Tata Steel Chess: Firouzja and Van Foreest start with wins

by Alex Yermolinsky
1/12/2020 – It is hard to call a win by Alireza Firouzja a surprise after his stellar performance at the World Rapid and Blitz Championships — and his general good form from last year — but it is still noteworthy that he won his first ever game in Wijk aan Zee. He is joined in the lead in the Masters by Jorden van Foreest, who beat Yu Yangyi. In the Challengers, Pavel Eljanov, Surya Ganguly and Erwin l'Ami kicked off with victories. GM ALEX YERMOLINSKY reports. Round-up show by IM LAWRENCE TRENT. | Photo: Official site

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Another slow start for Carlsen

The 82nd edition of the chess festival in Wijk aan Zee takes place from January 11th to 26th. The Masters and the Challengers are both 14-player single round robins. Rounds start at 12:30 UTC, except January 16th in Eindhoven, when it starts 30 minutes later.

The 82nd edition of traditional Tata Steel tournaments kicks off the 2020 season of never-stop chess entertainment. It hasn't even been two full weeks since the end of the World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Moscow and our chess gladiators gather round again to give us more games to watch and study.

This year's field is shorter on world's elite representation, due to the last moment withdrawal of Nepomniachtchi, and Grischuk's famous “I don't want to play in Wijk aan Zee anymore” quip. No doubt, both Russians are doing the right thing by focusing on the upcoming Candidates tournament, along with Ding Liren and Radjabov, who also are keeping low profile. Of course, the invitations went out before the names of surprising qualifiers, Wang Hao and Alekseenko, were known. These two, I suppose, wouldn't mind getting some practice in Wijk, but they will have to be content with playing in the Gibraltar Masters, which starts ten days from now.

This leaves only Caruana and Giri among the 2020 Candidates present at Tata Steel Chess this year. Of course, World Champion Carlsen is there, along with So and Anand, making the tournament's top rated group. The way the luck of pairing would have it, the four of them faced each other in the opening round.

Magnus Carlsen, Anish Giri

Anish Giri finished in sole second place last year | Photo: Official site

We are used to Magnus' habit of starting slowly, and today was no exception. Carlsen's experimental treatment of the English Opening with White failed to impress Giri. For a moment it seemed Anish could try for more, but it was no more than an illusion, and soon a draw was agreed.

The World Champion confessed that he was “really embarrassed” by what he did, referring specifically to his decision of going for 10.h3 — a move that quickly left him a pawn down while playing White — after thinking for over twenty minutes. He added:

I definitely liked the idea of playing [Giri] as White, but as I said I'm hugely embarrassed by thinking for twenty minutes and missing a simple tactic. And, truth be told, with that in mind I'm happy with the result.

Post-game interview with Magnus Carlsen

More videos at the official YouTube channel

The other battle between rating favourites, Caruana vs So, was a non-theoretical Grunfeld that looked more like a Queen's Gambit. Black seemed very comfortable, and possibly even more, but Wesley's 21st move opened a window to simplifications.


What didn't he like about 21...g5 remains unknown.

Wesley So

Wesley So | Photo: Official site

There are many intriguing names in this year's event, and none more than Alireza Firouzja. The 16-year-old Iranian keeps on making headlines: his refusal to represent Iran in chess competition may mean settling in another country for good. Will it be France, where Alireza is currently residing? Then, there was a controversial incident during the much-anticipated battle with Carlsen at the World Blitz. Did Magnus let out a swear word when he blundered a pawn, and, more importantly, does it represent sufficient grounds for an appeal?

Today, all that was put on hold, as Firouzja went down to business, efficiently dispatching the rating underdog Vladislav Kovalev, who seemed strangely confused in a well-known opening line.


A confident start for Alireza. All eyes are on him, will he manage to handle the pressure? When asked about his expectation at the post-game interview, the youngster responded:

As I said before, I'm not the favourite here of course, but I'm trying to get some good results with some top players, and we'll see what is gonna happen.

Is he afraid of any other participants? Firouzja laughed and confidently said:

I've played almost all of them, so I'm experienced, and we will see.

Alireza Firouzja

A future World Champion? — Alireza Firouzja | Photo: Official site

From the youngest to the oldest. Vishy Anand celebrated his 50th birthday, and here he is, playing more chess! For his battle against the talented Russian Vladislav Artemiev, Vishy prepared a less-known path in an Advanced Caro, 12. a3, instead of the common 12.♘♘c3, which goes all the way back to Gelfand vs Karpov, 1995. Vlad replied in style, playing actively in the centre (15...f6!?) and soon sacrificed a pawn. Anand wisely (what else is new?) returned the material and offered an exchange sac to take the game into a drawn endgame. Very correctly played, indeed.

Another Russian participant, Nikita Vitiugov, came to replace his compatriot, Ian Nepomniachtchi. As it goes, look out for a last-minute entrant. Nikita proved a dangerous opponent for another aspiring youngster, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, by tricking him into a seemingly innocent line of the old Boleslavsky Classical Sicilian. Suddenly problems began to emerge, and it took a miracle for Duda to survive.


Xiong vs Dubov was a great effort from both. Jeffery pushed hard, but couldn't break down Daniil's active defences.

The game that finished last produced another decisive result, as Jorden Van Foreest was able to take advantage of Yu Yangyi's error in a deep rook endgame.


The Challengers group started with more experienced players dominating their youthful opposition, as Eljanov, Ganguly and l'Ami all scored endgame victories.

Surya Shekhar Ganguly

Surya Shekhar Ganguly kicked off with a win | Photo: Official site

More action tomorrow.

Round-up show

IM Lawrence Trent analysed the action of day one

Standings after Round 1 - Masters


All games - Masters


Standings after Round 1 - Challengers


All games - Challengers



Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.


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