Anish Giri took the sole lead in the 2021 Tata Steel Masters
with 3 rounds to go after ending a long grind against Radek Wojtaszek with a
killer tactic. On Friday the Dutch no. 1 plays Black against Magnus Carlsen,
who blundered a pawn but lived to tell the tale against world no. 2 Fabiano
Caruana. Fabi is joint second in Wijk aan Zee alongside Alireza Firouzja and
now Andrey Esipenko, after the 18-year-old Russian beat David Anton to enter
the 2700 club for the 1st time. MVL got a consolation win over Alexander
Donchenko, but only after flirting with disaster.
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Before the final rest day there wasn’t a single game in Wijk
aan Zee that didn’t feature a real fight. The quietest draw was perhaps Harikrishna-Tari, but that was a tense
52-move struggle where Aryan Tari might still have had some chances in the
Duda-Van Foreest saw
Jorden sacrifice two pawns in the opening to dodge his opponent’s preparation.
The Dutchman almost pulled off a win before Jan-Krzysztof eventually took a
draw by repetition with just a minute left on his clock. Peter wasn’t sure if
the Polish player wouldn’t play on anyway.
was clearly out to try and beat Nils
Grandelius with the black pieces, opening with the Richter-Rauzer Variation
of the Sicilian.
It might have backfired if Nils had consolidated his extra
pawn with 37.b3!, but with 22 seconds left on his clock he played 37.a3!?
37…b3! was a nice response, since 38.cxb3? Rxb3 is completely winning for Black, with the pinned
bishop meaning Rxe4+ is a deadly threat. After the position was closed with 38.c3 (Alireza suggested 38.Rc1) the
game fizzled out into a draw that left the 17-year-old Iranian half a point off
The remaining draw was the marquee match-up of the day,
world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana vs.
world no. 1 Magnus Carlsen.
opened with the surprise 1.d4, which
the US star had last used in a classical game against Magnus in the 2018 GRENKE
Chess Classic (Fabi also played 1.d4 a couple of times against Magnus in the
Chessable Masters quarterfinals last year).
Magnus already thought for a minute there, before later
spending 13 minutes after Caruana picked 3.g3
and the Catalan. He later explained:
I thought he’s played the Catalan, which I didn’t expect, I
was expecting sharpness in some other fashion, so I thought I sort of regretted
on other days not thinking in the opening, because I played my preparation and
then ended up not liking my position, so I thought this time let me think from
the start and just try to get a game.
The turning point of the game was 15…Qf6?!
That walked into 16.Nxd5!
cxd5 17.Qxd5 Rb8 18.c6 and, with the knight, trapped White wins a pawn.
Magnus wasn’t pretending it was part of a cleverly conceived plan. He admitted
that “conservatively estimated”, he’d blundered about three things when he went
for 13…b6!?, but now his queen move
(he said he should just have played 15…Qd8) “was not the worst blunder of a
After 18…Rd8 19.cxd7
Bxd7 20.Ne5!? the worst was already over for Magnus, and he held with some
ease. Jan takes us through the game, pointing out that few players other than
Magnus would have made the final stages look so comfortable.
“The draw is a normal result,” Fabiano concluded afterwards,
and it keeps him within half a point of the leader.
For Magnus that gap is 1.5 points, but Alexander Grischuk, during his Banter Blitz session, thought that was a good result given the World Champion’s current form.
Of the three decisive results on Wednesday, one of them, MVL-Donchenko, had little significance
for the tournament standings, but it was certainly dramatic. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s attempt
to play aggressively against bottom-placed Alexander Donchenko’s Caro-Kann had
gone completely wrong.
16…d3 17.cxd3 cxd3
18.Bd1 left White busted, but a couple of inaccuracies by
Donchenko allowed Maxime to consolidate, pick up the d-pawn and ultimately
grind out a win in a 3 vs. 2 queen and pawn endgame. 65.f6! was a nice finish, with Black doomed however he replies.
