Chess

Round 7 in Wijk aan Zee was the point at which we crossed the halfway mark of the tournament, and both sections saw huge battles. In the Masters four of the games were decisive.

Arjun Erigaisi went into Round 7 unbeaten and initially seemed to be doing well against leader Nodirbek Abdusattorov. His kingside pawn storm ultimately became a weakness, however, while the passed d-pawn, what Nodirbek called “my only counterplay”, was huge. 25.Re3! was the only way for Arjun to stay in the game after the pawn appeared on d2.

A move later, after 25…Qh6!, Arjun missed the moment to swap off rooks with 26.Rd3!, which was by far his best chance to save the position.

Instead after 26.Qxb7?! Bg5! Nodirbek was lethally accurate as he unleashed blow after tactical blow. It was still possible to go wrong as late as move 42.

The only clearly winning move was 42…Qxf1+! 43.Rxf1 and Abdusattorov finished off with 43…Rxf3!

The threats of giving mate with Rh3+, or queening the d-pawn if the f1-rook leaves the back rank, are overwhelming. Nodirbek commented afterwards:

I’m feeling very good. I’m very happy that I managed to win this game. It was a very complicated game throughout the game and I was feeling very big tension.

The Uzbekistan prodigy had extended his lead to a full point and moved up to world no. 17 on the live rating list.

Magnus Carlsen said he likes playing Richard Rapport, as they always get a game | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess

The player he overtook was Richard Rapport, who fell to a 3rd classical defeat in a row against Magnus Carlsen. The opening initially didn’t seem to promise excitement, with Magnus choosing a line of the Petroff he’d used in his last two World Championship matches.

In both cases the queens were soon exchanged, but while the game against Ian Nepomniachtchi was quiet, Magnus actually found himself staring down the barrel of mate-in-36 in the 80-move Game 6 thriller of the 2018 World Championship match against Fabiano Caruana.

This time, however, the game would take an unexpected turn. Magnus commented:

I guess against Richard you can play any opening and he will find a way to complicate the game regardless, and I wasn’t unhappy with that either!

The queens weren’t exchanged, with the standoff along the e-file ending on move 12, when Magnus retreated his queen to d1.

The computer was giving a slight edge to Black, but White is threatening a3, Bd3 and Re1, so that Black has to do something fast. Richard came up with 12…0-0-0!? Magnus admitted afterwards:

To be fair, I’d missed his idea, so when he castled I thought it was a bit weird. I thought I’d go 13.Nd3 and I’m better, and then after 13…d5! it was only after he played the move that I immediately understood his idea.

The point was to sacrifice a knight on e4, blowing open the white king position, with the computer giving 14.c5 Bxd3! 15.Bxd3 Ne4+ as equal, though arguably with Black the side having more fun.

In that variation 16.fxe4 is met by 16…Qf6+, with check, but in the game Richard instead played 14…Nxd3+!? 15.Bxd3 Ne4+, when Magnus could take the knight with less to fear.

It’s worth noting Magnus was tempted to avoid all this with 14.Nxb4, but in that case it seems Black would have been clearly better. How did Magnus assess the position after the sacrifice?

Of course I was concerned, but I was mainly focused on trying to refute his attack, and I didn’t feel as though I should be losing. As I said, I immediately understood that his idea was, if not 100% sound, then very, very close to it, but it also didn’t feel like I should be in major trouble. Just a nice, complicated game, and for two guys who are on a minus score, that’s not a bad thing to have.

With 16.fxe4! dxe4 17.Be2 Qf6 18.Be3 Bxc5 19.Rf1 Magnus was threatening to stabilise completely with Kg1, when Richard suddenly went for 19…Qh4+?

“If I get mated, I get mated – I don’t see how!” was how Magnus described his approach at this moment, and it turns out he was right.

After 20.Kg1 Bd6 (it’s too late to turn back as two pieces are attacked) 21.Rxf5 Qxh2+ 22.Kf1 Qh1+ 23.Bg1 g6 24.Rxf7 Rhf8 we got the position where Richard told Magnus he’d miscalculated.

Richard hadn’t seen in advance 25.Bc4!, which holds everything together on the f-file long enough to win the game. After 25…Bh2 26.Kf2 Rxf7+ 27.Bxf7 Rf8 Magnus again was just in time with 28.Qb3.

Black was eventually able to win the bishop, but White emerged with a technically winning position with an extra knight, and when Magnus exchanged off queens the writing was on the wall. Richard didn’t prolong his agony.

“It could have been a super interesting game — as it was it became a mopping up job instead,” said Magnus of the second sacrifice.

Magnus called his Round 8 clash with Fabiano Caruana, “certainly on paper the most difficult game I have left”, but he felt he no longer needs to go all-out for a win.

It’s not necessarily make or break for my tournament. Now that I got this win, it’s looking a little bit better.

Perhaps the easiest win of the round was a second in a row for Wesley So, after Gukesh, who for the early part of the game was clearly better, got down to five minutes on his clock before completely losing the thread.

