Magnus Carlsen took down Alireza Firouzja in a spectacular
game where he first gave up two pawns and then a knight to crash home when the
17-year-old went astray in time trouble. Magnus is joined in the early lead of
the Tata Steel Masters by Anish Giri, who outprepared and then outplayed Aryan
Tari in a razor-sharp Anti-Berlin, and Nils Grandelius, who got the better of
late replacement Alexander Donchenko in a rook endgame. The other games were
drawn, though Fabiano Caruana (vs. Jorden van Foreest) and Harikrishna (vs.
MVL) came close to drawing blood.
You can replay all the games from Wijk aan Zee using the
And here’s our live commentary from Jan Gustafsson, Peter
Leko and Tania Sachdev.
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Against the backdrop of the raging pandemic it was
remarkable simply for the 2021 edition of the Tata Steel Masters to start at
all, but what we witnessed was all we could ask for from Round 1. As Magnus put
it, “at least in this tournament there’s no first few rounds with boring draws
like last year – my 7 first games were drawn. I’ll happily take this instead!”
Let’s start with that game.
Carlsen 1-0 Firouzja
While Magnus was making those 7 draws in 2020, 16-year-old
Alireza Firoujza had taken the sole lead with an amazing 4 wins (and 1 loss).
Although he went on to lose consecutive games to the giants Carlsen, Caruana
and Anand, his performance had been vastly better than that of 16-year-old
Magnus, who in 2007 finished joint last with 4 losses and no wins.
A year later, however, and 17-year-old Magnus was the joint
winner of the 2008 event with Levon Aronian, so if Alireza wants to match the
Norwegian – and there’s little doubt he does – he’s got a mountain to climb.
Starting with Black against Magnus was as tough as it gets, but the youngster
seemed to have done everything right in the opening, with the World Champion
looking likely to get off to yet another sluggish start.
The natural outcome of the game was perhaps a draw by
repetition (23.Re5 Nd7 24.Ra5 Nf6 and so on), but Magnus wanted more.
As he later commented:
I would say already when I played 23.d5 and sac’ed the pawn
instead of, for instance, repeating moves, that was already a gamble. I felt
like I would have decent compensation, but it was sort of a trend, that I knew
in my heart that once I’d taken that decision I wasn’t going to back down later
on and look for equality, so I knew at that point that at least mentally I’d
already burned some bridges.
Not long after 23.d5!? he threw another pawn on the pyre
The computer was still on board with that decision, but its
intention was merely to grovel for a draw with 30.Bxe4, transposing into a
worse but holdable rook endgame. Magnus was more ambitious with 30.f3!? and his
choices up to 32.Qe3 got the approval of Peter Leko, who commented, “If we did
not have this engine bar with us I would be saying that I just love what Magnus
Another former World Championship Challenger echoed those
32…a4?! was the move that sowed the seeds of Firouzja’s
downfall, at least from a human point of view. “It’s just too naive. I cannot
even imagine you how you can play a5-a4”, said Peter, while Magnus himself
I don’t know if a4 was a huge mistake, but at any event it’s
unbelievably impractical and I think that was the problem there, that if there’s
something forced there for him then it’s impossible to calculate with so little
time, and instead he blundered.
Nevertheless, the game was only ultimately decided on move
After 35…Kh8! 36.Nxh6 Bh5! it turns out it’s even White who
has to fight for a draw, but instead in the game 35…Bf7? invited the knockout
blow 36.Nxh6+! and after 36…gxh6 37.Qxh6 Qc7 it was already mate-in-6. “I feel
like justice exists in chess, because he played a fantastic game and he has to
be rewarded!” said Peter as Magnus was crashing through.
Magnus called it, “a typical first-round game, to be fair –
thinking too much and miscalculating”, but when talking to Norwegian TV he also
noted he was exploiting something he perceives as a weakness of his opponent,
at least for now – nerves:
Luckily he became very nervous, just like in Stavanger. That saved me. I’ll be very surprised if he wasn’t winning at some point. I was not in control of this at all!
For a full account of the game don’t miss Jan Gustafsson’s in-depth analysis.
It was the perfect start for Magnus, while Alireza can
console himself with the thought that back in 2008 Magnus lost two games – to Vishy
Anand and Peter Leko – but still won five to win the event.
