Anish Giri has now beaten both world no. 1 Magnus Carlsen and world no. 2 Ding Liren in the 2023 Tata Steel Masters after winning a rollercoaster game against the Chinese star in Round 9. That almost gave him a share of the lead, but Nodirbek Abdusattorov survived a lost rook endgame against Vincent Keymer. In the Challengers, Mustafa Yilmaz took the sole lead with four rounds to go.
There were two decisive games in Round 9 of the Tata Steel Masters, but it could easily have been more.
The wildest game of the day was also the most significant. Ding Liren, who has six draws and a loss since winning his first round game against Gukesh, went for the ambitious 13.g4!?
Anish Giri knew from his preparation that it wasn’t supposed to work, and his reply 13…gxf4! sent Ding into a 26-minute think. It seems, however, that Anish didn’t remember the follow-up, since after 14.g5!? the best reply was to sacrifice a piece with 14…fxe3!, while in the game after 14…Ne8?! Ding was right back in business.
In fact the advantage grew precipitously for the world no. 2, with Giri admitting that he felt “borderline lost” and feared getting pinned down by 19.Rd5!. He breathed a sigh of relief after 19.Nb1, but his 19…a5?! was asking for trouble.
Then I did this sick move 19…a5?!, and Ding, who had a poker face throughout all the years I’ve known him, even he had to be slightly, “what the hell’s that?” But he really bought it, luckily, he went 20.a4?!. a5, the idea is not to go a4, the idea was that I have Ra6.
A move like 20.Nc3! instead would have given Ding a big edge, but his play continued to be shakier than we’re used to seeing. A puzzling retreat on move 24 let all his advantage slip, while 28.Nf4? almost forced Anish to go for a winning combination.
Giri obliged with 28…Bxc4!, and rather than go for 29.bxc4 Nxc4, Ding picked 29.Rff2. Soon he had zero compensation for being two pawns down and Giri, as against Carlsen, was ruthless in his conversion. The game didn’t last until the time control.
That saw Ding Liren drop to 2797.3 on the live rating list, just 4.3 points ahead of his world championship opponent Ian Nepomniachtchi, leaving Magnus as the only player still in the 2800 club (2849.1).
The day’s other win saw a g-pawn push work out to perfection.
Richard Rapport went for 12…g5! 13.h3 g4! against Arjun Erigaisi, though he admitted he wasn’t entirely convinced of the plan himself.
It was a very strange opening even for my standards… It’s completely insane or a very, very smart idea, g5-g4.
It turned out to be the latter, with 14.0-0-0 not helping as Arjun’s king found no shelter and the game ended with the kind of brutal blow you don’t often see played out by players at the very top level.
26.Kb1 Re2+ wins the white queen, but there are variously even more sadistic ways for Black to win. Arjun resigned after a surprising 3rd loss in a row, while Rapport has won two games in a row to return to 50%.
The remaining games were drawn, though it was only Aronian-Van Foreest where there was almost nothing to report. Levon continued his strategy of playing solidly, and the one surprise Jorden managed to pull was his new appearance. He joked, “I’m late for my secondary job in a bank!”
Praggnanandhaa-Caruana was a long, hard-fought game, but Pragg’s advantage never looked like being enough for a win.
Things were very different in Maghsoodloo-So, where Parham admitted to mixing things up on move 8 of the opening and got into a very dangerous position. Curiously, however, at a moment of peak danger, he was offered a draw and, despite being “100% sure” he wasn’t better, he declined.
At some point he offered me a draw. I didn’t know that I’m losing and just declined and continued to play. -2… If your opponent offers you a draw, you have to accept it. You have to be logical sometimes!
The winning lines for Black were anything but obvious, however, and Parham was soon able to force a draw by repetition.
Perhaps the most anticipated game of the day was first classical encounter between Magnus Carlsen and 16-year-old Indian prodigy Gukesh. Magnus was hunting a 3rd win in a row, but Gukesh gave as good as he got, even if the world champion briefly seemed to be taking over.
Gukesh had shown questionable time handling throughout the tournament and was under pressure approaching the time control, but he made no mistake and, near the end, his well-timed advance of the a-pawn forced Magnus to end the game.
44.Rxf8+! Kxf8 45.Rf7+ Kg8 46.Rxg7+ and the players agreed a draw, as the black king can’t escape checks from the rook.
The last game to finish, between two 18-year-olds, was massive for the tournament standings. Sole leader Nodirbek Abdusattorov (4 wins, 0 losses) was taking on last-placed Vincent Keymer (3 losses, 0 wins), and at some point Nodirbek seemed to be comfortably better with the black pieces.
He confessed, “I’m quite embarrassed with my play in the middlegame,” however, and soon Vincent had a risk-free endgame advantage.
Up to a point, which was perhaps 46.g4!, Vincent seemed to be playing a near perfect game.
Here after 46…g5 Vincent had the powerful 47.Ra6+!, with excellent winning chances. Instead he thought for under three minutes and played 47.Kg3?!, allowing the strong 47…f4+!
At first it seemed the game might just fizzle out into a draw from there, but Vincent dug deep, regrouped and began to win the game all over again.
Soon the outcome hinged on nuances that neither the players nor the commentators could really fathom, with only the all-knowing tablebases spitting out their evaluation of draw or white win.
Former World Championship Challenger Nigel Short was watching.
After many adventures, it finally seemed Vincent might have found a clear path to a win, but his fans’ hopes were dashed on move 80, where 80.Rb6 instead of 80.Rf7 or 80.Rf8 was the last twist.
With 80…Rh1+ 81.Kg4 Rg1+ 82.Kh5 Rg3! Nodirbek went on to hold a draw, saying afterwards that he never saw a concrete way for his opponent to win, though he did feel he was losing.
That escape means that Abdusattorov is still the sole leader with four rounds to go, with Giri half a point behind, So now in clear 3rd, and Carlsen, Aronian, Praggnanandhaa and Caruana all still in potential striking distance on a +1 score.
The Challengers is closer at the top after five decisive games in Round 9.
Erwin l’Ami commented, “rook endgames are drawn, but they’re hard to play”, as he exploited a slip by tournament leader before the round, Alexander Donchenko.
That loss allowed Mustafa Yilmaz to take the lead, as he did with a convincing win on the black side of a Najdorf against Vaishali.
In fact there would be two more Najdorfs, with Max Warmerdam equally convincingly winning with Black against Thomas Beerdsen, while Javokhir Sindarov showed how it’s done with White to outplay Abhimanyu Mishra. Javokhir revealed afterwards he’d spent 5-6 hours on the rest day preparing to play 6.Qd3 for the first time.
Adhiban won a game very much in his style, though it’s notable that at some point his attack could have been refuted, or at least resisted, by Eline Roebers.
The standings look as follows, with Mustafa Yilmaz half a point ahead of the pack of Sindarov, Ivic and Donchenko.
Yilmaz-Adhiban in Round 10 has the potential to be both important for the tournament and fun, while in the Masters we’ve got Abdusattorov-Ding, So-Giri and Maghsoodloo-Carlsen to look forward to, before Thursday's final rest day.
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