Magnus Carlsen is suddenly right back in contention for the Tata Steel Masters title after defeating his great rival Fabiano Caruana in a game that was all but decided by move 22. Nodirbek Abdusattorov kept his 1-point lead with a draw, as the other wins were for players who had been struggling. Richard Rapport, Jorden van Foreest and Gukesh all picked up their first full points.
It was a day of surprises in the Tata Steel Chess Masters, with perhaps the biggest being how one-sided the headline clash of the day became.
Magnus Carlsen explained his strategy going into the game against his 2018 World Championship Challenger Fabiano Caruana.
Obviously I was elated to get the win yesterday, but I thought today I’d try and be solid. I was somewhat encouraged by the fact that he played very long yesterday, and probably the result was frustrating [a missed win vs. Maghsoodloo] as well, so I thought that I’d be solid, but if he wants to go for a fight then the conditions are pretty good for me, and that’s the way it turned out as well.
In an opening that has featured heavily in world championship matches, the Anti-Marshall, it was Fabiano who sprung the first surprise with the rare 11.h3.
Magnus said he was unaware of the “little idea” that followed of 11…h6 12.d4 bxc3 13.bxc3 exd4 14.Nxd4, though it had been played in a Polish Team Championship game last year between Thai Dai Van Nguyen and Radoslaw Wojtaszek.
That game soon fizzled out into a draw, but the “common sense” approach that Magnus said he took would bring dividends. He felt Fabiano “started to make mistakes pretty early on”, with the world champion questioning 15.Bf4 and 16.Na3.
The computer doesn’t entirely agree, but soon Caruana put himself on a dangerous path when he began to push his pawns.
18.f4!? was a move Magnus said he was “really hoping for”, since after 18…Nc6 19.e5 dxe5 20.fxe5 Nxd4 21.cxd4 he’d spotted a trick, 21…Bc6!
Maybe there’s a defence after Bc6, but it looks like Black has firmly taken over already, and when you look at the position, all his minor pieces are hanging and his centre is super-soft, it’s not a surprise that Black is doing well.
The trick is that 22.exf6? loses to 22…Rxe1+, since 23.Bxe1, trying to keep hold of the b3-bishop, runs into 23…Rxb3! 24.Qxb3 Qxd4+, forking the king and undefended rook on a1.
Black will emerge two pawns up with a powerful bishop pair and an overwhelming position.
Magnus correctly pointed to 22.Rc1! as a possible defence, planning 22…Bd5 23.Bxd5 Nxd5 and e.g. 24.Nc4, though his assessment was, “White is worse, but maybe not lost quite yet”.
Instead in the game Fabiano thought for 19 minutes before trying to solve the problem of the b3-bishop with 22.Bc2?, only to run into 22…Qd5! 23.Re2 and perhaps the move he’d missed, 23…Rb4!
At first glance it seems you should be able to defend the d4-pawn, but the problem is the weakness of the g2-square. The desirable 24.Bf2?? allows mate-in-1, 24…Qxg2#, while 24.Rd2? runs into 24…Rxd4! anyway. Again, 25.Rxd4 is impossible due to mate-in-1 on g2.
Fabiano decide to limp on with 24.Kh2 Rxd4 25.Qb1.
Magnus explained his reasoning at this moment:
White’s just lost, so after that I could maybe have won quicker, but I thought, let’s just play it safe and make sure there are no chances for him to find a miracle save.
The “best” options seem to be 25…Rd2! or 25…Nh5 (26.Bb3 looks nice, but does little), but Magnus went for 25…Ne4!, which had the virtue of forcing Fabiano to exchange three times on e4 and enter a miserable endgame.
There was no redemption for the US star, who resigned when Carlsen played a move that forced the exchange of rooks and would have left him with the bishop pair and two extra passed pawns.
That 2nd win in a row took Magnus back to a plus score, back above 2850 on the live rating list, and to within 1.5 points of the lead. He commented:
I didn’t expect this win, so that’s very good. Now I have five pretty winnable games left, so I’ll just try and keep going… I’m not really concerned about winning the tournament, but the chances of actually playing a decent tournament increased a lot, obviously.
Wesley So is the one long-standing member of the elite that Magnus still has to face, though he has the white pieces in that game.
That win moved Magnus to within 1.5 points of the leader, Nodirbek Abdusattorov, but otherwise it was an excellent day for the 18-year-old, who made a rock solid draw against Levon Aronian and still retained his one-point lead over the chasing pack.
Levon played a novelty with 8…b6, but not a particularly ambitious one. He commented:
This b6-move stops all kinds of things, and I’ve checked it some time ago… In this tournament I’m channelling my inner Anish, so I’m trying to stay extremely solid and just recover from some bad results lately, and I think the position was maybe slightly better for me, but nothing serious.
Levon noted move 11 as the moment he might have played for more.
11…Bg4! and Levon felt he would be a tiny bit better, but instead he went for 11…Nf8!?, once again invoking Giri.
