Fabiano Caruana wins Tata Steel Masters with a round to spare

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/26/2020 – By beating the previously undefeated Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Fabiano Caruana scored his third straight win to secure first place at the 2020 Tata Steel Masters with a round the spare. Starting with his victory over Daniil Dubov last Saturday, Caruana showed why he has maintained his second place in the ratings list for so long. In hindsight, there was some luck involved in the American's path to victory, as things could have gone very differently had Vishy Anand beaten him from a superior position in round eight. Expert analysis by IM MICHAEL RAHAL and GM YANNICK PELLETIER. | Photo: Alina l'Ami

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A first for Fabiano

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.

Fabiano Caruana's 9 out of 12 performance in Wijk aan Zee has gained him 15.8 rating points, leaving him on a superlative 2837.8 — a live rating that has only ever been surpassed by Magnus Carlsen, Garry Kasparov and Caruana's own 2851.3 from 2014. The American has consolidated himself at the top, and getting his first-ever triumph in Wijk aan Zee only confirms his status as a historic figure in the chess world.

The 27-year-old came from having a steady 2019, in which he did not get any supertournament victories. Besides winning a couple of matches in Saint Louis — over Pentala Harikrishna and Garry Kasparov — and a final round win over Carlsen in Norway, Caruana cannot boast about big victories in the past year. Nevertheless, his rating never fell below 2812 in the official FIDE lists, while he also showed he can compete toe-to-toe with the very best in rapid time controls. 

Thus, this triumph in the Netherlands serves as a great reminder of Caruana's strength a couple of months before the Candidates Tournament kicks off in Yekaterimburg. By April 5th we will find out if Caruana is capable of pulling off two straight wins in the qualifier to the World Championship match.

Fabiano Caruana

Will Fabiano Caruana get a rematch for the world crown? | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Caruana's rival in round twelve was Poland's number one Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who came from scoring ten draws and a sole win against tough opposition. A Closed Catalan appeared on the board, with Duda not shying away from entering sharp lines against his famed opponent. Duda's ambitious approach backfired though, leaving him with a worse position after 20 moves:


White got a strong advantage out of the opening, but Duda never stopped creating practical problems over the board. Caruana called his rival's 20...b7 a "really imaginative idea", as it prevented White from finding some kind of killer blow. From that point on, the American did not quite handle his edge in the most efficient way, although Duda's defensive resourcefulness was not enough to completely equalize.

When the time control had passed, it was pretty clear that White would get the win sooner than later. By then, Carlsen had already drawn Vladislav Artemiev, so it was just a matter of time before Caruana would be crowned as champion. Duda was visibly disgusted with his position after White's 42nd move:


The Polish grandmaster looked and looked but found nothing better than 42...f6, hoping for a miracle — the idea is that after 43.exf6 xd4 White cannot capture with 44.♔xd4 due to 44...♝xf6. Caruana had plenty of time on his clock though, and instead of capturing the rook played the precise 44.c1. The game lasted six more moves.

Replay the full game with analysis by Michael Rahal:


Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Fabiano Caruana

Jan-Krzysztof Duda could not keep his undefeated run in Wijk aan Zee — at least, he lost against tournament winner Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Caruana already tied Carlsen's winning score from last year (9 points) with one round left to go. Ever since the tournament has been steadily played as a 14-player single round robin — with some exceptions in the mid-90s — only a handful of players have managed to score 10 points in the "A group". With a win on Sunday the Italian-American grandmaster might join a select group, which currently includes Alexander Beliavsky and Viktor Korchnoi (1984), Garry Kasparov (1999) and Magnus Carlsen (2013).

After the game, Caruana mentioned that he had "caught a nasty bug the last few days", which meant he scored the all-important streak of victories while feeling ill. However, the American explained that sometimes this "isn't a hindrance to good play", which was confirmed by experienced GM Peter Leko in the commentary booth, who revealed that feeling unhealthy might actually prompt players to more effectively keep their focus on the games.

Is Caruana playing the best chess of his career? The world number two concluded:

I don't know about the best chess in my career, but this is certainly one of the best tournaments that I've ever played in terms of results. And, overall, with my play I'm satisfied — I mean, there were some rocky moments and I needed some luck, but I think to win a top tournament you always need some luck.   