Giri and Grandelius join Magnus in the lead
The most convincing win of the day was scored by Anish Giri
against Aryan Tari. The Norwegian did something he hadn’t done in 6 years – play
the Berlin – but although Giri was surprised, he merely proved what Jan often says about Anish being able to reproduce his opening theory even
if you suddenly wake him up in the middle of the night. He said he recalled “a
lot of things” about a super-sharp sacrificial line of the Anti-Berlin.
On move 11 Giri improved on Hikaru Nakamura’s play from last
year’s Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge with 11.Kg2 instead of 11.Kh1?!, though
it’s notable that although Hikaru got a lost position he actually won
that game from the semi-final against Magnus Carlsen and went on to win the
There was soon a wild position on the board.
Computers felt Black’s phalanx of pawns on the kingside should
be sufficient for equality or even an advantage, but our commentators pointed
out that it was White who had all the chances if those pawns could be safely
blockaded. Giri was delighted when he achieved this setup:
I think I got the ideal version, that the king was on g2 and
the rook is on h3. It’s even better than the queen on h3, I think, because it’s
better to have a rook stuck than a queen, and my queen is free, and he never
had any real counterplay so the only question is if he has a fortress.
It seemed it was only a question of time before Anish would
play c3 and d4, but in fact, in his own words, he managed “to break through
without a breakthrough… I just kept shuffling the bishop around until his
position collapsed”. The queen also made full use of its liberty to travel all
the way from e1 to e7 before the final blow.
47.Nxf4+! and Black resigned, since after 47…exf4 48.Qf6+ checkmate is imminent after White captures on h4. Anish came very
close to winning Wijk aan Zee in both 2018 and 2019, and Jan commented:
Anish is doing his Wijk thing. He doesn’t get enough credit
for what a great patzer-killer he is… what a great score he has against
slightly weaker opponents, slightly off the top.
The other win was scored by one of the late replacements,
Swedish no. 1 Nils Grandelius, against a much later replacement, Germany’s
Alexander Donchenko. On his Masters debut, Donchenko was surprised by his
opponent’s modest opening, but looked to have survived some risky middlegame
play only to crack in the ending with 36…Rd2?
After 37.Re1+! Kd3 38.Re3+! Black was already in a world of
trouble and Nils went on to steer the game towards a winning pawn endgame. He
modestly summed up, “Today was not great but definitely not a disaster!”
Four draws, with Caruana and Harikrishna coming close
The other games were drawn, with Esipenko-Duda the only non-event. It fizzled out in 30 moves after 18-year-old Andrey Esipenko, the only remaining Russian
player after Ian Nepomniachtchi and Daniil Dubov withdrew, underestimating an
idea of his Polish opponent. There are no prizes for guessing Andrey’s
favourite player and who he’s most anticipating playing in Wijk!
Wojtaszek-Anton was tense to the very end, but the Spanish
Champion held on and solved his remaining problems with 59…f6!
“A win is not really a given before the game – it also
depends on the other player!” noted Radek.
Harikrishna seemed to get a dream position against Maxime
Vachier-Lagrave’s Najdorf, but there was some confusion over whether he’d
deliberately allowed 27…Qc5! in order to simplify into a safer but still
Hari later confessed he’d just missed it.
Jan explained during commentary that this had just been a
normal game for Maxime – “the French School of Suffering” as Magnus once
described it – and he’d never been in any doubt that the Frenchman would
wriggle his way out.
Caruana-Van Foreest was the most intense of the draws. It
looked as though 21-year-old Jorden was doing well in the early middlegame…
…but it was little surprise to anyone that Fabiano Caruana
got the better of his opponent in the complications. The world no. 2 may have been
winning later in a tricky rook ending, but Jorden survived to tell the
So we have three early leaders of the 2021 Tata Steel Masters.
In Round 2 they all have Black, with David
Anton playing his first classical game against Magnus Carlsen, while Anish Giri faces his Dutch rival Jorden van Foreest and Nils Grandelius takes on
Jan-Krzysztof Duda. It’s noteworthy that none of the pairings have racked up more than three classical games before now, with MVL-Firouzja perhaps the most
exciting first meeting!
You can follow all the action live here on chess24 from 14:00 CET!