Tata Steel Chess: Caruana a full point ahead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/25/2020 – Fabiano Caruana scored 4½ points in the last five rounds of the Tata Steel Masters to go into the final two days of action as the clear favourite to take the title, a full point ahead of second-placed Magnus Carlsen. In round eleven, Caruana defeated Vladislav Kovalev, Vladislav Artemiev took down Jorden van Foreest and Vishy Anand inflicted Alireza Firouzja's third defeat in a row. Meanwhile, in the Challengers, David Anton continues to impress, collecting his fourth straight win to also get a full-point lead. Do not miss the round-up video by GM YANNICK PELLETIER. | Photo: Alina l'Ami

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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.

Frequently we hear a player talk about being in good or bad form. This concept, perhaps best understood by sportsmen, is slippery for those who have never tried their hand at a highly competitive endeavour. However inaccessible the notion, though, the consequences of a chess player being in good or bad form are rather evident. No matter how strong the competitor, sometimes things simply go their way, or they just don't.

Streaks of positive and negative results have set the tone at the second half of the Wijk aan Zee tournaments, with Fabiano Caruana and Magnus Carlsen scoring 4½ and 4 points, respectively, from rounds seven to eleven, while, on the darker side of the spectrum, Alireza Firouzja has lost three in a row and Vladislav Kovalev is clearly having a tough time — he is alone in the cellar of the standings table on 3 out of 11.

The same phenomenon is setting the pace in the Challengers, as David Anton has collected four straight wins to get a full-point lead with two rounds to go. Sharing second place are Erwin l'Ami, who has shown great stability throughout, and 15-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov, who has scored wins in his last three encounters.    

David Anton Guijarro

David Anton might be part of the Masters group in 2021 | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Caruana faced Kovalev a round after beating a highly motivated Firouzja, while the Belarussian came from crashing and burning out of the opening against Carlsen. Predicting a Caruana win might have seemed like an easy bet, but those paying closer attention probably noticed the fact that the American had the black pieces — not a small consideration, as Caruana had won all his games with White and Kovalev had not lost once when moving first.

Given the circumstances, the world number two opted for a sharp line, albeit "not one which has a bad reputation", as he put it. Up to move 14, the players followed Hou Yifan v Caruana from the 2011 AAI Tournament of New Delhi (an 18-year-old Caruana won that game on his way to tournament victory). The position had been explored many times since then, but it seems like Kovalev mixed up something, as he played a continuation that had favoured Black all three times it was tried:


Svidler, Ivanchuk and Hou Yifan, among others, had gone for 15.♔h1 here, while Kulaots and Hansen had suffered after choosing Kovalev's 15.f4. The game continued 15...xf4 16.xf4 exf4 17.h1 e7, and Black started to look for ways to open up the position and target the vulnerable white king. 

Already in the driver's seat, Caruana later said that he was "happy to find this 25...♞e5 idea":


Black's knight became a more prominent piece with 25...e5, and prompted Kovalev to give up a pawn in the sequence 26.f3 c6 27.e5 xd4. Caruana explained:

If I force him to play d5 at any moment and I get the outpost on e5, then my attack kind of plays itself.

As it happened, the American got the win eleven moves later.


Post-game interview with Fabiano Caruana

The two highest-rated players in the world have risen through the ranks and are now in sole first and second places, but three rounds ago all the chess world talked about was Alireza Firouzja. Nonetheless, the 16-year-old was well aware of what was coming his way, as he emphasized the fact that he still had to face two world champions — while the game in between those two was against none other than the last challenger to the crown. What happened in the last three rounds certainly served as a lesson for the wunderkind.

Firouzja lost all three games, which does not take away from his great performance at his debut in Wijk aan Zee. On Friday, he fell victim to Vishy Anand's clinical handling of the bishop pair. Out of a Nimzo-Indian with 4.f3 — non-surprisingly, a bold choice by the youngster — Firouzja chose the wrong way to capture on move 22:


White can either recapture on d6 with the rook or the c-pawn, and given the situation it is very hard from a human point of view to assess which one is better. The computer thinks 22.cxd6 gave White stronger counterplay with the passed pawn, while Firouzja's 22.xd6 gave him more activity. 

However, it is no coincidence that the 50-year-old Anand has remained in the elite for so long. He slowly improved his position and five moves later traded on d6 — giving White the passer — under much better conditions. The Indian continued to put pressure and ended up getting the full point after 47 moves. Later on, he confessed he by no means expected this game to be a walk in the park:

To be honest, I was not very optimistic today before the game, because I felt that after the rest day he would get back in some sort of control. [...] He's very dangerous, he plays very aggressive.


Alireza Firouzja, Vishy Anand

A clash of generations — Alireza Firouzja versus Vishy Anand | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Much like in round ten, we saw three decisive results in the Masters. The last one to collect a full point on Friday was Vladislav Artemiev, who got the better of Jorden van Foreest with the white pieces. Anish Giri, Wesley So and — to a lesser extent — Nikita Vitiugov did not get much with White, while Magnus Carlsen played sharply with Black but could not outplay Jan-Krzysztof Duda. For the world champion, getting to surpass Caruana in the standings table already seems like a close-to-impossible feat:

I think tournament victory is out of the question now, but still I'll try my best in the last two rounds — I'll fight and we'll see what happens.

Carlsen has White against Artemiev on Saturday and Black against the ever-solid So on Sunday. It is reasonable to expect for the Norwegian to go all out against Artemiev in round twelve, though, as the Russian has lost three times with Black so far in the tournament.


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

Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Jan-Krzysztof Duda is undefeated on 6 out of 11 | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Anton and Abdusattorov on a roll

Things could not have gone better for David Anton and Nodirbek Abdusattorov this week. After a slow start — one win and six draws — Anton has scored four consecutive wins, getting a full point lead in the Challengers before the final weekend. Abdusattorov, in the meantime, is now tied in second place with Erwin l'Ami after winning his last three games. The Uzbek prodigy needed only 20 moves to defeat Lucas van Foreest in round eleven. The Dutchman sacrificed a piece in the opening, hoping to mate Black's king, but a precise defence by the 15-year-old simply left him down material. This was the final position:


Just from looking at this position, you can sense White did all he could to trap the opposite king. But now all points of entry are defended.

Anton will have a great chance to even claim tournament victory with one round to spare, as he has White against tail-ender Max Wardermam on Saturday. L'Ami and Abdusattorov will face Nils Grandelius and Rauf Mamedov in the meantime.

Round 11 games - Challengers


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

Nodirbek Abdusattorov

Remember the name — Nodirbek Abdusattorov | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Round-up show

GM Yannick Pelletier reviewed the action of the day

Standings after Round 11 - Masters


Standings after Round 11 - 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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