Full interview with Fabiano Caruana

The only other decisive game of Saturday saw Daniil Dubov beating Yu Yangyi with the white pieces. The Chinese grandmaster made a very strange decision as early as move 8. Dubov later noted that he found his opponent's approach dubious, but nonetheless took some time to find the right way to counter it:


Both 8...dxc4 and 8...g6 have been played recently at the top level here, while Yu's 8...b4 has only appeared on games of much lower level. Thinking that his rival might have some strange idea, Dubov spent over ten minutes before deciding on 9.0-0 0-0 10.c2 as a response. He later explained:

In general, I knew he wanted ...♝xc3 bxc, and he plays these kind of positions very well, because he normally plays the Ragozin, so I decided to prevent it, and also if I play ♖c1 then I think he can transpose to some kind of Queen's Gambit Declined, which I didn't want him to do. So I played this ♕c2, which I was not excited about, but at least it's sort of a game and he's definitely out of the book. 

Surely we will see many analysts going through the intricacies of this strange approach, but in the game Yu apparently wanted to exchange the pieces quickly and go into a drawn technical position. His plan backfire pretty quickly. After 10...xc3 11.xc3 dxc4 12.fd1, Black simply got himself in trouble:


Perhaps 12...b5 would have partially justified Yu's play so far, while 12...c5 left him trying to avoid an immediate defeat after 13.xc4 a6 14.a3 b6 15.b5 d8 16.c6, when White is clearly the one with the initiative. From then on, Dubov only needed to be careful in order not to spoil his advantage, while Black tried to unravel with his rooks and minor pieces largely under-developed. In the end, the Russian got a 31-move win, his third of the tournament.

Michael Rahal called this "an excellent positional masterpiece" by the 23-year-old Russian:


Daniil Dubov

The ever-dangerous Daniil Dubov during round ten | Photo: Alina l'Ami

The rest of the games finished drawn, with Jeffery Xiong versus Anish Giri lasting 107 moves and almost six hours. The Dutchman was trying to find a way to break through in a queen endgame a pawn up — his young opponent did not falter, though. Meanwhile, the world champion could not make the most of a very slightly superior position against Vladislav Artemiev. Carlsen later talked about his tournament performance (he is on 'plus three' at the moment):

Before the tournament I thought +4 is okay, +5 is good and anything below +4 is pretty bad, but since I started so poorly with seven draws, then I'm quite okay with the way it is now. But I think what's apparent is that my game's been in a bit of a rut for a while now. [...] I need to take a break and regroup.

The Norwegian also praised Caruana's play in the event:

Up to the game he had against Vishy, I don't think he played particularly well, but I think after that he's played wonderfully. [...] He certainly deserves to win it.

IM Rahal also looked into the draw between Anand and Kovalev:


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

Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2020

Post-mortem analyses while Carlsen is on the computer | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Anton stumbles in the Challengers

As we mentioned in our previous report, David Anton could not have asked for a better pairing in the penultimate round given the tournament situation — he was leading by a  full point and had White against tail-ender Max Warmerdam, who came from losing six of his eleven games in the event. But mere stats do not win games. Warmerdam sacrificed an exchange to defeat the top seed, who incidentally had not lost a single game before this round.

Anton is still the sole leader, though, except that he is now only a half point ahead before Sunday's final round, and there are three players still with chances to catch up with him: Nodirbek Abdusattorov, Erwin l'Ami and Pavel Eljanov, who survived Ganguly's fierce attack to get a key victory in round twelve:


Eljanov spent 18 minutes calculating whether he could capture with 28...xd5, and decided it was safe to do it. Of course, White can only go all-in at this point — the game continued 29.xg7+ e8 30.g6+ d7 31.g7+ e8 32.g6+ d7 33.g7+ e7 34.c4 f5 35.b4 and the king is strangely safe in the centre after 35...e6.

In the deciding round, Anton has Black against Lucas van Foreest, Abdusattorov plays White against Dinara Saduakassova and chasers Eljanov and L'Ami are paired up against each other. The games start an hour and a half earlier than usual, at 11:00 UTC (12:00 CET/6:00 AM EST).  

Round 12 games - Challengers


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

Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2020

The chess celebration is coming to an end | 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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