27.d4?! (e.g. 27.g4 or 27.Rd1 and White is still slightly better) 27…Nf4 28.Rd2? (28.Bxf4 was called for) 28…Qd5! and Wesley never looked back.

The 3-time U.S. champion began his post-game interview:

I’d like to glorify the Lord for another win, in which I didn’t even have to do anything, just play normal moves. I really kind of feel sorry for Gukesh, he’s in such bad form in this tournament.

Wesley laid the blame on his opponent’s time management — “5 minutes for 16 moves, that’s not going to work in this tournament!” — but also praised Gukesh for continually going for the maximum. Wesley gave some advice, though he admitted he wouldn’t want to follow it himself!

You play for the love of the game. You learn a lot more from your losses… but for me I’m already quite old, so I can take a draw from time to time!

While Gukesh and Arjun lost, there was some good news for Indian fans as Praggnanandhaa moved into the tie for 2nd place with a very convincing win over Jorden van Foreest.

Praggnanandhaa is now just one win away from a 2700 rating | photo: Emilia Castelao

Jorden sacrificed a pawn but then made the mistake of closing down the position. Pragg’s extra pawn was soon a passed a-pawn, and if he had one self-criticism it was that he spent too long trying to find a forced win instead of just playing natural moves.

Today I could have managed my time better, I think that kind of cost some hours of play, but otherwise I think the game quality has been good.

If Pragg had won more smoothly we might have been denied one of the key final touches, 47.Nb4!

After 47…Nxb4 48.a6! there’s nothing better than 48…Nxa6, but then 49.Rxa6 not only regains the piece but hits the undefendable c6-pawn.

Jorden tried to play on with the sad 47…Nb8, but 48.Nf7! was the start of a conversion that might have made Anatoly Karpov nod in approval.

Of the three draws, only Aronian-Giri was a 21-move non-event, while the remaining games went down to the wire. Vincent Keymer got the better of Ding Liren in the opening but seemed to miss some chances to play more directly in the middlegame before Ding escaped in a rook endgame.

After 48.Rb3 fxe5 49.Rxb6+ Kf5 the danger had passed.

Caruana missed a chance to go clear in 2nd place, but he could also have lost | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess

Maghsoodloo-Caruana was a slow-burner, but turned into an epic clash. At first Fabi seemed to be taking over with the black pieces in the middlegame, before Parham got chances to push with an outside passed pawn. He could have taken a draw at almost any moment, but played on and nearly got punished for his ambition when he found himself in a queen endgame a pawn down.

For around 20 moves Fabiano was winning, according to the all-knowing tablebases, but the win ultimately involved a long and hard-to-fathom series of checks. Instead after 93…h3 the position was a draw, which Parham went on to prove.

That 106-move marathon meant that Fabiano didn’t take sole second place but is instead tied with Giri, Praggnanandhaa and So, a full point behind Abdusattorov.

There are still six rounds to go, however, with Caruana-CarlsenSo-DingAbdusattorov-AronianGiri-Keymer and Rapport-Praggnanandhaa in Round 8 all critical for the tournament standings.

The Challengers wasn’t going to let the Masters take all the glory on Saturday, as six games finished decisively, while the Warmerdam-Ivic game was the last to finish and saw Velimir Ivic miss a win.

Alexander Donchenko became the sole leader after his “safety-first” approach against Mustafa Yilmaz exceeded expectations.

It worked out so well that I got such an absolutely risk-free position that there wasn’t anything to calculate, much less blunder.

He eased to victory and also noted that his mother, accompanying him to the tournament, is the “best second”. He said other players obviously felt the same, and that recalls a strange fact noted on the Chicken Chess Club podcast — the two oldest players in the Masters, Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian, both have their father with them.

17-year-old Javokhir Sindarov has perfected the art of drawing with Black and winning with White to take sole 2nd.

IM Thomas Beerdsen is up to 3rd and within touching distance of a final grandmaster norm after beating Abhimanyu Mishra, while top seed Amin Tabatabaei won a wild game against Erwin l’Ami.

Jergus Pechac had started with 0.5/6 but picked up a fine win against the Anti-Berlin of Adhiban, who until that point had gone unbeaten. Jergus explained how he’d been able to stay positive after his losses:

I just like the game, so I like to look at the chess, and if I lose, then I take it as an opportunity to improve.

He was somewhat less positive about Wijk aan Zee outside of the playing hall, commenting, “It’s just raining all the time, it’s windy, the sand got stuck in your hair…”.

Vaishali is on a roll! | photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit, Tata Steel Chess

Vaishali has now won two games in a row, with Luis Supi collapsing at the end of their fiercely fought game with 35…Bh4?

If the rook had to move, White is only slightly better, but 36.Nxg6!, targeting a fork on e7 as well as the bishop, left nothing better than to resign.

The standings look as follows, with only one place really mattering in the Challengers — the winner qualifies for next year’s Masters.

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

See also:

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