Tata Steel Chess: Caruana beats Firouzja, Carlsen wins again

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/23/2020 – Fabiano Caruana inflicted Alireza Firouzja's second straight loss to remain in the sole lead of the Tata Steel Masters prior to the third and last rest day of the event. Magnus Carlsen stands a half point back after scoring his third consecutive victory. The world champion was not the only one getting a third straight full point, as David Anton grabbed the lead in the Challengers with an impressive win over former co-leader Pavel Eljanov. Expert analysis by GMs CONSTANTIN LUPULESCU and DANIEL KING. | Photo: Alina l'Ami

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Three in a row for Magnus

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.

Magnus Carlsen won his third consecutive game in Wijk aan Zee, extending his undefeated streak to 117 classical encounters. The seven-time winner of the traditional Dutch tournament is now a mere half point behind sole leader Fabiano Caruana with three rounds left to go. The world champion will face Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Vladislav Artemiev and Wesley So after resting on Thursday. 

For Caruana, on the other hand, his fine win over Alireza Firouzja consolidated his position at the top of the standings table and surely boosted his confidence — let us not forget that he was completely lost in his round eight game against Vishy Anand, which he ended up winning. The American's 7 out of 10 score puts him in great position to fight for his first-ever triumph in the main group of this event.

A half point behind Carlsen are Wesley So and Jorden van Foreest, two contenders who should not be ruled out of the fight for first place. So is perfectly capable of upsetting the world champion in their final round encounter, while Van Foreest has shown both great opening preparation and plenty of resourcefulness in difficult situations.

Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2020

The tournament is celebrating its 82nd anniversary! | Photo: Alina l'Ami

The most anticipated game of the day did not disappoint. 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja, who was leading the tournament a couple of rounds ago, fearlessly entered a sharp line of the King's Indian Defence against Caruana, despite coming from suffering a painful defeat against the world champion. Caruana responded in kind, expanding on the kingside and fighting for the initiative from the get go. 


Continuing to play in the spirit of the position, Firouzja entered a sharp forced sequence with the sacrifice 14...fxe4 — there followed 15.xe4 xd5 15.f6+ exf6 16.xd5 e8 16.c2 fxg5 17.0-0-0, when Black had four pawns for a piece, with the kings castled on opposite flanks.

Caruana, who had been surprised by his young rival's opening choice, ably handled the ensuing intricacies, showing how much of a good calculator he actually is. The world number two later confessed that he found himself "on the better side of a complex position", which prompted his opponent to finally collapse on move 30:


Firouzja's 30...f8 was a crucial mistake. At this point, he needed to play 30...h5, entering an uncomfortable yet defensible position. The game continued 31.h4 h6 32.hxg5 hxg5 33.h3, when White had opened up some lines to infiltrate enemy's camp. Black tried to find a shelter for his king on the queenside, but Caruana was merciless in the conversion of his advantage.

These back-to-back defeats showed Firouzja how tough it is to face the big guys — he played the world numbers one and two for the first time in classical chess — but they also served as great experiences for his development.

Grandmaster Constantin Lupulescu sent thorough analysis of the sharp struggle:


Post-game interview with Fabiano Caruana

While Caruana struggled to get the better of the rising star, Carlsen had a much more relaxed day at the office. Much like in his game against Firouzja, the Norwegian's opening strategy served him well, pushing Vladislav Kovalev to play 6...h6, a move that forced the Belarusian to solve problems over the board from the start. Quickly enough, Black faltered by wasting a tempo with 13...a6 and opting for a much too passive setup with 15...f5:


Carlsen only needed to make natural developing moves to increase the pressure, while Black was forced to permanently look out for mating threats on the b1-h7 diagonal. There followed 16.0-0 xg3 17.hxg3 f6 and 18.e4, opening up the position. The world champion was his usual ruthless self until getting a 37-move victory. He later concluded:

I think today was a pretty easy day, to be honest. I mean, he made a couple of mistakes early on, and then I just had an overwhelming advantage in development.

In his annotations, Lupulescu noted that, "once the world champion finally starts winning, he becomes unstoppable!"


Magnus Carlsen

Through the lens — Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Alina l'Ami

The third winner of the day in the Masters was 19-year-old Jeffery Xiong, who outplayed Vladislav Artemiev — a player known for his prowess in technical positions — from a slightly superior rook and bishop endgame. Playing White, the American used his more active pieces to get the full point from the following position:


The material is balanced, but White can quickly transfer his rook to the strong b5-outpost. Xiong needed 39 moves to convert this into his second win of this year's event. Both he and Artemiev have collected 4½ points so far.


Jeffery Xiong, Vladislav Artemiev

Two youngsters in battle — Jeffery Xiong v Vladislav Artemiev | Photo: Alina l'Ami

The remaining four games finished drawn, but all of them saw one of the contenders missing chances to get more out of better positions. While Jan-Krzysztof Duda could not find the right way to increase the pressure against Jorden van Foreest during time trouble, Nikita Vitiugov (against Vishy Anand) and especially Daniil Dubov (against Anish Giri) decided to call it a day while having a clear opportunity to torture their opponents. Using the fact that Dubov has become known for his endless creative ideas in the opening, Giri quipped:  

I think maybe the opening phase was over, so he lost enthusiasm for the game.

Lupulescu also looked into Anand v Vitiugov and Dubov v Giri:


All games of the Masters available at Live.Chessbase.com

Anton mimics Carlsen

In the Challengers, top seed David Anton mirrored the three-game winning streak of Carlsen (the perennial top seed) in the Masters. By beating direct contender Pavel Eljanov, the Spaniard grabbed the sole lead on 7 out of 10 and entered the 2700-club in the live ratings list. To get the all-important win on Wednesday, he put forth a Benoni-like structure with White and outplayed his opponent until forcing resignation in a queenless position with rooks and bishops of opposite colours:


There followed 40.g4 f6 41.b7 e5 42.f3 and Black gave up, as the a-pawn is about to fall. Erwin l'Ami is the only player a half point behind Anton, who similarly won the Challengers group of last year's Prague Festival to qualify to this year's main event.

Round 10 games - Challengers


All games of the Challengers available at Live.Chessbase.com

David Anton

David Anton Guijarro | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Round-up show

GM Daniel King recapped the action of round ten

Standings after Round 10 - Masters


Standings after Round 10 - Challengers



Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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