Maxime, who also plays the Opera
Euro Rapid in February, said his only goal now is to try and end what’s
probably his last classical tournament before the Candidates resumes on a high.
Fiona Steil-Antoni pointed out that Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana had
done badly in Wijk aan Zee in the years they won the Candidates, to which
I didn’t do this on purpose, if that is the question! It’s definitely
a good thing that it happens here and not in the Candidates, but there’s still
a lot of work to do to make it not happen in the Candidates.
The remaining two decisive games were both crucial for the tournament
Esipenko 1-0 Anton
The swing in this game wasn’t quite of MVL-Donchenko
proportions, but Black was doing well in a complicated Ruy Lopez until suddenly
he wasn’t. David Anton seemed to underestimate the power of 18-year-old Andrey
Esipenko’s a3 and then 35.b4!
The point was that after 35…cxb4 he had 36.c5!, and
after 36…Nb5 37.axb4 White suddenly
had a protected passed pawn on the c-file. The path to victory was clear…
…and when Black’s weak a6-pawn fell Esipenko already sensed it was going to be his day. The rest was easy – all puns, sadly, intended!
That 3rd win in 4 games for Andrey meant he’d gained 25
ratings points to enter the 2700 club on 2702, the only teenager in that
company other than 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja. Esipenko is just half a point
off the lead and no longer faces super-tournament opposition in the remaining
rounds: Aryan Tari (2625), Jorden van Foreest (2671) and Alexander Donchenko
(2668). Andrey was keeping his feet firmly on the ground when asked if he was
now thinking about the title:
Not really, because every player here is very strong and I
can’t predict the rest of the tournament.
Giri 1-0 Wojtaszek
Radek Wojtaszek is in some ways Esipenko’s polar opposite.
They both drew their first six games, but while Esipenko was facing top
opposition, Radek had taken on some of the relatively weaker players. Now Radek
has gone on to lose three games in four, and his run-in is terrifying: MVL,
Carlsen, then Firouzja.
That’s not Anish Giri’s problem, however, with the Dutch no.
1 dealing with more “1st world problems”:
I’m crying… not only because I won, but because the COVID
tests keep going deeper and deeper, just like my preparation.
The game featured what used to be considered the least
theoretical of openings, the London System. Wojtaszek was doing well until
over-ambitious play handed the initiative to his opponent. Nevertheless, the
game came down to a position where both sides had three pawns on the same side
of the board.
Black was trying to avoid having to defend an unpleasant but
still likely drawn 3 vs. 2 ending, but as Anish pointed out, after he managed
to play 44.h6 his opponent was “on the verge” and the worst that could happen
was no longer entering a worse ending. The game came to an abrupt end after Radek played 48…Bb2? in an already tough position.
49.Rxh7! clinched the win and sole first place! If White
captures with 49…Kxh7, then 50.Rd7+ threatens mate-in-2 with Nxg6+ and h7+.
Radek could give up the rook, or not capture the rook on move 49, but then he
just has a trivially lost endgame. Instead he resigned.
That means Anish Giri, who lost a playoff to Magnus in Wijk
aan Zee in 2018 and finished just half a point behind Magnus on +4 in 2019, is
now the sole leader on an unbeaten +4.
Once again Magnus potentially stands in the way of the Dutch
no. 1 winning his home supertournament, since Giri has Black against Carlsen in
Friday’s Round 11 (before White vs. Firouzja and Black vs. Anton). “I’m
terrified,” quipped Anish. Firouzja-Caruana is another mouth-watering clash!
Before that, however, there’s the final rest day. The
players will be prepping for the final push, while here on chess24 we have two
big events to look forward to. At 16:00 CET Levon Aronian and his musician friend
Ned Rothenberg will be playing Hand and Brain against chess24 Premium users.
Then at 20:00 CET we have Banter
Blitz with reigning US Champion Wesley So.
On Friday we’re back with Wijk, with all the action live here on chess24 from 14:00 CET.