Tata Steel Chess: Nepomniachtchi grabs the lead

by Antonio Pereira
1/14/2019 – Ian Nepomniachtchi is now the sole leader at the 81st edition of the Tata Steel Masters after knocking down Vladimir Kramnik's Berlin wall in the third round of the competition. Ding Liren beat Jorden van Foreest with the black pieces and now shares second place with Vishy Anand. In the Challengers, Andrey Esipenko and Parham Maghsoodloo won in round three to join the pack of co-leaders on 2/3. Expert analysis by DANIEL FERNANDEZ and DANNY KING. | Photos: Alina l'Ami / Official site

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A dream start

When Ian Nepomniactchi picked number eight during the drawing of lots of this year's edition he knew he would have to face Giri, Carlsen and Kramnik in consecutive rounds to kick off the first elite tournament of the year — and he was Black in two of these games! Probably a 50% performance by round three would have been enough to keep him hopeful before facing some nominally weaker players. Instead, he is now the sole leader of the event on 2½/3.

His victory over Kramnik increased his live rating up to 2774.5, a career best for the 28-year-old Russian. His peak official rating was 2768, in August 2018, as you can see yourself at Ian's personal page in our playerbase.

Peter Leko kicked off the round in traditional style | Photo: Alina l'Ami

On Monday's game he played the 5.Re1 line against the Berlin, a safe continuation that is "relatively new" (Nepomniachtchi) against Kramnik's weapon of choice. Vlad went for a variation with 13...b6, when 13...c6 had been chosen by Radjabov and Caruana recently. White had some pressure, but it was not necessary for Kramnik to just give up a bishop for a knight in the middlegame:


Although there is nothing concrete immediately for White, Black's 20...Bxc3 "didn't seem like a good move" (Nepo), as White will keep pushing with his pair of bishops and an active rook. The former World Champion kept looking for ingenuous ways to get counterplay instead of going for a passive defence, but Ian did not falter and took advantage of his rival's adventurous play to get the point after 36 moves.

After miraculously saving a draw against Radjabov in round one, Kramnik lost two in a row and must face none other than Magnus Carlsen with the black pieces on Tuesday. As Alina l'Ami posted on Twitter, Big Vlad even needed to replace his glasses, as the old ones broke during round two. Nonetheless, it would not be a big surprise if Kramnik bounces back with some brilliant games in the rest of the tournament.

Focus | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Black is OK

Nepo's win was the first one with White in the Masters. Normal serve was seen on the rest of the boards, however — Ding Liren and Jan-Krzysztof Duda had Black and won their games in round three.

For the Chinese, it was not hard to remember his preparation in his game against Jorden van Foreest, as they followed the line that he played against Vachier-Lagrave during the last edition of the Shenzhen Masters — yes, the game that MVL won to stop Ding's amazing undefeated streak. The Chinese player showed confident play in the middlegame and got a clearly superior position, but Van Foreest defended tenaciously:


Black is better, but a move like 39.a4 or 39.fxe4+ would have given White more chances to keep the fight alive. Instead, 39.b4 eased Ding's task, and the current number four in the ratings list finally got the win after 50 moves.

Ding Liren showed his strength | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Meanwhile, Duda had to face someone he considers to be a particularly difficult opponent, Vladimir Fedoseev. The Russian used his customary aggressive style and found himself unable to castle soon in the game. Duda started pushing, but Fedoseev seemed to have things under control, until he collapsed around move 25. In the final position, the Polish grandmaster had mate-in-four:


One of the reasons Duda finds it difficult to play against Fedoseev is his ability to keep a “poker face”, as he mentioned in the post-game interview. He recounted how even with forced mate on the board, Vladimir kept his cool and did not show any emotion.

A relieved Jan-Krzysztof Duda | Photo: Alina l'Ami

A long draw keeps a long streak alive

Magnus Carlsen drew his third game in Wijk aan Zee and, with it, he has now accumulated twenty straight draws in classical chess. His rival today, 24-year-old Vidit, had to suffer until move 131 from a 4 v 3 rook endgame with pawns on the same flank. During six and a half hours Magnus tried to break his streak of half points.

Given Magnus’ stratospheric rating, the streak of draws only brings world's number two Fabiano Caruana closer to him in the world rankings — the American is now 3.8 points away from the World Champion.

Six hours into the game | Photo: Alina l'Ami

The rest of the games also finished in draws, with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov showing great preparation in the Gruenfeld against Giri. Anish talked about how bad things have gone for him so far in the openings, and about how this is a normal sort of coincidence at the top level:

All Masters games analysed by GM Daniel Fernandez


Daily round-up show

GM Daniel King analysed the games from round three

Standings after Round 3 - Masters


All games - Masters


Esipenko and Maghsoodloo are the new co-leaders

While in the Masters no less than six players have drawn all their games so far, in the Challengers only Vladislav Kovalev and Benjamin Gledura have split points three times in this year's edition. Nevertheless, no one in the "B group" has managed to take the sole lead like Nepomniachtchi did in the main event.

Andrey Esipenko is only 16 years old but already looks set to be one of Russia’s leading players in the future. In round three, he defeated the even younger Vincent Keymer in an old-style Sicilian battle with both players going for the throat on opposite sides of the board:


Evidently, White won the attacking race, as his bishop on b4 worked as a great shield for the king on the b-file. Esipenko already has mate-in-nine on the board and quickly played the decisive 36.Qxb5. Keymer resigned after 36...Rxb5 37.Rd8 Qe4+ 38.Ka1 (you can try more variations on the diagram above!)

Junior World Champion Parham Maghoodloo also joined the leading pack after inflicting Stefan Kuipers' third straight loss. Lucas van Foreest (Jorden's younger brother) defeated Evgeny Bareev, making it a great day for the youngsters in the Challengers event. 

Maghsoodloo has not drawn a single game so far | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Standings after Round 3 - Challengers


All games - Challengers 



Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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