Nf8 is more like an Anish move — just come here and offer me a draw!
Nodirbek showed impressive fighting spirit as he went for 12.f4 and later rejected a draw by repetition in an already equal position. It didn’t change the outcome, but emphasised how determined and fearless the new generation of chess stars has already become.
That result got better for Nodirbek as his closest rivals also drew. Wesley So looked to have some chances of making it three wins in a row, against Ding Liren, but one inaccuracy and his advantage faded. The main outcome of the game was perhaps to encourage Team Nepo to study the Caro-Kann played by Ding.
Giri-Keymer was also drawn, with Anish regretting the moment he exchanged queens.
He went for 22.Qxe8+!?, but should have played 22.Qf1!, just as 34.Kf1! would have been close to winning in Round 6 against Arjun Erigaisi.
“I should pay more attention to the f1-square in future games!” he summed up, while also giving an entertaining description of his setup, where all his pieces but the bishop are showing no ambition.
You just send one of them, the priest, the bishop, not even towards the king, but towards some castle on the other side of the enemy. “Negotiate, go pray for something!”
But while the leaders made draws, it was the day of the underdog, with no less than three players picking up their first win of the event. All the games were dramatic, with Rapport-Praggnanandhaa ultimately having a memorable conclusion.
It was a game where Pragg could have crossed 2700 for the first time with a win, but Richard’s offbeat play would bring dividends.
Here he could simply have castled short, but went for 15.Rf1!?, while after 15…Nf6 16.Qc2 Bg4 he castled long with 17.0-0-0!
When Fiona Steil-Antoni asked about that decision, Richard joked:
It was hard to go short because I played Rf1 before, so even I wasn't capable of doing that anymore!
The h5-pawn fell and Pragg was a pawn up, but his king was in serious danger, and despite Richard being low on the clock he found most of the best moves to launch a kingside assault.
The game came down to an endgame where Black was doomed in any case, but Pragg is not among players with a tendency to resign early. Nevertheless, the game ended abruptly on move 40, since it turned out Pragg had made a mistake while writing down his moves and mistakenly thought he’d already made his 40th move!
At one point it looked as though all three Indian stars would lose, but 16-year-old Gukesh survived some incredible late drama against Parham Maghsoodloo to pick up a win.
First there was a nail-biting time trouble phase where Gukesh had to find only moves to stay alive, then Parham missed a great chance on move 41, before Gukesh found a winning trick on move 43.
The problem for Black is that his intended 43…Ng3+ is hit by 44.Qxg3! Qxg3 45.Be4+! and 46.Rxg3, forcing an endgame where White has an extra bishop.
That was in fact Parham’s best chance, while after 43…Ne3 44.Be4+ in the game he was soon caught in a mating net. Gukesh told Fiona why he felt he’d had such a bad tournament to that point, losing four games and winning none.
The start was a bit unfortunate. I was quite nervous before the 1st round and that was a horrible round. Second round, I got out-prepared, so that maybe hit my confidence a bit. That’s the main reason.
Gukesh had picked up a win just in time before facing Magnus Carlsen in Round 9.
The other win in the Masters came for Jorden van Foreest, who was the most surprised of anyone at his win over Arjun Ergaisi.
I really didn’t expect to win, especially this game, because I was just getting outplayed, to be honest, and I was fishing in troubled waters, but I guess my play at least was kind of practical, and it was harder for him to play.
Jorden said his sacrifice of a piece for two pawns, 34.Nxa7! Rxa7 35.Rxd6 Nxc4 36.Bxc4 Bxc4 37.Rxb6, was born of necessity, but it was stronger than he thought, since the computer already prefers White’s position. Arjun lost his way in huge complications after the time control.
That leaves the Masters standings as follows going into the 2nd rest day, with five rounds to go.
The Challengers saw interesting clashes in the battle for a spot in next year’s Masters.
After leader Alexander Donchenko was held to a quick draw by Abhimanyu Mishra, 17-year-old Javokhir SIndarov could have caught him, but instead he went down in flames against Mustafa Yilmaz, who moved to within a half point.
Yilmaz is joined by Velimir Ivic, who picked up his 3rd win after deciding to test Jergus Pechac’s knowledge of the Berlin Endgame.
IM Thomas Beerdsen could also have joined the tie for 2nd, but after a wild game he didn’t pause long enough after the time control to find the surprising winning move 41…Bd6!!
Also notable was how Adhiban bounced back from his first loss to pick up his first win, against Luis Supi. All the hard work had been done, but our commentators were big fans of Adhiban’s final move.
It’s tempting to hunt for a flashy knockout blow, but here Adhiban simply played 49…h5!, threatening to push the pawn all the way to h1, while leaving White in zugzwang. Luis took it as the signal to resign.
The Challengers standings look as follows.
Monday is the 2nd rest day, before the action resumes on Wednesday with Round 9, where Carlsen-Gukesh, Maghsoodloo-So, Keymer-Abdusattorov and Ding-Giri will be among the games to watch.
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